“The king has a reign, and then he dies.”
At the beginning of Prometheus, we see an important image. A Promethean, killing himself to create life.
All the Prometheans we see are male. Or masculine. We see two of them in the flesh, and dozens off them via holographic CCTV, we see a Giant Head and a decapitated head, all appear male.
The Prometheans don’t appear sexless, or androgynous, they appear male. Their species is male. Creating life is something they can only do through sacrifice. It’s an act of will, of volition, and in the process, they die. For them, creating life requires death.
Furthermore, they need the Black Goop to do it. A Promethean drinks the black goop, dies, but seeds a new world with life. We don’t know where the Prometheans come from, we don’t know if they’re natural. Maybe someone else created them. Maybe they’ve evolved beyond sexes and mating. But they do not appear able to reproduce on their own. Maybe they can’t reproduce at all. Maybe each Promethean is the seed of life for an entire world. Maybe that’s their purpose.
Humans, on the other hand, can create life at will. Without dying in the process. How would the Prometheans view this? Would they think it natural, or dangerous? (more…)
David Padron is a cinematics producer, I am a writer/designer, both of us in video games. We talk a lot about movies and culture and games before jumping into a game of League of Legends or Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3 or whatever.
This week, we talk a lot about Ridley Scott’s most science-fictional movie, Prometheus. Come by Facebook, let us know what you think.
This post is part of a series. For which also see:
- Prometheus. A review.
- Prometheus Explained. In which I take a stab at interpreting the themes evident in the film.
- Two Kinds of Prometheans. Is the last Promethean we see a unique Hybrid between organic and biomechanical organism?
- Peter Weyland, and Film as a Consumer Product. We know it’s Peter Weyland’s mission. Why do we believe Shaw when she says otherwise?
- The 2001 Podcast, spiritually related to this movie and these posts.
David–by far the most interesting character in Prometheus, insightfully realized by Michael Fassbender–dyes his hair.
To me, this was one of the most striking and memorable shots in the movie. The one I’m still thinking about the next day. That’s not a knock on the rest of the movie, it’s amazing. But it’s Fassbender’s David that’s the crowning achievement of the film. His performance, and the filmmakers decision to make a movie about the android, to me, justify all the shortcuts the movie takes elsewhere. His performance is daring and exploring and challenging. It’s a testament to Ridley Scott the storyteller that in and amongst all this high concept science-fiction and amazing design that I’m thinking about a robot who dyes his hair even when there’s no one to see it. (more…)
This post original appeared on my old site. It’s not the usual gaming/culture stuff, but variety is the spice of thing.
My doctorb (“The extra ‘b’ is for ‘bargain!’) is awesome. I love Dr. Brunner and I always look forward to seeing him.
I say this because, as a guy, going to the doctor is notable. There’s a difference between men and women. At least one difference. Possibly more, but for the purposes of this post let’s stick with this one difference: guys don’t see doctors. Not as a rule.
Women see doctors. That’s the difference. A friend of mine said “I don’t understand why none of you guys ever go to the doctor!” I esplained.
“Larra,” I said, for such was her name, “you have to imagine what it’s like being a guy and 18,” which is when most of us learn this.
“First, there’s nothing wrong with you at 18. You feel great. You can do pretty much anything, for pretty much as long as you want, and then eat whatever you want or, alternatively, nothing for days and you don’t notice either way. Why on Earth would you go to a doctor? (more…)
This movie came out in 1979. I saw it in the theaters but like a lot of stuff from the 1970s I was too young to wot of it. I grew up with my memory of this movie being deeply cheesy and mostly awful, but watching it again on a whim, I feel as though perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate it.
Let me make my point clear from the beginning; this is not a good movie. I am not a Black Hole apologist, because such a thing is medically impossible. Nor is it one of my guilty pleasures, like Krull. It’s OK if you like it uncritically, none of us are obligated to be critical all the time. But it’s certainly flawed and arguably a failure, if we had to grade movies on a pass/fail scale against the success of their storytelling.
Happily, we don’t have to do that! We’re free to notice all sorts of really interesting ideas in this movie, and perhaps detect a diamond in the rough, waiting to be polished in the 21st century. (more…)
In 1997 I started working at Last Unicorn Games, a tiny little game company long-since defunct, on the Dune CCG with Owen Seyler. We went on to make the Dune RPG, one of the prettiest and now rarest and most expensive RPG books ever made. in 2000 we were bought by Wizards of the Coast and for a brief time, we were working on a D20 version of the Dune RPG.
The D20 version of the game never saw print, alas, but I’m posting some of my work from it for posterity. A very tiny amount of writing was done, it’s just a curio. And it’s my writing from 15 years ago so it’s amusing (Adventurons! The elementary particles of adventures!) and somewhat primitive. But it’s free! Worth every penny.
Well, post. Podcast. Or whatever.
I work with an amazing team of creative people across many disciplines and because it’s video games many of these people are younger than me and one of the things I’ve noticed about people in their 20s right now is that they don’t have all the bullshit cultural baggage that the Baby Boomers and their kids (my generation) carried around. 2001: A Space Odyssey is famous for being impenetrable and a lot of people my age have this “screw that movie” attitude. they resent being challenged, reset the respect the movie gets. Something to do with entitlement, I think.
But the guys I work with, younger guys, their attitude is “that movie was weird, what was going on?” They know something’s going on, they don’t mind saying “I didn’t get it” and they’re curious. I love that. No cultural baggage, no chip on their shoulder. Open curiosity. Intellectual curiosity, artistic curiosity.
One day someone asks me if I’ve seen 2001 and then, when I said I had, they didn’t say “did you like it?” They went straight to “what was that movie about? What was the Monolith? Why did HAL kill that guy?” and as I gave what I thought were my answers, this amazing dialog between me and a bunch of artists opened up and we all came away having noticed things and thought about things we hadn’t before.
So I figured, hey, why not write it all down. But that was boring. What was fun was talking about it. So I decided to do a podcast of sorts. I started by writing, I’m a writer, but after a couple of paragraphs I said “this is stupid.” It lacked the spontaneity of the original conversation so I just turned the mike on and started talking. That was surprisingly easy and this is the result.
Maybe someone will get a kick out of it, maybe someone will take it and do something interesting with it, put their own images to it, whatever. If there’s a positive response, maybe I’ll do more of these!
If you’ve got feedback, feel free to follow me on Facebook and post something.
WotC is working on a new edition of D&D. I spent the last couple of weeks, since the announce, thinking about what I like about D&D and why I play, or why I stop. I’m not currently as burned out with 4E as I was with 3E during the last edition change. But I am tired of it and ready to stop. I don’t consider this a problem. I played 3E for years until I got sick of it. I consider that time and money well spent. Ditto 4E. Even though in both cases, I got to a point where I was ready to stop.
There’s no reason to think 5E will be some kind of magic bullet where I love it and play it forever. Maybe I won’t play it at all. Maybe I’ll just stop playing D&D. Nothing wrong with that. If I get a few years of fun and enjoyment out of it, that’ll be great. If not, that’s ok.
But it does prompt me to think about what I like about D&D. What I want in a D&D. Absent the rules. I’m talking about the experience of play. My ideal D&D. (more…)
Piers Anthony is still alive. He wrote a lot of the fantasy and SF that I loved when I was coming up in the 1980s. These were breezy books, easy to read, lots of great characters and situations and tons of ideas. It was a fantasy of ideas. The Apprentice Adept series, the Incarnations of Immortality, and Xanth.
In the first Xanth novel, a Manticore asks the great wizard a question. “Do I have a soul?” The Manicore fears that, as a monster, he does not. The Wizard explains that only those who have a soul, wonder if they have a soul. It is, to me, a much more satisfying fairy tale ending than Dorothy having “always had the power” to get home.
Games can be fun for a lot of reasons. They can be rewarding, for different reasons. But I think they can also have soul. Humanity. I’m beginning to think the difference between traditional storytelling media and games is that the older media are revelatory while this new one we’re creating is expressive.
In other words, in a good movie–and I think film is the best at this–you can have an experience that sheds light on what it means to be a human being. You can learn something you didn’t know about being a person. You can see something you did know, expressed in a way that reinforces it, that validates it, that makes you think “YES! That’s how it is!” And which makes the experience of being a person more real.
Wereas in games we have the opportunity to express that humanity. To do things that capture the essential nature, the beauty, of being alive, of being human.
Some games, in other words, have soul. They are soul, they’re about it. They are spiritually nourishing. (more…)
A quote I’ve heard attributed to many people, but in this case I cite Alfred Hitchcock, is “If you want to be universal, be specific.”
Guillermo Del Toro places his fairy tale story of skepticism and fascism in Spain, 1944, just after the Spanish Civil War and, in doing so grounds his story in specifics, freeing his fantasy to be universal.
As with all fairy tales, there is a moral here. A subversive one. Whereas most fairy tales extol the virtues of honesty, obeying your elders, not straying from the path, Pan’s Labyrinth’s moral is about thinking for yourself, disobeying authority. No surprise, then, that the film is set in post-Civil War fascist Spain. The movie is about fascism. The fascism of totalitarian governments, and the fascism every child experiences at the hands of their parents. Parents who issue apparently arbitrary orders and expect them to be thoughtlessly carried out for one’s own good.
But, as the movie directly states, only a certain type of person can follow orders for the sake of following orders. And while adults in the film struggle with fear as they try to rebel, childhood is the natural antithesis of fascism.
12-year-old Ofelia, our main character, is therefore well-armed to oppose the murderous reign of her cruel stepfather, Captain Vidal. Both a tyrannical father and a literal fascist. When the local guerrilla revolutionaries move into the forest, Captain Vidal has moved his trooped into the forest and turned a farmer’s mill into a garrison. No coincidence that our fairy tale begins with our hero entering the forest.
Ofelia’s mother arrives, child in tow. Her husband is dead, and she is pregnant with Captain Vidal’s child. Was Captain Vidal involved in the husband’s death? Oh, probably. You know how these things go. But Ofelia’s mother seems genuinely happy that they are coming to live with the Captain, because it means security. She will be taken care of. She tells Ofelia; “The captain has been so good to us.… Please, Ofelia, call him father. It’s just a word, Ofelia, just a word.”
And here we have our first inkling of what this movie is going to be about. Ofelia simply refuses to do it. She never does it. She knows she’s never going to do it as soon as her mother asks, and we can tell! This young actress is astonishing in her ability to play wide-eyed wonder, and skepticism, and determination, often without resorting to dialog. We can tell what she’s thinking. Lots of movies never reach that level of writing and acting, with adult actors!
She’s not a perfectly moral hero, the movie does not argue that childhood means perfectly moral innocence, or that innocence is a virtue. Ofelia lies. She disobeys her mother. There are several points in the film where Ofelia forces herself to do some really unpleasant (as in, gross) things because she was promised she’d be made a princess if she did. And in those moments, she steels herself, reminds herself how badly she wants to be a princess, and soldiers on. It’s, frankly, adorable to watch precisely because of how selfish it is. “I am going to be a princess, even if I have to slog through all this mud and end up covered in beetles.”
But it does argue that childhood affords a purity of thought denied to us adults. We cannot want something so purely, or believe things as strongly as a child, and this is part of Ofelia’s defense against fascism.
It’s clear early on when Ofelia begins to experience some magical, possibly imaginary, things. When she encounters a fairly disgusting bug, remember this is the same guy who made Cronos, she says; “Hi! Are you a fairy?”
Is it a fairy. No! It’s a bug! But that Ofelia can see something so ugly and imagine that it’s a wondrous fairy is another one of her virtues and, possibly because of her belief, we see the bug become a fairy, and the adventure begins.
She meets a small cast of interesting and terrifying characters. The titular Faun at the center of the titular labyrinth informs her that she is the reincarnation of a princess and if she can pass three tests her father the king will take her away from it all and she’ll rule over fantasyland.
Of course, if we’ve been paying attention, we know Ofelia is going to disobey virtually every instruction the Faun gives her. She’s like the Fairy Tale version of John McClane from Die Hard. She gets her ass kicked at every turn, and wins all the way through.
She is not burdened with any adult baggage. When we see the Faun, he appears a diabolic and sinister character. I would have got the hell out of there, or looked for a shotgun. Ofelia may be afraid, but she remembers her manners, like a good girl. “My name is Ofelia. What’s yours?”
When confronted with the gigantic frog at the bottom of the world, she is disgusted, but articulate. “Aren’t you ashamed to live down here, in all the mud, eating nothing but bugs?”
This is not movie dialog, it’s fairy tale dialog, and it’s delightful. There’s more fairy tale plotting. When Ofelia (astonishingly played by Ivana Baquero,) has carefully and wisely chosen to remove the new and expensive dress her mother made for her, so it will not get dirty as she explores the Underworld, we know something bad is going to happen to the dress. It’s going to get ruined, and she’s going to get in trouble, in spite of the fact that she TRIED to keep it nice, and was thinking ahead and being responsible, and we know no one will believe her. Fairy tales used to teach children that the world was going to be an awful and capricious place. Unfair, and rarely unfair in our favor.
It should be no secret that Ofelia’s fantasy world, and the cruel reality of Captain Vidal, the Evil Stepfather, are going to collide. At most, only one can survive.
Ofelia is not the only character who struggles against Captain Vidal, and the plight of the Spanish peasants to deal with the autocrat is dark, and violent and not what we associate with a fairy tale. But in spite of its brutality and violence, I thought…if I had a six year old daughter…I might take her to see this. Because it works as an amazing fairy tale, with lessons about the world, one of which is; people can be horribly cruel to one another. That’s what fairy tales used to be about. Horrible lessons for children, wrapped in fantasy. Maybe I’d scar my daughter for life, or maybe she’d come out of the experience with a healthy and deep-seated distrust for authority, and people who obey orders for order’s sake.