Posted 20 Aug, 2018
THE DAVID DUNLAP OBSERVATORY AND ITS INFLUENCE ON POPULAR CULTURE
Ever since Gene Roddenberry popularized science fiction in 1966 with the launch of the television series Star Trek, humanity has become obsessed with outer space. We look to the stars and our minds weave fantastic tales about what could be out there, and how we might travel amongst the cosmos. You may be interested to know, the David Dunlap Observatory has actually contributed a great deal to the world of science fiction and popular culture, more than you might realize.
Six years before Star Trek would air its pilot episode the National Film Board of Canada made an animated short film called Universe. It was based almost entirely on the work of Dr. Donald MacRae, an astronomer who worked at the DDO. The film was so groundbreaking that it was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Short Subject in 1961.
It was after this work, in 1968, that the co-director of Universe Colin Low partnered with Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke to create the perennial film: 2001: A Space Odyssey. Regarded as one of the most influential films of the 20th Century 2001: A Space Odyssey is most well-known for delving into philosophical ponderings such as the nature of human evolution, extraterrestrial intelligence, and humanity’s relationship to machines. To this day it stands as one of the most thought-provoking, insightful, and visually ambiguous works of cinematic art ever to grace the screen. In fact, Kubrick was so inspired by Universe that he chose the film’s narrator Douglas Rain as the voice of HAL 9000 (the self-aware and vaguely homicidal onboard computer).
Even without further influencing popular culture, the DDO has a rather special feather in its cap where 2001: A Space Odyssey is concerned. But that’s not where its influence ends. The DDO was also the filming location for two popular television series: Warehouse 13 and Hannibal.
So the next time you walk past the David Dunlap Observatory, and you consider its influence on astronomy, perhaps now you’ll consider how it has also influenced humanity. Without a doubt, it has helped to expand our minds as a species. Now when we look up at the night sky, we don’t just imagine what’s out there, we imagine the role we might take within it.