Category Archives: Theoretical

The gods of Prometheus

My wife has a brilliant and, as far as I can tell, rather original theory about the mythos and backstory of Prometheus, which she has kindly posted on her blog. Lots of spoilers, obviously. Her theory doesn’t necessarily mitigate the many flaws in the execution of the film or the misbegotten convolutions of some character motivations (proto-facehugger fist-bump, anyone?), but it is the most coherent explanation of the clues that I’ve yet read. An example:

Just think about the uniforms the Engineers wear. They are wearing synthetic, not organic, body armor that looks strikingly like the Xenomorphs. Remember the medical room scene where they “trick the head into life,” the Scottish Doctor points out that the helmet isn’t an exoskeleton it is synthetic armor. At the end of the film when we finally see the Xenomorph alien we’ve been expecting to see for the last 2.5 hours it immediately struck me that the alien looked more like the Engineer’s synthetic body armor than the Engineer itself. A lot of people are probably citing this as some sort of logical narrative inconsistency. I think otherwise. After all, the Engineers have the figures in the vase room; they would know what it would look like when an Engineer got parasitized by a Xenomorph. I propose that they modeled their body armor, and probably gobs of other things, after the Xenomorph because they knew it was deadly and effective.

One thing I forgot to mention to my wife when I edited her first draft (sorry, Ellen! My bad!) is that her theory doesn’t touch on what happens to  Holloway and Fifield after they’re exposed to the goo. An addendum might be that the Engineers were aware of the mutant zombie side-effect of direct exposure, and that’s why they kept the goo in such a controlled environment. The direct exposure (that is to say, ingestion) of the goo by the first Engineer we see suggests that they must have been aware of it, and that the ritual of drinking it — as opposed to falling face-fist into a puddle of the stuff after your colleague stupidly tries to fist-bump a hissing cousin of the thing from the Death Star’s trash compactor — evolved as a response. As Ellen argues, an awe connected with fear is not uncommon. The mutant Fifield is faster, stronger, and more unkillable than human Fifield, and even though he’s become a hideous monster, a death cult (which is essentially what the Engineers would be, in my wife’s view) might revere such a thing. The Engineer in the opening sequence might not even be attempting to “seed” another world at all: perhaps he’s ingesting the goo in an attempt to become that superhuman freak, or die trying. After all, we don’t see the DNA actually seed anything. All we see is its accelerated corruption and dissipation.

All of this is highly speculative, of course, but I suppose that’s half the fun of grappling with a film like Prometheus in the first place. I’m still on the fence about it myself, but I appreciate that it has spurred a lot of creative, constructive dialogue. Even if I ultimately judge the film to be a failure, I think it’s a successful, interesting failure. In the meantime, check out Ellen’s post, and continue the dialogue.☕


Quotes of the Week: God, games, and player failure

Having just reviewed an anime series where the main character is a self-identified gaming god, and having just decried Roger Ebert’s argument that video games can never be art, I thought I’d do a trifecta by highlighting a few articles touching on the theological implications of video games.  The first quote is from an article by Neil Sorens at Gamasutra, in which he considers the failings of God as a game designer:

With the ability to design both the players and the game, God should have been able to create a paradigm full of synergy and free of buzzwords.  Instead, for many dissatisfied players, it is only hardcoded compulsion that has kept the player base intact.  In fact, many players leave for significant periods of time and turn instead to games with far smaller budgets and ambitions and far less powerful designers to find enjoyment.

The comments on Sorens’s post are equally provocative and entertaining, as various people debate the merits of the thesis that our Creator buggered the job.  “Larry Charles” is confused:

He designed and built an entire Universe… filled with worlds which he did all of the environment art for, populated it with fully functioning, self sustaining and self regulating ecosystems, where just one world in particular, Earth, currently hosts 6,000,000,000 plus users who are always online, in 6 days…

And you wont hire him for your next MMO project?

“Douglas Baker” presents delayed gratification as a transcendental experience:

When we forsake short term pleasure for long term goals, especially ones that are us undefined as “an eternity in heaven” we are forsaking our own default state. We become more than the flesh we are born into, we become closer to God.

In game terms–we level up.

I’d like to quote the article that brought Sorens’s piece to my attention in the first place.  Over at Christ and Pop Culture, G. Christopher Williams has penned a thoughtful response to Sorens, in which the design flaws are reframed in terms of the designer’s artistic goal:

There is a certain kind of courage that an author has that is able to hand over his creation for others to play with, to take some authority over it, or, very simply put, to screw it up. At once, it seems a very bad idea. However, it also suggests that participation with the creation is important, that interaction with a world is desirable to its creator despite the potential for “failure” on the part of the participant, as if there is an interest in the creator in not merely dictating some script of his own design but to see what others will do with it and how they choose to enjoy it or abuse it.

In other words, it’s the nature of the medium that interactivity necessitates some form of player failure.  Again, the comments for that article as equally as worth reading as the piece itself.  Stephen Newport argues that perhaps the metaphor of “God as game designer” is apropos, but not in a good way:

[T]his player [was n]ever asked if he wanted to play the game in the first place! He is never given an option to simply “get off the ride” or merely not exist anymore. No, this designer has created a reality where there are two options: Find the key or be burnt alive! This is neither free will, nor a game where the player matters. Free will would give an option to not take part at all.

So maybe we’re not the players after all; maybe we’re the NPCs.

Let me posit just one more thought experiment.  It is fairly easy to posit God as the ultimate game designer.  But that restricts God to but one role, far removed from the game experience: the celestial clockmaker who winds up his cosmic watch and just lets events unfold as they may, allowing his Creation to rust and wind down, as if the universe were created simply so He would know when to take afternoon tea.  What if God is more immanent than a mere designer?  For the sake of rumination, let’s consider the metaphor of God as the game itself.  In a way, this would make God the code, rather than the coder (although, being God, I suppose he might be the code, the coder, and the NPC visual representations of the code).  Any metaphor we can devise for God will be both inadequate to expressing what exactly he is or how he functions, but every metaphor is an apt expression of the limited terms in which humans can imagine God as a concept.  All I am proposing is that besides the function of Creator, we also consider the function of Sustainer.  Theological problems will still be present, of course, as always.  I’d just like to explore moving a bit beyond quibbling over the flaws of the game design(er) itself and focus on what the game means, how it functions, and how best to play.  Isn’t that one of the highest functions of art in the first place? ☕

Why you don’t like not liking characters

A couple of weeks ago, Dan Swensen posted a brief essay on Surly Muse dealing with one of my favorite topics: the unlikable protagonist.  Broadly speaking, I agree with almost everything Dan says on the subject.  Does a character have to be “likable” or sympathetic?  Absolutely not.  World literature is laden with characters of dubious morals and repellent personalities who are nonetheless rich, rewarding fictional constructions.  However, I have to admit (as nearly everyone will) that, even though I know in my head that a character doesn’t have to be likable in order to be a great character, there are easily dozens, if not hundreds, of stories that I don’t really like very much.  Why?  Obviously: I didn’t like the characters.  The key issue raised by our premise, then, isn’t if characters have to be likable, but why unlikable characters work in some stories and not in others. Continue reading

Cutting snark: Malick, Nolan, and Bay

Jim Emerson has done a nifty video essay on the car chase sequence from The Dark Knight, articulating with the film’s own images why he feels that Nolan’s action choreography — more specifically, his framing and editing — adds up to a jumbled, incoherent mess. This is a common criticism of Nolan’s films in general, though not a popular one among his fans. It’s the first of a three-part series being hosted by Press Play about the editing of modern action sequences, and while this is the example of a “bad” action sequence, the next two will be examples of “good” action sequences. What struck me in particular about this essay was the comments that it engendered. Steven Santos brought up The Tree of Life, which I’ve argued previously has stylistic similarities in its editing to Michael Bay’s action technique. Continue reading

Motion capture mediation et al.

I was recently directed by a poster on a message board to this fascinating featurette, which touts the innovative marriage of technology and artistic virtuosity by an actor.  Andy Serkis is already getting Oscar buzz for his performance as Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Caesar is an ape, but instead of those wonky body suits you remember from the original Planet of the Apes, he is rendered with the latest advances in motion capture technology.  The question on the board was whether or not Serkis deserves an Oscar nomination, but I think the question has broader implications than that.  Many films in the last several years have featured performances delivered with the aid of mo-cap technology, the real question, for me, is how these technological advances should (or will) affect the way we think about film acting itself. Continue reading

The cutting room: Michael Bay and Terrence Malick’s shared sensibility

This last weekend, I finally took the opportunity to see The Tree of Life.  By this point, nearly everyone else with access to both a metropolitan movie theater and the Internet has already commented on this film.  There are already numerous comprehensive, provocative pieces of criticism out there on the film, and in a future post, I may highlight a few of them.  I just wanted to ruminate (or fulminate, perhaps) a bit on Malick’s editing style.  One of the more intriguing criticisms I have read of the film was written by Peter Tonguette:

[A]fter I saw The Tree of Life, I remarked to a friend that the movie didn’t seem to contain any real scenes at all — only fragments of scenes. The film is a series of snapshots, and it’s hard to judge, exactly, what we’re missing in all of the cutting. […] At times, it felt like I was watching a 138-minute trailer for The Tree of Life. Steven Soderbergh’s 1999 crime film, The Limey, is rarely discussed this days, but there’s a daring sequence in which Peter Fonda’s character, Terry Valentine, is introduced by way of a series of shots of him borrowed from later in the picture. As Soderbergh described it, it’s supposed to be like a trailer for Terry Valentine. That was the point. But this sequence lasts for perhaps 20 seconds, not two hours and 18 minutes. Continue reading

In which Paul W. S. Anderson alters my thinking on 3-D cinema… slightly.

Paul W. S. Anderson may have changed my mind — if only a little — about the merits of 3-D technology.  For years, I’ve maintained that not one film has been made in 3-D that was better for it.  Put another way, 3-D as a formal stylistic choice has not been a necessary component to any of the films in which it was utilized.  I already ranted at length about the faults of Jimmy C.’s Avatar at Playtime, and that is the one film to which nearly everyone who digs 3-D has pointed as an example of 3-D being done well.  I’ve generally avoided 3-D movies at the theater; the last one I saw was The Green Hornet.  The screenings of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides or Kung Fu Panda 2 that I attended were 2-D.  Though boredom almost seduced me into seeing Resident Evil: Afterlife in 3-D in the theater, a vacant billfold persuaded me to stay at home instead.  This last weekend, I finally caught up with it on Netflix Instant.  It wasn’t very good, but then, that wasn’t really why I watched it. Continue reading

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