Archive for May, 2017

Alien Covenant is Just Really Good, Okay?

Alien: Covenant.

Of all the movies this month, the one I most wanted to see. Those of you who know me know I have an unreasoning love of the obtuse, flawed Prometheus. It’s a philosophical tour-de-force masquerading as a horror movie, and while this second outing in what is the best prequel trilogy ever made is more horror than philosophy, it continues in its predecessor’s tradition with aplomb, though it also continues Prometheus’s wonky pacing and questionable plot decisions (why don’t they wear environment suits PERIOD? Why?)

Yes, the characters do dumb things. Yes, the film’s plotting makes it supremely obvious just who is going to die (although to be fair, that’s kind of a horror staple, is it not?) It’s not perfect, and the crew doesn’t behave like a team of scientists/soldiers/trained professionals should (though this IS temporized by the fact that said crew is composed of married couples, for colonization purposes).

But it’s stunning despite that. Horrifying despite that. The set work is astounding (that city, though. Guys, I have dreams that Ridley Scott would be the one to direct my stuff. His visual language informed so much of my own imagination. It won’t ever happen, but when I visualize things, it’s in his style. I just need to explain how much of a crush I have on his filmmaking). The meticulous attention to design and worldbuilding is peerless. There are these hand drawn zoological sketches done beside alien samples pinned up like butterflies. That Gothic stuff speaks to me. That said, some of the CGI was a little wonky in places. It’s not a deal-breaker, but some of it I was all “why didn’t you guys use muppets? Muppets are cool!”

The performances are all really strong, most especially Fassbender’s two performances as Walter, the robot who correctly ascertains that duty is a kind of love (a value our day and age has forgotten, and one which is of desperate importance to me), and as David, the robot-incarnation-of-Milton’s-Satan (complete with melodramatic quotations! <3) Surprisingly, Danny McBride is really affecting, of all people, and Katherine Waterston is awesome as well, though I wish she had a little more to do. They treated her a little bit like Ripley in that she only emerges as a lone protagonist in the final act. (Brief mention should be made of Billy Crudup, who I always like–and who happened to play the devoutly religious captain, Christopher. I mention this because there are SO FEW Christophers in fiction. We're a marginalized class and I demand greater representation. I didn't know I could be a hero/hapless victim until I saw it acted out on screen because I'm incapable of identifying with anyone different than me!)

But Jesus, was it bleak. GETTING A LITTLE INTO SPOILER TERRITORY HERE SO BE WARNED, BENNETT. It's clearly Part 2 of a saga that demands a part 3, so it feels a little incomplete, and like so many part 2s it leaves us in a dark, DARK place, rife with the horror and profanation one expects of anything touched by Giger's designs.

All in all, this is another excellent movie but with some medium-sized flaws. I'm gonna give it Three Thinking-Face emoji, a Teeth-Gritting emoji, and one Scared Emoji out of Why-Didn't-They-Follow-Containment-Protocol?

🤔🤔🤔😬😱 / 😷😡


…Is he gone?

There is a moment wherein the two Fassbender-bots are talking, and David (the spooky one) quotes Shelley's "Ozymandias" and says Byron wrote it. I about lost my shit and William was laughing at me because I thought they'd messed up hard. How do you not Google that shit?

I should have learned from Captain Christopher. He had faith.

The two robots talk later about how David is going to wipe the humans out with his new creation: the Xenomorphs, because they had their time and they are flawed and weak and dying on Earth (presumably due to environmental degradation, but that's not explicit). He will not allow us out into space. That's why he extinguished the Engineers on this planet, to further ensure our destruction. Here he is Milton's Satan (and he indeed quotes Satan, saying that it is better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven). He is the spirit of pre-eminent rationality, of immoral logic–because you cannot found a moral philosophy on logic (because you can rationalize ANYTHING, ask the Nazis, ask the Soviets, as Marx and Derrida and other devils). Here Walter, the good robot, points out that David misattributed the Shelley quote earlier, claiming it was Byron who wrote Ozymandias. THIS IS FUCKING ACTUAL GENIUS. HOLD ME. What this says is that any rational philosophy of good and evil is only as good as its facts. Get a fact wrong, and you could end up rationalizing genocide. This is echoed earlier in the film when Waterston's character turns to Christopher, who is having a breakdown over the death of his wife, and says "We need your faith." Because we do need something to ground moral systems, like Nietzsche said. Without an a priori moral structure, such as those faith provides (and we've not got a better foundation example. Science/rationality, again, does not work for the above reasons. Believe me, this is hard for me too, given that I can't bring myself to believe in any sort of god. I have a series of thoughts about this, but not now). But they wrapped that whole idea up in like 2 lines of dialogue AND IT WAS A REFERENCE TO THE ROMANTICS MY GOD COULD THEY HAVE PLANNED ANYTHING MORE PERFECT FOR ME OH MY GOODNESS.

And there was a huge Bocklin reference just SLAPPED up all across the screen. They literally tableau'd his Isle of the Dead, which is my favorite painting of his. Weird thing is I found that painting on my own and worked it very, very subtly into Empire of Silence. It's a weird thing that Scott and I are on the same page here.

I loved it so much. I need the next one like…tomorrow.


Doctor Who Review: “Oxygen”

Jamie Mathieson’s “Oxygen” is a fantastically frustrating piece of science fiction. It’s an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and as a drama it’s quite remarkable. The suits are terrifying, the premise solid, the set work and supporting cast pretty solid–all things considered. It ought to be about an 8 out of 10 (as an experience), but I can’t even grade it because its premise is fundamentally flawed–both in its underpinning philosophies and its science (which is a shame, because it actually handled explosive decompression pretty correctly).

Some years ago, I wrote a piece about Mr. Robot and Mirror’s Edge and the common critique of capitalism that emerges in science fiction. The corporate villain in this episode forces its employees to pay for oxygen on a space station that’s otherwise devoid of atmosphere (which begs the question of why they’ve bothered to install air locks and pressure seals on the doors at all). Once they’ve mined enough, they turn around and use the suit’s AI to kill the human occupants to save profits in the post mining phase of the operation (which begs the question: Why not just use AI and robots for the entire procedure?) The episode goes on to talk about how this is the end stage of capitalism: devaluing human life for profits.

But here’s the thing: this isn’t capitalism at all.

Forcing people to pay for a product or service–especially something that’s mandatory for survival, like air (or health care)–isn’t capitalism. Particularly if there’s only ONE PLACE the commodity can be bought. The corporation who owns the station in this episode has a monopoly on oxygen sales on its own station (and what sort of business makes its employees buy the equipment necessary to operate its own machinery? Let me answer that: none of them. Air would be an operating cost shouldered by the company, or else no one would work for them. UNLESS you wish to propose they were FORCED to work for that company…in which case, we’re not talking about capitalism. Again.

The workers on this station are not purchasing air on the free market. They’re being taxed. Calling the authoritarian power a corporation does NOT mean we’re dealing with a capitalist system, just because money changes hands doesn’t mean we’re dealing with a free market. These people are in mercantilist indentured servitude and they’re expected to pay for it. It IS certainly a travesty of human rights and the Doctor was quite right to step in and save them, but the episode is dead wrong to call the system that hurt them capitalist. This isn’t a free market. This is a monopoly. We’re looking at the East India Company in space, not Carnegie Steel, not Google. Not Facebook.

I’m not saying capitalism is above criticism, but this episode doesn’t even criticize it. This is like watching an episode of Game of Thrones where somebody starts talking about how Westeros is really bad democracy–and using Westeros as an example of how democracies are always bad. It isn’t a democracy. This isn’t capitalism. This is ridiculous.

Really, I expected better of Jamie Mathieson and of Steven Moffat, and I resent how they made the Doctor–the smartest man in the universe–incapable of making a distinction that should be obvious to anyone who’s had even half an economics lesson.

This episode gets one angry frown emoji out of go fuck yourself.

😡/Go Fuck Yourself.