Thursday, July 05, 2012

Prometheus and the Death of Science Fiction

Superheroes have taken pole position in the tentpole box office derby,
in front of the sci-fi blockbuster. Even an ostensible sci-fi film like Avatar was actually a classic superhero origin narrative. I bet that John Carter would have been a success had it been marketed as a superhero story (which in fact it is) than a sci-fi extravaganza, which modern audiences are a bit weary of. 

 I saw Prometheus and it was exactly what I knew it was going to be all along- a slick, well-made, and utterly emotionally-empty experience. It was a dazzling display of the latest technology that left me as soon as I took off my 3D glasses. It was rife with X-Files lifts, not surprising given its cowriter. All of the characters were unlikable, with the female lead being only somewhat less unlikable than all of the others.

The mission ends in tears, as all such incursions into the halls of Olympus must. The ultimate message of the film- which I'll get to at the end of this piece- is in fact the ultimate letdown, though it might have escaped most people's notice.

The takeaway of the film is the disappointment and the inevitable backlash it inspired. The film was a hit, but nowhere near the mega-hit you'd expect given the avalanche of hype that preceded it. The danger in the kind of massive pre-release pimping we see these days is that you'd better deliver. If people are left anything less than breathless, you're dead in the water. 

Read this:
20th Century Fox's "Prometheus" earned $51 million over the weekend with the help of a social media campaign that featured content not appearing in the film -- but the online chatter took a turn for the worse once people actually got a chance to see the movie. 
Facebook users largely called the movie a disappointment, raising concerns that early social buzz might have created unrealistic expectations for the movie. "You can't build the hype too much. Some fans were so excited about 'Prometheus' that nothing could live up to the movie they already directed in their heads," said Phil Contrino of
The fact that the film has been attacked from every piss-stop on the modern ideological superhighway proves that the reaction to the film is a symptom of a kind of existential malaise, once that can be laid at the doorstop of the movie moguls themselves.



 Hollywood destroyed the magic of movies by making us all a bunch of mini-moguls. We know now how all the illusion is created before the film is ever released so we unconsciously search for the seams. We go online and check the weekend grosses and determine the value of a film, a near-Kabbalist ritual once the exclusive province of agents, producers and studio heads. 

 With comedies and romances and kid movies, it doesn't really matter. But with science fiction movies -- the most vulnerable to the laser-beam focus of the overeducated movie-goer -- it makes all the difference in the world. We've lost our innocence and even the most impressive films never leap from the screen and into our lives, like they did in the pre-Internet, pre-hype overload days.

Sci-Fi faces an uphill struggle anyway- its books are hard to write, its films are hard to make and no one believes in Tomorrowland anymore. Sci-Fi fandom is atomizing into sects, driven by identity politics and scientistic fundamentalism. A lot of the more prominent SF writers escaped into the more forgiving precincts of Fantasy, while are others are toiling away doing movie adaptions or writing for video games. 

TV sci-fi is a mess, a cultish world of silly X-Files and Lost ripoffs with little or no cultural cache left in the chamber.

Of course, Ridley Scott had the temerity to remind moviegoers that the Alien franchise- like almost every single major sci-fi franchise on Earth-- is based in Ancient Astronaut Theory. This isn't news of course, it was established a couple sequels ago. 

But you're not supposed to say such things out loud anymore. "Skeptics" pretend to dismiss AAT but in fact they are terrified of it (and don't believe any different). It's been almost 50 years since it first raised its head in the popular consciousness with Morning of the Magicians, and skeptics are still struggling to explain away all of the growing gaps in the Victorian-era theories of evolution and archaeology they vociferously defend on YouTube but never actually study. 

 And since being a "Skeptic" is a popular as super-sizing and exercise avoidance with Millennial geeks, reminding them that everything they love is AAT propaganda was not going to go over well.


Scott's little faux pas might have fed into the backlash, but I think the uninspiring script he was saddled with deserves the lion's share of the blame. But born-again Bill Cooper imitator Alex Jones did his best to ignite a preemptory backlash against the film, though I'm not sure he was quite certain why he wanted to do so. 

 Maybe he wasn't certain if he wanted to do so, or was simply trying to bolster his declining audience by hitching his wagon to a well-publicized Hollywood horse. Given Jones' unfortunate reversion to revival-tent hyperventilating in the past year or so, there are only two possible conclusions we can draw from his Prometheus rant; he either didn't actually read the script as he claimed or he's pimping some other agenda we can only guess at.  

Jones thoughtlessly assigns "occult" motivations to the scientific overclass, who have been downright Maoist in their drive to annihilate any thought contagion outside of their rationalist/reductionalist orthodoxy, and have been using fronts like CSICOP (with its links to the international pedophile underground) and the JREF (whose co-founder was recently convicted of fraud in Federal court) to stamp out any traces of occultism since the early 70s.

Jones also dredges up old USENET chestnuts like "Revelation of the Method", an imaginary doctrine invented out of whole cloth of distinctly contemporary vintage, "Illuminati mystery religion", (a ridiculous misnomer given the only significant group we can confidently identify as having called itself the Illuminati professed rationalism) and "Externalization of the Hierarchy", a scare-term from the 70s-vintage conspiracy-theory catalog inspired by the toothless Lucis Trust. 

I can't help but wonder who is really pulling Jones' strings these days, because at the same time he's fulminating against that all-powerful, sexy, sorcerous, quite-enviable Illuminati (who has nothing in common with the miserable, workaholic materialists pulling the Globalist stops) he's pimping pure, unalloyed Ancient Astronaut Theory, making special care to let his Fundamentalist Christian fanbase know the Bible itself is ripe to bursting with ancient astronauts (which, of course, it is).

Jones also fails to dismiss or debunk AAT, a major no-no with his predominantly religious following. He then goes on to let his followers know that those rich, powerful geniuses from the glory days of the British Empire bought into AAT whole cloth, a dubious claim if ever there was one. If this isn't a classic case of reverse psychology, it sure looks like one.

Do androids crap their electric pants?


However, the problem is that this movie is typical anti-elitist, anti-scientist Hollywood popcorn fodder, just like previous blockbusters such as Avatar, Scott's Blade Runner, and the Jurassic Park films. The message is that man's attempt to play God will always end in ruin. 

The "Illuminati" is embodied here in the person of Peter Weyland and David, his android son (why Weyland would use a middle-aged man as the model for an android rather than a 20 year-old is a mystery to me). Of course, they are instantly and unceremoniously dispensed with once they meet the sole surviving Engineer, their reward for spending all their time and treasure in search of their alien makers. 

The sole survivor of the mission is the good Christian girl, who's next order of business is zoom to the Engineers' homeworld and kick some ancient astronaut ass.

So Jones's so-called "Illuminati" are shown to be fools and dupes, whose goal to equate themselves with the gods is that oldest of sins, hubris. And just as you see in the old Greek tragedies, nothing is more offensive to the gods than hubris. David deigns to speak the language of the gods and has his head ripped off as punishment for his presumptuousness (something many Frenchmen dream of when confronted with American tourists, surely). Weyland-- who Jones features so prominently-- dies in utter despair. 

His biological daughter, Meredith Vickers, is crushed under the crashing Engineer spaceship. It's the working class heroes-- one black, one Asian, one played by an actor of Middle Eastern descent-- who destroy the Engineer's ship. An interesting bit of symbolism, given that the Engineer's are white as ivory.

So everything that Jones is claiming about the film's message is totally debunked; not by me, not by a skeptic or atheist, but by the actual movie itself.


 The other religious objection to Prometheus is the scene in which Elizabeth performs a caesarean section on herself to extract a xenomorph that her infected boyfriend had impregnated her with. That scene went viral with this news story:
A man named Jorge who attended a recent showing of Prometheus got a politically charged spoiler alert from the employee who was tearing his tickets. "I have to warn you," Jorge recalls the employee telling him and his guest. "Halfway through the movie, the main female character will perform a self-induced abortion." 
This happened at Regal Cinemas Thornton Place Stadium 14 in Seattle. "I asked some other people entering the same auditorium if the same guy had warned them about the contents of the movie, and they said he did," says Jorge, who asked that we not use his last name.
Of course, what we are really seeing in the film is not an abortion- the xenomorph was viable and grew to monstrous proportions later in the film-- but a high-tech exorcism. Elizabeth's boyfriend was possessed with the demon seed which he implanted in her womb. She cast the demon out, and enjoyed a remarkably quick recovery-- but the demon then remained to haunt the "house" (Vicker's sumptuous private pod) of the film.


What needs to be said about the film is that what's being put onscreen isn't Ancient Astronaut Theory per se, but simply directed panspermia, a considerably more respectable theory

This distinction goes a long way in explaining why the Engineers want to destroy humanity; they want the planet for themselves. That's the message of the film being told onscreen, despite whatever other interpretations you want to draw from the film. They seeded it with life for their own purposes and the rise of the human race was probably an unfortunate development in the terraforming process. 

We are basically the Asian carp in their Mississippi River and the xenomorphs are a kind of antibiotic for the infestation. I know that interpretation doesn't really lend itself to late night contemplation, but I have to credit Lloyd Pye with putting the idea in my head - and quite possibly the makers of Prometheus' heads - in the first place.