One of the weirdest, most psychedelically spooky and Halloween-triguing shows on TV right now is the Travel Channel's THE DEAD FILES: psychic Amy Allan and retired NYC homicide detective Steve De Schavi investigate haunted houses with a twin pincer approach: he dredges up the the building's history and talks to witnesses; she sees dead people. She speaks to dead people, and they speak to her. But there's only one way to know if her findings are real... and that's Steve's corroborating unearthed facts. She uses a sketch artist to capture the image of the main dead person she encounters on her "walk" through the house in the dead of night. She and Steve then compare notes, and in the big reveal we match her sketch with Steve's recovered photo of the historical troublemaker. They usually match, which is awesome, slightly scary if true. It's the key moment of the whole show: Steve's tough but compassionate cop eyes widen, his head involuntarily shakes back and forth in stunned disbelief; we realize with queasy delight that we're watching a very grounded man's horizon expand, the 'super' part stripped away from the supernatural one thin sketch at a tie. Myth and reality, the unconscious psyche of the collective oversoul and the body--so long ago separated by church, science, and state--re-merge.
Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS (recently released on DVD) provides an eerie ancestry with Steve and Amy's investigations. A retro-futuristic pre-emptive Ancient Aliens gravestone for a still living humanity, it's Ridley Scott's big sci-fi comeback film, a belated prequel to his 1979 franchise-launcher ALIEN. Is it any coincidence its release date is 2012, a year that's marked the death of his brother Tony (see "I'm not Afraid to Die") and the end of the Mayan calendar--which is relevant to the ancient aliens hypothesis of the film? A muddled but fascinating career capstone, PROMETHEUS serves as a summation of all Scott's pet themes--dehumanization, mankind as the missing link between apes/aliens; machines/replicant theory (we're all some ancient race's robots) vs. practice; the whole system on trial; technology merging with humanity; the cosmic spark, etc. Too bad once again Scott winds up overanalyzing and falling into his old habit of second-and-triple guess self-negating budget bloating, reducing the wild strides of his earlier work down to a snippy crew of petty stock types all so constricted by their narrowly-defined quirks and hang-ups they dare not breathe without sneering nor speak without re-underlining their hamfistedly scripted 'type' of petulant adolescent. Their dialogue evokes, not the cool replicants of BLADEUNNER but M. Emmett Walsh's chief copper ("Here's mud in your eye, pal"); not the professional exchanges about 'struts retracting' and 'access overloads' in the deadpan natural conversational tone professional chatter of ALIEN but the 'I want to open my presents!' brattiness of Logan Marshall-Green's supposed doctor of archeology. With his natty scarf and layered sweatshirts, he never even gives the impression he cracked a book.
I bet he looked in a mirror once or twice though.
|Nice scarf, Poindexter!|
If only that idea didn't have such a dead-end more-of-the-same finality. Humans are still the only intelligent life form, we just found an older, bigger version. And the colorless girls go doo do doo doo. All that weird shit we saw in the first film? The acid blood and myriad strange stages of development, from egg to second stage parasite, to second egg, to 'hatch' to quick-growth ionizing, it seemed like this monster had a few stages we never got to see. But no - that was it. None of the sequels have ever extended or thought beyond that genius concept. Anything new is, well, more a matter of leather flight suits and CGI doing little more than removing eyelashes from big bald heads (no women aliens, either --that would apparently be stretching imagination too far). The first film depicted an alien of many different stages, one beyond all gender binaries, moving from egg to face hugger to parasite to infant, etc - it was a truly alien life cycle -- nothing remotely like it before in film (or since). That level of weird science, i.e. biology and physics folded into the fiction, is long gone, perhaps mirrored the hysteric tattooed geologist (Sean Harris) spittle-flecking about how everyone but him doesn't give a shit about rocks; at the same time he utters nary a single line of dialogue that would convey he knows a thing about rocks himself, other than being able to read a screen to determine what's hollow or solid.
At the same time, this level of 'keeping it stupid' dialogue (where characters display skills only in expository self-promotion), reflects the way science doesn't want to recognize the power of mediums like Dead Files' Amy Allan. Science wants to live completely and deludedly in the realm of materialism, which hates when anything is believed without prior scientific confirmation: astrologers, psychic, alien abductees, and exorcists are all fakers or delusional in the scientific eye, regardless of the mounting 'strange attractor' particle quantum theory evidence that everything is always in motion and interconnected in ways that transcend the narrow spectrum of our perceptions. There is a slowly growing realization amongst the cutting-edge quantum mechanics and string theorists that the movement of planets--even far away ones--in our own galaxy, affect every last emotion or event here on earth via quantum entanglement, the zero point field, and an ever-dissolving and cohering latticework of strange attractors. But try telling all that to your science teacher, am I right? He'd rather fail us as charlatans, because we're inferring the possibility of truth behind phenomena science has already labeled superstition. It's the inverse of burning Galileo at the stake; it's almost like the middle segment of an ouroboros swearing it's on a diet even as it's eating / being eaten. Prometheus is sci-fi for those kind of thinkers, the types who call UFO abductees lunatics without ever meeting them or looking into their case files.
Part of earning a doctorate is believing and ascribing to their panel of thesis advisors' notions of reality. They can't handle the truth, like they don't want to acknowledge an ugly son. It's not just a problem the 'engineers' (lead scientist Elizabeth Shaw's term for the big alien creators) have with us, it's a problem Ridley Scott has with his own material. Or that hack other writer he got, Joe Spaihts. Science must have loved him.
Like more than a few prequels shot decades after the original, PROMETHEUS indicates just what exactly blew minds in the original's heyday through failure to recapture it. With the help of reality-bending CGI and a massive budget, Scott's film loses sight of itself. Too big to fail, or succeed, it lurches into the dark void in search of a light switch so that it might clear yet another shadowed room and fill yet another darkened forest with shopping malls. The Alien series is now caught in a Moebius strip where the future is farther in the past than the present, and ten times the budget means ten times slower momentum. CGI lets nerdy crippled-by-second-guessing directors like Ridley over-tinker until a film is all FX details and the actors just gray blotches embarrassing the technical perfection around them with their unforgivable human-animal irregularity.
A great aspect of the 1979 original, never recovered in any sequel, was the naturalistic dialogue, the abundant adult professionalspeak (overlapping radio transmissions of technical jargon like background). Remember the breakfast scene, after everyone wakes up on the Nostromo and starts smoking and grumbling and socializing in an overlapping naturalistic Altmanesque rhythm? These were people in the same room, at the same time, adults talking in their low, natural voices. It was great, and no sequel deigned to try and capture that vibe. Call me crazy but cigarettes had a lot to do with that low key intelligence. Has the recently-installed zero tolerance for indoor smoking had the unforeseen side effect of dissolving our sense of 'adult' group dynamics? The chest-bursting scene was so shocking in the original because everyone was talking and joking and eating at the table in a believable manner, happy to see John Hurt's face again and to be heading home ("back to the old freezarinos!"). This was a reality we understood, that was warm and believable, disrupted by this traumatic other of the chest bursting - it was a WTF moment right up there with the Psycho shower scene.
But those moments can never be repeated. Today we're always waiting for that chest-burster, we get bummed if it doesn't come. There is no more traumatic other, no adulthood to deviate from, no difference between adults doing a job and children impatiently bickering and dying to "open their presents" and then getting sulky when they don't get an X-box. Screenwriting 101 blather extends to the hooligan geologist dismissing alien life as a load of bollocks (so why come? no one asks); the smarmy hipster biologist snickers like a mumblecore rom-com skeeve; the disillusioned hunk drinks and mopes because the engineers aren't alive; leader Charlize is of course a cold bitch who needs sexual healing from a black guy who sings "love the one you're with" and plays a concertina etc.
The video projection of Guy Pearce as the underwriter of the mission (in terrible old age make-up) introduces replicant David as "The closest thing I have to a son," a kind of cold insult to his butch daughter. "But he will never grow old and never die." Oh thanks for underlining that, gramps. If he were an astronaut in Kubrick's 2001 he'd have probably had to say that "Hal was the most human of us all."
Even more hackneyed is the way they continually associate their voyage with an imagineered Disney ride, the blueprints for which are probably in a safe, waiting for box office returns to affirm its marketability. What we end up with is a somewhat sickening, unconscious consumerist 'ugly tourist' irritability we might feel in coach watching as the stewardess's beverage cart comes slowly down the aisle toward our row, but never fast enough. PROMETHEUS has the ALIEN legacy and the rich field of crypto-anthropology to explore, to go a little gonzo with, but it never so deigns since there's all this stuff to do that's been stale since the 90s.
|Would have loved to see her smile like this just once, in the movie|
|from top: Hellraiser 4, Prometheus, The Thing (from Another World)|
Alas, such radical beauty would be too 'alien' for a movie with this size budget --they can't take the chance, just like mainstream science can't risk supporting alternate theories of human evolution. A real-life astronomer who's used his cinematic wealth to spearhead innovations in telescopes and SETI-style radio receivers, Scott's almost afraid to let his imagination run too far afield. So, as if eager to impress his mainstream science friends, he suppresses the intuitive, shamanic, and daemonic through a kind of bulldozer mentality. The deadening effect science has on our souls, or PROMETHEUS has on our love of the original ALIEN, is a mythic counterpart in Heracles bum-rushing the Underworld, hacking at shadows. A good book on this is by Patrick Harpur, who writes:
"Too much of our recent history has been soul-slaughter, imagining the past as merely primitive and, musclebound with technology, bulldozing the sacred spaces, hunting the daimonic animals with high velocity rifles, dispatching the jets to shoot down the UFOs, violating the moon-goddess with phallic rockets, and so on. Having severed all connection with the gods and daimons, we reckon we are getting away with it. But we aren't. The victory over the daimons is hollow; we simply make a hell of our world. And, as we drive the daimons out before us, they simply creep back in from behind, from within. We compel them to seize and possess and madden us. If we want to know our fate we would do well to look at Heracles. He neglected his wife, his soul, who, in order to rekindle his attention, sent him a shirt soaked in what she was told was a love potion. But the potion was a poison that poured over his body, corroding his too-solid flesh. The more he tore at the shirt the more he tore himself to pieces. He was glad to find death on a burning pyre..." (1)The problems with PROMETHEUS stem from this same too-literalness. Instead of a daimonic soul force not bound by physical laws as we understand them, which would have made fine use of the CGI Kubrick lacked in his "Beyond Jupiter and the Infinite" portion of 2001, or of gods whose thoughts are crystallized into the 3-D space time, like the Krell, or who breathe life into man, like Zeus, or even use our own fears and memories against us, like EVENT HORIZON or GALAXY OF TERROR, the engineers are jacked-up leatherboy baldheads carrying ink black tubes of super soil around the 3-D linear space-time universe, 'seeding' and/or 'poisoning' the worlds they find like temperamental charcoal artists who destroy most of their own work in a temper tantrum.
We have to take David's word for it that they're bound to come destroy the Earth, that they aren't they just seeing us the way we see the squid monsters, with abject horror, like the father beholding the creature that returns from college with long hair and a pierced septum. It's fitting that our engineers turn out to be so Heraclean, so anti-spirit, even still using screens and projections instead of telepathy and astral projection (as the real aliens do, and are doing right now, telling you not to believe me).
With all this uncanny familiarity breeding so much revulsive contempt, the fantastic H.R. Geiger production designs of the original become in fact anachronistic to the spirit of Scott's 'new' vision. The original marriage of alien and Nostromo was about a clash of surfaces -- the alien was the return of the gothic architecture, of biology and machine fused together in spinal column-style fractal patterning vs. the maternal warmth of the living quarters portion of the ship and its dragonfly-like arrangements (above). We realize the original shape of the alien came from his previous surroundings, that he's continually shedding skins, for camouflage purposes if nothing else, so we realize the alien's been to some pretty crazy places, like Geiger's native Holland. Because now, thanks to its popularity, the freshness of Giger's work is long gone. Scott gives up on any notion of either gothic 'other' in favor of a bland universal language which is then made inscrutable. Like how grandparents and grandchildren sometimes share a special bond that leaves parents out of the loop, David the robot understands the big black engineers so we don't have to.
|Lawrence prays to Prometheus|
It's our nature to be underwhelmed, and in that one area, PROMETHEUS doesn't disappoint.
And who can blame David for thinking ill of his fellow Prometheus crew members? Sometimes the 'banter' of the crew even seems to careen towards a kind of faux-FIREFLY jocularity, "a hundred credits?" wagers the Asian stereotype, "put it towards a lap dance with Miss Vickers!" Really bro? PORKY's-like sniggering and lap dances are going to survive into 2089? And those overconfident orchestral moments in the score, with those minor key English horn parts that make everything sound like a Spielberg military funeral? And the way neither Ridley Scott nor Elizabeth seem to remember there's a difference between being a leader and a whiny martyr? "I shall need more time here," says Elizabeth Shaw when its announced they need to split back to the ship to avoid a coming storm, as if her lady martyr bossiness can hold back nature. She refuses to let the security officer bring weapons on their first visit (pompously noting "this is a scientific expedition - no weapons," presuming I guess any wildlife that they encounter will understand and not try to eat them. And then later she demands that Idris Elba kill himself by ramming the Prometheus into the alien ship taking off, because she's realized they're headed to Earth. Which again makes no sense but gives her the chance to once again be a total demanding humorless self-righteous buzzkill. Even when dealing with her husband's bitter disillusionment she spins it around to get attention by reminding him she cawn't have children, and so it becomes some big sob moment, forcing me to recall the words of Camille Paglia:
Feminism . . . sees every hierarchy as repressive, a social fiction; every negative about women is a male lie designed to keep her in her place. Feminism has exceeded its proper mission . . . and has ended by rejecting contingency, that is, human limitation by nature or fate" (2)Thus even her husband's bitterness about the engineers being all dead must be reinterpreted as a slight against her being infertile. Still he's at least human... for now When he says 'here's mud in your eye, pal' to David, shortly before drinking the magic droplet of black hole mud dosed therein he evokes Deckard, and Shaw eats with chopsticks and talks to computers, so there you go. Scott is an avowed fan of classic sci-fi so naturally he'd age into a fan of his own work, and even its predecessor influences and subsequent imitations. He's edited and re-edited BLADE RUNNER so many times that it's become about its multiple edits (as I discuss so repetitively in my 2008 article for Bright Lights, What's your Edition Number? The Replicanting of Bladerunner. The only thing that the over-eager team behind the digital refurbishings seem to leave alone is the faces of the "mortal human" actors: M. Emmet Walsh and Edward James Olmos, and J. F. Sebastian and Tyrell all have terrible terrible skin, as if the air's been eating their cheeks away. To see their blue veins and gray, pockmarked, sweaty skin in amidst all that shiny CGI-enhanced finery is to feel our human weaknesses are letting the computers down, embarrassing them at the company picnic, so to speak. We want to apologize to AI for being so hard to duplicate, not just vis-à-vis the "uncanny valley" but with our decomposing faces, frozen in time on the image while all around them every last set detail is gussied up with HD retouching.
Thus Peter Weyland is played by Guy Pearce in elderly make-up rather than a real old man who might seem less streamlined and more genuinely crotchety (why not get the actual Peter O'Toole, that would add a whole meta-level to David's Lawrence obsession), and his hand closes like a polyp recoiling from his scheming daughter Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), who--in classic Freudian form--has made herself as sleek and anime-replicant-like as possible in order to compete with Weyland's favorite (artificial) son. But of course the favorite child never appreciates it. "Doesn't everyone want their parents dead?" David later asks. And while it's clear Charlize does want her father dead, so she can take over Weyland Corp, she also desperately wants his love, which is a huge turn-off. Her attempts to become more like a replicant to win his attention are an apt echo of modern eating disorders and surgery addictions as girls make themselves more and more like anime robots every day, slicking their hair back (easier to animate than loose strands) and crossing the uncanny valley in reverse, in an unconscious drive to please Disney's NWO agenda. Theron's style, then, is perhaps the most interesting and worthy element of the film and--for all that--most sad.
Valley crosses, from top left: Charlize (Prometheus); Kristanna Loken (Terminator 3);
Charlize (Aeon Flux); Milla Jovovich (Ultraviolet); Sean Young (Blade Runner)
As a preface, for those skeptics in the audience let me return to what I was ranting about before re: science vs. the supernatural. Microbes existed long before there were microscopes to see them, so if someone had vision so acute they could see microbes before the invention of microscopes, would they be hallucinating, or considered to be pulling a fast one, even if they could draw them so well that, once they could be seen via the microscope, mainstream science would be forced to acknowledge the similarity? Would you be committed to an asylum if your hearing was so acute you could pick up noises no one else could hear until the invention of the condenser microphone finally won your release?
'Genuine' skepticism keeps an open mind and neither believes nor disbelieves anything 100% and that's why the presence of Steve De Schavi is so reassuring. His heavy lidded eyes betray a long history of dealing with lying murderers, scared witnesses, concealed information, and soul-deadening tragedy, and he's a genuine skeptic as any good detective must be, yet he is continually astounded by Amy's spot-on information. Compare him, then, to the smug skeptics aboard the Prometheus, who even though it's 2089 and they're deep in space, sneer at Shaw's decree about alien 'engineers' like they're sophomore year science majors trying to impress a narrow-minded professor. A good cop trusts his instincts, his information, the facts, observation and experience, not dogma. Science on the hand snickers at anything outside its parameter of the consensually agreed-on 'known.' They snicker... because they don't want to snickered at. It could cost them their tenure, or a grant, to believe in anything outside the parameters of the 'proven' especially where concerns something far more advanced than itself.
But there are such things as ghosts, whether its convenient to mainstream science's paradigm or not. What they are -- recordings in water or granite crystals of intense traumatic moments - or actual spirits - is open to conjecture. But, though the evidence is never consistent, when they're real they're as real as any other illusion, and vice versa. Unlike scientists, good detectives do turn to psychics when they have no leads, because they're not too proud to ask if it means saving a life or catching a killer, and because they're trained to rely on observed details, not emotional certainty. Psychics have helped solve enough crimes that only fools doubt their ability. The thing is, that ability is not infallible.
In PROMETHEUS there are ghosts that appear via some alien HD projector 3-D expression of the 'stone tape' theory, which is that certain crystal deposits under or in the walls of old castles can record moments of extreme psychic trauma that replay infinitely and be seen by psychics, children, shamans, and schizophrenics under the right series of electromagnetic circumstances (such as during a thunderstorm). And just like the stone tapes within and without the world of film, certain emotions and moments in time endure... in the zero point field.
And what will make Scott's film endure, despite the cliches, is its very real look at the intergalactic origin of humanity as a genetic self-portrait bar napkin scrawl. Again, skeptics may scoff but there's plenty of evidence to make us question the doop-de-doo logic of Darwin, which explains very little about why we're are so different than our ape brothers, why chimps haven't developed speech by now, and who made the tape splices and alien signatures and serial codes on our junk DNA ("ever buy snakes from the Egyptian, pally?")
Scientists trying to understand the paranormal through their systems and measurements is like a dog chewing on a math book to understand algebra. We have to admit there might be a other ways to perceive the information in the book other than through eating it or smelling the binding. If we could read our reality the way it was written, with all nine of our senses aligned to all nine levels of reality, if we could read that which was written deep in the rocks of ages and in our DNA, then we would know who wrote and breathed us into creation (and then split). Whoever they were, they left us here like deadbeat parents leaving their kids at the mall, promising to return in a few thousand years, in time for Christmas, then forgetting about us, not even calling on our birthday, or buying us a bushbaby. You heard me, they just threw us away like a message in a bottle thrown by a shipwrecked sailor. And now, if we see them on the street, they just look the other way, ashamed they ever created us to begin with.
We should kill them.
The catch in PROMETHEUS is that our makers may have used us as a biological weapon to wipe out some other species. The 'sacrificial engineer' in the pre-credits sequence dissolves into broken ashes that slowly, presumably over billions of years, reconstitutes into ourselves, but why? Were we meant to color the canvas or gesso it back to blankness to be ready for another version?
Coming up with answers doesn't always mean improving the question. In this case the logic is quite reductive. Wherever we go, all we'll ever find is ourselves, in one form or another, according to stupid-ass PROMETHEUS. Why bother going anywhere? We're already gone!
|From top: Parasaurolophus, Prometheus, The Tree of Life|
Science will always admit it doesn't know everything and there are still countless uncatalogued life forms in the oceans; still quantum physics-derived revelations about the elastic nature of time, space and 'true hallucinations' left to come. But we will know it eventually--we seem to sense it. Until then it will always be the job of the artists and movie producers to figure out how to present this uncertainty to the public in intriguing ways that never quite become fact or fiction. Unless science can taste it in the math book, or figure out how to read it, these things can't actually exist, and thus on these levels, science is a hindrance to progress. We may not know how to read the math book ourselves, as artists, yet, but we're smart enough not to eat it. We can stare at the cryptic markings and let our natural learning process slowly acclimate ourselves to the high strangeness. After a few more generations of 'heroic dose' shrooming, DMT-smoking, heavy-meditating ancient astronaut enthusiasts have come and gone, and their knowledge of alien theory seeped down into the collective 'given,' then alien engineering will organically become a scientific reality regardless of positivist insistence on being able to measure it first.
Or we can go on with the plan to panic and deny, belittle and destroy, mask our fear under the guise of a skeptic or mainstream scientist, deriding all we cannot explain and never getting the paradoxical irony when science in turn admits its own ignorance: "I don't know the answer either, therefore your hypothetical answer is stupid, and not even worth investigating."
To bring the eating the math book metaphor back, science believes in all the ingredients--wood pulp, ink-- just not what the book says. It knows there are billions of galaxies and we have the potential to one day discover life on another planet, and we know only a fraction of what life was like in our distant past and we are different in our brain power than all the rest of the animals and the Earth has been here a long long time. YET - If you even propose to connect all these dots, and consider one of the other billions of galaxies around far longer than us may have long ago been to our planet and even 'seeded' us into existence, the academy snickers.
Why? Because they can never admit there might be a world going on outside of their own limited perspective. They can only imagine the universe as a school patiently waiting for science to allow it to open. In all the billions of years the universe has existed, surely someone had time to evolve enough to come here, and leave again once they got a look at how we turned out, a Dr. Frankenstein blasting off to escape his mess of Karloffian monsters!
Michael Fassbender's robot is, however, unlike us, no ugly genetic swamp of hang-ups and accidental girl drownings. He's an electronic Apollo, the gifted Adonis lawyer our god dad wanted us to be. He's the grandchild of these alien forefathers, so at least they should be proud of him. David gets to skip it all... emerging full formed like a god from a slain Cronus. He escapes the chthonic morass of nature, the primordial soup from which we were slowly built together via the knitting DNA mandibles of the insectoid uber-intellect. You could call those canisters of black ooze a biological weapon but you'd miss part of the point: this is the stuff that created us, that will create us again, wherever it lands. It's humans in a bottle: just release and wait six billion years for the ooze to work its way through its long gestation, through trilobites and past dinosaurs and mammoths and into monkeys and BOOM, there's that man again.
|Into darkness: T-B: Dead Files, Prometheus, Planet of the Vampires|
1. Patrick Harpur, Daimonic Reality (p. 261) Prime Winds, 2003
2. Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, (p. 13) Vintage Books, 1991