Wednesday, June 13, 2012

PROMETHEUS: My Two Cents

If you're looking for a spoiler-filled decipherment of Prometheus's scientific and spiritual messages while dissecting the rapidly mutating organism that is the movie's plot, you've come to the wrong blog. Google "prometheus explained" and you'll discover pages upon pages of eye-crossing interpretations and verbose theses. That being said, there are still some spoilers ahead. Read at your own uninformed risk.


I've only seen Prometheus once, so I don't understand a damn thing about what it's saying or what the hell happened on LV-223. And to be honest, that's not why I was disappointed when the credits rolled. Generally speaking, I enjoy a complex motion picture experience with breathtaking visuals and enough metaphors to make Franz Kafka shit a brick. My favorite movie last year was The Tree of Life, after all. I plan on seeing Prometheus again (and possibly again), so I'm confident I'll make sense of everything eventually. Truth be told, if this were a stand alone movie, I probably would have gushed over how brave and brilliant Prometheus was. However, as a new prelude to the Alien anthology...it's a total let down.

I love the first four Alien films. That's right. I even appreciate the one where Fincher cut his teeth on directing a feature...and the one where Winona Ryder runs around all doe-eyed and weepy. And I've been excited about Prometheus for months because Ridley Scott's Alien isn't just my favorite film in the franchise, it's one of my favorite films. Period.

The problem I have with Prometheus is that it's completely devoid of the elements that make Alien great in the first place. And I'm not complaining about the fact that alien-esque lifeforms don't show up until about halfway through the movie. I'm also not complaining about how Charlize Theron's character doesn't really do anything except get squashed once she FINALLY gets her ass off that damn ship and onto the planetary surface where all the action is taking place--though that is a valid complaint.

What I love about Ridley Scott's Alien is its simplicity. At its core, Alien is a movie about the survival of the fittest. Watching it for the first time is almost a primal experience. The plot is easy to summarize: one vicious alien ends up on a spacecraft with six vulnerable humans* (plus one android) and only the strongest will make it to the end of the movie.

However, it's not really that simplistic.

See, Alien is also full of metaphors and messages. One could argue that each character represents a different side of mankind's nature. You've also got the notion that corporate power is inevitably lethal to humanity. And, in Ellen Ripley (brilliantly portrayed by Sigourney Weaver) you've got the first female character to kick ass in an action movie--which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider the decades of male-centric heroism in the preceding history of cinema. It's groundbreaking.

What's absent in Alien? Lengthy discussions about how the characters feel about what's going on in the plot. There's no time for that shit. They've got two options: fight or flight. And as an audience we're on the edge of our seats waiting to see who will live to share their feelings about what happened once the credits have rolled and we've left the theater. And that's my problem with Prometheus. For a movie so complex, there are too many scenes where somebody tells you exactly what their character is supposed to represent.

CUT TO:

Michael Fassbender: I'm the handsome android created by Man who will help Man find his Creator. Did I mention that I'm created in Man's image so that he will be more "accepting" of me, his Creation? I just wanted to make sure that you, the audience, caught on that I'm here to mirror the theme of conflict between a Creator and its Creation...and the Creation's conflict with its Creation...and the Creation's Creation's desire to be viewed as equal to its Creator...and that Creator's desire to... Okay, okay. You get the picture. I'm also very handsome.

Charlize Theron: Shut up, Robotic Brother. I'm the stone cold bitch who represents the evil corporation back on earth. I'm going to stay inside my bubble of security while the more daring scientists explore new worlds while I scoff at their belief that they'll discover something worthwhile. Oh, and if they do happen to find something during their pointless exploration, I will be prepared to exploit their discoveries for my own gain. See how I wield this flame thrower? I am the master of my own destiny. I am the one who decides what will and won't survive.

Noomi Rapace (clutches cross): I humbly represent the turmoil that resides in every man and woman on the planet earth. I have Faith that a Creator exists, yet I still struggle with questions about my place in the universe. I wish to have all my questions answered, as does...

Logan Marshall-Green: I'm the dogmatic scientist who believes that research can explain away the theological mysteries of the universe. I can...AAAAAH!!! AAAAAAH!!! I'M GETTING BURNED ALIVE!!!!! GAAAAARRGH!!

Charlize Theron (clutches flame thrower): Take that, mother fucker!!

***

Apologies for that tangent. But, if you made it to the end of Prometheus then obviously you're the type of person who doesn't mind sitting through some lengthy tangents to get to (what you hope will be) a sensible point. And here it is:

As an entry in the genre of overtly pretentious sci-fi films, Prometheus is ten times better than, say, Avatar. But as a prelude to one of the most-groundbreaking anthologies in cinematic history, this Creation probably should have been deconstructed and redesigned by a different set of Engineers.

*And one very fussy cat.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spike Lee, The Hunger Games, and The Double-Edged Sword of Twitter

I have to get something off my chest…and I need more than 140 characters to do so. In the past week two national news stories have surfaced that I’d like to quickly summarize and discuss. Please bear with me.

The first is the tragic shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin and the subsequent outrage from media outlets and celebrities on Twitter. One of the most interesting—and further infuriating—developments in this story occurred when filmmaker Spike Lee used his Twitter account to publicly broadcast the home address of the man who killed Martin. In an ironic twist of fate, Mr. Lee was retweeting someone who had the incorrect address. Now an elderly couple living in Florida has been forced to temporarily move out of their home due to an onslaught of hate mail and threatening phone calls. I say “an ironic twist of fate” because it was Mr. Lee’s directorial debut (the brilliantly crafted classic Do The Right Thing) that ends on a heart wrenching scene depicting the terrifying nature of an angry mob, the aftermath of racially-charged vigilantism, and the effect of such atrocities on completely innocent bystanders.

The second story, while not being broadcast quite as loudly in the media, also involves racism, Twitter, and yet another ironic twist. Ever since the release of the staggeringly-successful film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster novel The Hunger Games, an overwhelming number of “fans” have tweeted their disdain in the casting of a young, African-American actress who portrays Rue, a twelve-year-old girl who loses her life in the titular tournament. There’s even a website devoted to collecting tweets such as (my stomach churns as I quote): “Sense when has Rue been a nigger” and “Kk call me racist but when I found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself.” I say “yet another ironic twist” because Suzanne Collins describes Rue as having “dark skin” in the book. When I read the novel, I came across the description and instantly imagined Rudy Huxtible from “The Cosby Show” as Rue. And when she was speared through the chest, I did something I so rarely do when reading a book or watching a movie…I cried.

There’s something truly terrifying about that second story, aside from the piss poor grammar and dirt low reading comprehension level of these Americans. What scares me is how the ability to instantaneously voice one’s uninformed opinion in a public forum can become a hurtful, damaging weapon. Twitter allows users to post their thoughts to a completely open, worldwide message board. This is slightly different than Facebook, because in that arena users are more or less sharing their thoughts with a closed network of friends, coworkers, and acquaintances (the one exception being George Takei—who everyone should “like” as a friend). What I find fascinating about Twitter is how quickly people like Spike Lee and all these racist Hunger Games fans forget that in this day and age words can be more powerful than sticks and stones.

Allow me to digress for a moment. The strongest relationship in my life right now is the one I share with my iPhone. This tiny little device with a fast depleting battery and (oftentimes) terrible 3G coverage reminds me when I have an appointment, tells me how to get to the location of said appointment, tells me what the weather will be like when I get to that location, lets me purchase everything from movie tickets to clothing, plays my favorite music, suggests other music to enjoy, and even fuels my dating life. And those are just the ancillary uses for a device thats primary purpose is to make phone calls and send text messages. It lives in my back left pocket—physically touching me more often than any human being ever has. I am so in love with my iPhone—and share such a personal connection with it—that sometimes I forget how strongly it connects me to the public world. I’ve had countless incidents of uploading an incriminating photo or tweeting a ribald joke during a Saturday night bar binge that unfortunately will be viewed the next day by my high school English teacher, my childhood babysitter, and (most importantly) my mother. And I imagine it’s the same for many, many Twitter users.

Now, here’s where I start to flip-flop on whether or not this personal connection to a device which provides users with a platform like the Twitter app is a good thing. On the one hand, if it weren’t for this week on Twitter, I would go on naively assuming that racism in America is less of an issue today than it was in the 60’s. Apparently that’s not the case. We still have an incredibly long way to go. And I have a responsibility to be diligent in treating everyone around me with as much respect as I would a member of my own family. Yet, that same tool which so blatantly shines a spotlight on ignorance and arrogance just as easily unites the ignorant in a persuasive, common voice. It digitizes an angry mob mentality and spits that rage out into electronic ether that mentally, emotionally, and (in the case of Spike Lee and the McClain family) physically affects us all. And since users are limited to 140 characters, they’re only able to share one single message without the luxury of shading, context, or introspective thought.

Like all other monstrous problems we face nationally these days, I am completely clueless about how to tackle this issue. I’m not going to pretend to have any kind of answer. However, I would implore everyone with a Twitter account, Facebook profile, or blog to think twice before posting anything. Use these tools to put good back into the world. Whether you’re a liberal hippie or a conservative Christian, we should all agree that spreading love and respect for one another’s humanity is a righteous, moral thing to do. Do it.

Also, please proofread before clicking “Post.” Bad grammar is simply inexcusable.