In a science-fiction movie mostly sparse with dialogue and deapan in the face of discovery, a talking computer had the most lines and arguably the most humanity of anything onscreen. HAL 9000, an artificial intelligence who turns murderous when he cannot reconcile his orders to conceal crucial information from his human crew, is pretty much the star of Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey, inasmuch as any one character can be. His talent for understatement (“Human error”) is funny until it’s menacing (“I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that”), and his mental regression when he’s finally unplugged is as tragic as dementia.Douglas Rain was known for TV and stage work prior to being cast as HAL’s voice after production had ended; Kubrick cast him because he had been impressed and inspired by an animated short called “Universe,” which Rain narrated. Though his vocal talents became almost instantly iconic once 2001 became a phenomenon and a classic of cinema, he lent his pipes to only one other feature — the Woody Allen sci-fi spoof Sleeper — before returning alongside Keir Dullea for the sequel 2010 [UPDATE: according to his sons, the voice in Sleeperwas an imitator who has fooled many over the years]. His first love was always the stage, and as a founding member of the Stratford Festival in Stratfor, Ontario, Canada, he participated in 32 seasons.
All three major players from the film have been blessed with longevity: Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood still make the convention rounds, and Rain was 90 when he passed this morning. In a press release, the artistic director of the Stratford festival commented, “Douglas shared many of the same qualities as Kubrickâ€™s iconic creation: precision, strength of steel, enigma and infinite intelligence, as well as a wicked sense of humour. But those of us lucky enough to have worked with Douglas soon solved his riddle and discovered that at the centre of his mystery lay warmth and humanity, evidenced in his care for the young members of our profession.” Rain helped create one of the great iconic characters of science fiction cinema, but rather than cash in, he spent most of his career nurturing younger actors in Stratford.For those of you only familiar with the Kubrick movie and not Arthur C. Clarke‘s sequels, HAL eventually was redeemed and got his happy ending. First, he saved the crew of the Leonov from Jupiter’s transformation into a star, and then, after seemingly being destroyed, was resurrected in a new form similar to Dave Bowman; ultimately, they’d merge into a combined form called Halman. We can’t know what awaits Rain “beyond the infinite,” but everyone who’s ever loved his work will carry some of that great spirit with them.HAL’s favorite song seems only appropriate here.