2001 vs 2010 - A Story in Keyboards
Wyvyrn reflects on keyboards in movies 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
Published February 11, 2022
The special effects and production design of 2001 are legendary, of course. It's still difficult to fathom that the film came out in 1968.
Normally, science fiction films use present day computers to depict computers of the future, so that audiences understand they're seeing a computer, and won't become "confused." But Stanley Kubrick (director of 2001) did something different: he just thought about what computers would be like in 30 years, and put that on screen (whether it would be confusing or not).
Correctly predicting 30 years of computer graphics progress, he had animators hand-draw photographic quality computer displays. Knowing that keyboards wouldn't make any sense on a computer that could think and talk, HAL 9000 had none. This movie even depicted tablet computing, famously providing prior art to disprove claims that Apple had invented the idea decades later.
The result is a film that looks less dated than science fiction movies made decades later – including, its own sequel, 2010 (released in 1984). 2010 was designed by the legendary futurist Syd Mead, no slouch at all, but it didn't take the same crazy creative risks. His design language is much more influenced by the 1970's and 1980's, and therefore it has lots of interesting keyboards!
These weren't small changes. 2010 went to enormous lengths to rebuild lookalikes for Kubrick's famous sets from 2001. But the sequel stuck a mechanical keyboard on the most famous computer in cinema, HAL 9000! Let's take a look.
HAL 9000/SAL 9000
In 2010, the SAL 9000 (HAL's twin) has a mechanical keyboard front and center (click to enlarge):
But this was a new addition in the sequel. Look down at this image, from the original 2001 (released in 1968) when Bowman and Poole lean over HAL's console in the pod bay, analyzing the AE-35 unit.
Kubrick gives us lush matte black surfaces. There are a few translucent buttons (very similar to these, used on another scene, at orbital immigration), but they have the look of status indicators or shortcuts. Center, there's a big screen, facing upwards; those graphics are actually projected from those hand-etched photographic plates. There's no keyboard in the original 2001! Instead, there's a big flat screen:
Now look back again at the 9000 series of 2010 (released in 1984). When they recreated HAL (and his twin SAL) for the sequel, the filmmakers didn't copy it perfectly. They used different buttons and switches (which didn't match those beautiful translucent square buttons). They added some mysterious white donut shapes here and there. And where there used to be a big beautiful upward-facing display, we now have... a mechanical keyboard.
Probably this is custom-made, or does anyone recognize this beast? I see six rows of keys on center, another two rows of function keys above, and another two blocks of function keys, one on either side. The keycaps look spherical, and there's a pleasing concavity to the whole construction. 2010 at least predicted the standing desk and ergonomics craze. :)
It may not be the most useful appendage to a talking computer, but it's fun, if enigmatic, for a keyboard spotter.
Here it is from another angle.
Here's SAL's console from yet another angle. (By the way, SAL 9000 was voiced by an uncredited Candice Bergen, in 2010.)
HAL 9000's holographic memory banks
This wasn't the only time filmmakers added a mechanical keyboard when they made the sequel to the iconic 2001. 2010 went full keyboard. It's full of fascinating and oddball 1970's and 1980's mechanicals. Look at this chonker of a mechanical keyboard:
Here we see one of the most iconic shots in cinema: Bowman just survived HAL's attempt to murder him, and now he's floating into the eerily red and white room full of HAL's translucent holographic memory units.
And, we see the same set on the sequel, 2010, where they lovingly recreated the room in every detail...
...and then they added a giant mechanical keyboard right there on the wall, inside of HAL's brain (top center).
This is a big chonker, super 1970's, with spherical keycaps, and full of oddball function keys that scream out "mainframe terminal."
In that decade, computers were so large and expensive, you kept them in their own room, not on your desk or in your pocket. You had consoles that connected to it via old-school 12V serial cables, like the VT100. I loved these things. They felt more like aftermarket auto parts than computer peripherals; heavy, far more steel than plastic. The operation force of the switches was massive.
Here it is from another angle.
In 2010, this keyboard they slapped onto the wall has all the same aesthetic hallmarks of one of those classic 1970's serial consoles, but, the layout is weird. This is not a common DEC terminal.
In the 1970's, a whole industry sprang up to sell you serial terminals, each one slightly different from the next, each offering different features aimed at various mainframes and software of the day. In most cases, mainframe computers were built and programmed to custom specifications by large institutions, which might make various uses (or no use at all) of whatever special keys were on the terminals they bought.
By googling just those four buttons in the upper right (SEND PAGE, SEND LINE, SEND MESSAGE, PRINT) I was able to identify this one.
It's a Lear Siegler ADM-2. We can even see in page 3 of the brochure what those special keys might be intended to do. Also, "ADM" stood for "American Dream Machine"? LOL.
Here we can see the keyboard from another angle. It's got a nice, dark 3-tone color scheme. I can see why the film's creative team picked it. It would be right at home on a retro mechanical keyboard of the 2020's. The profile looks uniform across the rows. I have a strong hunch it's Hi-Tek High Profile, though the wiki doesn't list it.
To confirm there was no keyboard on this set in the original movie, let's look at a few more shots of this same room, from 2001.
All this leaves us with a question: why did filmmakers in 1984 stick a 1970's terminal keyboard on a futuristic AI computer meant to be from 2001?
Stanley Kubrick was out of the picture. This creative team was trying to make his vision more understandable and relatable to the audiences of the 1980's – by using 1980's technology.
HAL is a mainframe. He's big – you can walk (or float) around inside of him. He may be able to talk, but he is, stylistically, exactly the type of massive computer you'd attach a serial terminal to. So it might have felt more natural to the technical consultants or production designers, and possibly, even the audience.
Soviet Double Mechanical
You saw how two funky mechanical keyboards were retconned into Stanley Kubrick's clean, keyboard-less future (probably much to his dismay). There are even more interesting keyboards associated with 2010 (the film).
Syd Mead also had to design a Soviet interplanetary spaceship for this movie. It couldn't be more different than Kubrick's elegant 1960's Modern look. He gives the Soviet spacecraft a utilitarian rainbow of colorful controls, and there are lots of mechanical keyboards all over it. But in particular, let's look at one on the bridge:
We've got a big chunky white mechanical keyboard here, in a totally strange, double-stacked layout. White spherical caps. It's probably a custom, hand built and hand-lettered in Cyrillic by the production designers. Unless, someone familiar with Russian or Soviet keyboards recognizes it from a production model?
It's very hard to imagine a real reason why anyone would ever double up a keyboard like this, but glimpsed in the background of a scene, it does look cool.
This monster also sports a very large block of function keys, to the right there.
One thing that's fun about 2010 is that we have a "making of" feature that includes very specific detail about what they were thinking as they made this film. That gives us our last couple of interesting mechanical keyboards – though neither seem to have appeared in the film itself:
Top, we can see what looks like a salvaged mechanical keyboard of unknown origin (anyone recognize it?) assembled as part of a mood board, or design sample, for the film's effects team.
Beneath it, a Syd Mead sketch for the Leonov's control consoles, which eventually morphed into that crazy Cyrillic monster.
Lastly, just for fun, there's one more mechanical keyboard here: the one on the ancient Kaypro luggable, used (according to the Making Of feature) by the director, as he swapped scripts with Arthur C Clark – author of the novels upon which the movies are based.
Closeup on the keyboard.
This write-up was originally posted by Wyvyrn on r/mk in three parts. Those posts are republished here with the author's permission. Just a quick addition to the last two photos from the other side of the world:
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