Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus and Hate-Crit

So I saw Prometheus Saturday night. Final conclusion? Good but not great sci-fi/thriller with beautiful direction, some good performances, and some distinctly chilling moments. A solid B+ overall.

Then why is this movie getting lambasted as the worst thing since Transformers 2?

The short answer: the internet age. Every bit of the overblown asperity towards Prometheus can be traced back to it: the nitpicking, the hyperbolic moans of decrepitude, the fandom outrage. This sort of recursive buddy-on-buddy flagellating could only occur in a world where thousands of fans can come together on a common server and lambast the crap out of something that doesn’t deserve it. There’s an entirely new realm of criticism out there, folks: it’s called hate-criticism (or hate-crit for those three people who still use the term “po-mo”) and it is a fascinating little bugger.

See, Prometheus is a solid B+. It’s not great, it’s not perfect. It’s marred by some thematic clunkiness, some idiotic character moments, and a sometimes-weak script. But these flaws keep a movie from achieving true greatness. They do not make a movie the worst thing since Hiroshima. Yet Prometheus is getting criticized for not being perfect, then being decimated for its imperfections to the point that we suddenly have an entire substrata of people implying that anything less than perfection equals a truly horrible movie. Which is unfair for everybody, including these fans, because it robs them of enjoying something, and instead adds another three points of stress to their already stroke-risked brain capillaries.

The biggest and most obvious reason for the prevalence of hate-criticism in the internet age is that hate sells. Heck, Pixar basically had the final word on this in Ratatouille some six years ago: hate is fun to write, and fun to read. Furthermore, it’s easy to write, and there’s a much big vault of language to be used to criticize something than to praise it. I mean, really, when you’re praising something, what more is there to say than: Hey, the script is really good! Hey, the direction is really good! Hey, the acting is really good! Sure, you can extrapolate that out, but very rarely is it going to be entertaining, and even more rarely is it actually going to be funny or immersive. Agonybooth.com makes their living off of this: you can build an entire website of being snarky and tearing apart bad movies. And people love to read this stuff, including yours truly. Redlettermedia’s Star Wars prequel reviews, for example, are some of my favorite internet-based videos ever.

PICTURED: The Average Hate-Critter

There are probably complex psychological reasons behind the love of hate. Some basic schadenfreude is probably lurking around in there, perhaps just a lashing out of disappointment, perhaps a fear of not being heard unless the most ridiculous and inaccurate of superlatives are used to describe whatever is being unwarrantedly hated-on. But I truly think the ease of hate has a lot to do with its ubiquity, as well as the attention it garners. There’s a certain amount of solemnity involved with fairly evaluating a movie, and as we know, solemn things have a much greater chance of being boring, and that just doesn’t track well with the internet culture, which can easily pop on over to one of the other one trillion websites bouncing around in the ether. As such, the ‘net makes its living off of highly-opinionated people coming up with the cleverest ways they can think of to prove their worth by showing how well they can rip something to shreds with what is admittedly very innovative use of language.

This, in turn, has led to a devolution of our cultural criticism where nothing can be good because it doesn’t live up to our own perceived self-evaluated notions of quality, quality based on a cycle of hate criticism that everyone likes to read, and which therefore leads to good but not great movies such as Prometheus being raked across the coals for no reason other than reactionary hatred based on an unattainable figment that the writers of such criticism have set up for themselves because of their practice in nitpicking the very stuffing out of every movie they see and then posting on it for the world to masticate.

Which leads to my next point: the insidious nitpickers. Again, this is a paradigm of criticism that couldn’t be accomplished as little as twenty years ago. You could have a few, oh, let’s call them nerds for conversation’s sake, discuss and rip apart a movie. But now there are outlets for thousands of people to comb over every square inch of frame and point out what doesn’t make sense, where there are plot holes, where the acting’s bad, where the music doesn’t fit, where the script is weak—and so movies are held up to a nigh-unreachable standard by an entire culture that’s communicating with one another and cycling downward into a spiral of hatred.

Which is myopic considering almost every single good movie, and probably most of the classics, can be torn apart or nitpicked to death due to the most miniscule of plot contrivances, holes, or simple contradictions. They are in every movie. And humans, with their seemingly infinite ability to pull something out of nowhere, can extrapolate the most inane and nonexistent issues.

PICTURED: Oh, please. What a cheap special effect. And look!
It has no eyes! How can it see? What idiot came up with this design? Jesus.
Take Alien for example. Accepted to be a masterpiece. Accepted to the sequel to Prometheus. Accepted to be the standard by which Prometheus is judged. And yet, if people wanted to, they could complain about it just like any other film. They could remark on its ambiguity (WTF is that ship, why isn’t it being explained????), on the stupidity of the characters actions (why do you care so much about that damned cat/why are you sending Harry Dean Stanton off alone to get the damn cat?????), on its basic premise (pfffft whaat? It’s just a slasher movie IN SPACE, what a dumb, unoriginal idea), on the design of the ship (how could that be aerodynamically sound for leaving the atmosphere????), on even the iconic birthing scene (Whaaat? That would never work in real life!!!!). And on a host of other things. If people wanted to. Why don’t they? Because Alien had the distinct advantage of coming out in 1979, before an era where it could be dissecting like a dead cat (or a dead Harry Dean Stanton) by everyone and their outspoken mother.

But Alien didn’t come out in 2012, so it was spared that indecency, and instead became regarded as one of the great films of all time. This allowed it (and its well-regarded sequel) to become a huge source of fan interrelations. There is a remarkably large fandom for this franchise considering that it’s not, you know, an epic continuing story a la Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, and is a horror film to boot, and as such people are going to compare the two movies side by side, since it’s a prequel by the same person with a lot of similar elements.

And at this point the final facet of hate criticism comes to light: the fandom itself.

What I’m saying is by no means new or unique, but is endlessly fascinating to me. It’s sprung from the well-known Star Wars Fans Hate Star Wars Essay (easily found with a Google search, but I couldn’t get to its original page so I didn’t site it), and the documentary film The People vs. George Lucas, specifically a certain section where an interviewee discusses fan rage.

It’s one of the strangest parts of fandom, but its existence is indubitable: fans of franchises love said franchises so much that they hate them. Like the snake Ouroboros, they become so obsessed with whatever it is they’re obsessed over that they create an ideal in their mind of what it should be, regardless of what said work actually presents. Inevitably, the very work they love can’t live up to the love they give the very work, so their passion turns in on itself and then devours itself, love turning to loathing as a franchise, prequel, addition, whatever, cannot measure up to the ideal version of the thing they love, incepted from the passion for the thing they love.

In other words, Prometheus was doomed from the start. There was no way it could be a masterpiece, no matter how good the film was. It’s not good enough to be a masterpiece in the first place: it’s too legitimately flawed. But even if it were a masterpiece, it could still never be a masterpiece, because it would be eviscerated by every obsessive fan out there who has built up their own notions of what a film that is even tangentially related to their passion should look like. Meaning that these fans cannot enjoy what turned out to be a pretty good and absolutely stunning film visually in its own right, because of how much they love and therefore loathe the original.

God almighty, but human being’s are complicated aren’t they?

I’m not saying that works shouldn’t be dissected, or :shudders: deconstructed. I’m not saying that bad films don’t deserve to be smashed with a critical sledgehammer. All I’m saying is that we need is a little perspective. A little objectivity. If a person doesn’t like the film, fine, that’s great—but can we not at least acknowledge its strengths, even while we acknowledge its flaws? Or is every film condemned to be put through the thresher of overhype and fan outrage? This is one of the most beautiful, textured films of the modern CGI era; it has good performances and very interesting elements, and truly terrifying moments. Alongside of that, it has a few plot holes, some stock, one-dimensional characters, and some weird, idiotic character decisions. Is the latter enough to overwhelm the former? That’s up to the viewer. Does the latter entirely negate the former? No. Does the latter make Prometheus an abomination? For the love of all that is holy, it does not. And I think people would go through life a lot happier if they’d realize that.

Until next time,

Mr. E

PICTURED: Plus, it has Charlize Theron in it. Come on, now.

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