Monday, July 13, 2009

Computer Malfunction (Film Synopsis Part 12)

The Story

The sound of breathing and the view in space indicates a second EVA. When we see Bowman in the Discovery's command seat, we realize it is Frank Poole that is performing this one. Poole, we know, is out to replace the second AE-35 unit with the original, allegedly defective one. The yellow spacesuited Poole pushes himself out of the pod and floats toward the antenna complex just as Bowman had done earlier. At the point where Poole appears to be halfway between the pod and the antenna, the pod suddenly rotates one hundred and eighty degrees. The arms stretch outward and it begins to move forward. Here, we clearly see for the first time, that there is a red eye of Hal on the front of the pod. The breathing stops abruptly and Poole and the pod are seen spinning off in different directions. Poole frantically tries to re-attach his severed air hose. Seconds later, Poole is no longer moving as he had failed to fix his air supply.

Bowman has rushed to the pod bay. He asks Hal if he has a track on Poole's location. Hal responds affirmatively. Dave then asks Hal about what happened. Hal responds "I'm sorry Dave, I don't have enough information." Now, Dave is in a pod in pursuit of Frank's spinning body. Assuming that Frank was struck by the pod at nearly maximum velocity and considering that there is nothing in outer space to slow Frank's momentum, this will be a long chase. Dave has to use radar to follow Frank since he has drifted so far away, he can't be seen in the pod window. Dave eventually catches up to him and gently grabs him with the mechanical arms of the pod. Now Dave has to take the long trek back to Discovery.

The point of view changes to Hal back in the Discovery. He is focused upon the three men in hibernation and the monitors showing the status of their life support systems. An alarm goes off and we see a message flashing "Computer Malfunction". The life functions of Hunter, Kaminsky, and Kimball start to fail. There is no one on board the ship to do anything about it as we agonizingly watch the three men slowly die. The monitors show different parts of their life support flatlining. Occasionally, the view changes to that of the men. They are still asleep. There is no struggle or any sign of realization of what is happening to them. When they are dead, we see one of them and we realize that visibly, there is no difference between hibernation and death.

Bowman has returned. He does not yet know that he is the only human left alive on the mission. He asks Hal to open the pod bay doors so he can re-enter the Discovery. There is no response from Hal. Dave begins to repeatedly call Hal and there is no response. Finally, after many attempts at communication, Hal responds. Dave repeats his request for Hal to open the pod bay doors. Hal responds "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that." Dave asks Hal why and Hal responds that he can't allow Dave to jeopardize the mission. Hal tells Dave that he knew about the plans for disconnection. Dave fakes ignorance by responding "Where the hell did you get that idea, Hal?" but Hal reveals that he read his and Frank's lips earlier when they were together in the pod. Dave, realizing his dire situation, informs Hal that he can still get into the ship via the emergency airlock. Hal sarcastically tells Dave "Without your space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult." Dave can only respond by pleading with Hal one more time to open the door. Hal informs Dave "This conversation can serve no purpose anymore, goodbye."

Dave futilely calls out to Hal but Hal stays true to his word and does not respond, thus, leaving Dave to die in the pod. Dave knows his only chance of survival is to get back to the ship and to do that will require every bit of resourcefulness he can muster. He first releases Frank, realizing it was a useless gesture to try to retrieve him. Dave aligns the pod with a tall, door-like opening of the Discovery. Using the mechanical arms of the pod, Dave opens the emergency airlock door. He systematically goes through the procedure of setting up the pod door, which we see from the wording on a sign, has explosive bolts. Dave has to expose himself to space by hurling himself into the manually-operated airlock and have the wherewithall to find and be able to close the airlock door within the few seconds of consciousness he will have. Dave winces as he moves into position. He pushes the final button to initiate the procedure.

Dave succeeds.


It is odd that Dave was the first man to perform an EVA, but Frank is doing the second one. The novel had Frank perform both EVA's and even stated that although both were capable, Frank Poole was the designated crewmember for extra-vehicular activities. What was the purpose of having Dave Bowman perform the first one? The only answer I can come up with was to show the particularly methodical and careful nature of Dave.

In the earlier article, Discovery (Film Synopsis Part 7), I referred to the Discovery's pods as arms, keeping with the theme of Man's tools acting as replacements for body parts. It can also be argued that the pods serve as eyes. They do look like eyes with a large spherical body and the window appearing much like an iris. We now know that Hal has an eye in each pod, reinforcing this concept.

When Frank's air hose has been cut, we hear the utter silence of space. It's eerie, shocking, and unexpected. Note how this is similar to the death of the man-ape earlier. He too was struck and died without making a sound. Then you have the deaths of the other three men. Again, utter silence except for the hum of the Discovery. All the deaths in this film are quite chilling and the silence has much to do with that.

As mentioned several times before, we know that there is an outside intellligence involved in the story. This intelligence harmonizes with the universe significantly more than Man. One of the ways we know this is we've learned to associate 3-way cosmic alignments with it. Man-made tools don't naturally align. In fact, to even align a tool with just one object in space requires great effort. Witness the long docking process of the Orion and the space station, the Aries and the moonbase, the moonbus and the landing port, and now Dave tracking Frank's body. However, we also witness a scene where the pod appears to be aligned with the floating Frank Poole and the Discovery itself. This is shown just prior to Hal apparently taking control of the pod. Does this mean that Hal is more similar to the outside intelligence than Man?

For the first time, Dave acts rashly. Right after Frank is struck by the pod, Dave rushes to the pod bay and immediately orders Hal to prepare a pod. Contrast this with the careful, meticulous way Dave had acted before. We know that Dave was actually careless enough to not bring his space helmet along. This one mistake nearly cost him his life.

The real question is: Did Hal somehow know or calculate that Dave would forget his helmet? One interesting thought is this scene is much different than that of the novel. In the novel, Dave realizes he can't save Frank and never goes after him. Dave attempts to revive the hibernating crew and during the revival, Hal opens the airlock in an attempt to kill Dave and the hibernating men. Why did Stanley Kubrick change this scene? I believe one reason is he wanted to show another example of how Hal was inside Dave and Frank's heads.

This scene also represents how Hal planned on winning the chess match. With all options gone of convincing Frank and Dave that he was right and Mission Control was wrong, Hal had to kill the humans on the Discovery. This would alleviate the issue of concealing information and yet, the mission would continue as Hal was briefed and could fully carry out the mission functions. All would be okay in Hal's mind because he felt that killing the crew would ensure the best chance of accomplishing the mission.

Other Notes

There is an odd editing error in this sequence. As we see that it is a yellow-spacesuited Frank Poole performing the second EVA, there is a shot inside a pod showing a red spacesuited astronaut from behind wearing gloves and a helmet. Yet the very next shot shows red-suited Dave in the control room of Discovery without gloves or helmet so seemingly, it was not him in the previous shot. This seems like the type of continuity error that is common in films. The type that nobody notices the first time the film is seen. However, many Stanley Kubrick fans refuse to accept that Kubrick would ever let slip so obvious an error. Continuity errors in Kubrick films are often attributed to flash forwards or backwards that hint at a hidden theme or storyline. An example of this are the two earlier shots of the monolith aligning with two eclipsing heavenly bodies. Is this the case here?

When working out the action of this scene, Arthur C. Clarke expressed worry concerning Bowman being exposed to vacuum. It was unknown at the time how a human would react. This worried Kubrick enough to cause him to pose the question to NASA scientists. Kubrick and Clarke were assured that it was possible to survive and stay conscious in space for a long enough time to make the scene plausible.


Paul T Horgan, England said...

I understand that there was a technical error at this point in the film.

Bowman takes a huge breath and keeps it in, turning his lungs into a balloon just before exposing them to a rapid depressurisation.

He does run the risk of rupturing his lungs, although apparently an explosive decompression is 1 atmosphere is not fatal.

He should have taken a deep breath, exhaled and then gone for it.

Robert E Wilson said...

Yes, you are absolutely right.

Dale said...

Thank you for your most insightful analysis of my favorite film. Just one comment: only one of the EVA pods has an external HAL eye. The other pods, presumably specialized for surveying, have metallic cameras in place of the HAL eye in the bow sensor complex below the viewport.

There is at least one camera on the interior of the pod. We know this because the HAL display panel in the command deck of Discovery shows a video feed from the pod interior, from the port-aft vantage point. This is the same location from which Kubrick filmed most of the pod interior footage. This is unlikely to have been a true HAL interface panel, with speaker and aluminum faceplate, since (1) the images it produces aren't from an extremely wide angle fish-eye lens, and (2) although this part of the pod interior is very poorly documented (the vantage point comes from the area of the port triangular instrument panel, which is ONLY shown in reflections from the astronauts' helmets, and through the viewport during one of the pod-rotation sequences), a HAL faceplate simply isn't there.

Anonymous said...

> Only one of the EVA pods has an external HAL eye

This is simply not true.

Pod#1 was used to kill Poole. It clearly has the eye-of-HAL terminal.

Pod#2 was used to retrieve Poole's body. It can be seen that it has the eye-of-HAL terminal, it is clearly visible. Pod#2 was then lost in space,

Pod#3 was used to approach the Orbiting Monolith (yay for redundancy!). It also sports the outside terminal.

They are all the same pod model!

Anonymous said...

The scene works completely without music. Refreshing.

Note that the shadows on the Betty pod seem incorrect. The Sun is at ~202 degree relative to Discovery (it is not going "straight out" from the Sun of course but has its engines off and does an ellipse intersecting Jupiter orbit). Poole approaches the antenna from "the top" so to say. When betty attacks, its front should be half in the shadow as it would have the sun on its side; it is not.

So errors in movies happen.