Saturday, 17 May 2008

not at all naturalistic (in that sense, at least)

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

Why is it called ‘Rise of the Silver Surfer’? How and when does the Silver Surfer rise? Is it perhaps in the final scene when the Surfer turns on his master, ‘Galactus’? That does involve some sort of a moral rise (self sacrifice) as well as the spatial ascension from the surface of the planet. Given how tiny this moral and spatial ‘rise’ is in comparison to all his other movements in various modalities, I think it’s a silly title, even if it does have a nice cinematic ring to it.

But who would have thought that the film could have so many religious resonances?

Right at the opening a new bulletin sums up some of the back-story: “Scientists have ruled out global warming as the cause of the extraordinary climatic events being reported around the globe. With scientists unable to explain the extraordinary events, some are beginning to wonder if the hand of God is at work.”

Here the newsreader articulates an intriguing zero-sum theology of natural/superntural agency. Some things have natural causes (obviously scientists have the final word there) and other things don’t [yet] so that must be God… That sentiment would surely tick off all manner of people, not least Christians who reject any position on causality and natural philosophy they can dub ‘God-of-the-gaps’. However, as a bonus, although probably incoherent, that sentence does represent the kind of thing that a news bulletin would say.

Anyhow, notice how the hand of God may be at work. At the meta-level, the Surfer is the hand of God, and God is ‘Galactus’. And what does this ‘god’ do? Floats around devouring planets (feeding off thermal and other energies), sending his representative ahead of him to prepare the way. An attempt to naturalise and radicalise concepts of the divine, like Pullman’s dust?

Who might the representative of God be? Well in Christian theology he’s Christ, and the Surfer does not disappoint in the final scenes as he stretches out his arms in the classic crucifixion position (compare Superman’s floating position in the stratosphere at a similar altitude in the recent extension of that comic franchise) and gets all white and glowing. This is his moment of self-sacrifice as he heads into the firey [wrath] maw of ‘Galactus’ who is poised over the earth. (Surprisingly no one at NASA spotted its approach! Didn’t they watch Independence Day or Armageddon to see how to track these large objects coming into the solar system?)

So there’s some sort of naturalist parody of judgement, atonement and the like.

Well, probably not, it’s just a fun film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Though that doesn’t mean there isn’t anyhing meaty to say about it… On the DVD the featurette ‘The Four Elements’ there was possibly the most intelligent discussion (or rather, collection of interesting character studies) that one could imagine a cheesy comic-book film having as part of its package. A Marvel writer and the main actors all had something interesting to say and there was none of the luvvie codswallop that usually fills these mini-documentaries (‘Oh, it was so great to work with X, he was so lovely…’)