Monday, 15 October 2012

The non-temporary disbelief in suspension

My friend Addie co-authors my sister blog about beer (without meaning to deliberately plug it -- see here). I don't usually write about him, but it so happens that he has just watched the recently released Prometheus on 3D Blu-Ray. He is currently the only person I know with a 3D television, and with only one UK channel regularly broadcasting in 3D ("Sky 3D"), I have sometimes wondered why he acquired this expensive gadget. He's not even a Sky customer. This means that he only watches 3D Blu-Rays and the occasional other 3D transmissions. For example, the BBC recently transmitted some of the Olympics in 3D on its main HD service, as well as the final of the last series of (the horribly named) Strictly Come Dancing. (This programme is currently the world's most successful TV franchise, and makes the BBC lots of cash. It has the different but equally awful name "Dancing with the Stars" in other English-speaking parts of the world. Happily the Spanish American version has the much better "Mira Quien Baila".) Addie is neither a regular sports fan, nor a regular watcher of televised ballroom competition, meaning that he is watching programmes simply because they are available in 3D, rather than due to the merits or otherwise of the broadcasts themselves. In other words, he is obsessed by the gadgety gimmickry, and he must go out without delay, get himself an instance of whatever the thing happens to be, and own it immediately.

So, Prometheus. If you haven't seen this film then beware; I don't think I'm about to write any genuine spoilers, but you may not want to chance it; stop reading now, come back another day, and thanks for visiting. As Amazon and eBay like to say, why not bookmark this page? (Microsoft persist in being the only people to call these things "Favorites" -- sic, since us Brits even have that spelling imposed on us, not just the different word, in Internet Explorer. Grr. I suggest using Firefox's bookmarks, everyone. And just to reiterate a previously blogged point and not offend my US readership, I have zero objection to American English, but as a Brit I still expect to be able to write and use British English as my natural idiom, unconstrained by Microsoft's nonsense.)

Basically, Prometheus is a clear member of the Alien franchise of films begun back in the late seventies by Ridley Scott with his super scary and brilliantly conceived space horror masterpiece. With Mr Scott back at the helm, Prometheus marks a return to form, with many of the original themes back in place and intelligently reimagined. But away from the film's obvious qualities, some issues have got Addie and I wondering, while we've been enjoying a pint. Perhaps this is what beer is for.

One such problem is the issue of travel to distant planets. The movie's protagonists all endure a period (clearly alluded to as being about two years) in a sci-fi frozen sleep. But this makes no real sense; the space ships can reach distant solar systems in just a few hundred days, even though the closest theoretically possible solar system to Earth could be at Proxima Centauri, four light years away. If the majestic real-life exploratory spacecraft Voyager 2 were heading for Proxima Centauri (it isn't), it would take another eighty one thousand four hundred and forty ish years to get there at current speeds (see Wikipedia if you don't believe me). In fact, the commercial ships in Alien films seem to be going elsewhere, but even if they weren't the clear implication is that the ships can travel at least twice as fast as the speed of light (which Einstein says can't be done). If that's not how the ships reach their destinations, then perhaps it can be assumed that they have instead exploited hyperspace or wormholes or something? But if that's the case, what is the need for the temporary suspended animation freezerinos at all? Why don't they just arrive straight there?

Curiouser and curioser. Then there is also the issue of the motivation of the Alien species itself. Sometimes, they just kill mercilessly, but on other occasions they capture their victims and restrain them for exploitation by the face huggers and ultimately to play host to more baby alien chest bursters (charming creatures). But there's no rhyme or reason to it. In the James Cameron directed Aliens, Ripley even shouts in desperation that "you can't help him!" to prevent Corporal Hicks from attempting a futile rescue of Apone and the gang, yet later declares that "they don't kill you" and successfully embarks on a perilous rescue of Newt.

Of course, because beer makes for entertainingly argumentative and trivial bloke-talk, it's all good stuff for one of our pub excursions. Addie and I are actually both very aware of the principle of the temporary suspension of disbelief. Just in case you're not, this is the way in which things that would be actually total nonsense can be enjoyed in film, television, drama and literature simply for what they are. This has applied throughout the ages. I've always struggled a bit with Viola and Sebastian, Shakespeare's twins in Twelfth Night, for example, but this hasn't prevented new versions of this play from appearing periodically for hundreds of years. In his lifetime, Dickens (a writer who is to novels what Shakespeare is to drama and verse) was criticised for having someone spontaneously combust in Bleak House. Even (arguably) the finest writers ever to have put pen to paper in the English language have stretched the boundaries, so don't get me started on The Da Vinci Code. Really. Don't.

In the end, we like to debate the nature of these dramas or books or plays or movies because we have enjoyed them. Ultimately that's what matters. Have we been made to laugh or cry? Have we felt excited, or terrified? Have we rooted for the hero? If so, it's worked and we can all talk about it over a cheerful beer, happy that all is well in the world.

Especially Addie. As I've mentioned, in order to make things as believable as possible when he's enjoying them, he has undoubtedly decided that difficult plot details cannot be endured without the latest technical wizardry. And he has to have it in his hands at the first possible opportunity. As I've already said, he's an early adopter of 3D television (to my mind a fad -- the jury's deinitely still out currently). And, on the same day that iPhone 5 was released in the UK, Addie was there collecting one (even though it took him a more than a week to get it to work). He has an iPad, a straight-from-the-factory new car, and he aspires to be first at the pub to sample the latest ales. He doesn't believe in waiting for things, despite the fact that "version two" of any given consumer item generally has the wrinkles much better ironed out. He even pre-ordered Prometheus (in 3D Blu-Ray, as I've mentioned) so that his copy was ready for viewing on the release date (I saw it on the big IMAX screen some months back -- the way it was meant to be seen).

And what was the final, ultimate piece of wisdom Addie imparted as a consequence of his diligent efforts? He said, "I thought there'd be more aliens in it." He hasn't made it to the board of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts yet, but when he does, I'll let you know. In the meantime, gadget freaks everywhere: I salute you.

STOP PRESS: Addie just gave me a card offering a promotional download for iPad, iPhone etc of a well known children's novel. I pointed out that I already had a copy of this book for my own kids to enjoy. "Ah yes, but how much did YOU pay to download it?" No, Addie. No!

** This blog post was first published at **