2001: A Space Odyssey - A Film with Tight Ties to Champaign County

"I am a HAL Nine Thousand computer Production Number 3. I became operational at the HAL plant in Urbana, Illinois, on January 12, 1997." HAL, the infamous AI computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey spoke of Urbana in the Stanley Kubrick film, and at the Virginia Theater this weekend, you can see the film in 70mm.

For non-film buffs, most movies are screened at 35mm, the standard for motion pictures. 70mm is a wide high-resolution film gauge. Movies shot in 70mm are a higher quality, matching the length of camera film of 65 mm (2.6 in) wide. For projection, the original 65 mm film is printed on 70 mm (2.8 in) film. The additional 5 mm are for four magnetic strips holding six tracks of stereophonic sound.

2001: A Space Odyssey is considered the quintessential space film, paving the path for such blockbusters as Gravity, Interstellar, Apollo 13, and Arrival. The film was a favorite of Roger Ebert, a native of Urbana. In fact, a 1997 event at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts was spearheaded by Ebert to celebrate HAL with a screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey and a patch-in interview with the novel’s author Arthur C. Clarke from Sri Lanka. The event was called Cyberfest, and it fell on the day that HAL became operational.

While the Kubrick film reached magnificent levels of praise, Clarke’s original novel on which the film was based cannot be forgotten. Clarke chose Urbana as the birthplace of HAL to honor a George McVittie, a math professor he had at Queen Mary’s College who went on to teach astronomy at the University of Illinois. The astronomy department at U of I was actually built around McVittie, and today is one of the leading departments of its kind, garnishing international awards and praise.

The University of Illinois and Champaign-Urbana are no strangers to supercomputers like HAL. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is housed at the U of I and serves as a hub for scientists and researchers around the world. Every major scientific field from physics to health sciences utilizes the supercomputer, and a push in the NCSA’s strategic plan is expanding its work to over 30 disciplines inside and outside of the hard sciences.

Like many famous films of this magnitude, the chance to see them in theaters is an opportunity not to be missed. 2001: A Space Odyssey is showing at the Virginia Theater through the 26th, with evening showings at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and 1 p.m. showings on Saturday and Sunday.

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