Top: With the Curios, Bottom: In the Studio (1909)
From the Wm Cody Collection
There may be a cultural malaise in North America. The idea that we can improvise our way out of any problem suffuses our media, our myths, maybe even our ideologies, and it's spoon-fed unwisely into our children. There was a time North Americans made fun of these qualities more than celebrating them outright (late 1970s/1980s). Now we treat them at times as if they are literal possibilities. The Iraq War had its isomorphs between myth and reality. So does the 2008 downfall of investment banks. A growing ability to ignore facts and hope problems are resolved by accident, luck, or last-minute breakneck improvisation. Depression erasure in real time, with a rising number of adults tasked with solving humanity's problems munching prescribed anti-anxiety meds. A chemical assist. While software and hardware offer us better planning tools that extend much farther into future modelling, we operate spiritually/psychically in the opposite direction. No problem too great, no disaster unsolveable. Our biome and its ecology suffers under this unconscious, psychic desire to solve everything at the last minute, after it's too late, and our media is unusually complicit. Where does this occur visually in fictional media? Pixar is the myth's most successful proponent, humanizing protagonists that may or may not save us, or converting depressives through outright fantasy. There's something suspicious in its CGI euphoria. Sometimes Pixar's films even cause havoc directly. Finding Nemo is a sanitized and sedated version of Bambi. It's been modernized to mitigate human encroachment while the reverse has happened in the time differential between both films. Nemo's human entrance into Eden is portrayed as unintentional, misguided destruction (fish collecting vs. Bambi's hunting). Pixar doesn't address human paradoxes, it manufactures its own: Nemo's success started a mad dash of fans collecting clown-fish, badly depressing the fish's population. Pixar takes credit for its own misguided myths causing mayhem in reality's ecosphere. Sometimes even death is reversible in the Pixar canon. Especially when it comes to reanimating anthropomorphised robots, cars and toys. The joke on us in Wall-E is that Pixar gets us to the apocalypse on time. Human surviveability and Earth inhabitability are shown as secondary to the romantic interests of a robot. 'Life' as background noise. Wall-E begins with biological armageddon as a fait accompli. Children leave the theater assuming the planet is doomed with its rebirth entrusted to an Adam and Eve pair that merely turn away from their computer screens. That's heroism for you. It means that Wall-E is death-mask satire played as lightmare. If you can disengage from the synthetic emotions these myths manufacture, then the themes slowly become visible. Should we teach children through these visual forms of pharmaceuticals? In this link, a transhumanist named Munkittrick mistakes narrative devices for themes and finds hope merely that in Pixar, the animators personify the inanimate or anthropomorphize the non-sentient animal or robot. The essay is unusually skewed to serve the writer's transhumanist needs. He claims Pixar films incorporate no devices of magic, while their biggest franchise is about toys coming to life. Even essayists have to sanitize Pixar's messages to relate them. Consider satirizing Pixar as the animator of a Jim Jones's Kool-Aid commercial and you'll know where they're taking us...
Selected comments from Munkittrick's essay reveal its message and cultural forms:
(1)....I think this is a beautiful post. Personally, Toy Story sticks out as the movie most in line with your thesis. I’ve grown up with Pixar movies (Toy Story came out when I was five). Way down deep, it still makes me apprehensive to think that my toys could have lives that I’m unaware of. I think this apprehension comes from the fact that these toys’ happiness and sense of fulfillment comes almost entirely from the approval of Andy. I’m drawn to think, even now, what if the toys I’ve abandoned over the years have felt the same depression and ennui that Woody and Buzz would have felt if Andy callously abandoned them? Of course, given a little deeper thought, it’s ridiculous to think that plastic toys could have self awareness. They’re made of plastic, they don’t have a nervous system. But the thought remains, because it’s found a parallel.
(2)....Am I the only one who’s noticed that the central conflict in all Pixar feature films is always resolved via fist fight? Except in those cases where fists don’t apply, such as Cars, where fenders are used instead. Let me think about this… Toys=fight with evil toys. Cars=fight/race thing with evil cars. Up=fight with evil explorer and his dogs. Wall-E=fight with evil co-pilot. Monsters=fight with monsters. Why the hell did Up have to degenerate into a fist fight? It started out so promising. The Incrdibles had lots of fighting, but it was a superhero flick after all so no complaints there.
(3)...Key point that seems to be missed: Pixar makes CGI films.
Unsurprisingly, Pixar chooses ideas that give life and human intelligence to otherwise inanimate, not-so-intelligent items (cars, toys, rats and so forth). That’s because it plays to the strength of the medium.
It’s a bit like noting that early Disney films were all fantasies, without observing they were also animated.
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on - it’ll come back around to be useful later.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Why parade Jamie Dimon around a fawning Senate? Basic facts are that hedges grow exponential on key bets or die quick deaths if they make a series of betting errors. Their total loss affects relatively small capital footprints. Banks remain profitable by betting in all markets while selling securities, bonds and mortages. Bank solvency is obviously never guaranteed under these market conditions yet the Fed retains a key role as the 'gambling house's' bank. Banks are members of a class of gamblers, authorized by the S.E.C. Oxymoronically it protects banks (and at one time hedges, see Long Term Capital Management crisis). Can you imagine the Fed stepping in if Harrah's declared bankruptcy on its bad bets? Above, the hedge against losing a bet is insurance, still legal, still dangerous. A key reason Bear Stearns and Lehman are gone.
Like father like son, er, like son like father... A resemblance patched-in that's both intentional and referential.
Spoiler: Prometheus is the obvious made unnecessarily obscured; more videogame genre than movie laced with Christian mythology. The fluid of the creator turns every biomass against one another. And the fluid is stored here in wait to seed the created with their new-style biome: hell. Obviously discovered in the aftermath of an infection that turned on its inhabitants, the world's greatest scientists can't seem to deduce the toxin converts on contact: worms develop into asphixiation specialists. Crossed with a human (at a side-splitting gestation speed of 9 months in a single day), the wormy toxin goes mutlipod, gigantic, setting the stage for the showdown on Acheron. The question is, why obscure the premise in theosophy? The beheaded in the giant head room, the giant head backed by the toxin's sacred wall image: It's a religion invented in crayon-scrawl.
(June 9, 2012) Ridley Scott's chaotic and rambling Prometheus is genetically spliced from every trope found in his second film, the seminal Alien. Spooky, empty ships, slamming doors, angry, tired crew members and robots with hidden agendas, all meshed towards the new calibrations of game-masterpieces like System Shock 2 and Bioshock. The demise of the Nostromo is regressively spliced with every known subplot spilling through science fiction since. Scott even begins by lopping off Blade Runner's Tyrell and slipping him in quietly as Weyland (Guy Pearce and Joe Turkel have their similarities), an aging trillionaire namesake CEO seeking more life from a creator. Sound familiar? Funny thing is, that was Roy Batty's same request thirty years ago and of course the humanoid creators bear more than a passing resemblance to demigod replicant-portrayer Rutger Hauer. It's a clean reverse, this time Tyrell is asking Batty for more life. Too bad the film can't pull off this daring visual grave's edge game emotionally, it slips away like the many other somewhat interesting concepts jerry-rigged into the mix. Even Batty's Christ symbolism, early death and brutal stigmata wound, winds up chained to the faithful Shaw's neck with Holloway and her playing Adam and Eve. Having his Eve stand-in don a crucifix gives-away Scott's grab-bag approach. Call it the Long Island Iced Tea of sci-fi-horror films.
On a more obvious note, Prometheus owes more than a little of its biological thematic one-two to Chris Carter's vaunted X-Files. This thematic borrow is strangely absent from the review-feature article cycle preceding the film. Fox's studio PR machine can offer Daniker's Chariots of the Gods as a cover story all it wants since it helps hide the Blade Runner graft, but writers Lindelof and Spaiht aren't children of the 70s. Pulpy paperback UFOlogy isn't their myth. It's Chris Carter that got their cortexes strumming the PC keyboard and it shows. That ending launch looks too much like the X-Files to be ignored. And of course it's a TV show origin, which is what Prometheus is plotted like. The film (actually it's video, no?) seizes up in hysterically over the top set pieces, and the only one worth the price of admission involves an autodoc amped from Alien. Scott spends its ebbing minutes trying to stitch each subplot together (just like Elizabeth Shaw's belly full of auto-staples). Its storytelling manners are unwisely pulled from strategy-FPS console games (which have better plots suited for the long-haul), hence the chaos. Characters stumble through scenery oblivious they've left team members behind, helmets are removed, suicidal-decision making happens in a blink. As an upfront metaphor, one team member calls the pyramid structure they're surveying "hollow" and we know just what he means. It's the ghost of great videogames come back to haunt the carcass of filmmaking. And then the force of Scott's filmmaking is subordinated to the plot he has to crunch. He's best when each emotional build-up has key dramatic close-up frames, and minimal verbal reveals, but the script doesn't operate at Scott's rhythm. The actors don't sound convinced or convincing, so their arcs are as mysterious as the creatures they fear. And that's the problem. Alien's characters had no arcs. Here almost all have (at least) one. Some might even have two. Once you realize which characters Scott's invested his time and energy into (the very first scene), the bulk of the film plays out like so many cut-scenes in search of a theme. As a joke on the audience, Scott replays psychic holography the demise of the resident 'creators' like archived sequences from much better videogames about vanished crew members (see System Shock 2). The saucer's opening suicidal dropoff, a cheap hint, where the name Prometheus appears, reads more like an outlier version of Crystal Skull's saucer departure.
Scott and his writers want us to notice unsubtle discrepancies like the saucer/disc that opens the film and the cramped banana derelict that ends it; did 'they' begin benevolent then converted to warrior-holocaust once a certain serpent-like creature was inadvertently spawned from their bubbling genetic serum? A reply they never, ever sought? Idris Elba is given the thankless job of (somehow) announcing the 'pyramid' as nothing more than a weapons depot, but that explanation is too pat. It seems more likely the place is a fail-safe stop-gap. A sentinel temple to protect the creators from their distant spawn; creators convert through serum into super killers that eventually turn on their owners and arriving offspring. The clever replay of the now dead caretakers' last moments seems to show the breech of the pyramid's main temple, where idealized/worshipped humanoids (a giant head fills the room) is contaminated by the creation-weapon they use to create life across the heavens (remember the opening creator dissovles painfully as Holloway does, though slower). Scott plays with us by merging/looping the beheading replay with the already infected Holloway. Now the plodding Christmas reference and Shaw's necklace have plot-weight: time-wise these 'serpents' rose there in parallel to one of the west's key messiahs here on Earth (the beheaded Space Jockeys' remains are 2000 years old). Talk about long-distance crossover. Next-stage Darwinism meets the bloodiest (metaphorically) of our our religions? Is the ticking crucifixion embedded in our DNA? Is theirs a lure-cosmology that returns with genocide? Co-ordinates to seeded worlds are obviously locked into their guidance, strung together like DNA strands. The bald creators seem to be awaiting each offspring planet's astronauts to initiate their own demise, or conversion, but the temple's been coopted, it's contaminated. Or more likely, the humans initiate their demise by letting David open the church-like crypt to the serpent's serum. He decrypts the door fairly easily, wanna bet it's a warning? They grow unusually fast, infected worms are deadly serpents by nighttime, a rate slip-synched with her malevolent three-months-in-12-hours fetus. Their contamination alters the murals in real time as well, another good criteria for the genetic speed happening to Shaw's mutant.
Prometheus offers a messy, dark, religious response to 2001, but the real question is why does Scott focus his attention through biblical mythos? It limits the film's experimental reach, he and Lindelof seem to be suggesting myth is genetic. Weakly, Holloway and Shaw play Adam and Eve to their offspring's cosmology (Scott adorns their cabin with African masks to drive the point home). All we're missing is David's sly version of "Next?" as he slips his genetic cocktail. The next stage of this cycle, the Big Alien species, will be building their own crypt and Shaw will become their lost deity. It's all circular. And now that human genetics have been blended into the serum's speed, the growth cycle is slower, hosted, and female. The Big Alien's cycle is a mid-ground between our slow gestation and the creator's serum. Patient Zero of the Alien series is obviously the left-behind victim of Shaw's offspring vaginal squid (ha! a woman makes the first facehugger, a joke on the first Alien). The creator's inseminoid coming soon will be the first type of Big Alien, spliced from serpent and human. Guess he's piloting the next ship outta there. Looks like it will fulfill some kind of crucifixion fantasy set up in Prometheus's bas-relief storytelling, get itself facehugged, and spawn the species that heads for LV-426. Where the Nostromo lands back in 1979. Then is Prometheus a veiled remake of Alien, dressed up as an origin tale that bites its spawn? Funny idea though, Ripley fighting Shaw's creation, first her grandchildren, and later - her daughter? Maybe Prometheus is the ultimate run-on sentence horror movie; the audience needs a dose of Adderall just to follow along. Alien ADHD. Too bad it was bad.
Below: H.R. Giger's thumbnail of Dan O'Bannon's pyramid, cut from later drafts of Alien. Bottom: Giger's painted conception. Is Prometheus merely a remake of Alien posing as an origin myth? Both images from Book of Alien originally published by Heavy Metal Books. Two genetic flips, but it's essentially the same story.
The biggest budgeted film of 1977 was 20th Century Fox's $17 million dollar hoped for tentpole Damnation Alley, a brawny action flick starring Jan Michael Vincent (White Line Fever) and George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany's). Director Jack Smight was b.o. gold since he'd helmed hits Airport '75 and Midway, but the effects were poorly planned and the film spent 10 months painting in glowing skies. It bombed in the wake of half-its-budget sleeper Star Wars, itself given little chance of success by the Fox brass. Rarely, maybe never screened, this megabudget oddity is being shown at Anthology Film Archives June 17/23.
Certainly the first known interplanetary tale was The True History by Lucian of Samosata written about 175 A.D. Lucian's hero went to the moon, where he found intelligent, nonhuman beings.
What might be called science fiction began in 1634 with Somnium by Johannes Kepler. Kepler was a great pioneer astronomer, who first established the mathematical principles to explain the orbits of the planets. But he was also an astrologer and mystic. As the title indicates, the story takes place in a dream, where a spirit carries Kepler to the moon and the planets.
Lester Del Rey The World of Science Fiction 1978
Past the intro: a spirited mash-up of Lensman and Star Wars. Some great physics.