It was interesting to read the obit today for Douglas Rain, the Shakespearean actor from Ontario who is best known for voicing the HAL 9000 supercomputer in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Rain was a bit underwhelmed by his two-day voice work assignment during which he had little other connection to the production. (In fact, it was said he never even watched the finished film).
But maybe the ever-clever Stanley Kubrick was up to something. Rain’s unnerving and coolly disembodied voice perfectly captured the detached but deadly disaster that could easily ensue when humankind forfeits its sovereignty to technology. This cautionary and influential sub-plot has remained a least a little bit of a check against this human tendency to see any technological advance as an automatic life improvement. (I don’t use Siri and choose not to own a “smart” phone).
HAL’s two most famous scenes—-the “pod bay door” standoff and the empathy-provoking disconnection—sandwich what I think was Rain’s best bit. Here is HAL’s two-minute attempt to try to convince a grimly determined Dave Bowman to re-consider. After killing the other astronaut and three hibernating scientists, HAL admits that “I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently.” Ahh, ya think?? It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so horrifying.
Despite Rain’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for his “2001” role, he reprised it in Peter Hyam’s “2010” sequel from 1984. He also did a very similar (and effectively spooky) narration in the 1975 Oscar-winning documentary “The Man Who Skied Down Everest.” RIP Douglas Rain.