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Prometheus or How The Corporation Defeated The Alien
Dec 3rd 2012, 10:01
Part 3. Lost in Space
Damon Lindelof showed with Lost that like his colleague JJ Abrams he could produce exciting genre TV that promised much, but relied on a lot of sound and fury to distract you from the lack of delivery, they are all feedline and no punchline, seduction without consummation. Highly skilled at navigating the contemporary corporate screenwriting and producing business they are both really in the advertising business more that writing, it is about inculcating desire and then satiating it with their product, but as with most popular consumables the walk falls short of the talk. They became creatively impotent in an arena where structurally that was the professionally wise outcome.
Where Lost could have tackled some challenging intersections of Quantum theory and philosophy it instead ran for the easy answers of cod spirituality and white light. If anything this dénouement showed if you hire Lindelof you sure as hell better hire someone else to write the third act, because all he can do is set you up nicely, he has no idea how to realise the potential of what he plays with. He also does not seem able to differentiate between profound questions and banal ones, as if the morality of creation sits comfortably with a soap opera level of manipulative (and ultimately pointless) shock reveals such as- ZOMG she’s Weyland’s daughter! Could one of the most famous billionaires ever, managed to keep it a secret that his CEO in waiting was not a blood relative (and why have it secret he is onboard? It served no purpose other than dramatic cheap tricks of the sort Lindelof trades in on commercial television where ad breaks become a series of cliffhangers and resolutions, admittedly this may be clever thinking as ultimately Prometheus will exist on broadcast TV but at such a cost to the integrity of the narrative?).
I will concede that point if we find out that Lady Gaga is really Steve Jobs long lost daughter.
Moving on…there are numerous fault finding reviews on the web, GIYF I am not here to overly engage in pedantic nit picking, I will allow a story leeway if it operates at an intelligent and creative level, Prometheus’ script did neither. From big men in suits to the plot rescuing black goo whose function was entirely about how the writers needed to progress to the next scene and not based on any big idea or scientific imagination. Indeed it seems most of the more tedious soap opera elements were Lindelof ‘s but even so the overall story of the Pilots/space jockeys being creators of humanity and xenomorph technology is an entirely facile and arrogant expression of human vanity- Of course this story is all about us, yes out of that huge universe the alien stuff we come across is intimately related to us. It’s Orientalism of a cosmic scale. And that’s before the excised story elements, such as- in one version Jesus Christ (of Christian Religion fame) was an engineer and humans crucifying him is the cause of the Engineers planning to head to earth to drop goo bombs, a plan interrupted when their own biological weapons health and safety procedures turned out to be as lax as the Prometheus’ crews mission safety protocols (hey let’s all just wander around and lose track of each other and take our helmets off even though it might be breathable air, you don’t know what biological agents or trace poisons could be in it, oh yeah and um radiation?). So at least in that way the script is consistent, the engineers were fuckwits and so were the humans, I‘ll give them that. I suspect rumours of the script being rewritten on the fly are true, this accounts for much of the messy story telling (why leave a map to your arms factory? If they were going to lay a trap you wouldn’t do it at the industrial park where your WMD manufacturing is based, it would be more Apple store than Foxconn, you get me?).
But whoa, pedantry pulling me in there and you see that’s it, the real enigma at the heart of the film… it suggests it has some deep resonance and significance, it looks great, Noomi Rapace is thoroughly fabulous and an equal to Ripley. But…it’s really really not; because the script is dumb as a bag of spanners. Pedantry becomes a refuge from the raging storm of stupid.
Did you hear about the actress who was so stupid she slept with a screenwriter to get ahead?
Writers have little power in Hollywood, even celebrity ones like Lindelof, but as Scott was director and executive producer and could pick who he liked, Lindelof had freedom to spread his half arsed unfinished ideas around and Ridley was too long in the system to spot what a load of old codswallop it was. Thus we finally get to how the corporation defeated the alien.
Throughout the franchise there has been a basic tension between the ethics of corporate expropriation of resources and the ethics of not being raped and killed by slimy monsters. It was made explicit in Cameron’s Aliens as Ripley exclaimed to Burke after they found out he planned to allow them to be used as alien hosts, living incubators in order to ship the organism home for weapons research Aliens
You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.
When Alien was made 20th Century Fox was a big moviemaking corporation that could still feel the tradition of the studio system in its bones, by the time of Promtheus is was owned by Rupert Murdoch as a subsidiary of News International and as with the other studios they became divisions of huge multinationals. The studios function became content creation for the other divisions to use in their hardware, playstations, TVs, 3D Blu-ray players . In the process the system of filmmaking has become entirely marketing lead, few risks are taken and non creative people who cannot understand the need for innovation and risk are neutering the small opportunities for genuinely transgressive cinema to emerge. Over the intervening three decades between the films the system that produces the films have been become less Ripley and more Weyland-Yutani. This time their arrogance lead them to abandon the alien mystery of the origins of one of their bigger franchise earners and in the process displayed that this content creation system is now almost entirely incapable of producing intelligent creative cinema. That even someone with the power and demonstrable talent as Ridley Scott can fall prey to this homogenised business of show, it as if in preproduction on Alien they actually had rejected Giger as too weird and gone with some bloke with spaghetti stapled to him and doused in fake blood, or something…
Thus that alchemical creation that made Alien would never have come to be, I suppose really one cannot make lightning strike twice, for all the skills and professionalism of the richest film makers they can still fail to produce something worthwhile. Maybe then that is the central fascinating horror of Prometheus and what makes it so frustrating, you can see actually talented people choosing at almost every opportunity to do the least risky, clever or creative thing. Like the eternal viewer shouting at the dumb character who ventures alone into the dark foreboding cellar, the unrelentingly stupid nature of Prometheus makes it an effective horror movie insomuch as it is really scary to think that at some point, seduced by the fictional Alien universe I will watch it again. I know it will still be shit and I will be annoyed, but…somewhere is a tiny sliver of something that could have been good, it’s just a damn pity Scott failed to see that Lindelof was burying it in a huge pile of banal clichéd shite.
Call me Ridley, we can turn this ship around: There remains a slim hope this might be rescued, a follow up to Prometheus is planned, you could pretty well much dump most of Prometheus and concentrate on Shaw and David and what they find, and what that can lead to or be shared with other explorers. It does not have to be engineers in biomechanoid suits, that could just have been one species that shared a design and technology with something else, a something that is a terrible and cruel creator of genetic technology. That all we saw in Prometheus was one race of explorers who mimicked the tech they discovered. We know there was a dollop of Lovecraft’s existential dread of the extinction of the human soul, of evolution degenerating, of a future where the best we could hope for was a relatively painless extermination. If you want to make a horror film that honours Alien it has to be smart, avant garde and disturbing in a very primal way –the geologist mapper getting lost, the ship’s captain standing during landing as if G-forces are little more than difficult surfing will not fly- terror is knowing even the smartest people will be defeated, that there is no getting out of it, intellect and morality, bravery and compassion, ruthlessness and ambition will matter not one jot, it is just a matter of how to cope with your relentlessly approaching pain filled, vanity shattering, dignity stripping annihilation. I guarantee if you hire me at least ten percent of the audience will be driven to insanity or your money back!
And there’ll be a cat in it.
Prometheus or How The Corporation Defeated The Alien
Part 1. Born Slimy
Part 2. Franchise, Wealth & Success
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