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The Nation | COLUMN ONE

Tracking HAL's Odyssey

The evil camera lens from '2001' is alive and well and living with a memorabilia collector in Georgia -- maybe. But the plot thickens.

November 27, 2003|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Why were the items junked? Con Pederson, a special photographic effects supervisor on the film who built the scale model of the Discovery spacecraft, explained: "I talked to Stanley [afterward]. I know that he really wanted to get rid of everything.... His policy was always to destroy sets."

Anthony Frewin, who for many years was Kubrick's personal assistant, notes that aside from research and paper materials, all that remains today with the director's family from "2001" are a sculpture of the "star child" seen at the end of the film, an ape costume or two from the film's "Dawn of Man" sequences and some camera equipment.

Wooster, who has roots in Hollywood (he had a cinematography credit on the 1969 Charlton Heston football drama "Number One"), gives the following history of the lens he calls HAL:

It once was the property of Film Effects of Hollywood, a company owned by the late Linwood Dunn, a pioneering optical effects expert. The lens was provided to another company called Graphic Films to make specialty films for the 1964 New York World's Fair. Kubrick happened to see one of those films, "To the Moon and Beyond," and invited crew members from Graphic Films to join him in England on "2001."

"All the shots of HAL looking at the astronauts were filmed with this lens and then put in a housing, and they called it HAL," Wooster said.

He said the lens was returned to Film Effects of Hollywood and eventually sold along with other equipment to a friend of his who worked at another Hollywood optical company. Wooster bought the lens from him in late 1999.

Wooster has a letter from Jimmy Dickson, a technical animation specialist on "2001" who also worked for Graphic Films on "To the Moon and Beyond," that states that Wooster's lens was the one used as HAL on "2001."

But in a recent interview, Dickson indicated he now has doubts. He recalled that the Fairchild-Curtis lens was used on the set of "2001," but whether it was for HAL's point-of-view shots is not clear. His uncertainty grew after he discussed the matter with Douglas Trumbull, who was one of four special photographic effects supervisors on the film.

In a detailed e-mail on the subject, Trumbull said, "Any claim by Kirk that the Fairchild-Curtis lens was used for the HAL [point-of-view] shots is just not true." He contended that the Fairchild-Curtis image would fill the entire frame of Kubrick's 70-mm movie, whereas the point-of-view shots of HAL are round and have vignetted dark spaces to the left and right of the 70-mm frame. Therefore the point-of-view lens would have to have been smaller.

But Wooster counters with a June 1968 article in American Cinematographer magazine that shows a photo of HAL looking at an astronaut. This shot, the article said, was achieved "with [a] Fairchild 'bug-eye' type extreme wide-angle lens covering a field of almost 180 degrees."

Though not taking sides, Frewin, Kubrick's assistant, recalls that the director used a 160-degree "mapping lens" borrowed from Fairchild-Curtis for HAL's point-of-view shots and later returned to the optical company. Frewin said Kubrick also used a "normal, commercially available Nikon fish-eye lens" for other HAL shots. The debate underscores not only the respect experts long have held for Kubrick's filmmaking techniques but also the enduring fascination moviegoers have had with HAL.

Keir Dullea, who starred as astronaut Dave Bowman in the film, said HAL, who came before the era of personal computers, was unnerving to people at the time because many wanted to believe that technology was subservient to human beings.

HAL "was given a double message, which you find out at the end of the film," Dullea said in a recent interview. "You find out he was supposed to lie. He was causing things to go wrong. He was a machine that goes psychotic."

In the film, Dullea and actor Gary Lockwood, who portrays Dr. Frank Poole, are aboard the space ship Discovery. Their mission: Search for extraterrestrial life around Jupiter. Three other astronauts we never meet are resting in a deep, induced sleep for the long voyage through space.

It is here that we see HAL, who stares out at us with his evil red "eye." HAL is programmed to talk and think like humans. HAL runs the ship. HAL plays chess with the crew. HAL monitors the men in hibernation and even wishes the astronauts a happy birthday. But when Bowman and Poole become concerned that HAL's programming has failed, they go off by themselves in the space pod to discuss disconnecting HAL's "brain." Unbeknownst to them, HAL is reading their lips and soon begins murdering the crew.

In one tense scene well into the movie, Bowman commands the computer to open the pod bay doors, to which HAL delivers his signature line: "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

HAL's distinctive voice was supplied by Canadian-born actor Douglas Rain.

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