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creature
  • 310233.1435

  • 310197.0748

    Jack (and Suzy) write a little op-ed piece in the WSJ admitting they're addicted to corporations for pleasure. For breathing, for eating. Read between the lines and start to realize, the new age of the CEO has turned transhumanist to a wide degree. Dangerous times ahead if this becomes our latest sociobiological path

    Here's a quote from their dimension of the galaxy, the intro fools us by agreeing with detractors, a simplistic argumentative employed best by demagogues:

    Here's a new party trick. Want to be accused of being a member of a satanic cult? Like to be called the kind of person who would steal candy from a child, or harm a puppy and start a forest fire—all in the same day? Do you want to be described as evil, heartless and stupid?

    Then just do this: Offhandedly mention in public that you agree with Mitt Romney—and that, yeah, you think corporations are people.

    Oh, how that notion sets some people right off their rockers! Take, for instance, the scene last month when senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren introduced President Obama at a big fundraiser in Boston:

  • 310169.1952

    is the Cooper Skull, a hunted bison from 10,500 B.P. whose skull was then painted with a red zig-zag and placed at the capturing point of the hunt. This predates bow and arrow. Atlatl points used here in the hunting of both Clovis and Folsom periods originate in quarries 100 miles in every direction from the site. Read Leland Bement on his unusual find, click on the interactive skull.

  • 310169.1934

    Top: With the Curios, Bottom: In the Studio (1909)

    From the Wm Cody Collection

  • 310160.1131

     

    Like father like son, er, like son like father... A resemblance patched-in that's both intentional and referential.

    Spoiler: Prometheus is the obvious made unnecessarily obscured; more videogame genre than movie laced with Christian mythology. The fluid of the creator turns every biomass against one another. And the fluid is stored here in wait to seed the created with their new-style biome: hell. Obviously discovered in the aftermath of an infection that turned on its inhabitants, the world's greatest scientists can't seem to deduce the toxin converts on contact: worms develop into asphixiation specialists. Crossed with a human (at a side-splitting gestation speed of 9 months in a single day), the wormy toxin goes mutlipod, gigantic, setting the stage for the showdown on Acheron. The question is, why obscure the premise in theosophy? The beheaded in the giant head room, the giant head backed by the toxin's sacred wall image: It's a religion invented in crayon-scrawl.

    (June 9, 2012) Ridley Scott's chaotic and rambling Prometheus is genetically spliced from every trope found in his second film, the seminal Alien. Spooky, empty ships, slamming doors, angry, tired crew members and robots with hidden agendas, all meshed towards the new calibrations of game-masterpieces like System Shock 2 and Bioshock. The demise of the Nostromo is regressively spliced with every known subplot spilling through science fiction since. Scott even begins by lopping off Blade Runner's Tyrell and slipping him in quietly as Weyland (Guy Pearce and Joe Turkel have their similarities), an aging trillionaire namesake CEO seeking more life from a creator. Sound familiar? Funny thing is, that was Roy Batty's same request thirty years ago and of course the humanoid creators bear more than a passing resemblance to demigod replicant-portrayer Rutger Hauer. It's a clean reverse, this time Tyrell is asking Batty for more life. Too bad the film can't pull off this daring visual grave's edge game emotionally, it slips away like the many other somewhat interesting concepts jerry-rigged into the mix. Even Batty's Christ symbolism, early death and brutal stigmata wound, winds up chained to the faithful Shaw's neck with Holloway and her playing Adam and Eve. Having his Eve stand-in don a crucifix gives-away Scott's grab-bag approach. Call it the Long Island Iced Tea of sci-fi-horror films.

    On a more obvious note, Prometheus owes more than a little of its biological thematic one-two to Chris Carter's vaunted X-Files. This thematic borrow is strangely absent from the review-feature article cycle preceding the film. Fox's studio PR machine can offer Daniker's Chariots of the Gods as a cover story all it wants since it helps hide the Blade Runner graft, but writers Lindelof and Spaiht aren't children of the 70s. Pulpy paperback UFOlogy isn't their myth. It's Chris Carter that got their cortexes strumming the PC keyboard and it shows. That ending launch looks too much like the X-Files to be ignored. And of course it's a TV show origin, which is what Prometheus is plotted like. The film (actually it's video, no?) seizes up in hysterically over the top set pieces, and the only one worth the price of admission involves an autodoc amped from Alien. Scott spends its ebbing minutes trying to stitch each subplot together (just like Elizabeth Shaw's belly full of auto-staples). Its storytelling manners are unwisely pulled from strategy-FPS console games (which have better plots suited for the long-haul), hence the chaos. Characters stumble through scenery oblivious they've left team members behind, helmets are removed, suicidal-decision making happens in a blink. As an upfront metaphor, one team member calls the pyramid structure they're surveying "hollow" and we know just what he means. It's the ghost of great videogames come back to haunt the carcass of filmmaking. And then the force of Scott's filmmaking is subordinated to the plot he has to crunch. He's best when each emotional build-up has key dramatic close-up frames, and minimal verbal reveals, but the script doesn't operate at Scott's rhythm. The actors don't sound convinced or convincing, so their arcs are as mysterious as the creatures they fear. And that's the problem. Alien's characters had no arcs. Here almost all have (at least) one. Some might even have two. Once you realize which characters Scott's invested his time and energy into (the very first scene), the bulk of the film plays out like so many cut-scenes in search of a theme. As a joke on the audience, Scott replays psychic holography the demise of the resident 'creators' like archived sequences from much better videogames about vanished crew members (see System Shock 2). The saucer's opening suicidal dropoff, a cheap hint, where the name Prometheus appears, reads more like an outlier version of Crystal Skull's saucer departure.

    Scott and his writers want us to notice unsubtle discrepancies like the saucer/disc that opens the film and the cramped banana derelict that ends it; did 'they' begin benevolent then converted to warrior-holocaust once a certain serpent-like creature was inadvertently spawned from their bubbling genetic serum? A reply they never, ever sought? Idris Elba is given the thankless job of (somehow) announcing the 'pyramid' as nothing more than a weapons depot, but that explanation is too pat. It seems more likely the place is a fail-safe stop-gap. A sentinel temple to protect the creators from their distant spawn; creators convert through serum into super killers that eventually turn on their owners and arriving offspring. The clever replay of the now dead caretakers' last moments seems to show the breech of the pyramid's main temple, where idealized/worshipped humanoids (a giant head fills the room) is contaminated by the creation-weapon they use to create life across the heavens (remember the opening creator dissovles painfully as Holloway does, though slower). Scott plays with us by merging/looping the beheading replay with the already infected Holloway. Now the plodding Christmas reference and Shaw's necklace have plot-weight: time-wise these 'serpents' rose there in parallel to one of the west's key messiahs here on Earth (the beheaded Space Jockeys' remains are 2000 years old). Talk about long-distance crossover. Next-stage Darwinism meets the bloodiest (metaphorically) of our our religions? Is the ticking crucifixion embedded in our DNA? Is theirs a lure-cosmology that returns with genocide? Co-ordinates to seeded worlds are obviously locked into their guidance, strung together like DNA strands. The bald creators seem to be awaiting each offspring planet's astronauts to initiate their own demise, or conversion, but the temple's been coopted, it's contaminated. Or more likely, the humans initiate their demise by letting David open the church-like crypt to the serpent's serum. He decrypts the door fairly easily, wanna bet it's a warning? They grow unusually fast, infected worms are deadly serpents by nighttime, a rate slip-synched with her malevolent three-months-in-12-hours fetus. Their contamination alters the murals in real time as well, another good criteria for the genetic speed happening to Shaw's mutant.

    Prometheus offers a messy, dark, religious response to 2001, but the real question is why does Scott focus his attention through biblical mythos? It limits the film's experimental reach, he and Lindelof seem to be suggesting myth is genetic. Weakly, Holloway and Shaw play Adam and Eve to their offspring's cosmology (Scott adorns their cabin with African masks to drive the point home). All we're missing is David's sly version of "Next?" as he slips his genetic cocktail. The next stage of this cycle, the Big Alien species, will be building their own crypt and Shaw will become their lost deity. It's all circular. And now that human genetics have been blended into the serum's speed, the growth cycle is slower, hosted, and female. The Big Alien's cycle is a mid-ground between our slow gestation and the creator's serum. Patient Zero of the Alien series is obviously the left-behind victim of Shaw's offspring vaginal squid (ha! a woman makes the first facehugger, a joke on the first Alien). The creator's inseminoid coming soon will be the first type of Big Alien, spliced from serpent and human. Guess he's piloting the next ship outta there. Looks like it will fulfill some kind of crucifixion fantasy set up in Prometheus's bas-relief storytelling, get itself facehugged, and spawn the species that heads for LV-426.  Where the Nostromo lands back in 1979. Then is Prometheus a veiled remake of Alien, dressed up as an origin tale that bites its spawn? Funny idea though, Ripley fighting Shaw's creation, first her grandchildren, and later - her daughter? Maybe Prometheus is the ultimate run-on sentence horror movie; the audience needs a dose of Adderall just to follow along. Alien ADHD. Too bad it was bad.
     

    Below: H.R. Giger's thumbnail of Dan O'Bannon's pyramid, cut from later drafts of Alien. Bottom: Giger's painted conception. Is Prometheus merely a remake of Alien posing as an origin myth? Both images from Book of Alien originally published by Heavy Metal Books. Two genetic flips, but it's essentially the same story.


  • 310157.0942

  • 310154.1652

    The biggest budgeted film of 1977 was 20th Century Fox's $17 million dollar hoped for tentpole Damnation Alley, a brawny action flick starring Jan Michael Vincent (White Line Fever) and George Peppard (Breakfast at Tiffany's). Director Jack Smight was b.o. gold since he'd helmed hits Airport '75 and Midway, but the effects were poorly planned and the film spent 10 months painting in glowing skies. It bombed in the wake of half-its-budget sleeper Star Wars, itself given little chance of success by the Fox brass. Rarely, maybe never screened, this megabudget oddity is being shown at Anthology Film Archives June 17/23.

  • 310141.0918

    Life isolated on islands adapts differently than those on continents. From Carlquist's Island Life.

  • 31095.2354

    It is not the literal past that rules us, save, possibly, in a biological sense. It is images of the past. These are often as highly structured and selective as myths. Images and symbolic constructs of the past are imprinted, almost in the same manner of genetic information, on our sensibility. Each new historical era mirrors itself in the picture and active mythology of its past.

    - George Steiner, In Bluebeard's Castle (1971)

    Today Titanic returns from the deep to take more passengers onboard, yet the more timely Avatar is the myth that needs sifting through. Unlike Titanic, Avatar is hiding from its past.

    Not to be misunderstood, our generation's Walt Disney via Werner von Braun, James Cameron, carefully combs his five previous sci-fi arcs through the lenses of both The Matrix and the cgi Star Wars Trilogy. He comes up with a blatant utopian-eden fantasy named Avatar. More or less a retake of The Abyss's central themes about ecology and technology, Avatar is staged a few light years away in our galaxy (updated from Abyss's salt-water to non-breathable air for humans, a step-up on the movement ladder, but he keeps that bioluminescence vibrating anyway) on a planet not subtly named Pandora (a prophecy from Earth's mythos).

    The most expensive film ever made is about an invasion of little green-obsessed men (humans). They've colonized a green planet populated by blue-giants, the star-affixed Nav'i, who remain somewhat tethered to their planet and its creatures in a manner not unlike a bio-analog version of The Matrix's pulsing digital simulation (plugging into its moon-wide broadcast signal). If you're blue, wrap your hair around a local plant and suddenly: who knows what might be under your tannenbaum.  Cameron takes his best actor and has her undersell the miracle of Pandora to her superiors (hint: reweave Earth like this and you can save it and make the bucks). Sigourney Weaver's throwaway key monologue (a scene repeat from the much better Aliens) would have us comprehend the revolutionary aspects of Pandora's biome at the expense of the deaf ears of the military-industrial complex that's paying for the project. They're both protector and enemy, a metaphor for the studio that footed the film's bill. They're aiming for the exact same thing the planet achieves by plant life digging roots and linking botanic and geologic forms, except these business types are using wiring and encryption and credit card access. People still gotta pay for it, yet Pandora the planet is an open source biological wi-fi network waiting for a genetic revolution of information. Is this open source's first massive metaphor? Cameron is so obsessed with the tech-aspects of his film, he shorts our comprehension of his biggest star, the sphere the film is set on. A somewhat 'thinking' (somewhat conscious like its resident bipeds, the Nav'i) living planet operates in unity, unlike our own Earthly disconnected networks of animal, plant and geosphere. Disney's Pandora, is a clearer name for this film (and it almost was), whose technological revolutions bypass Pixar, Lucas and Jackson by the second reel.  The Na'vi are as somewhat monotonous as the troopers that inhabit Pandora's opposite, the Death Star. The Na'vi, does it read as na'ive? They never use the tree-network to phone for help; never once try to ride 'the last shadow' themselves, whose riding is the sort of legend equated with the discovery of 'The One" in The Matrix. They remain at a consciousness mezzanine within their planet's potential and Cameron suggests their game-changer (the awakener Sully) must be a specifically disabled outsider, with few preconceived notions of their world. The key to Sully is his lack of legs which gives him an unconscious weightlessness neither the other avatars nor the Na'vi can experience flight through. Cameron shows you his atrophied legs as a taunt, like an afterschool special hero's, they look pathetic, yet they render his Na'vi unique in many unmentioned ways. 

    Earth by this time, 2154, is a dead planet (the film's first shot, travelling over rainforest, could be a memory of Earth). And humans, thinkers from the dead-planet, bring the usual suspect archetypes, a working class-hero - Sully, a tough as nails scientist (Grace Augustine, an unsubtle reference to the Christian thinker who wrote the autobiographical The Confessions, about a pleasure seeking sinner redeemed), a colonel with self-esteem issues. Cameron wisely glosses over the usual set-up conflicts and goes right for the meat of the journey: whether or not these humans belong on Pandora's Eden. Like most films about the future it's actually about our past. His film is telling us, our way to eden is by reverse thinking to a near past, the moment we began our colonization and rape of the Americas/Africa/Asia; humans must become what they once were, isolated in pockets, and change the outcome. He even slyly hints that we can reverse our invention as a reinvention.  His symbolic visuals are still operant, sometimes even vibrant. Pandora is first seen as a metaphor for us in an earth-made mirror, a vast field of solar panels, an earth-like gem framed by a blue-hued Jupiter copy. The creatures that signify promise are Abyss's spindly bi-valves (and they suggest the air in Pandora also has properties of water). The beds one accesses an Avatar through are green hued - a shout out to The Matrix, and the list goes on. The compression is impressive, Sully's got his Military father-figure (Quaritch's speech to the troops is framed by a window that apes the USA's flag - only now in green, a dead twin (never seen), a Scientist Mother figure (that runs slightly Oedipal once she inhabits her Avatar), a harried corporate golf-pro (again, all humans), a rebellious sister-type played by Michelle Rodriguez (she slips out of the tree assault early like a spoiled child). Then there's the locals, an entire array of Nav'i - natives developed around a cauterized First Mother First Father First Daughter and the first heir. Cameron rejects complexity here, there is no threatening Uncle, the son-heir, though contentious, is easily impressed. The real question is, why is he using Earth mythology to show-off an altogether different planetary consciousness - is he unconsciously lampooning it? amping it for the contrasts? is he making fun of his own projection? Their slim biometric customs and animal life that compete with the human tale for screentime are the secret stars of the film along with the orb itself: Pandora. Cameron even blends the bioforms through a bilateral-symmetry that's more ordered than Earth's (connected like Lucas whose influence here is felt, except Cameron is linking the life forms AND the spaceships, slightly different than what Lucas does). Pandora's Nav'i have flattened noses that appear in other lifeforms. Watch the flying creature's quick glance into the camera, it looks just like a Na'vi, a subtle mirror in staring. The unspoken visual elements are sometimes, enragingly brilliant: the bioluminescent 'stars' the Nav'i facially possess suggest, wildly, that the 'planet' (and the spirit of the planet Eyva) sees these stars and then projects them genetically (through time via nature, through genetic patterns that emerge through mating-sequencing across eons) into the individual Na'vi patterns. The planet is, however distant as a controlling force, still connected to these creatures, and weirdly, the Nav'i's consciousness disconnects them from the total system's possibilities- sound familiar? Even though the Na'vi express fear, doubt even rage against the encroaching aliens, their planet doesn't get the message. As chunky as the material is and as blatantly copied as the third act accomplishments are, his real feat is haunting the planet with a feasible antidote to the false simplicities of eco sci-fi. 

    Cameron is best when he makes the process of discovery seem intuitive with deadly force. Jake Sully's avatar Nav'i is told not to look his romantic interest's flying creature in the eyes. Later, as he approaches a herd of them to claim one for himself, he asks her how he will know which one to choose from. She tells him only then the proper choice will try to kill him first. Later on however the brutality of the Nav'i seems to run counterintuitive to the sacred treatment that counterintel agent-Sully's Nav'i avatar receives, when the humans start ripping the Nav'i's forest to shreds (a direct reference to Phantom Menace), they banter about whether Jake is to be trusted. Cameron slides from brutalism to chicanery when the audience requires it.  Similar logic-holes surround the half-completed premise of the sleep-wake cycle built into the Avatar program, and Cameron aims for laughs rather than complexly address what is a crucial, serialized disconnect: the inert Avatar host body 'sleeps' while his human inhabitor is awake.  Imagine what Cameron could have done with a Sully coitus interuptus scene between his Nav'i female and Grace Augustine (Weaver) trying to 'wake' him. Another source of plot-waste is the video-diary Grace forces him to perform, obviously a direct feed to their military and corporate handlers (is Cameron trying to make his audience paranoid of its social-media ties while making mother-figure Grace appear foolish? Cleverly he shows us a reverse of how the computer sees him.). While aspects of utopian bio-genetic structuralism lure the audience with intensive and futurist group eco-therapy, the film seems more concerned plot-wise with our recent past colonizing the Americas and erasing form-connections between native image and knowledge. The Nav'i (Native-Avatars) are dead ringers for the harassed, evacuated and now nearly erased Indians that now nickname our military's flying hardware. There are enough broken arrows aimed at bullet-proof glass to veer slightly into self parody. The American blockbuster ethos seems like a playground of Native-myths searching for a resurrection in our language (see esp. the Skywalker regime). The way west transformed into third-stage mythmaking (past the scrubby predecessor Europeans). Unfortunately like all unconscious colonizers, he's thinking like an American but acting like a King's subject, he can't seem to connect to new myths or new forms beyond those narratives of the early 20th century, he's simply refitting our catastrophe to theirs, a somewhat conservative approach (that's the disconnect, the planet is sure damn weird but the play he's having performed on it is oddly routine). War is war to him, its outcome looks no different than an Iraqi/Vietnam War exodus of technocrats leaving the Green Zone (and they my friend, are doing what everyone does when the film is over, they're our mirror, we ALL have to leave Pandora behind). He still thinks innovation lies in the hybridization between 'freethinkers' like Sully and the static-continuity of local wisdom (a leaky trope taken from James Fenimore Cooper or worse, Kipling); it's Sully after all who does what the Nav'i themselves did not know how to do. He calls in the biological ground and airstrike via the fiber-optic tree (he prays to the econet) AND conquers the forbidden, legendary and flame-painted 'last-shadow' (he has no fear of what the Nav'i fear). All within 25 minutes of screentime.

    Sully's tree request has its direct feed from Amerindian history: The Ghost Dance. This epochal last resort prayed for an end to the Indian Wars by sweeping the Europeans out of the Americas through a mystical armageddon. Congress outlawed it and Avatar parallels it with Quaritch's planned Tree of Souls destruction. Cameron, like Sully, brings the Ghost Dance mythology to life to boost his climax and turn an impossible tide. Pandora's merely a vector for an American trope lead by a hero that can't decide if he's really joining the locals.  Watch the back-and-forth, we think Sully can't decide if he's human or acting Nav'i as a ruse, but of course he's going native. Cameron thinks he can sustain tension at this level of the plot, when really the conflict lay in the how, not the why of it. This is a common failure of recent blockbuster narratives, a genre regressing faster than it can evolve. Directors like Cameron haven't gotten scientific about why the product has to be emotional but he's the sharpest at pivoting emotions when the audience needs something besides adrenaline to hold on to.  He crassly uses ancient markers of film-sentimentalism to get us to well-up on cue (he engages James Horner for this unexotic task). The problem at the core of Avatar lies in its activist plotting outmoded by craft advancement. A megathinker like Cameron believes that by reverse-engineering propaganda, the film's messages can warn us against our impending eco-disasters here. Instead he falls into the first paradox of all anti-war/anti-technology 'message' films: the war is too riveting, it drives the pulse rate and brings us back for more. To be as revolutionary as Cameron thinks he is, he had to attack the baseline of humanity: the meaning of the issues, the definitions of the words and symbols we use to discuss ecology and commercial exploitation. Instead Cameron does his work in the casting phase hitting up great actors who embody archetypes that can submit to the film's black and white ideas of good and evil. For all its visual advances, Avatar is still spiritually Manichean, an approach that turns heads without altering them.

    Sully's not employing particularly earth-based innovations (ha! they're universal) but Cameron wants us to think he is, maybe he assumes the final, only worthwhile earth-export is 'thinking outside the box'. The lack of proof is in the videogame: Cameron doesn't fold his mediums, he farms out a paint-by-numbers from Ubisoft simply because the economics require it - Cameron's alter-ego is slightly more the steroided Colonel than the open-minded Sully. Cameron is still a masterful even revolutionary technician despite his considerable conservatism (the action sequences are more riveting than lately Lucas/Spielberg/McTiernan, the optical detailing, gaseous distortions, exhaust streams, and the machinery are staggering in execution, they are not to be missed. And follow-through: the final battle between his G.I. Joe Colonel and Neytiri is a brilliant upgrade of Ripley's loader-assisted battle with the Queen Mother Alien. And his product is carefully visually crafted (he gets the scale shift between human and Nav'i dead-on, an inventive digital lens that captures forest floor alternating with a new eye-popping armageddon scale fluidly, a movie-first outside of Lucas and Spielberg, something Emmerich's Godzilla didn't, Spielberg's War of the Worlds did carefully, and Transformers does intermittently). The pairings between technology and bioform are crucial. The Nav'i's flying horses and the "last shadow" equate with the two scales of airframes (Spider and Gunship). Cameron even forms his cockpits as frozen rasterized versions of these creature's heads, and to square the point he applies a decal of a yellow dragon to the giant gunship of Quaritch's.  Some subtle techniques developed in 2-D (in early silents) remerge finally in the 3-D, when Sully and Neytiri are exploring their languages and the meaning of seeing early in the film, Cameron has her look at the audience for a second after she spends the majority of shot looking down at Sully. This is the first 3-D film to weave parallax and character's eyeframes carefully (he knows the medium's technique flourishes with audience-character eye-contact: imagine City Lights or Donnie Darko in 3-D). Cameron's first two shots, a traveling shot over the forest canopy of, what is guessed is, a real image of earth's fauna and a screen filling cloud (a flash of memory for all of us and hopefully the only special effect-free shot in the film), and a zero-g close-up of beads of water merging under purple light (a sly SFX nightmare version of that natural cloud), indicates that he's got the nuances in play, it has the feeling of being visionary. Is it visionary? Only at its petri stage, what Cameron could have grown as a narrative, not what happens here. In a film that continuously references the idea of seeing both in English and Nav'i (and unspoken: film's own visual definition), he ends the film with more than a nod to 2001. It's a direct copy. A now 'unified' Sully (unified in his avatar by the Pandoran network) opens his eyes looking directly at the audience, if only for a split second. Cameron, who knows he is the heir to sci-fi's baton, is also its current placeholder for the next visionary. Maybe visionary is next up in Avatar 2.

    Two final shots, supposedly one message. Stars migrate from background to face. Stepping forwards or stepping back?

  • 31092.2145