13 June 2012

Pro-metheus


Yesterday, I posted a mocking attack on Prometheus that also linked to other attacks. I hated the movie, and so did plenty of other people.

But I don't want to give the impression that it is Friday the 13th Part XXVI: Jason vs. Maximus Prime. (Actually, that movie could be awesome!) Plenty of perfectly intelligent moviegoers have not merely enjoyed Prometheus, but embraced it. Adored it. Gone to see it more than once.

So, for some balance, here are four quotes from reviews and comments on the film that view it more positively than I or the people I quoted yesterday:

Roger Ebert:
Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is a magnificent science-fiction film, all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers. It's in the classic tradition of golden age sci-fi, echoing Scott's "Alien" (1979), but creating a world of its own. I'm a pushover for material like this; it's a seamless blend of story, special effects and pitch-perfect casting, filmed in sane, effective 3-D that doesn't distract.

Andrew O'Hehir:
...“Prometheus” damn near lives up to the unsustainable hype, at least at the level of cinematography, production design, special effects and pure wow factor. This tale of a deep-space mission late in the 21st century, several decades before Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo will discover an abandoned alien spacecraft and its sinister cargo, is a sleek, shimmering, gorgeous and often haunting visual mood piece. No other recent science-fiction film, with the sole exception of “Avatar,” has created such a textured, detailed and colorful vision of the human space-traveling future, and indeed it’s reasonable to assume that Scott conceives of “Prometheus” as a pessimistic counter-argument to James Cameron’s eco-parable on various levels.

Caitlín R. Kiernan:
And, lest charges of sexism arise, Kane is the first of the crew "raped" – a man – then Brett – also male – and then the ship's captain, Dallas – also male. Now, turning to charges of sexism in Prometheus (which I am seeing) as regards "rape" by the alien: What? The first person infected is Holloway, who unintentionally impregnates Shaw through consensual sex. Then we see Milburn mouth-fucked by a proto-facehugger. That's two men impregnated (though you might argue Holloway is, rather, infected) to one woman (the presumably male "engineers" not included). So, charges of a sexual bias towards women are simply baseless.

Glenn Kenny:
I've said before that I tend to measure certain genre pictures by the number, and quality, of what I call (if you'll excuse the phrase) Holy Crap! Moments. (I don't call them that, exactly, but what I actually call them can't be printed here.) In any event, in the notes I took for this film, on one page, in big block letters taking up pretty much two thirds of the page, I indeed wrote that phrase in the middle of one particular scene. You'll know it when you see it, and it is insane, one of the most perfectly perverse and beautifully executed pieces of shock cinema I've seen in years, an absolutely breathtaking and staggering and exhilarating set piece that kind of reminds you of every sick thing that cinema is good for. And that scene is more or less bracketed by sequences that, while not of equal impact (they couldn't possibly be), serve to buttress the truly insane sequence with whiplash-inducing excitement.

So far, Prometheus does not seem to be as epically polarizing a picture as, for instance, Tree of Life or 2001. Viewers' reactions vary, certainly, but I found it much harder to collect substantive quotes for this post than for the previous one, and far fewer people with a passion for the film that matched the passion of those of us who hated the film. There are certainly plenty of people who like the movie, or at least have mixed feelings that tend toward the positive, but the sort of writing about it that I've been able to find is mostly less specific on the positive side than on the negative, and most of the positive writings so far focus on the visuals, on Michael Fassbender's performance, and on the thrill/horror of the surgery scene. That may change with time, especially once the movie is available for home viewing, or once enough lovers of the movie get fed up with us haters and start firing back.

What's interesting to me, though, and why I keep coming back to a movie I strongly disliked, is the way so many, if not all, movies require us to be in sympathy with, for lack of a better term, their affectual aesthetics even before we can begin to appreciate them. I expect it's as much a neurobiological (and neural-biological) response as it is rational. This may be true of all art — first, we feel it, then we think up ways to justify our feelings — but probably especially true of performing arts, because their appeal is to so many of our senses. There is likely nothing I could argue that would make any of the four writers above find Prometheus less thrilling, wondrous, and enrapturing, nor any template they could give me to experience the same emotional connection to the movie that they did. It's possible through argument to increase certain types of appreciation, but I, at least, have rarely, if ever, been able to argue my way into a stronger emotional response to a movie.

Text is different for me — there are books and stories that I have found emotional keys to through other people's explication and criticism. This may be because of how I read: as I've said before, I'm not, in general, a particularly immersive reader, and so the pleasure of reading for me is primarily an analytical/intellectual one. Certain stylistic qualities do affect me with writing, though — particular types of "hardboiled" prose are like nails on the chalkboard of my mind, for instance.

Movies, though, I usually watch in an immersive way, and at movie theatres we're seeking the immersive (hence the need for anyone with a cell phone out at a movie to be tortured mercilessly and exiled to a distant island where they can no longer ruin viewers' experiences. Also, talkers and coughers and — well, yes, I'm a bit sensitive...) But there are levels of immersion: sitting in a movie theatre in the dark is the basic level, but actual engagement with the film is something different, a mix of attention, emotion, and physical response that may have rational components but is not, as far as I can tell, essentially rational. Indeed, part of the joy of watching movies is experiencing that non-rational, neurophysical response.

Such response may, obviously, be different at various points in our lives, and we respond differently given the circumstances of our moods and moments (Ani DiFranco: "Every pop song on the radio is suddenly speaking to me..."). Just because a response is non-rational doesn't mean it can't be educated, that we can't train ourselves to be more or less patient viewers, that we can't strengthen and shape the muscles of our response. If you've only ever encountered Hollywood blockbusters, the first time you watch a different sort of film you're probably going to have a strongly negative affectual response, because your brain and body are unlikely to know what to do with this profoundly different sort of experience (or maybe you'll find that thrilling). But watch enough and think enough and listen enough to people who appreciate such things and you might bring yourself more into alignment with such experiences. (My post before my first on Prometheus was about learning to love Fassbender, and my initial response to The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was fiercely, viscerally negative. The change in that response is, for me, a rare exception to just about everything I'm saying here!)

If the experience of watching a movie is not one that engages you beyond the basic, brute level of immersion, then you end up responding to a movie like Prometheus in the way I did: by falling back on the rational. Not being entranced, I experienced the film with more mind than body. And I doubt even the film's staunchest defenders would argue that it is primarily a complex intellectual experience. I could put the shoe on the other foot, so to speak (the lens on the other eye?) if I bring up Tree of Life, a movie that utterly entranced and immersed me, that I can watch again and again and experience the same sort of full-body engagement (at least until the last sequence; the beach stuff actually kills some of the immersion, forcing me to an intellectual justification of it; I continue to think it's the weakest sequence in any Malick film). Viewers not entranced by Tree of Life find it an unbearable experience and a ridiculous, meretricious movie. (Same with 2001.)

This does not mean we have to fall into a shallow relativism, a "You like your movies, I'll like mine, there's no arguing it, art is whatever you make of it, yabba yabba yabba." Experiences may be beyond argument, but claims aren't. For instance, one of the passages I quoted yesterday, from Genevieve Valentine ("One of the saving graces of the psychosexual terrorization in the Alien franchise is the leveling of the gender playing field – the rape threat they represent is omnipresent and sexually indiscriminate. But not in Prometheus!"), cannot be true if Caitlín R. Kiernan's quote above is also true. The argument would need to be fleshed out so that we knew exactly what we were talking about (and what "rape" refers to in the film; I'm not sure it's the most useful word for the actions under discussion), but it's certainly a line of argument that could get somewhere, and that people with different experiences of the movie as a whole might even find some common ground on. Even when your overall assessment (like/hate) relies on an emotional and non-rational engagement with something, there are still plenty of areas for rational discussion.

Hatred may not be overcome, love may not be undone, but indifference can be moved toward one direction or another. Yesterday, for instance, I said that Michael Fassbender "seemed like a refugee from an incomparably better movie, A.I.", to which Adam Lipkin in comments said, "I'm not sure any phrase could be more damning than, 'an incomparably better movie, A.I.'" But I've come to really like A.I. I put a link on the title to Jonathan Rosenbaum's Film Quarterly essay on it, an essay that got me to look at the film in a new and more appreciative way — I'd watched it, had liked parts well enough, but hadn't been bowled over, and thought the ending was silly. Rosenbaum's essay, and then, later, Ben Sampson's video essay, "A Visual Study of A.I. Artificial Intelligence" gave me the perspective to find my own way into the film and to move from indifference to, if not love (no, not love), then enthusiastic appreciation.

But I wasn't indifferent to Prometheus.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, but this is what people said about Bladerunner, too. ;-) I haven't seen the movie yet. I loved Bladerunner, was impressed but not overwhelmed by Alien. I'll probably see this one on streaming someday.

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