HAL 9000 (Pic: Stanley Kubrick Productions/MGM)
HAL 9000: so that’s what a red filter does… (Pic: Stanley Kubrick Productions/MGM)

It is, without doubt, one of the most quietly chilling villains in movie history.

HAL 9000, the eerily calm computer in Stanley Kubrick’s epic science fiction film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, was voted the 13th greatest villain in the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Heroes & Villains.

HAL 9000 is a computer. While in charge of a spacecraft whose secret mission – hidden from its unfortunate crew – is to make contact with a possible alien entity, he starts to malfunction.

Kubrick cast actor Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL, but the voice was only part of the persona. He had to find a visual presence for him aswell.

As the recent exhibition at London’s Design Museum showed, Kubrick was a gifted stills photographer aswell as a film director. HAL 9000 needed to be all-seeing – the film’s plot hinges on his ability to detect a conversation between two of the crew. So he decided to use a camera lens.

The HAL 9000 lens in Peter Jackson's prop store (Pic: Adam Savage's Tested/YouTube)
The HAL 9000 lens in Peter Jackson’s prop store (Pic: Adam Savage’s Tested/YouTube)

The on-screen HAL 900 – the single “eye” in blazing red – was played by one of Nikon’s most extreme lenses, its 8mm f/8 fisheye. But how did they add the glow? Simple – they used the camera’s very own red filter (R60) which screws on to the back of the lens. Then they simply shone a light through it. (See what the lens looks like

Want to see how it works? The video below is of Mythbuster’s Adam Savage visiting film-maker Peter Jackson in New Zealand in 2016. Jackson, the director of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ trilogies, bought the prop when it was sold by Christie’s in London for £17,500 in 2010.

As Jackson points out, the plate was partially disassembled when he arrived, with the “eye” hidden behind the lens cap, pointing out the rear – the director didn’t think to take the cap off at the time.

As for HAL’s point-of-view shots in the film, these were taken on a Cinerama Fairchild-Curtis wideangle lens with a 160° field of view. Not quite the same as Nikkon’s lens, but it was the only fisheye that could be mounted on a conema camera at the time…

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