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Trapped in the Echo Chamber

With Prometheus, this summer’s companion piece to the science fiction classic Alien, Ridley Scott has made the exact sort of movie one expects Scott expects people expect him to make. *About which spoilers abound in this post* More so than Scott’s other works of the last decade-plus, the self-consciously Great Films of the period epic mold, Prometheus is in dialogue with the director’s earlier and legitimately excellent films (Alien in particular). And it’s holding a bullhorn.

Maybe last week’s Slate article about scholarship surrounding the Alien franchise is to blame, but while watching Prometheus, I had to wonder if Scott had acquiesced to the numerous gender studies readings of Alien, despite his earlier rejections of the film’s either feminist or antifeminist underpinnings — if Scott* had been persuaded that, Yes, this is what the franchise is about, or if he maybe decided that, If that’s what the people want, that’s what they’re gonna get! (‘I’ll show you Horror and the Monstrous Feminine!’) Because Prometheus features not only a literal impregnation via weaponized living outer-space mystery goop but also a fanged, gigantic vagina dentata, a creature that destroys both lives and the gender binary with the thrust of a hidden phallus.

The effect all this is of hearing shouted what may possibly have been whispered earlier, and like much of Prometheus, it’s sort of embarrassing for everybody**. More than that, though, the film’s alien pregnancy plot point and creature design choices are particularly glaring examples of an artist seeming to have too thoroughly internalized other people’s notions of his/her work. And I’m finding myself, like the men and women of the spaceship Prometheus, bizarrely willing to put myself through one ordeal after another, i.e. eager to check out late-period fiascoes of this kind from other writers, directors, etc. So–suggestions?

* Perhaps screenwriter Damon Lindelof deserves the credit for some of the film’s louder thematic elements, though Lindelof seems to deny culpability.

** But like much of Prometheus, the thematic loudness is partially redeemed by the skill with which the film’s actors handle their lousy material. Beleaguered scientist Noomi Rapace’s pregnancy leads to the one great moment of suspense in Prometheus, as Rapace is trapped in a surgical pod with her hostile alien parasite after removing it with a high-tech C-section.

5 thoughts on “Trapped in the Echo Chamber

  1. I saw Prometheus today.

    I thought it was entertaining, I guess.

    I also thought it was just an entertainment. And nothing else, really. Certainly not a work of art like Alien was.

    I suppose people are now going to talk about it for a while. Me, I’ve already mostly forgotten it.

    1. I think I’ve been trying to unpack Prometheus since seeing it, track the lumbering missteps etc, since it declares itself to be something like a work of art within the first few minutes, but that’s probably the appropriate response, Adam –

      1. I think it’s a lot simpler than it appears. It’s a prequel in that Scott set up the first Alien with it, but intentionally left a few pieces in the wrong places so people would have something to mull over. And that’s fun, but mulling over it won’t take one very far, I think. Guys like this—
        —are really overthinking it, IMO. (He seems like a real cool guy, though.)

        It was the movie I was most looking forward to this summer, and I wish I liked it more than I did. Too much characters standing around expositing at one another, like so many movies these days. Watching the original Alien next to it is really instructive—one doesn’t need all that expository dialogue! And actors can do more than talk to one another, then run and scream.

        The original Alien is a surprisingly poetic horror/sci-fi film. Prometheus, I fear, is a pretty entertaining horror/sci-fi film that ditches the poetry in favor of alluding to religious myths, and that packs in a few puzzle pieces in order to prompt a sequel. It’s the Lost version of Alien, which I find less interesting and artistic than the Alien version of Alien.

        Or at least that’s how I think of it fewer than 24 hours after having seen it!

        Oh, and Scott was definitely trying to yank as many chains as possible, overloading on all the phallic/vaginal imagery.

        1. … Unpack it mostly in terms of the missteps on the way to being Art, I maybe should’ve said. I agree that it’s simpler than appears — but again, gah, kind of fascinating to me for relying so much on those typical terror-in-an-unfamilar-place horror beats in light of Scott’s evident ambition. (I saw Cabin in the Woods only a week beforehand, and having that film fresh in my mind probably made it harder for me to ever get fully immersed in Prometheus on even a popcorn movie level — the strings are just too easy to see if you’re tempted to look for them.)

          1. Yeah, I wish Scott had been up to more than just making an entertainment. He definitely should have deviated more from the script.

            I found it sad, really. When he made Alien, he was trying to do something innovative and poetic with a genre film. This time around, he basically capitulated to making a summer entertainment that could reboot a moribund franchise.

            I think art can make money—I love Drive—but Prometheus doesn’t strike me as being interested in art. There’s nothing in it I’d call artistic. Which, again, I find sad. … Oh well, I’ll just rewatch The Duellists/Alien/Blade Runner/Legend!

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