John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Cult Movies and Classic TV
One of the horror genre's "most widely read critics" (Rue Morgue # 68), "an accomplished film journalist" (Comic Buyer's Guide #1535), and the award-winning author of Horror Films of the 1980s (2007), The Rock and Roll Film Encyclopedia (2007) and Horror Films of the 1970s (2002), John Kenneth Muir, presents his blog on film, television and nostalgia, named one of the Top 100 Film Studies Blog on the Net.
(Charles Nelson Reilly) is disturbed to learn that his superior, the Imperial
Wizard, has decided to visit Lidsville for a surprise inspection tour.
Weenie (Billie Hayes) is sad that no one has remembered his 1600th
decides to capture some of Lidsville’s Good Hats to plan a party for the
To rescue them from captivity, Mark (Butch
Patrick) decides to disguise himself as the Wizard, and pay an unexpected
visit on Hoo-Doo.
episodes into Lidsville (1971-1973), I feel I can see well the series’
virtues, and deficits.
In terms of the
latter, I’ve got to focus on “The Good Hats,” the pantomime hat characters who
live in the titular town. They are basically
one-note characters, discernible only by accents or dialects (Charlie Chan, John
Wayne) and by choice of hat (football helmet, nurse’s hat, etc). They aren’t really very well-developed
characters, and are pretty much superficial jokes. It doesn’t help that they all
tend to appear in the same scenes together.
a whole bunch of hats shout, talk, and gesticulate at once, and it’s all a
bit of a din.
Weenie is an extremely sensitive genie, always getting his feelings hurt at the
slightest provocation. This is the third episode in the series with the genie
down in the dumps over some perceived hurt or slight, and it’s getting
irritating. This week, he's sad that no one remembers his birthday.
there have been several episodes so far in which the solution of the day is for
Mark to dress up as another character (Mae West, Alias the
Wizard,) and try to fool Hoo-Doo in disguise. At this point, the whole format has become predictable.
terms of virtues, I keep returning to the one-and-only Charles Nelson Reilly as Hoo-Doo. He
doesn’t treat the material as beneath him, and seems to take genuine joy in in
the scenery chewing.
The ghost of the great wizard Merlin (Carl
Ballantine) and his jester, Gronk (Huntz Hall), materialize in the local
graveyard. Unlike most ghosts who appear there, this duo wishes only to return peaceably to “The Great Beyond.”
Unfortunately, Merlin has forgotten the
spell that would take them back.
Worse, Merlin's arch-enemy, Morgan La
Fay (Ina Balin), has materialized in the present too, and wishes to destroy
him. She sets a trap for Merlin and the
Ghost Busters after stealing their de-materialization ray.
“Merlin the Magician” is actually one of
the more entertaining episodes of this vastly silly series from 1975, and it
changes-up the format just a hair. Although we still get the obligatory
ghost-and-sidekick duo, we also get a third character this time: Le Fay.
Perhaps because of Balin’s performance, Le
Fay somehow manages to seem more legitimately threatening to the protagonists
than do most of the monsters on the series.
She even robs the gang of its ghost dematerializer weapon.
All’s well that ends well, and Merlin and
Gronk get their wish to be returned to The Great Beyond, but they certainly are
friendlier ghosts than most featured in the series.
Next week, the last episode of The
Ghost Busters: “The Abominable Snowman.”
that we have Prometheus as our “small
beginning” (!) to a “big thing”
(the long-lived Alien franchise), there is an opportunity to gaze at the five
films and chart new thematic or character connections. Considering
the critical role that David (Michael Fassbender) plays in Prometheus, Ridley Scott
has given audiences and fans a wonderful opportunity to trace, specifically,
the development of artificial life forms in the series.
fact, with a little imagination and analysis, can we actually track the full evolution of a
sentient, android race in the Alienfranchise films? And can we do
so in the same manner we would trace the growth of an individual human being; from
birth to maturity?
Prometheus’s David is the first or earliest android in
the chronology, we now understand. This,
in a sense, makes him the first of his kind, or a newborn…a child. Accordingly, we see
in the film how David seeks out guidance -- and
like a human son or daughter -- models himself on those around him…whether
an adopted parent or a figure he sees in a movie he enjoys (like T.E.
much like a young child, David seems to conform to no accepted rules of morality except those that are explicitly established
for him by his Daddy, Weyland (Guy Pearce).
when David has the opportunity to test the limits or boundaries of his world – for instance, when he speaks something cryptic to the Engineers –
he seems to do so without hesitation.
in David we witness a synthetic life form taking his first baby steps; reckoning
with the world and attempting to determine his place in terms of a “family” and
behavioral limitations. In fact, David
is the first android in any of the five films who is contextualized in terms of
a standard, human family of origin, and here we meet not only patriarch Weyland, but
David’s resentful “sibling,” Vickers.
we also see David intentionally misbehave by opening a door in the temple when he shouldn’t,
and by de-activating a camera feed to block his sister’s view. There seems to be something of the mischievous,
capricious child in his demeanor.
is moody, difficult, sulky, and envious (of the alien and humans), and he’s apparently got an unhealthy obsession
with Ripley. Just watch that scene of enraged sexual
aggression late in the film as he tries to jam a rolled up porno magazine into
her open mouth. He’s full of rage and, at
the same time, unable to perform in the way he desires. And then, of course, when Ash can’t succeed
with Ripley, he shoots his wad, ejaculating white android fluid everywhere.
clearly, is an android uncomfortable with his identity, and the way he fits in
with the world around him. He is
frequently bullied by Parker and challenged by Ripley. Nobody likes him, and indeed…he isn’t
likable. Sound like any thirteen year
old kids you know?
wonder Ash gazes at the alien with such wonder and awe. The xenomorph is hostility personified, but
also simplicity personified. It knows
exactly where it fits in -- anywhere it
wants to! -- and exactly how to co-opt other life forms to its (nefarious)
ends. Ash -- an adolescent seeking his
place -- can’t say the same thing.
portrayed by Lance Henriksen, appears in Aliens (1986) and Alien3
(1992). Unlike his predecessors, this android seems to have accepted his
role (and limits) in human society with grace.
This may be because Bishop is governed by new programming (not available for
earlier models like David and Ash, ostensibly…) that prohibits him from acting
in a way that allows human beings to be harmed.
Bishop is still child-like, much like David, but – importantly – is much more stable in temperament. Again, part of the process of maturation in
humans is observing limits and understanding that one fits in with a group, and
can’t act on any and every impulse.
Bishop seems like a young if still naïve man who has accepted the law of society (Asimov’s
laws of robotics) and accepts that they protect everyone. He may admire the alien, like Ash did, but
Bishop’s adherence and acceptance of a law outside himself or a parent means
that he can’t be swept up in this infatuation.
Bishop also faces death with grace, realizing that it is better to die on Fury
161 then to linger in a state of half-life.
One of Alien 3’s greatest rhetorical reversals involves the
Bishop character, and audience acceptance of him. After two movies, our image of the kindly, even sweet Bishop android has erased the memory of the duplicitous and mad Ash. So when the real Bishop – a flesh-and-blood human – appears to tempt Ripley with a life she
can’t have, we want more than anything to trust him. The android in the Alien series has thus
gone from being a dangerous child and mad teen to a productive, trusted and beloved person…even in the eyes of humanity.
last android we meet in the Alien series is Alien Resurrection’s
(1997), played by Winona Ryder. In a very
significant way, she represents the final evolution of the android journey. Not only is she stable like
Bishop was, but she is able to look outward – beyond concern for herself or her
immediate companions -- to the well-being of the universe at large. Perhaps not coincidentally, Call is also the first female android we meet in the series, though the jury is still out on Vickers...
the first time in the series, an artificial person, Call, independently reaches the
same eminently reasonable reckoning about the aliens that the human Ripley did immediately before her
apotheosis on Fury 161: that they must be destroyed at any cost to assure the
safety of all life forms. What we have here, then, is a synthetic being who sees life as worthwhile, and attempts to nurture and protect it. Is that one way to define maturity? Being able to see outside yourself, your desires, and even the law, and acknowledging some brand of connection among life forms? Prioritizing life over selfish, financial, or military gain?
we do get the much-anticipated sequel to Prometheus, it will be intriguing to
see how David’s continuing journey fills in the rest of the gap, leading up to
the fussy, fastidious, pent-up Ash.
Cannon, a reader here on the blog commented (with insight) yesterday
that David is actually symbolic of the Prometheus myth himself. Like Prometheus, he is neither man nor God
(Engineer), but a Titan, and thus apart.
journey of the androids in the Alien series reflects that
separation. These synthetic beings start out (historically) as
separate, disdained (David) and hostile (Ash), but become integrated into the
human community and even trusted (Bishop), to the point that they finally -- at last
(in Call) -- echo our finest values as a species.
Ridley Scott has given the science fiction cinema two of its greatest
and most cherished films: Alien (1979) and Blade
Runner (1982). His 2012 film, Prometheus brazenly grasps for the same zenith in terms of quality…and largely succeeds. The film features twice the symbolic imagery
Runner, and many, many times
the implications of Alien.
terms of visualization, Prometheus is nothing less than
staggering. And in terms of narrative and meaning, Scott and his controversial writer Damon
Lindelof have forged an intricate puzzle box, one which remains available to
multiple interpretations and deep analysis.
high-minded, symbolic approach to silver screen science fiction has not pleased some of the
more literal-minded critics and audiences.
Indeed, there is a fine line between creating an open-ended, ambitious
work of art that provokes discussion and crafting a movie that is so open-ended
and impenetrable that the narrative itself seems muddled.
I remain sensitive to those who insist that Prometheus is so confused and cryptic
as to be meaningless, I remain delighted that
Ridley Scott has crafted an elaborate, complex film; one worthy of multiple
viewings, and which can be best understood through careful dissection and
consideration of the text’s symbols and multitudinous allusions. A thorough understanding of the film is gleaned not necessarily by following the 1-2-3 steps of the plot, but rather through interpreting the deliberate nods to earlier films (such as Lawrence of Arabia  or Blade Runner), and reckoning with a consistently-applied leitmotif that contextualizes all the players -- including the alien engineers -- in a specific manner.
you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have long been concerned
with the way that the modern genre film has determinedly eschewed sub-text, and
spoon-fed us obvious answers to mysteries and puzzles. Prometheus flouts this convention,
and practically begs for an engaged, active,
thoughtful viewership. I would be a
hypocrite if I complained both about the lack of ambiguity in most contemporary
blockbusters and then shouted down Prometheus for its commendable
surfeit of ambiguity. If the film errs somewhat on the side of being inscrutable, so be it.
other words, this is precisely the kind of film I hoped Ridley Scott would give
us. Prometheus largely exceeds my own sky-high
expectations because it is provocative, challenging, infuriating, dense, and daring.
Some of the specific questions that fans
have hungered to have answered, like “what’s
the exact life cycle of the creatures we see in the film?” are ultimately held
subordinate to the committed exploration of Scott’s chosen thesis: that all parents -- God included -- in some manner
hate their children, and that children, equally, despise those who gave them
life. This the film's thematic terrain, and once you accept it (even if you disagree with the premise...), the film opens up and becomes infinitely more accessible.
By charting the dynamics of the parent/child dilemma, Prometheus
as the ultimate “Generation Gap” film. The underlying, subconscious
reason for this reciprocal relationship of apparent hatred involves our very mortality, a topic that Ridley Scott also explored meaningfully in Blade
Runner. Parents want to live
longer and hold onto their supremacy until the bitter end. And children -- symbols of a future that parents won’t live to see -- want to usurp
established authority and become dominant sooner rather than later.
problem with the human condition, Prometheus suggests, is that
we cannot see ourselves simultaneously as both children and parents, and that
this tunnel-vision regarding our self image provokes resentment equally in those we raise, and those who
raised us. This central running motif about parents/children actually resolves --
albeit obliquely -- many of the
problems I’ve read that people have with the film.
Why do the
Engineers hate us? Why does Holloway
hate David? What does David feel for Weyland?
the answers – or at least most of them
– can be excavated by comprehending the particularities of the parent/child relationship
in question. If we go in search of our Creator, Prometheus warns, we must
understand that our Creator may not like, let alone love, his creation. After all, we possess something
he does not: an unwritten future…one filled with potential and possibilities rather than an already-inscribed history
of regrets and mistakes.
you view Scott’s Prometheus through this lens of parent/child relationships --
and consider the imagery and symbols that support this reading -- you may begin to view
the 2012 film as a work of art that asks some very important and pointed questions
about our nature. This is worthy intellectual
territory for an Alien-related movie to explore, since so much of that franchise mythos has
been about the pain and horror associated with “birth.”
that painful physical experience, Prometheus suggests, the real horror
awaits. Birth is just the beginning of the pain. Try living up to God's expectations...
King has his reign, and then he dies.
the distant past and presumably on Earth, a white-skinned humanoid – an Engineer – consumes a viscous black
fluid and promptly begins to disintegrate. He tumbles into a roaring waterfall
and his decomposing body fills the water with his DNA…the building blocks of
2089 AD on Earth, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and her lover, Charlie
Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) put together the final piece of a strange
puzzle. In a prehistoric cave on the
Isle of Skye, they find the sixth pictograph showcasing a star map; one
pointing towards mankind’s destiny in a distant solar system.
2093 AD, Shaw and Holloway awake from cryo-sleep aboard the space vessel
Prometheus, a ship under the command of Captain Janek (Idris Alba). With the
patronage of the Weyland Company -- represented
by executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and a polite android named
David (Michael Fassbender) -- the two scientists explain their theory of
the star map to a skeptical crew.
and Holloway believe that mankind was created by a race of alien engineers, and
that the pictographs in the prehistoric caves represent an invitation to seek
them out. Prometheus is now near its
destination: a life-supporting moon around a ringed planet, called LV-223. Here Shaw hopes to find evidence of man’s
the moon’s surface, an exploratory team discovers an Engineer construction: a
giant earthen temple that generates its own breathable atmosphere. Inside the temple stands thousands of vases
which contain a viscous black fluid…possibly a life form, possibly a bio-weapon.
the containers start to leak, a chain of events is set into motion that will
threaten not only Shaw and Holloway, but all human life on Earth itself.
all children want their parents to die?”
deeply into Prometheus’s DNA, one can detect how the parent-child
relationship is expressed up-and-down in terms of the dramatis personae and the central narrative. In terms of the latter, man goes out in
search of his “beginnings” or parents, the alien Engineers. And man’s child, the android David (Michael
Fassbender), also embarks on the search for his own destiny or freedom -- beyond man -- at
the same time.
terms of the former, most of the important characters in the film are developed
in ways that signify they are either children or parents…or both.
Take protagonist Elizabeth Shaw, for example. We learn
from an early flashback/dream sequence that she lost both of her parents when she was very
young. Furthermore, she is unable to
bear children herself. Because of the
absence of parents in her life, and because of her own inability to become a parent, Shaw
is a woman of deep “faith,” viewing the Christian God as parental source of
wisdom, support, and comfort. She has fashioned a "personal" parent in the western, New Testament God image.
need of a benevolent father figure to replace the one she lost all those years
ago, Shaw “chooses to believe” that
the Engineers are mankind’s creators, and that they are good, loving, wise creatures
awaiting her arrival -- or return? -- with outstretched arms.
Her assumptions -- forged in the
heartbreaking absence of human parents -- prove utterly wrong, and Shaw
grows vengeful and bitter in the course of the film, determined to hold the
Engineers’ feet to the fire for failing to live up to her personal imaginings
Why do the
Engineers hate their own children? Shaw asserts that she “deserves answers” to
this pressing riddle. This is so because
she has erected her entire life and self-image around the myth of a loving God, benevolent father to the
human race. As the film ends, Shaw
doubles down on her belief that the Engineers must love their grown children,
and heads off to their planet of origin to confirm the answer she seeks. This pursuit of her Creators is not one based on facts, since we have seen with our own eyes that the Engineers are unremittingly hostile. Rather, Shaw's zealous continuation of the journey is the result of a closed mind, one which won't accept new data and new facts. And yes, her character -- while heroic -- is certainly a comment on epistemic closure in those of faith. One wonders, perhaps, if Shaw views herself as the prodigal child, one who has committed some (unknown) sin, but who will ultimately be accepted upon her return. If she (along with the human race) represents the Engineers' prodigal child, then the xenomorphs may be our more dutiful siblings...
Vickers is also defined in Prometheus as a child. She is the long-suffering daughter of tycoon, scientist and magnate Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce).
Vickers has waited patiently throughout her adult life for her father to
relinquish control of his multi-billion dollar company so that she can assume it herself; so that
she can start constructing her own legacy.
Weyland is reluctant to let go. So
reluctant, in fact, that he finances a mission to LV-223 on the long shot chance
of discovering the secret of immortality from the Engineers…from God. Late in the film, Meredith rails against her
father for his failure to observe the accepted way of things. Like Shaw she is angry and embittered by her experience with a parent. He won't let her complete the process of transformation...of becoming.
inevitable, Vickers tells Weyland, that a king has
his reign…and then dies. But Weyland
steadfastly refuses to end his reign, landing Vickers in a kind of arrested state
of not-quite maturity. Trapped in that purgatory, she is not
respected by others, and her authority inside the company is constantly questioned.
Vickers is always heir to the throne, but never gets to sit on that throne. She watches her father's death not with dread or pain, but with something akin to acceptance. It was time for him to go, and his last act -- going to an alien to demand more life -- was pathetic and needy.
other child is David, the android or artificial life form that he created. Weyland serves as
both God and father to David. But he has
created David not to be an independent entity or even an individual with a
unique personality, but rather a living glorification of Weyland’s reputation
as a genius.
Accordingly, Weyland is
routinely dismissive of David, noting in front of others that although David is
immortal, he possesses “no soul.” The
uneasy nature of the David/Weyland relationship is best expressed in a sequence in the medical bay, during which David washes his father’s feet.
washing is a Christian religious ritual.
In the Roman Catholic tradition, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples
on the eve of the Last Supper, his final night on Earth. In this tradition -- unusually -- the superior washes the feet of the servants, or the
apparent inferiors. Jesus said: “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for
so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you
also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example…that
you should do as I have done to you.”
David’s act of foot washing signifies is not the love of a son for an elderly,
infirm father, but rather a subtle warning to Weyland that he, perhaps, should be
prepared to wash the feet (symbolically) of the Engineers rather than demand
from these absent parents more life (fucker…to
paraphrase Blade Runner).
act of foot washing looks like one of subordination and respect, but in the
tradition of Jesus, it is actually not subordinate at all. Rather, David informs his father -- in the deliberately symbolic terms of foot washing -- that
he should act just as David has acted.
He should wash the feet of the others, to humble himself before the
Engineers. But David knows that Weyland
is arrogant and prideful and will not follow his example. This suits David, because he wishes his
father dead so that he can chart his own path.
He no longer wishes to take orders from the Old Man.
child in Prometheus, of course, is the human race itself. It is the (perhaps unwanted…) child of the
Engineers. And in typically childish
fashion, this child goes before its parents and demands answers about life. The Engineers -- as parents -- however,
clearly fear the humans. The humans – their children – have in two millennia
escaped their playpen (Earth) and sought them out at Daddy’s work, on
LV-223. This act suggests, perhaps, that
the child shall eventually overcome the father, and eclipse the father.
This deep fear,
I submit, is the source of resentment on the part of the Engineers: they
have created something that they can’t control, but which may outlive them and out-achieve them. Now, if you read the net with any regularity,
there’s much talk about the film's deleted “Space Jesus” and the idea that the Engineers sent an
emissary to Earth, Christ, who was killed by humans. That is the specific reason, apparently, that
the Engineers dislike us. But that
omitted explanation was also rejected by Scott as too “on the nose,” and does not
mitigate or undo the explanation I supply here.
fact, the idea of a parent being jealous or vengeful towards a child conforms
beautifully with the Prometheus myth, which the film evokes. In
Greek Myth, Prometheus is a God-like creature, a Titan, who created man from
clay and then stole fire for mankind so that the child could stand on equal
footing with his progenitor. Prometheus’s
punishment from his fellow Gods was everlasting torment. Implicit in this story is the belief that the Gods -- the ultimate parent figures -- don't want competitors. They fear that Prometheus's gift will make man an equal, just as many parents fear that their children, once grown up, will be equals...or betters.
interpretation of Prometheus suggests that the Engineer seen in the prologue is either
a Prometheus-like renegade or heretic who similarly gives the “magic of life” – his very DNA – to create man, perhaps over the ardent objections of the other Engineers. Why does he do so? We can’t know, of course, but perhaps this
Engineer wanted to create something that was “good” instead of something
destructive, like the black ooze biological weapon which – no matter which way you cut it, or what life form you utilize as
intermediary – always ends up as vicious population control: a nasty,
this reading of the film, an “unwanted” child, the human race, is created by an
unsanctioned renegade, and the rest of the Engineers realize they must destroy
it before the child threatens them and eclipses them.
Another possible reading: the Engineer in the prologue creates man simply because he can. This is a deliberate mirror of Holloway’s
explanation for David in the film’s dialogue.
Holloway tells David that mankind gave birth to an artificial life form
only to prove that it could create life, not out of love, not out of
responsibility, and not out of any deeper meaning or emotional truth.
extension, perhaps this explanation applies to the Engineers and the human race
too. The Engineers conducted a test (they seem to be experimenters...)…and
humans were the (fearsome) and unexpected result. Not all parents intend to be parents in the
first place, after all. For some, parenthood is an unexpected and unwanted burden. This is the existentialist, nihilist interpretation of the film. Man goes out into space in search of the meaning of life, only to get the answer that his life -- his very existence -- is meaningless. How does he know? Because the Bible (er, God...) tells him so.
have read in many venues since Prometheus’s premiere how much
genre audiences apparently dislike the character of Charlie Holloway, and how critics and
viewers have grappled with what a “shithead” he is. Why is
he so mean and condescending to David?
answer, again, determinedly concerns parents and children.
As the Engineers view their creation with disdain, so does Holloway view
mankind’s creation, David, with disdain.
But it’s not merely disdain…it is casual
rude and condescending behavior expresses Charlie’s hypocrisy, and his absolute
inability to see himself as both a father and a son. He goes to space to find his genetic father,
while belittling and destroying mankind’s son...a miracle who stands right there in front
of him. Can’t he see that he is treating
David in a way he would not want to be treated by his father or God?
submit Holloway is actually a pretty intriguing character because of this
casual, reflexive, unthinking rejection
of David as a “lesser” being. This is racism in its worst form, a
thoughtless denigration of one of God’s creations. And sometimes, this kind of racism exists in
even the most enlightened individuals. The
point is that men – even great men like
Charlie Holloway – can’t always see their own hypocrisy, or their own blind
spots. Charlie never gives voice to a
specific reason for his hatred of David, he just blindly considers him inferior
because David is artificial...just as generations have blindly considered
African-Americans inferior because of skin color, or gay people inferior because
of sexual identity.
this racist behavior make Charlie a shithead? I don’t
know. It certainly makes him a genuinely
complicated character. He seeks a God
who loves him, like Shaw, one that he wishes to “talk to,” but yet he steadfastly
denies that very love to David, a being created by man. It’s a very elegant dynamic and point of
comparison, and one that reveals how so many people of faith wear blinders in
the face of their own foibles. Charlie can position himself only as a child, shirking his responsibilities as father.
trajectory is similar to Charlie’s. He
has played God, but is not kind or good to his creation, David. Yet Weyland wholly expects his God to honor a personal
demand for immortality. The Engineers
have no reason to grant Weyland this prize, and in fact the brazen nature of
the request only seems to confirm the Engineers’ apparent belief that man will
eclipse them and threaten them if left unchecked. Human appetites are boundless. As Weyland dies at the end of the film, he
warns David that there is only “nothing” (a reference to the desert, and Lawrence
of Arabia). What he means,
however, is that -- going back to the existentialist interpretation of Prometheus -- God has no answers to give.
This is important information for David. Weyland has no answers to give,
the importance of the parent/child dynamic in Prometheus, the
significance of the black ooze may just be that it violently makes parents
of even the most unwilling organisms. It
usurps the normal life process and co-opts life for its own agenda. And again, that may qualify as a cynical
definition of “children,” at least according to some. Children are a demand on time and resources,
and the grisly bio-weapon of the Engineers forces unwanted parenthood on one and all. But the children of the black ooze are literally monsters, slavering
beasts dedicated to murder, and therefore true weapons of mass destruction. And yes, if the Engineers did create the black ooze, that makes the black ooze -- and by extension the xenomorphs -- our "brothers."
of course, I don’t feel this way about children and parents. I’m a happy parent of a delightful and
wonderful five year old boy…who happily plays with Kenner Alien toys, incidentally. But Prometheus gazes deeply at the
reasons why parents and children sometimes gaze at one another across a gulf of
suspicion and dislike. Parents and
children vie for resources and time in the quest to achieve dominance and
immortality. “Don’t all children want their parents to die?” David asks late in
the film, and Shaw rebuts him, stating emphatically that the answer is
judging by the interactions between parents and children in the film, and
taking into account the Prometheus myth, the film makes a case that David is
right. Parents fear children because
the ascent of their offspring in some way portends the death of the creator. And there's nothing more frightening -- even to Gods, apparently -- than facing annihilation and oblivion. And children fear and hate parents because parents control them and hold onto precious life to the bitter end.
is a rich, consistently-applied theme, diagrammed in character after character, and literally hard-written into
the structure of Prometheus itself. Of
course, some will ask, if the Engineers despise their children so much, why
give them an invitation to come visit?
simple answer is that it’s a trick invitation.
Notice that the children are invited not to a home world, but to a dangerous
weapons facility. If the children come,
they’ll more than likely be destroyed. If you've ever been ambushed at a family gathering, you kind of get the point. An invitation to "come home" isn't necessarily or automatically benign, is it?
looks insubordinate, but it isn’t really:” David the Android, and the Lawrence of
Arabia (1962) connection.
of the key characters in Prometheus is Michael Fassbender’s
effete android, David. As we witness early
in the film, David has adopted as his human role model the character of T.E.
Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia. Specifically,
he models his hair to resemble Peter O’Toole’s cut in that film. One also wonders if he is named David after that film’s director: David Lean.
remembering some of the details and dialogue of Lawrence of Arabia, we
begin to unlock the puzzle of David’s behavior and motivations. Other critics have already pointed out,
accurately, that dialogue in Prometheus deliberately and
explicitly references Lawrence of Arabia on three
are when David notes “Big things have
small beginnings,” when Weyland notes that the “key” to doing risky things is
“not minding that it hurts,” and the
commentary, finally, that “there is nothing in the
desert and no man needs nothing.”
such references are only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg.
ways important and complex, David clearly models his very behavior and actions
after his cinematic hero. For instance,
T.E. Lawrence tells General Murray (David Wolfsit) in the Lean film that his
manner looks insubordinate “but it isn’t
is precisely David’s manner. He operates by an agenda that is seems insubordinate, but is not. Over and over, David ignores the orders of
his superiors. Specifically, he opens the door to the temple vase room over
Holloway and Shaw’s objections, and then de-activates the live feed showing his
progress to the ship’s bridge, irking Vickers.
By and large, David -- like Lawrence -- “pretends” to be insubordinate, when this is not the
case. He is secretly operating by Weyland's command. In other words, he is perfectly subordinate...at least until he can be free of his "father."
harking back to the filmic T.E. Lawrence, David recognizes his isolation and
also independence from those surrounding him.
He is neither human, nor alien engineer. He is singular in his nature. In Lean’s film, Lawrence describes himself as similarly possessing “no tribe,” and believes that this lack
of specific membership makes him the perfect person to “execute the law,” as he tells Aida Abu Tayi (Anthony Quinn).
consider David’s behavior in Prometheus: It reveals no allegiance
to any particular group, but rather a consideration only for David’s “law,” his
personal quest, I believe, to “kill” his parents (Weyland and the other humans)
and become, essentially, for the first time, a free man instead of a slave.
David suggests to Shaw that she rescue him from the alien bridge and return to
the engineer spacecraft, he is essentially operating according his own
agenda. When he “views” Shaw’s dreams,
similarly, we are led to believe that this is not something that was part of
David’s recognized duty, since Shaw registers surprise. David also lies to Vickers about Weyland and
seems to suggest, to Shaw, that he would like to see Weyland – his “father” – dead. Everything David says and does in the film
is -- on some fundamental level -- related to his own desires and needs. If those needs conform with Vickers’s, Shaw’s,
Holloway’s or Weyland’s, that’s fine.
But if they don’t, David doesn't hesitate to take the path that seems to
most benefit him.
David, like his cinematic mentor, seems to recognize the fact that he is
virtually indestructible, or at least hard to kill. He observes safety protocol and rituals, such
as adorning a spacesuit and helmet, but these are affectations for the comfort
of the nearby humans. David can touch biological black ooze without worrying
for his survival, for instance. And even
when his head is severed from his body, he continues to thrive.
As T.E. Lawrence joked with Colonel Brighton
(Anthony Quayle) in Lawrence of Arabia: “They
can only kill me with a golden bullet.”
Very clearly, the same assessment could be made of David. He expects to be immortal, sans a nasty
encounter or two with an angry Engineer.
point of all these allusions is simple.
T.E. Lawrence suggests in Lean’s film that his allegiance is to
“England…and other things,” a comment
which cements his status as a man of uncertain or conflicted loyalties. David could very well describe his sense of allegiance
as being to “Weyland…and other things.” He has thus learned from viewing Lawrence of Arabia how
to successfully navigate conflicts and still achieve a goal he desires. The Lean film is our visual cue to
understanding David’s “nature,” and there are even scenes in both films where
the David/T.E. Lawrence make mention of their emotional or unemotional state of
Lawrence of Arabia
comparison is important in another way.
Specifically, in context of the parent/child dynamic the film explores so assiduously,
T.E. Lawrence grants David the advice and wisdom of a mentor he actually likes, an important alternative to the cruel Weyland. Similarly, the film itself is considered one
of the greatest works of film art in history.
This is a status Prometheus hopes to achieve, only as
a science fiction masterwork.
other words, David longs to be T.E. Lawrence, and Prometheus longs to be
David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, metaphorically-speaking. A key to understanding Prometheus is to
understand what the text of Lawrence of Arabia means to both David
and to Ridley Scott. If you aren’t
familiar with the classic film, you’re missing a whole avenue of interpretation
Alien (1979) Connection: Too Much or Not Enough?
Prometheus depicts the story of the space
jockey – an alien engineer – and
reveals to audiences more of that famous alien’s technology and history. As you can see from the Alien Movie Matrix that I
printed below this post this morning, Prometheus also knowingly conforms
to many of the tropes established in the Alien series. There are familiar character types, including
an android, a company man (or woman in this case), and comic relief. In terms of plot situations, we get another
pregnancy, plus new alien life forms, a heroic self-sacrifice (Janek), and a failed
mission (Weyland’s quest for immortality).
So for those who wonder if Prometheus is truly an Alien
film, the component parts – the DNA –
answer in the affirmative. A xenomorph may not hold center stage, but the conventions of the franchise play out all over again, in recognizable but adapted form. Using all the paints and ingredients of Alien, Scott has created a new masterpiece in the same vein.
The connection to Alien established, Ridley Scott is also creative the father here, and so we can also recognize his
career DNA in Prometheus.
the director has imported Roy Batty’s quest from Blade Runner to serve as
an important motivating factor here.
Weyland, much like Rutger Hauer’s famous Replicant, is facing a built-in
expiration date, the impending end of his life.
As Batty went to visit his God, Tyrell for answers about immortality, so
does Weyland petition his God, the Engineer in this matter. In both situations, the quest
ends…badly. But the connection between
Prometheus and Blade Runner is made explicit in
visual terms during Weyland’s holographic presentation. Weyland’s office closely resembles Tyrell’s sun-drenched
sky-rise paradise, right down to the majestic columns bracketing the frame. Weyland is thus – interestingly -- both
petitioner and petitioned in this film, both a Creator and a child; both Tyrell
and Batty, essentially. But Weyland picks up the quest for immortality where Batty left off.
terms of Alien, Prometheus certainly continues Scott’s penchant for
showcasing grisly, unexpected births.
Here, Shaw’s alien “baby” turns into a protean, giant face-hugger-like
creation, and uses the Engineer’s body to incubate a monstrous, vaguely
I realize that many fans of the Alien series have been upset with Prometheus
for not more directly creating a definable life-cycle for the creatures in this
film. However there’s an easy and simple enough way to
understand the monsters: Every road that the black goo embarks upon leads to one
destination, eventually: the xenomorph.
the route is direct, sometimes not. It
depends, I suppose, on the host DNA and the amount of black goo utilized. But in the end, the weapon acts as just that,
a weapon, and always creates a near-indestructible “beast.” It’s a clear enough dynamic: whatever
intermediary medium is used, you start with black goo and end up with a monster
that eliminates, hopefully, your enemies.
I can see, however, why this kind of amorphous process rubs Alien fans the
wrong way. It’s a big change from what
we have seen before, and change is always difficult to reckon with, at least initially. Over time, as audiences come to accept Prometheus,
I believe this concern will dissipate and people will start to recognize the
film as, indeed, a genre masterpiece.
That sense of mastery rests in Scott's sense of composition, in the visuals he so carefully crafts to allude to other, great stories. The film's opening -- an aerial tracking shot across a primordial planet surface -- is incredibly beautiful, and reminds one (intentionally, we must assume) of the Dawn of Man passage in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). As the camera move over roiling river rapids (a UFO hovering above), we intuit the sense of the swirling, turbid forces that give rise to life. Sequences later in the film, overtly Lovecraftian in nature, fill us with anticipatory dread. The temple of the Engineers -- a veritable necropolis -- is a vision inspired by Milton. Again, this is an appropriate allusion. The crew of Prometheus goes out in search of God and finds, instead, the devil. In Paradise Lost, man was tempted by the devil (and by the fruit of the tree of knowledge) to leave innocence and paradise behind. That loss of faith and innocence seems reflected in the film in Shaw's spiritual journey and loss of faith.
I’ve written a lengthy piece here, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of Prometheus, its symbols, and hidden meaning. I think it's a wonderful thing to be given a
film so rich in meaning, motif, and allusion that it can’t easily be digested or parsed in
one 250-word review. Before I close, I just want
to comment, finally, on the canny design of the Engineers.
With their alabaster skin and haunting black eyes, they resemble – to me anyway – humanoid sharks. There’s something fearsome and predatory
about them, and by coincidence, no doubt, here’s a recent news story on the
net suggesting that sharks
and humans share a common ancestor. Engineer DNA?
That’s a nice bit of serendipity that works in Prometheus’s favor, I
think. But at least on a subconscious level, when we view the Engineers, we are viewing things that we already judge fearsome....human and shark natures. That's important to the success of the film's final act. For here, the terror rests not on slimy shape-shifting aliens, but on a reckoning with these twisted, over-sized reflection of ourselves. That fact fits in with the theme of parents and children too. The Engineers are a mirror for human life, only with an overtly wicked visual twist.
It will be fascinating to see how Scott continues the story of Prometheus in Alien: Covenant, premiering today...
Long ago -- and according
to legend -- the great Sigourney Weaver put down the Ripley role because 20th
Century Fox envisioned a new direction for the Alien series.
What was that new direction?
Aliens vs. Predators.
perhaps truthfully, Weaver noted that she believed aliens belonged in the
darkest, most isolated corners of deep space, not jumping out from behind
haystacks on Earth.
Aliens vs. Predator
Requiem (2007) is the movie she
had the foresight to imagine.
It’s the aliens-jumping-out-of-haystacks
And it is no
exaggeration to note that Requiem is godawful. It represents
franchise-scuttling at a heretofore unimaginable, apocalyptic level.
To put it another way, this
is the worst-shot major film that I’ve reviewed in ten years of blogging, and
the most disappointing too.
Often, I write here that
a horror film fails because it lacks suspense or tension. AVPR can’t even reach the quality threshold
where that’s a legitimate issue. The movie is incompetently lit, making important
details impossible to determine, and the narrative is incoherent and
The film never bothers
to build towards anything significant, and scenes start and stop without rhyme
“You know, when I was
your age, I used to have these awful nightmares.”
AVPR is the tale of several aliens and one predator set
loose in a small Colorado town in the early twenty-first century.
Basically, the Pred-Alien
that hatched at the end of AVP (2004) causes a ruckus on a predator
ship in orbit and it crashes in Colorado. A bunch of face-huggers get loose in
the woods, thus spawning more aliens, and the Predators send one of their own
(from their home planet...) to clean up the mess.
Caught in the middle of
this war are a bunch of horny teenagers, a former juvenile delinquent named
Dallas (get it?) and sexy, confident Reiko Aylesworth as a tough-as-nails Iraq
They all attempt to
escape the sleepy burg of Gunnison, while the U.S. Government puts a fatal
strategy into effect, one that will contain the spread of the alien forces.
“This plan is stupid.”
The most trenchant observation I can make regarding AVPR is
that it represents the first film in either classic horror franchise that feels
it necessary to spotlight teenagers skinny-dipping in a high school pool after
And yep, these horny
teens are attacked by swimming aliens there.
Once upon a time, neither franchise required stripping high-schoolers to draw enthusiastic
Once upon a time, both
franchises were intelligent, beautifully-designed meditations on the darker
angels of human nature. But now -- all
the sudden -- we’re asked to sympathize with the angst and ennui of a pizza
delivery boy who wants to date a girl he’s always liked.
Because that’s the reason I go to see
Alien and Predator films.
As I wrote in my post
the other day, Alien 3 (1992) was about the
fact that survival isn't always a "win." One could also gaze at Aliens (1986) as a
metaphor for American arrogance during the Vietnam War. And the original Alien (1979)
was about, in some subconscious sense, human sexuality co-opted by a nasty
Even 1997's Alien
Resurrection -- for all of its problems -- offered some worthwhile
commentary on the morality of human cloning, and the way that man had unwittingly
become more like the xenomorphs by corrupting the life-cycle of other beings.
But the best that AVPR can muster is to steal a page
from the 1980s slasher film formula: vice (sex) precedes slice-and-dice or in
this case, attack by alien.
I find this element of
the movie immensely depressing; that the Rolls Royce and Cadillac of horror
franchises settle for Friday the 13th-style scenarios that
are so hackneyed they were being mocked by Scream nearly
twenty years ago.
Now don’t get me wrong,
please. I happen to like many of the Friday the 13th films. The “Dead
teenager” formula absolutely has a purpose and a kind of validity to it in
appropriate circumstances. But I
hate to see Alien lobotomized into the equivalent of a bad
slasher flick. Especially one that so
readily dispenses with series continuity.
On that front, consider
the modifications presented by the Pred-Alien. It has developed,
genetically-speaking to eschew the egg and face-hugger stages of development. Now
it simply kisses its prey and pumps embryos into the throat, leading right to
the chest-burster stage.
I see this unnecessary
alteration as emblematic of the film’s lack of patience. AVPR isn’t willing to
take its time, make its characters sympathetic, or generate real feelings of
terror and unease. Instead, it just
wants to barrel away, skipping the things that would have made the film more
than an extended wrestling match. The
Pred-Alien’s evolution is a symbol of this lack of patience.
AVPR never bothers to explain how an infusion of Predator DNA permits
this change in the alien’s nature. Since
the answer is never given, I suspect
that the filmmakers decided to do something “cool” rather than something
faithful or dramatically motivated.
Here, we get a scene where a few chest-bursters erupt out of a pregnant
woman in labor, and that, I suppose, fulfills “the cool factor.”
Another question: why
does Predator technology -- and even the spaceship interior – suddenly look completely
different than how it looked at the end of Alien vs. Predator?
AVPR also puts the final nail in the long-erosion of the
"un-killable alien" meme first realized by Ridley Scott in 1979. In
his original film, the alien couldn't be killed, and couldn't even be stopped.
You just had to get away from it...to leave it behind floating in space.
Yet here teenagers with
hand-guns literally blow aliens away left and right.
weaponry is more than efficacious blowing up these once unstoppable beasts. The
trademark xenomorph -- once a genuine Terror from the Id -- is now just a big
"bug" to be swatted with our state-of-the-art hardware. Forget the
fact that it took advanced, futuristic hardware like smart guns and pulse
rifles in Aliens to do the same job.
Nope, now we can do it
with good old-fashioned, conventional shotguns and pistols.
Among other problems,
this fact dishonors Ripley’s four-movie journey. She fought the alien without
weapons. She fought the alien with weapons too.
She even laid down her life to prevent the aliens from reaching Earth,
and impacting innocent families.
The xenomorphs were so
dangerous that they could destroy everything, imperil all life. They were
a perfect (and perfectly hostile) life-form, and if they reached our cities…it
was game over.
undercuts Ripley’s meaningful sacrifice by putting aliens on Earth -- and making
them containable -- before Ripley was even born. This “sequel” film fails egregiously because it
rewrites the saga in a way that makes Ripley’s choice to die rather than birth
a queen seem inconsequential.
If aliens can be put
down by shot-guns, what’s the big deal?
Also, I strongly dislike
how the aliens move in this film. They are almost universally seen on
all-fours, as though they are banana-headed dogs, rather than the upright
drones of the earlier films.
The Predator fares slightly
better in the film, though he operates by no sense of logic I can discern. This
Predator arrives on Earth with the mission to "clean up" the mess. We
periodically see him spilling some kind of glowing blue acid stuff on the
corpses so as to cover the tracks of both the aliens and his own kind.
It's his mission, we presume
-- from this act of destroying the evidence -- to hide the incursion of
extra-terrestrials on Earth.
Given this task, the
fact that the predator skins a police
deputy and hangs his corpse from a tree --- to be found by the sheriff --
doesn't make a lot of sense. Why go out of your way to destroy all evidence of
your presence, and then leave behind a bloody, hanging corpse in a tree?
That's just one incredible gap in situational logic, but there are bigger fish
to fry here.
Before seeing the movie,
for instance, I read a number of reviews from unhappy fans indicating that the
film was poorly shot: that it was too dark.
I thought this was just
I know of no modern-day
corollaries for this overt failure in a major, big-budget production. But for
some reason, AVPR is terribly, terribly under-lit
throughout. Even the daylight scenes are hard to see. You'll spend the entire
movie squinting, trying to make-out the crappy action. This is a movie that actually hurts to
I mean that it physically hurts your eyes to
In scene after scene,
dark, indistinguishable figures clash with other dark, indistinguishable figures,
all to the sound of squealing, gunfire and grunting. Rain falls, and we get the
illumination we desire and need from brief instances of gunpowder flare and
But otherwise, we’re in
the dark, literally.
Even now, some years
later, I remain shocked that there was no quality control on the set in terms
of the lighting; no review of dailies that revealed the film was too dark to
countenance. Perhaps the film was darkened post-production because the monster
suits weren’t up to scrutiny? I don’t know the reason for the problem, but the
film is inarguably a visual disaster.
In the final analysis, AVPR isn't merely an insult to
the intelligence, it's an insult to the great tradition and lineage of Alien and
A requiem, by the way, is a hymn for the dead; a musical composition for the
In this case, the
"requiem" sung by AVPR is the death knell of
not one, but two classic sci-fi film franchises.