2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 movie that is generally regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. It is divided into four distinct chapters telling an overarching story of humans discovering and investigating extraterrestrial relics hidden across the solar system. The film is unusual in that the first and last chapters contain no dialogue, and the last chapter contains only one character. Mass communication is never explicitly shown in the movie but is implicitly used by the American government to lie to the world about its activities in outer space. The third chapter, Jupiter Mission, is the one that best demonstrates communication topics covered in class and will therefore be the one on which this blog is focused.
Jupiter Mission contains three major characters: Commander Dave Bowman, First Officer Frank Poole, and the spaceship’s artificial intelligence HAL 9000. This chapter shows fatal failure of crew resource. Dave, Frank, and HAL are aboard NASA’s Discovery One spacecraft on a mission to explore Jupiter. Neither Dave nor Frank are aware that their real mission is to find the destination of a radio signal that was emitted from an extraterrestrial machine buried on the Moon. This secrecy was deemed necessary by the United States to prevent the Soviet Union from contacting alien life first. HAL, who is largely treated as another crewmember by the humans, knows the true mission and is able to complete the mission autonomously if necessary. By not telling the mission commander or first officer the real purpose of their spaceflight, the crew’s safety becomes jeopardized as the humans and computer start to distrust one another as it becomes increasingly obvious that HAL has ulterior motives. Multiple rules of crew resource management are broken. If crewmembers, especially the pilot-in-command, are given false instructions from people on the ground, then it is logical to expect that they will not do actions that ground control desires. Secondly, if the crewmembers do not trust one another, then the probability that a failure will occur increases. Lastly, when this movie was released, CRM dictated that information and instructions flowed from the pilot-in-command to other crewmembers, but Dave being unaware of his real mission makes this impossible. Ultimately, HAL kills Frank in order to prevent him from learning the true mission and Dave deactivates the computer, but spaceship is rendered uninhabitable.
The various crewmembers show different parts of the Bryson grid. HAL is very clearly a player as “he” possesses the power necessary to complete his secret mission and, being a computer, is solely interested in performing “his” programmed function. Dave’s position on the chart is more interesting. Being the mission commander, he would normally be considered a player, but he is initially part of the crowd. He has no interest in completing his real mission because he is not aware of it and the most powerful crewmember is actually HAL prior to deactivation. Even after beating HAL, Dave still possess no power as he is forced to evacuate the spaceship in an escape pod and is at the mercy of an alien machine he finds near Jupiter. However, he becomes a subject when he does this because completing the mission may keep him alive, so he has a very high interest in doing this. Frank remains part of the crowd throughout the entire movie because he, like Dave, has no initial interest or power with regards to the true mission and is killed without ever knowing about it. No major character is best described as a context setter.
The interpersonal communication in the film is important. HAL speaks with a calm and monotone voice throughout the entire movie, even when threatening and killing the humans. This is clearly designed in such a way to minimize the probability of verbal conflict with the humans. HAL is even programmed to sometimes lose games of chess in order to prevent the humans from getting bored. Dave is much more aggressive tonally than HAL. This is logical near the end of the film because HAL is attempting to kill him, but this tone is slightly present through earlier parts of the movie as well, likely because as mission commander he views himself as the most important and powerful crewmember. In conclusion, Jupiter Mission from 2001: A Space Odyssey demonstrates many aspects of communication discussed in class.