Thursday, June 21, 2012

Prometheus wears no clothes

This is not another deconstruction/takedown/rant about the movie Prometheus. There are folks far more studied in film and subtext and metaphor out there than I who are doing that far better than I could hope. But I do think there is a big element missing in the analysis.

I'll admit I was hopeful for Prometheus because I do like Ridley Scott as a director very much. I rank Kingdom of Heaven very highly, even if few other people seem to share my love. But I grew very, very wary when I learned Damon Lindelof wrote the script--of the final version of the script, at any rate. See, way back when, I watched the first six episodes of LOST like everyone else on the planet, then got up and walked away, warning The Wife and my brother, "They have no idea where this is going." I kept up with the show, sure. How could I not? I watched about a dozen episodes of each of the following season (The Wife and my brother kept watching, religiously) and saw a pattern emerge: As soon as the characters came close to solving one Major Mystery, another LARGER mystery suddenly appeared, supplanting the former (which was generally ignored from that point on with no resolution). I read the interviews early on where Lindelof boldly declared that viewers better watch out, because in upcoming episodes the main characters would walk into the jungle with, essentially, "Red Shirts" but only the Red Shirts would make it out alive! Which, essentially turned out to be a pie crust promise--easily made, easily broken. A pattern repeated when, in the middle of season 4 (my dates may be off a little, so forgive any inaccuracies) they made a much-ballyhooed announcement that LOST secured a deal to end with season 6, which, Lindelof said, gave the writing staff all the time they needed to wrap up all the plot threads and answer the questions they'd been tormenting fans with. Of course, when the finale aired and fan backlash mounted because Lost had answered almost none of the grand questions posed, Lindelof held up his hands and said they simply hadn't had enough time to get to that stuff. Translation: He had no idea where all this was going.

So it's no surprise that he's trotting out the same non-resolution, non-thinking, non-answers again with Prometheus and defending it as deep and philosophical. I suspect it is actually because Lindelof is psychologically incapable of telling a story with a beginning, middle and end. Seriously. I didn't believe it myself until last week when I heard him give an interview on NPR and this particularly stunning anecdote came out:

"When I was a kid there were these books called the Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries. Essentially it was a boy detective who worked out of his garage, and the boys in the neighborhood would come and say, 'Hey, my bike got stolen, my piggy bank got broken into, will you solve the case, Encyclopedia Brown?' It would be about a five- or six-page story, and there would be some sort of clue in there that gave away the answer. And then you would flip to the back of the book and see if you were right. I would read the story and immediately flip to the back of the book even if I hadn't guessed it, and my dad saw me doing this and he ripped out the answers on all my Encyclopedia Brown books. So I would go to him and I'd say, 'OK, I solved the case, I think that I know what it is now.' And he'd go, 'Oh I threw those away.' ... I guess I could've walked into any bookstore and just pulled another copy off the shelf, but that was less interesting to me than basically sitting with my own theory."
Lindelof presented it as a sort of revelatory creative epiphany. I saw it as a case of a grade-A asshole of a father traumatizing a child (something I sadly recognize all too well), who then rationalizes a horrible experience as a positive one (ditto there, too). Of course, your mileage may vary.

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  1. I haven't seen Prometheus yet, but I share your love for Kingdom of Heaven. I actually remember watching the theatrical cut and enjoying it well enough but also thinking, "Geez, this really feels like Ridley Scott had something bigger in mind." Then a couple of years later the Director's Cut showed up on DVD, and that version of the film blew me away. I think that film is ridiculously underrated.

  2. I had a similar reaction to the NPR story - I wasn't sure that Lindelof had taken the same lesson from his father's actions that most people would have. He tells a great beginning and middle

    [See what I did there, with not finishing that sentence?]