Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Gift of Prometheus

Why is Ridley Scott's upcoming film "Prometheus" the most important movie since "Back to the Future"? Matt Domino explains.

Last month, The Artist won the Oscar for best picture, capping off a disturbingly nostalgic Academy Awards telecast as well as putting a close to one of the worst movie years in history. I didn’t see Hugo, which seems, from popular opinion, to be have been the only true imaginative and substantive saving grace for motion pictures in 2011, so I can’t say all the movies were terrible; but to my untrained and uneducated eye, as well as the general consensus, there was not much to be proud of at the cinema in 2011. However, we have a new year ahead of us and there seems to be quite a few movies to get excited about.

Now, I am notoriously one of the worst movie watchers and moviegoers in the history of the human race. I had a good run when I was 10-14 of going to the movies every Friday with my friends. It was a good way to make jokes, sneak into R-rated movies and to try to get some semblance of privacy with girls away from any parents (until we found the virtue in as well as the skills to be able to get beer and make bonfires at the beach). Since that time, though, I have been terrible at going out to the movies. Every now and then, I’ll see a trailer for a movie that will get me excited to go to a theatre. The most recent movie being Scream 4. When I found out the Scream franchise was being resurrected for the first time since 2000, I was overjoyed. The trials and deaths in the life of Sidney Prescott had been an extremely formative influence on my youth. As Scream 4 neared its release, I worked my friends up into a lather:

“Are you kidding me!? We have to get twenty people to go see Scream 4! That’s what you do when you see a Scream movie! You get no less than twenty people to fill up two complete rows of the theatre and then you all make jokes and yell and share popcorn while the Scream guy runs amok.”

My friends could do nothing but agree with my enthusiasm because my whole “Scream theory” is really all based in the magical effect of the movies and how they can reach into your imagination and settle themselves down in your memory. “Remember when we saw Independence Day? How cool was Jurassic Park?” Yet, when the moment of truth came, when Scream 4 was released in theatres everywhere, I was nowhere to be found. I was out in San Francisco trying to see about a girl. Yet, my friends carried on, went to the theatre about fifteen deep, and saw Scream 4. It sounded like a good time and I’d wished I’d been there. But like I said, I’m terrible at watching movies. I get excited to turn on a movie and then I find myself drinking beer and leafing through a book for some bit of knowledge, some basketball stat, or some well-written sentence. I can’t dedicate myself to film.

The fact that I can’t allow myself to watch a movie is less an indictment on the quality of movies, but more on my own shortcomings in a rapid age where a piece of knowledge has to be retrieved immediately. Yet, when I spend time with friends I find myself speculating about when the imaginative quality of movies will return. My old roommate and I used to always stumble into a Back to the Future marathon on TV. We’d catch the beginning-middle of the first Back to the Future and then strap ourselves in and follow Marty McFly and Doc Brown to the 1950’s, back to 1985, then to the year 2015 and over to the alternate 1985, back to the 1950’s, further back to 1885 and then finally settling back down in the present in 1985 at the end of Back to the Future III. We’d pick holes in the plot and the theories of time travel and wonder why Marty McFly always seemed to be on the verge of giving away the fact that he was from the future even though he’d experienced time displacement so many times. Why did we do this? Besides the fact that we were two groggy dudes in our early 20’s, it was because the imagination and the scope of the Back to the Future movies made them so damn enjoyable to spend time with and to speculate on. These were movies, three films to get excited about, because, hell, its Doc Brown and Marty McFly.

Even as recently as two weeks ago, I sat in my friend’s apartment casually watching the end of Trading Places (which is fantastic) and as I watched a young, slim, Dan Akroyd onscreen, I turned to my two friends and asked, “Can you imagine what it would have been like to have seen Ghostbusters when it first came out?” They nodded their heads, completely understanding what I meant. Ghostbusters has become entrenched in the canon of comedy films and blockbusters since its 1984 release, but when you think back, there had never been a comedy so conceptual and filled with so many special effects. The entire premise was absurd, but it was entertaining, thoroughly thought through, imaginative and funny as hell. You went into the theatre living in a pre-Ghostbusters world and came out living in a post-Ghostbusters world. That transformative effect has to mean something.

Where does all of this rambling lead us? Well, it leads us to Prometheus of course, the much talked about “it is, wait no it isn’t, yes, yes, it has to be, but hold on a second, maybe its not” prequel/non-prequel to Alien. I love the Alien movies. Actually, I love Alien and Aliens. To me, the feeling of watching Alien is completely singular even though it’s well tied to the “haunted house” trope. I love Alien and Aliens but I’m not a fan, that is to say, I’m not well versed in the entire universe that those movies created—that expansive place that allows a viewer’s imagination to wonder “what if,” which then leads to reams of fan-fiction being written and tons of memorabilia being collected and piled up; perhaps that is the unfortunate side-effect of creating a world of your own. When I got to college, there was an eccentric guy who lived on the first floor of my dorm, but he was weird and wasn’t a big drinker so I enjoyed drinking beer and listening to him talk and just be weird. One night in particular he was extremely excited in getting an authentic model of one of the guns from Aliens. He went on and on about the model and its significance in killing the “xenomorphs” as the alien from Alien is known. A few weeks later, this futuristic gun arrived and he put it on top of his desk shelf in his dorm room, where it sat proudly for the rest of our freshman year.

I hadn’t even seen Alien or Aliens at that time, but that memory has stuck with over the years as I’ve come to appreciate both of those films, especially Alien. And now with Prometheus due to arrive in theatres in June, it strikes me as significant. Two weeks ago, the official trailers for Prometheus were released, sending the Internet into a frenzy. Along with those trailers were small, “viral” promotional videos based in the Alien world. I have always been a sucker for somewhat “fantasy” worlds that feature an expansive self-contained universe; something about that kind of creation grabs my mind. So, I’ve been intrigued with all of this hype. This past Saturday, I perused the Internet, watching videos and looking at websites that broke down the trailers frame-by-frame in order to present a hypothesis on what Prometheus would be about. I learned about the “Space Jockey,” the Weyland Corporation, the Derelict and the similarities between the shots of the original Alien trailer and the new Prometheus trailers; basically, I learned about all the things I had never known about Alien—a movie that I love.

When I finally clicked on a video called “Link Between Space Jockey in PROMETHEUS and ALIEN” and it turned out to be someone that had filmed a video of a model they had created based on this scene in Alien, I could do nothing but close the window and laugh to myself and say, “This is fucking crazy.” And what I meant by that sentence is that I’m going to make sure that I see Prometheus when it comes out in June because even if the movie turns out to be a complete let down, these next three months are going to be a period of excitement for a big budget summer movie. So instead of the next blockbuster slouching its way towards the cinema, there is a movie out there that looks and smells of creativity and imagination; there is a film called Prometheus that has the potential to create a division of the world before seeing it and after seeing it, and hell, I’ll pay twenty bucks for a ticket, a large popcorn and a large soda to see if that actually happens.

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