THE DAMON LINDELOF INTERVENTION

June 19, 2012

DAMON LINDELOF SUPER TALENTED, BUT A THEMATIC FIXATION IS STARTING TO UNDUE THE COHERENCY OF HIS WORK….

http://badassdigest.com/2012/06/17/film-crit-hulk-smash-the-damon-lindleof-intervention/

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10 Responses to “THE DAMON LINDELOF INTERVENTION”

  1. Freddie said

    Great piece.

    I’ve been saying for some time that there’s a fundamental structural problem that afflicts a lot of TV shows and comic books, which is simply that perpetual narrative usually doesn’t work. I’m someone who’s deeply resistant to any kind of universal rules or structures for art, but I do think that there’s a reason that we usually talk about narratives in terms of arc. And you can’t really have an arc if the medium you’re working in assumes that the story just goes on and on.

    That’s true in general, but it’s particularly true for mystery. I was never a Lost guy myself. No insult in that, it’s just my taste. I did say going back to the second season or so, though, that the ending was probably going to disappoint a lot of people. Most people made the connection to Twin Peaks and said that Lost wouldn’t make the same mistakes, because they had it all planned out. But to me, the relevant comparison was always to X-Files, as that show operated on the same basic strategy: laying out a series of mysteries, often disconnected on the surface but hinted at being part of a larger cohesive story, and then alternating between reveals and new mysteries. It’s a delicate balance because if you never give the audience any crumbs of answers, they get frustrated, but if you ever actually tell them all the secrets, there’s no more show. I remember going to see the first X-Files movie and being so jazzed to really learn some major things. It was disappointing when they really just deepened the mystery. But what else could they do?

    The same process was at play with Lost. I realized the show wasn’t for me in the start of the second season when they opened the hatch to reveal… a room. Not just that what was down the hatch was disappointing– I doubt anything could live up to a summer’s worth of cliffhanging– but that the indication was clear: they were just moving on to more and different mysteries.

    Again, there’s no sense in which that’s a value judgement; many people clearly enjoyed that kind of narrative. It always makes me feel a little jerked around, personally, but that’s the idiosyncrasy of taste. But I do think that the disappointment a lot of people felt was inevitable, because either they were going to try and tie up all of the mysteries in a little bow, which would have been extremely difficult given how many balls they were juggling, or they were going to let some of the questions go, which made some people feel cheated. I think Lindelof et al, and the show’s defenders, would reply that the show was always about these deeper, spiritual and philosophical mysteries, and many people are satisfied with that answer. But the conflict is clear: the show started out being a show about mysteries and it ended up being a show about Mystery. Either you were willing to go along for the ride or you weren’t.

    That’s how Prometheus seemed to me. The setup, as well as the huge marketing campaign, promise a movie about mysteries and becomes a movie about The Mystery. And I think it’s fair for people to feel a bit manipulated by that; the conventions of mystery narrative imply that you’re going to get satisfying answers. As you indicate in your essay, you can certainly make movies about the big questions, and I love many movies like that, but selling a genre movie with the vocabulary of conventional mystery storytelling and then in effect saying “it’s about the questions, not the answers” strikes me as a little cheap. In a TV show, I at least expect it. In a movie, it’s harder to take, which is why I found the sequel-signalling you referred to so frustrating. Finish the movie!

    I seem to have gone and written an essay in your comments. Sorry about that.

  2. FILMCRITHULK said

    COMMENT ESSAYS NOT JUST ALLOWED, BUT WELCOME!

    YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT TV VS. MOVIES PLOTTING AND RESONANCE ABSOLUTELY SPOT ON. ONE SIMPLY CANNOT WORK LIKE THE OTHER (HULK MADE A SIMILAR POINT WHEN GEORGE R.R MARTIN WOULD GO SIX YEARS BETWEEN BOOKS WITH FLIPPING CLIFFHANGERS).

  3. \”HULK WILL ADMIT THAT VIEWERS TEND TO HAVE A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP WITH AMBIGUITY. THE DEMAND FOR TRADITIONAL, CATHARTIC NARRATIVES ALWAYS SEEMS ESCHEWS ITS TRUE VALUE. THUS, THE NATURE OF AMBIGUITY IN A FILM IS OFTEN FIXED TO THE \”KIND OF MOVIE\” ONE IS MAKING. MAKING A DEEPLY PHILOSOPHICAL FILM LIKE THE TREE OF LIFE? GO NUTS. BUT EVEN A THOUGHTFUL SCI-FI FILM HAS TO HAVE A CERTAIN UNDERSTANDING OF HOW TO CONVEY ITS MESSAGES AND CERTAINLY ITS AMBIGUOUS DETAILS.\”

    As I\’ve always told the writers I work with, there\’s a fine line between confusion and mystery, the two sides of ambiguity. Good fiction stays on the \”mystery\” side, which draws the reader/viewer/player in, rather than the \”confusion\” part, which throws them out of the flow of the story.

    My mentor, who\’s created a fair number of successful scifi/fantasy franchises in a number of media, always told me, \”To allow people to appreciate the exotic, you must ground it in the familiar.\”

    Which is to say, when you\’re dealing with fiction set in the real world, you don\’t have to get people to suspend disbelief about that world, or explain it to them, because they\’re already familiar with it.

    When you\’re creating scifi or fantasy, however, and therefore using elements with which your audience is unfamiliar, it\’s incumbent upon you to give your audience enough familiar elements that they can approach the unfamiliar with confidence and curiosity rather than disorientation. If everything\’s new and unfamiliar, you get confusion. If most of what you\’re showing is familiar and logical (characters with superhuman powers still have believable emotional reactions/spaceships follow the laws of physics and can run out of gas/magic has logical and discernable rules and limitations), the unfamiliar stands out as a beacon of mystery, rather than as one more element in an already confusing stew.

    So, when you\’re writing scifi/fantasy, you decide on which elements you want to be alien, which you want to be that beacon of mystery.

    And then you do your audience the favor of making sure that everything else follows rules they already understand, so they don\’t have to waste time trying to figure out the elements which aren\’t even supposed to be the mysterious part anyway.

    And I wonder if that\’s why scifi and fantasy get a bad rap among academics and critics, and aren\’t generally considered as \”deep\” or \”serious\” as realistic fiction. Realistic fiction deals with stuff we already are familiar with, so the people who write it — even if they\’re not that talented — have the luxury of introducing a great deal of ambiguity in the characters\’ motivations, the themes, etc. without sacrificing the comprehensibility of the narrative.

    In scifi, the writer must balance any of that ambiguity among elements that are already familiar to us with explaining the scifi elements that aren\’t. A really talented writer can do this — make the exotic familiar and logical enough that we have mental bandwidth to deal with character ambiguity, big themes, etc. — but while a writer of less talent might be able to pull it off in realistic fiction, when faced with scifi, more often than not they\’ll end up on the \”confusion\” side of the confusion/mystery ambiguity line.

    Hence, a lot of scifi writers who aren\’t supremely talented sacrifice character depth, rich thematic ambiguity, etc. in favor of focus on making the scifi elements comprehensible/interesting, which leads to the critical/academic contempt for genre fiction as being shallow or nonserious.

    • FILMCRITHULK said

      VERY GREAT COMMENT AND HULK VERY MUCH AGREE. FUNCTION IS ALWAYS THE MOST KEY ASPECT OF ANY APPROACH. CONFUSION AND MYSTERY ARE NOT THE SAME THING BY ANY STRETCH!

  4. And I don’t know why WordPress is inserting slashes before some characters. :( Sorry.

  5. It’s not the Ambiguous Mystery that kills Prometheus to me, it’s everyone’s shoddy work ethic. The security guy leaves his guns at home. The scientist takes off his helmet. The map-maker gets lost. The captain loses track of his crew. The project manager violates quarantine. The archeologist doesn’t take pictures of ancient murals. The medical staff doesn’t notice a woman is running around in bloody underwear with her intestines hanging out. Said woman doesn’t follow-up about her fiance’ flambe’, baby Squidward, Space Voldemort, etc. etc.

    This “laissez faire” approach to health and human safety is best shown by the co-pilots at the end who are like: “IDK, SUICIDE?” “AWESOME LOL!” Where did they find these guys– Weyland Industries’ Alfred E. Newman division? If the CHARACTERS don’t care about their jobs or their lives, why the heck should I?

    Funny thing is, we’ve already had a movie about a barren religious scientist and her true believer boyfriend who have a miracle alien-hybrid baby after an encounter with millenium-old black oil while searching for the truth about aliens. It was X-Files: Fight the Future. Except that movie, for all its faults, had investigators who actually, you know, investigated.

    The X-Files itself is a case study in how you can get away with a ridiculous plot on installment plans (at least for 5 years). The X-Files plot made no sense either– but Mulder and Scully CARED about the wonky plot– they cared very deeply. They also cared about each other, and sometimes even gave up the answer mcguffin of the week to save their partner. And because they cared, the audience cared.

    No-one in Prometheus cares for their *own* life, never mind those of their colleagues. It’s like Prometheus watched the X-Files and said, “let’s copy the confusing alien life-cycle and conspiracy wankery, but leave out character motivations and interactions! They’ll only slow us down!”

    In short (too late!), what dooms Prometheus isn’t a lack of brains– it’s a lack of heart.

  6. kmkmiller said

    hey so what if the nuke they used to blow up the asteroid in Armageddon goes off and instead of saving the world we cut to a new movie where Steve Buscemi is a feminist. some people wouldn’t like that but I sure would.

    just thinking out loud.

  7. Rick Havoc said

    The main problem with “Prometheus” is that it’s a remake of “Mission to Mars” and no one in the entire production noticed. To make matters worse, “Mission to Mars” > “Prometheus.”

  8. [...] far more eloquent than I have spoken at length about the many problems with Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe; but suffice it to [...]

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