Thursday, June 14, 2012

About David (from Prometheus) (PROMETHEUS SPOILERS)

Science fiction is a genre that, in film, often falls victim to special effects.  That is, most sci-fi films seem to become about looking at big spaceships and cool explosions rather than about telling the story of how science could change the face of society.  Prometheus is one of these films, though I can't say that this makes it a bad film.  Either way, my disappointment about Prometheus as a whole is not the focus of this "review."  Instead, I want to examine the character of David (brilliantly portrayed by Michael Fassbender), and how he was almost the most interesting character I've ever seen in a science fiction film.

For those who haven't seen the movie, Prometheus is about a scientific expedition of 17 people to a remote moon that may have been the home of a hyper-advanced alien race that created humankind.  The movie serves as both a stand-alone story about the origins of life on Earth, as well as being a prequel to Ridley Scott's well-respected horror film Alien.  That said, this movie is nothing like the movie Alien.  It is not a horror film, nor is it truly an action film, as it lacks any complex action sequences.  I would compare this film more to another of Scott's classics, Blade Runner. 

Blade Runner focuses on the story of androids - human-like robots - and what makes someone human.  Prometheus has a similar subplot revolving around the character David, who is the ship's android butler.  For the first half of the film, David looks as though he will be the most interesting and dynamic character at least of this decade.  In the second half of the movie, however, the plot starts moving away from David's character, and by the last third of the film it seems as if the writers forgot they had a subplot about David at all.  To me, throwing away such a brilliant character is Prometheus' biggest flaw. 

Prometheus opens to a brief prologue about some giant humanoid alien, whose presence in the film is irrelevant to David's subplot.  After this intro sequence, the audience is treated to a truly fascinating and incredibly well done series of clips demonstrating David's life aboard the Prometheus while the rest of the crew waits in stasis.  For two and a half years, the android butler studies ancient languages, monitors the crew and makes sure the ship operates properly.  More interestingly, however, we see that he also enjoys playing basketball, riding bikes and eating cereal (or some kind of space-food).  Even more enthralling is David's interest in old British films.  We see him imitating movie lines, dying his hair and grooming himself to look like old British actors.

This is exceptionally strange behavior for an emotionless robot programmed only to serve the Prometheus' human crew.  When the crew awakens from stasis, David begins to hide this behavior and acts more like you might expect a robot to.  As the film progresses, however, the scientists discover strange alien goo (something that the film never decides to explain), which intrigues David and brings out this oddly human behavior once again. 

This is also where David's character begins to become incredibly interesting.  He steals a vial of this strange black alien goop, and brings it aboard the ship.  In secret, he examines it and hatches what can only be described as an evil plot, which he kicks off with the ominous quote "Big things often have small beginnings."  (or something similar to that)

Basically, his plan is to infect a crew member with the black goo, then wait until this crew member sleeps with his girlfriend and impregnates her with an alien embryo.  David goes about this devious mission of his with strange, macabre quips such as "All children want to kill their parents," and "I didn't know you had it in you," (once the girlfriend somehow survives being impregnated with the alien egg and then having it cut out via cesarean).  This behavior speaks of some kind of "robot insanity," implying that David may have some dastardly agenda of his own. 

During this mission, David also demonstrates various types of emotion that accompanies his earlier imitation of the British actors.  He gets disappointed, angry and even vengeful at times, mostly when someone treats him poorly because he is an android.  Despite being this "emotionless" robot, David starts out as the most compelling and multifaceted character in the movie (which is especially true because of Prometheus' poor writing, but would likely be true in any other movie as well). 

This, of course, is where David's character falls apart: this kind of behavior demands explanation!  A huge subplot has been set up in which the crew's loyal robot servant appears to be plotting their demise, potentially out of anger or jealousy or spite.  In the end of the film, however, David acts exactly as you would expect a robot to - completely loyal to his human masters, willing to help them with whatever they need.  Because of this sudden character change, the previous, unquestionably sinister actions of this character are pushed aside and forgotten about. 

That's right: we NEVER find out why exactly David wanted to infect the human crew with this strange alien goop.  We never find out why David was acting strange and imitating British films and feeling anger. 

At the very end, the two different types of aliens have decapitated David and killed every crew member except Shaw (the woman who had been impregnated with an alien embryo, through David's devious plotting).  This is where the worst, most disappointing line in the entire film rears its ugly head.  Dr. Shaw is determined to find the humanoid aliens' homeworld, just so she can ask them why they created humans (and then subsequently tried to destroy them with the unexplained black goo).  David asks her why, and says he doesn't understand what the point is.  Shaw then responds "That's because I'm human, and you're just a robot."

That one line completely destroys all of David's previous characterization.  He acted human - he liked movies and tried to emulate his favorite actors, he liked cereal, played basketball and even felt human emotions like anger.  But in the end, David was reduced to being just another robot.  His strange behavior earlier in the film is now not only unexplained, but made irrelevant.  The entire subplot involving the black goo and alien embryo no longer matters if there's no payoff about why David did those things, and the many (phenomenal) scenes where he acts human no longer matter, because in the end he was just another robot.

Now, don't get me wrong - I enjoyed Prometheus.  It wasn't a quality film, but it was certainly fun to watch, and the special effects were mind-bogglingly incredible.  But the movie falls flat when it comes to story and character.  Even David, who had the potential to be one of the most interesting characters in science fiction, was eventually reduced to a one-sided cardboard cutout.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Alternative Medicine

There are a lot of things that are prevalent in society today that I find appalling.  For example, almost half of Americans believe that Astrology works, and Rick Santorum, one of the leading Republican candidates for president of the United States, is in favor of theocracy (though he probably doesn't know there's a word for it, and he probably couldn't even spell it). But there's a problem I find more immediately disturbing - yes, even more disturbing than people not wanted the gubbermint's grabby hands in their healthcare because they love their Medicare too much (I know, it melts my brain, too).  I'm talking about "alternative medicine". 

There are so many reasons why I find the concept of alternative medicine stupid and/or dangerous, so I'll just stick to the biggest 3. 

First, and perhaps the most important, it doesn't work.  It doesn't.  Homeopathy, a common form of alternative medicine, works by the principle of dilution.  That is, a homeopath takes a medicinal herb or substance that often aren't even medicinal at all, puts it into a bowl, mashes it up and then dilutes it with water.  For some reason this is supposed to work better than real, undiluted medicine because... there's more substance in a homeopathic treatment?  It doesn't make sense.  There's also a thing called Faith Healing, where a preacherman asks god to cure people of illnesses of all kinds, from the flu to cancer to allergies (I'll deal with this again later).  People who experience these treatments often claim they feel better afterwards, and indeed, some people do get better. 

The explanations for these are numerous, but one is the placebo effect.  Basically, the placebo effect is when you get better just because you think you should.  These same results can be replicated by telling someone they're getting medicine, but really, they just got a sugar pill.  And no one thinks sugar pills should be a form of alternative medicine.  Also contributing to the rate of recovery after a faith healing or homeopathic session is the simple fact that people get better on their own.  It does happen!  All the time.  The effects of these treatments are almost never immediate.  They take affect the morning after a treatment, or two mornings after - and then the patient arbitrarily attributes their recovery to the alternative "medicine" they were treated with.  So, basically, alternative medicine doesn't work. 

Another thing that's wrong with alternative medicine - specifically chiropractic - is that it can kill, cripple or maim people.  Yeah, no joke.  Not only does it indirectly kill people by fooling them into thinking their problems are fixed, spinal manipulation can actually directly result in paralysis or death.  In one case, an infant boy was brought to a chiropractor after his parents noticed that he seemed to be constantly tilting his head.  The chiropractor popped the boy's neck and sent him on his way.  The next day, the boy was completely limp.  His parents returned him to the chiropractor, who performed the same procedure again.  The next day, the boy was paralyzed from the waste down, after the two chiropractic procedures ruptured a tumor that ran down the length of his spine - the real cause of his head-tilting - which caused severe nerve damage.  The chiropractor refuses to admit his treatment caused this problem, stating only that this could have been avoided by having the boy brought to his office sooner. 

There's also a type of alternative medical treatment called Ayurveda, which involved the ingestion of herbs or plants... that often contain up to 20% lead, arsenic or mercury.  Need I say more?  No, I don't, because we all know how dangerous those chemicals are.

Finally, and perhaps most appalling of all, is that many forms of alternative medicine is covered by Medicare.  Yes, that's right.  You can have your dangerous, valueless, and potentially deadly "medical" treatments paid for by the American taxpayers.  Yes, your tax money helps pay for people to have their nervous systems broken, their allergies cured (but only until they actually eat those peanuts) and their bodies pumped full of arsenic and mercury.  These treatments are scientifically proven to be not only unhelpful but dangerous!  Why are they covered by Medicare?  No, forget that!  Why are they even legal? 

...Maybe scientific illiteracy is a much larger problem than we realize...

Monday, March 26, 2012

The (Spoiler-free) Hunger Games Review

First off, I need to clarify that this review covers the Hunger Games film that just came out.  I have not read the novel, nor do I plan to.  This review has nothing at all to do with the novel.  Anything mentioned or criticized in this review only relates to the film.  I will NOT be criticizing (or praising) the novel, and by the same token, I do not care if "the novel did it better."  Now let's begin.

I'm going to start with the one part of the film that I really liked: the premise.  The plot is full of cliches and holes (I'll deal with that later) but the main, overarching idea that drives the plot is pretty cool.  Even just that main idea is cliche and tired - a dystopian future and a hero that has to fight against an oppressive upper class by overcoming the challenges presented in the event that most strongly represents the problems in their society - but that's completely forgivable.  It's actually literally impossible to create a completely unique story, as all plots boil down to one of 6 or 7 unique stories (which can be read about here).  With that in mind, I really liked the concept of a bunch of kids being thrown together to participate in a violent and inhumane display of the upper echelon's power over their subjects.  Even if every other part of the film sucked, that would at least leave us some awesome action scenes...

...which leads me to my next point (and first real criticism):  the action.  It's terrible.  Maybe it was to keep a PG-13 rating, or to make it friendly to younger readers.  Either way, it's terrible.  The only real action scene is filmed in a way that makes me think that perhaps the cameramen all dropped their camera, the microphones all got turned off and the editors fell asleep on their keyboards.  Maybe they were trying to be artsy?  I can't explain exactly what my problem was with the action without citing specific events (and therefore giving out spoilers) but hopefully my point got across anyway: the action was extremely poorly filmed, and probably badly choreographed too - though you wouldn't notice since it was so poorly filmed. 

The plot.  What to say about the plot?  Well, for starters, most everything goes entirely unexplained throughout the entire film.  This is especially hard to demonstrate without citing specific examples that would spoil the whole movie for you.  Also hard to demonstrate without spoilers was how painfully cliche the story was.  Suffice to say I was able to predict every pivotal moment in the film based solely on both shots that every B-movie uses to set up the next scene, or tired plot points that every writer seems to love to use.  To the film's credit, however, it didn't use every cliche in the book, so luckily we didn't get a shot where our daring protagonist dropped to her knees, raised her arms and screamed with frustration in the pouring rain.

The last few problems I had with this movie can be summed up in one larger problem: the way it looked.  Almost every shot that wasn't of the hero featured some moron in a ridiculous costume or a camera angle that was extremely distracting or for some reason had muted sound or blurred colors.  The costumes were easily what pushed this movie from "run-of-the-mill action flick" to "genuinely bad movie."  They were hilarious.  Not just silly looking, but hilarious.  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud in the theater every time I saw a new character or an old character changed their costume.  I understand the point they were trying to make about how grotesque the people of the upper classes were, but they went so ridiculously overboard with it that I couldn't take any of it seriously.  No matter how sad or serious a scene was, it turned into comedy relief as soon as I saw one of those stupid, stupid costumes. 

My favorite part of this film is also the part that I hated most: the Capitol City itself.  This is where the grotesque upper class morons live, but the city itself is extremely bland.  The moment when the city gets its grand reveal was, while I was in the theater, my favorite part, and I actually really loved how they did it. This was the perfect time to show us for real how decadent and wasteful the upper classes are, but instead their city is just grey blocks and a few marble fountains.  This wasted potential makes what would otherwise by my favorite scene in the film a perfect testament to where the filmmakers went wrong. 

So there.  My opinion about The Hunger Games, with as few spoilers as possible.  Maybe in a few weeks, when the movie isn't new anymore, I'll write a longer version of this review with all the specific example included.  If you found this review unsatisfactory or unfair, please let me know so that I can get better at this blogging thing.

  If you actually did, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Here I am!

Here's my blog that I made because I had to for Journalism class.  I suppose, since I have it, I'll update it with video game, music and movie stuff.  And whatever else I think of.  But not really, since I can't be bothered.