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"WAR" completes great "APES" trilogy

The final film in the APES reboot trilogy, War for the Planet of the Apes, has been well received by audiences, fans, and critics alike. As a result, a lot has been written on the film that covers a lot of ground by way of commentary. I've written quite a bit about various aspects of the Apes films as an almost lifelong fan going back to my childhood, and in light of the volume of material available on War online, I'll simply share a few impressions after watching this great film.

To begin the acting was top-notch. Woody Harrelson gives a good performance as the human villain, and like many have noted already, Andy Serkis is wonderful as Caesar. I join the chorus of calls for those who want to see performance-capture added as a category for consideration by the Academy Awards. Serkis' performance is very moving, and with that coupled with the ability of technology to capture facial expressions, the viewer forgets that one is watching a non-human animal, which makes it easy to get caught up in the story and empathize with the apes against one's own species.

The visuals are also amazing. From the wooded home of the apes who flee like refugees, to the human military camps, the cinematography in this science fiction film rivals that of any standard drama. At one point I caught myself mesmerized by a scene with a waterfall, simply because of the beauty of the imagery in connection with the developing story.

Like it's trilogy predecessors, War includes elements that connect it to the five films in the original franchise. This makes for a great time Easter egg hunting, and provides a nice sense of nostalgia for older fans. In addition, it also makes for an interesting bit of storytelling as the script writers work to make seemingly natural connections between the updated story and the films of the late 1960s and 1970s. In War viewers will find many nods to the original film of 1968, but also to Beneath the Planet of the Apes with the use of "Alpha and Omega."

Previously I've written on religion in the Apes franchise, and it surfaces in War as well. The Colonel wears a cross, and has a cross and Bible in his quarters, even while engaging in atrocities against apes as well as his fellow humans. In one scene after speaking to his troops he finishes his audience with them by making the sign of the cross in the air, mimicking a priestly blessing on the people, which is connected to his conception of his military action as a holy war.

Then there's the social commentary. In our age characterized by deep political and religious divisions, at times involving violence and even genocide, War, as well as Rise, speak well to this situation. Human beings are incredibly tribal creatures, and we tend toward inter-group as well as intra-group conflict with very little provocation. This is accompanied by hatred toward others, the desire for revenge, all of which puts empathy and forgiveness in short supply. One of the best elements of War is the way in which it takes audiences on Caesar's journey for his soul, picking up where Rise left off with the death of Koba who was consumed by hatred of humans and a desire for revenge. Caesar seemingly wants to pursue a different path, but tragic personal circumstances make him wrestle with his own demons of vengeance in this film. For viewers able to connect the dots self-critically from [to current events, whether the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the legal battle over Middle Eastern refugees, or the fate of war-torn Syria, War provides plenty of material to help us look carefully in the mirror at human nature.

Director Matt Reeves has said in an interview that he's interested in one more film in the Apes series, one that helps bring this prequel trilogy up to the point of the 1968 film. Given his successes in handling of the Apes mythology, I hope for at least one more film.

Caesar's speech of hope

Planet of the Apes: Science Fiction of Social Fears

Mythicworlds: Straddling the way between sci-fi conventions and transformational festivals?

I'm finishing the editing of a manuscript for McFarland that explores aspects of fantastic fan cultures in relation to the sacred. I am waiting for one more chapter to be submitted and then the manuscript goes off for peer review. In addition to editing and writing he Introduction I am contributing a chapter that contrasts fantastic fan conventions and transformational festivals. The latter are those like Burning Man (on which I wrote my graduate thesis) and Faerieworlds, weekend societies that people participate in as a means of personal and spiritual transformation. In my chapter I argue that the use of mythos and ritual (in one example by way of costuming and cosplay) in both conventions and festivals makes for an overlap and that the sacred is literally in play at both.

During the research for my chapter, one of the interesting things I discovered was Mythicworlds. This is related to the producers of Faerieworlds, so technically it's a transformational festival. But it has many similarities to fantastic fan conventions. It is held indoors (most transformational festivals are outdoor events), it draws upon myths and legends for participants to live out, it includes a heavy emphasis on costuming (similar to cosplay), and a masquerade is held in connection with it. This has me wondering whether it is possible to view Mythicworlds as a form of festival or convention that straddles a middle way between fantastic fan conventions and transformational festivals.

I'll post more on this book of mine once a publishing date is known.

STAR WARS Droid Treatment: Racism or Conflicted Relationship with Robotics?

Previously I've shared Robert J. Sawyer's lecture and critique of George Lucas and Star Wars. In Sawyer's view, Lucas damaged science fiction for years to come. A part of Sawyer's critique is the alleged racism behind the way C3PO and R2D2 are treated when they try to enter the cantina bar in the first Star Wars film. The image accompanying this post includes the language used in reference to the droids that Sawyer's cites as racist.

Racist elements lingering below the surface remains a possibility, but another is our conflicted relationship with robotics. Nautilus magazine picks up on this in an essay titled "Our Conflicting Feelings for R2D2." The essay explores two sides of this equation, and this quote relates to one of them:

We are challenged to accept machines like R2 as living, feeling beings when they are “good guys,” and then to dismiss them as senseless automatons when they are not.

The topic is worth reflecting on as we continue to develop robotics and artificial intelligence, and then bringing into dialogue with assertions like those of Sawyer.

Dr. Syn: Scarecrow of Romney Marsh items

Disney was a formative influence growing up, especially the dark aspects that would come out of his imagination at times. One item that I still appreciate was his film released on television in installments as Scarecrow of Romney Marsh in the U.S., but with a different title as a film in the UK. Above is a good documentary on the Scarecrow that I assume is a part of the release as part of the Disney classics on DVD but which is very expensive to purchase these days.

One of those featured in the documentary is Bret Blevins, a comic artist, who was associated with the Disney comic book series based on the program. I've copied some of his great Scarecrow art below.

 

 

"The Autopsy of Jane Doe" - Surprised by Witchcraft

I'd heard quite a lot of positive buzz about The Autopsy of Jane Doe. Since I added it to my Blu-ray collection I watched it Saturday. I don't have much to say about it other than it was a satisfying horror film that focuses more on suspense and the creep factor than gore. Even the nudity of the main autopsy victim isn't gratuitous. One surprising aspect of it, however, (spoiler alert) is the inclusion of a variation on the evil witch trope. I didn't see the witchcraft angle coming, and I'm surprised this hasn't been featured more, either in interviews with the director or in commentary related to the film.

Synopsis

It’s just another night at the morgue for a father (Brian Cox) and son (Emile Hirsch) team of coroners, until an unidentified, highly unusual corpse comes in. Discovered buried in the basement of the home of a brutally murdered family, the young Jane Doe—eerily well preserved and with no visible signs of trauma—is shrouded in mystery. As they work into the night to piece together the cause of her death, the two men begin to uncover the disturbing secrets of her life. Soon, a series of terrifying events make it clear: this Jane Doe may not be dead. The latest from Trollhunter director Andre Ovredal is a scarily unpredictable, supernatural shocker that never lets up.

"The Girl With All the Gifts" - Interesting Variation on the Zombie Film

I had seen advertisements for the film The Girl With All the Gifts (2016), and after almost buying it at my local Walmart over the weekend, I found it for video on demand through internet streaming and decided to give it a viewing. I'm glad I did. It presents an interesting variation on the zombie film and can be understood almost like a hybrid of Night of the Living Dead meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic UK, where presumably the entire world has been overrun by "Hungries," human beings who are under the control of a fungal infection that destroys their free will and gives them insatiable hunger for the living. The film focuses on children of the Hungries, in particular one girl named Melanie. These children have free will, for the most part, and may hold the key to the development of a vaccine that can save humanity. The Girl With All the Gifts, like the film Maggie, is a part of small number of zombie films that seek to explore aspects of humanity by rehumanizing the zombie monster.

The IMDB storyline summary and film trailer are below.

In a dystopian near future, humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease. The afflicted are robbed of all free will and turned into flesh-eating 'hungries'. Humankind's only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh but retain the ability to think and feel. The children go to school at an army base in rural Britain, where they're subjected to cruel experiments by Dr. Caroline Caldwell (Glenn Close). School teacher Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) grows particularly close to an exceptional girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua), thus forming a special bond. But when the base is invaded, the trio escape with the assistance of Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine) and embark on a perilous journey of survival, during which Melanie must come to terms with who she is.

Call for Papers - AI and Apocalypse

Call for Papers
AI and Apocalypse
Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements (CenSAMM)
April 5 - 6, 2018. Inside the Big Top at the Panacea Charitable Trust gardens, Bedford, United Kingdom
CenSAMM Symposia Series 2018 / www.censamm.org

Abstracts are due by December 31, 2017.
We invite papers from those working across disciplines to contribute to a two-day symposium on the subject of AI and Apocalypse.

Recently ‘AlphaGo’, a Google/Deepmind programme, defeated the two most elite players at the Chinese game ‘Go’. These victories were, by current understandings of AI, a vast leap forward towards a future that could contain human-like technological entities, technology-like humans, and embodied machines. As corporations like Google invest heavily in technological and theoretical developments leading towards further, effective advances – a new ‘AI Summer’ - we can also see that hopes, and fears, about what AI and robotics will bring humanity are gaining pace, leading to new speculations and expectations, even amidst those who would position themselves as non-religious.

Speculations include Transhumanist and Singularitarian teleological and eschatological schemes, assumptions about the theistic inclinations of thinking machines, the impact of the non-human on our conception of the uniqueness of human life and consciousness, representations in popular culture and science fiction, and the moral boundary work of secular technologists in relation to their construct, ‘religion’. Novel religious impulses in the face of advancing technology have been largely ignored by the institutions founded to consider the philosophical, ethical and societal meanings of AI and robotics.

This symposium seeks to explore the realities and possibilities of this unprecedented apocalypse in human history.
We welcome papers in any disciplinary field including, but not limited to Religious Studies, the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences that contribute to understanding and promote discussion and debate on this topic. Approaches could include interdisciplinary scholarship, cross-cultural and inter-religious engagement in literature and theology, history, exegesis, anthropology, social sciences, cultural studies, political theory or theology and so on.

Abstracts of no more than 300 words should be emailed to simonrobinson@panaceatrust.org no later than December 31, 2018. In the body of your email, please include your name, institution if applicable, contact information, and the title of your abstract.

Accepted abstracts will appear in the conference programme. It is the lead author’s responsibility to ensure their abstract is accurate and ready for publication at the time of submission.

Papers should be no longer than 20 minutes in length in order to accommodate questions.

Presentations and subsequent discussions will be livestreamed via the internet and will be digitally archived and made available for future reference.

We encourage the use of accessible language and approaches to communicate concepts and ideas to a broad public audience.

Applications for accommodation and travel cost reimbursements may be considered.

Find our conference archives and 2018 calls for papers at www.censamm.org

Dr Beth Singler is the conference advisor for AI and Apocalypse, she is a Research Associate on the Human Identity in an age of Nearly-Human Machines project. She is working with Professor John Wyatt and Professor Peter Robinson to explore the social and religious implications of technological advances in AI and robotics at the Faraday Institute for Religion and Science. She is also an associate fellow at the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

About CenSAMM
CenSAMM is a new initiative of the Panacea Charitable Trust in Bedford, UK and is led by Panacea trustees, Justin Meggitt (University Senior Lecturer in the Critical Study of Religion, University of Cambridge and Visiting Researcher at the Department of Ethnology, History of Religions and Gender studies, Stockholm University), Naomi Hilton (has a PhD from the University of Cambridge and has taught at the University of Cambridge and Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. She is a former Research Associate at Victoria University of Wellington and is a researcher in early apocalyptic texts and movements), and Christopher Rowland (who retired in 2014 as Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford, after teaching at the Universities of Newcastle upon Tyne and Cambridge).

Its vision is to ensure that anyone will have access to quality resources to enable education, and understanding about apocalyptic and millenarian movements. It will realise this vision by developing and maintaining a world centre of excellence in the critical study of apocalyptic and millenarian movements and aid the public understanding of the legacies and future possibilities of these crucial, creative and often misunderstood forms of human culture.

Titles of Interest - Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History

Evil Incarnate: Rumors of Demonic Conspiracy and Satanic Abuse in History
by David Frankfurter
Princeton University Press, 2008

In the 1980s, America was gripped by widespread panics about Satanic cults. Conspiracy theories abounded about groups who were allegedly abusing children in day-care centers, impregnating girls for infant sacrifice, brainwashing adults, and even controlling the highest levels of government. As historian of religions David Frankfurter listened to these sinister theories, it occurred to him how strikingly similar they were to those that swept parts of the early Christian world, early modern Europe, and postcolonial Africa. He began to investigate the social and psychological patterns that give rise to these myths. Thus was born Evil Incarnate, a riveting analysis of the mythology of evilconspiracy.

The first work to provide an in-depth analysis of the topic, the book uses anthropology, the history of religion, sociology, and psychoanalytic theory, to answer the questions "What causes people collectively to envision evil and seek to exterminate it?" and "Why does the representation of evil recur in such typical patterns?"

Frankfurter guides the reader through such diverse subjects as witch-hunting, the origins of demonology, cannibalism, and the rumors of Jewish ritual murder, demonstrating how societies have long expanded upon their fears of such atrocities to address a collective anxiety. Thus, he maintains, panics over modern-day infant sacrifice are really not so different from rumors about early Christians engaging in infant feasts during the second and third centuries in Rome.

In Evil Incarnate, Frankfurter deepens historical awareness that stories of Satanic atrocities are both inventions of the mind and perennial phenomena, not authentic criminal events. True evil, as he so artfully demonstrates, is not something organized and corrupting, but rather a social construction that inspires people to brutal acts in the name of moral order.

Chapter 1: Introduction
Sorting Out Resemblances
Circumstances for Imagining Evil
Evil in the Perspective of This Book

Chapter 2: An Architecture for Chaos: The Nature and Function of Demonology
Thinking with Demons
Demonology, Lists, and Temples
Beyond the Temple: Demonology among Scribes and Ritual Experts
Conclusions

Chapter 3: Experts in the Identification of Evil
Prophets, Exorcists, and the Popular Reception of Demonology
Witch-Finders: Charisma in the Discernment of Evil
The Possessed as Discerners of Evil
Contemporary Forms of Expertise in the Discernment of Evil: Secular and Religious
Conclusions: Expertise and the Depiction of Satanic Conspiracy

Chapter 4: Rites of Evil: Constructions of Maleficent Religion and Ritual
Ritual as a Point of Otherness
Ritual and the Monstrous Realm
Ritual as a Point of Danger
The Implications of Evil Rites

Chapter 5: Imputations of Perversion
The Imaginative Resources of the Monstrous
Constructing the Monstrous
Conclusions

Chapter 6: The Performance of Evil
Performance and Demonic Realms
Direct Mimetic Performance
Indirect Mimetic Performance
Direct Mimetic Parody
Conclusions

Chapter 7: Mobilizing against Evil
Contemplating Evil, Chasing Evil
Matters of Fact and Fantasy

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