Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Prometheus Rising

Waiting for Ridley Scott's new Alien prequel has been a very unique experience for me. Having experienced the original Alien as a teenager, and recognizing that it achieved classic status apart from all the successors that followed, there is a certain giddiness about the fact that Scott is returning to the franchise. At the same time, being an adult, I don't want to raise my expectations unreasonably high and then be sorely disappointed. For example, when the first trailers appeared it was very exciting because you could tell at least the look of the film would be good, and that is not surprising given this particular director's strengths. But as more trailers followed, I began to worry that the story would be too simplistic and that they were revealing too much of it too soon. After all, it was the script that contributed to the first film's success just as much as the direction, and the writing crew is a new team with a generation of legacy to deal with.

This push and pull continued even as the marketing tool of the new millennium, the viral video, was utilized by the promoters of the film. The setting of the first clip, a future TED conference in 2023, was a really great idea, and it showed there was some thought put into the pre-history of the prequel itself, but the content of the speech was overdramatized and Guy Pearce's execution was poor.

Then everything changed when the second viral video made its full debut, with Michael Fassbender as the android David. Not only was it executed wonderfully but it showed some real science fiction worthy thought behind it. It is portrayed as a marketing video for the Weyland corporation's new line of "8th generation" android, and features a faceless interviewer asking David various questions. The extraordinary part comes when the robot is asked "David, what makes you sad?". The android begins to recite very general topics that are associated with sadness like war, poverty, and cruelty while also shedding profuse tears from both eyes and exhibiting just a hint of sorrow in his expression. Then he adds, "I understand human emotions, although I do not feel them myself". I practically leapt for joy! After years of watching robots portrayed as either emotionless or as actually having feelings, someone finally had enough insight to predict that when we humans eventually do build robots, we will program them to respond as we would ourselves, even though the emotional responses would simply be mimicked, not felt. It would of course be up to the designer to decide whether or not to include in the robot's programming an awareness of this distinction as shown in the video, but doing so makes it even more fun. David goes on to explain why he has been programmed to exhibit emotion, including "making it easier for my human counterparts to interact with me". I personally don't care all that much about where the space jockey came from, but if the script has some of that kind of insight within it, then there's no need to fear disaster. To top it off, the video ends with a close-up showing the Weyland Industries logo perfectly embedded within the android's fingerprint. Superb.

Click here for my thoughts on the film after its release.