I was surprised by the amount of feedback on my post about "The Bad Lieutenant". Anyone up for more movie talk? I like to use Ebert's "Great Movie" list as a DVR guide, and maybe I could post some thoughts on various films. I feel these kind of posts are worthless without strong opinions, so jump in. First, the link to Ebert's review.
I recently watched this again, for the first time since the late '70s (when I saw it on TV as a 15 year old). I was a huge science fiction fan, and pretty much viewed it no deeper than the basic narrative. I recognized that the science was better (no sound in vacuum, no the artificial gravity was represented realistically, and the station dcking took a reasonable amount of time, instead of the "Star Wars" shorthand version) than its contemporaries in science fiction, and that it was really, really long. I had also heard that the hippies really dug the psychadelic visions in the final half hour that seemed to go on forever. My fresh viewing (on my 2007 purchased HD-DVD player, holla!) gave me a new appreciation.
I never noticed the "tribal war" theme in this story before my recent re-viewing. I had caught that the ability to use tools (from the alien obelisk) gave the one tribe the ability to overcome (i.e. "kill") the other. For the first time, I saw the USA/USSR tribal competition aspects. The US has found this artifact on the moon, and rather than share it with the rival tribe (lack of trust and desire to profit alone) it was going to take on this huge mission alone. When I saw the film 30 years ago, I missed this, and I notice Ebert really doesn't seem to see this in the movie now. In 1978, cooperating with the Russians on something as appropriate as contact with a superior sentient species was still unthinkable.
This theme leads to the major mistake of the Discovery mission. They took an unexpected "rival tribe" along- HAL, the new reasoning computer that they suspected may actually be aware (irony- they thought HAL represented just another tool, the natural end result of the tools used to crush the heads of the rival apeman tribe in the beginning- and not a rival).
Yes, HAL was aware. HAL had been briefed on the mission before the astronauts. The movie doesn't tell us if HAL guessed the aliens were going to introduce a next step to the sentient beings that made it to Saturn (and wanted to take it himself), or if, as the book explains, he didn't trust the humans to complete the mission correctly. I suspect the former, mainly because it fits the "tribal war" theme. Remember, Kubrick and Clarke did not feel compelled to tell the same story in their respective media. I think this viewing makes for a much tenser film- this isn't a man trying to survive a malfunctiong tool; it's a man fighting for our species' survival vs. a rival sentience.
Anyway, it's a far richer film than I remembered from my 1979 viewing on a 4:3 network broadcast (19" Magnavox). Most criticisms are about the slow pacing of some scenes, such as the space station docking sequence. I think the modern viewer is spoiled by the shorthand for such scenes created by George Lucas in "Star Wars". Instead of a plausible 10 - 15 minutes spent synchronizing momentum and vectors, followed by airlocking, we now expect 5 - 10 seconds of a small craft flying into a seemingly open-to-outer space landing strip with artificial gravity.
An interesting detail is the very understated tones of the conversations on The Dicovery. I always thought this was due to engineers just not being emotional and exciteable people. Recently, it was suggested to me that the reason for the monotone talk was to make HAL seem more human.
Like all great movies, it ends with some big questions answered, but more questions raised. Thoughts...