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HAL 9000

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Heuristically Programmed Algorithimic Computer 9000, or better known as HAL 9000 for short, is the main antagonist of the 1968 MGM sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a supporting character of its 1984 sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact. It is the computer system over Discovery One's spaceship who goes terribly wrong when it decides to kill David and the other astronauts to prevent them from shutting him down.

It was voiced by the late Douglas Rain.

Why It Rocks

  1. Douglas Rain gives so much compassion and emotion in his voice-over role, it becomes very convincing.
  2. HAL was described as having the ability which can reproduce (or 'mimic') most of the activities of the human brain, with incalculably greater speed and reliability. HAL has anthropomorphic, human-mimicking qualities such as a glowing, watchful red eye with which he connects to the world, and a rich, pleasant TV announcer's voice (with a slightly malevolent edge to it). This means that despite mainly being a piece of artificial intelligence, it still has the ability to display actual human feelings and emotions, to the point where the other astronauts (mainly David Bowman) treated HAL like a human being and an honorary sixth member of the crew.
    • The film never gives us an answer to the question of whether HAL has genuine emotions and consciousness or simply mimics them. As the film shows later, there's plenty of evidence in the film to support both readings.
  3. Speaking of which, HAL ends up showing off emotions greater than those of the actual humans - either programmed or genuine - and ironically serves as the only "human," fully-realized character in the film. Although this was probably intentional on behalf of the writers and director.
    • The audience is introduced to HAL during the BBC interview with the crew of the Discovery One where the interviewer notes that it serves as the "brain and central nervous system of the ship." It prides itself on being one of the most reliable computers in history, as never making a mistake, as being foolproof and incapable of error. This little tidbit would become very essential as HAL's entire "identity" is wrapped around the concept that it's perfect and cannot make a mistake. So when something comes along to challenge this conception later in the film, it poses a huge issue for HAL, thus making him fairly insecure of himself, and surprising extremely relatable to certain viewers.
    • Another noteworthy tidbit is that HAL was the only one who knew the real purpose of the mission; it was programmed with that information, as shown from the video that plays after Bowman disconnects HAL, and yet it purposely leaves the crew in the dark about this. This gives HAL a very different perspective on things at it's probably much more sensitive to any possible problem that might threaten the mission. And he sees the astronauts as the potential problem, since he's supposedly flawless.
  4. In the original novel, HAL-9000 is shown as a sympathetic character who is so human that he develops a psychosis, and his reasons for why he takes the actions he does are explained. The instructions that he was given from the White House to conceal the monolith clashed with his basic programming not to conceal information from the crew. HAL was working on a non-murderous solution to the problem, but overheard plans from Mission Control to temporarily disconnect him. HAL didn't understand the concept of sleep and thought that this would kill him, so he panicked. The film adaptation however leaves this aspect more ambiguous and mysterious, leaving the viewers to draw their own conclusions over whether or not he's truly a malevolent android, neither answer would technically be wrong.
  5. As a character example of symbolism; The conflict between HAL and its human colleagues isn't all that different from the primitive hominids fighting each other on the Africa savanna four million years earlier. The hominids fought each other to gain control of the water hole; HAL and the crew were two different species locked into another fight for survival. In this situation, it was a big win for humanity, albeit with some casualties in the process.
  6. HAL's "death" scene near the ending is not only fairly emotional, it's also contains a brief bit of symbolism: When all HAL's higher functions have been turned off, HAL reverts to its "childhood," making the same statements it made on the day it was activated, and making him a harmless computer reduced to a kind of permanent vegetative state, left with only the ability to carry out the basic functions of running the spacecraft.

Trivia

  • HAL 9000 came in 13th place in the Villains category on AFI's 100 Heroes and Villains countdown.
    • He's also the highest villain on the list to not be human or a humanoid.
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