METAMERICANA: Watch: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid’

METAMERICANA: Watch: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid’

A phenomenon we’ve been seeing a lot of lately is the creation of ornate trailers for feature-length films that will never be produced. On some level this is a textbook avant-garde maneuver: artists centralizing things (like movie trailers) that are usually peripheral to the publication and dissemination of art. What makes these most recent faux trailers unique is that they’re not merely deconstructions of the Hollywood milieu, but free-standing artworks with independent artistic merit. 
A recent example of this emerging subgenre is "Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid," a trailer for a nonexistent dystopian film that’s both slickly produced and a little confusing–as "Dawn" lacks the obvious thematic throughline of most action films. While we’ve all seen post-apocalyptic films in which the zombified dead wreak mass havoc, and while to an extent that does happen in "Dawn," the truly omnipresent destructive force in the film is actually a living and life-giving one–the Earth itself. In "Dawn," the Earth is both anthropomorphized (as numberless towering hands and arm-like tendrils) and conspicuously pissed. 

The plot of "Dawn," as deduced from its "trailer," involves a dystopian future that was once imagined comedically by South Park, but isn’t actually so unthinkable in the age of cyberterrorism: the Internet goes down permanently. Suddenly bereft of a longstanding addiction, individual social media users turn violent and wage open warfare against the government. While it’s not clear why the loss of social media access would herald an immediate anti-government revolution in the U.S. (unless we assume that the government of "Dawn," having–much like our own–created the Internet in the 1960s, also wrongly felt entitled to pull the plug on it). What’s even more inexplicable is the End of the Internet causing a spontaneous and possibly global outbreak of bloodthirsty plant-life.

The metaphor behind the film’s depiction of Earth is obvious enough: Technology and Nature are in a zero-sum death-match, so the death of the former must (the thinking goes) imply the triumph of the latter. Yet the politics animating the metaphor really aren’t. Is Alf Lovvold, the artist behind the trailer, decrying the ubiquity of social media platforms and their pernicious influence on civil society, or spoofing our paranoid fear that technology is the primary cause of worldwide political, economic, and cultural decline? The former suggests a deep cynicism, and the latter a sort of benighted optimism: after all, if social media isn’t really destroying American culture, maybe the whole idea that culture and language are being daily degraded–an idea central to postmodernism–is just overheated rhetoric. 

The fictional film’s tagline–"When Social Media Died, the Socially Deprived Walked the Earth"–doesn’t direct its viewers toward a clear reading of the film either. For instance, "walking the earth" would be a great thing for men and women to do if it meant "socializing outside rather than tooling around on the Internet," and a very bad thing if it were being used here merely as a euphemism for cannibalism. Likewise, the trailer’s observation that in the world of "Dawn" mankind "lost everything (even Facebook)" would be parodic if the trailer only showed the Internet going down, but given that acid-fed plantlife is the ultimate cause of Earth’s destruction in "Dawn," Lovvold’s "everything" might actually be intended literally. In other words, the film is obviously "for" or "against" something, and it certainly exploits common Hollywood tropes to make whatever point it’s making, but when you really drill down on what you’re seeing it doesn’t add up to a political spectacle so much as an entirely philosophical and "metamodern" one: the juxtaposition of extreme positions for the purpose of making extreme positions look ridiculous.

The idea of taking common Hollywood tropes and turning them into entirely original material isn’t itself a new one, though it’s received renewed attention lately due to the much-heralded release of a crowd-funded NSFW film called Kung Fury. Though this summary does a disservice to its manic creativity, Kung Fury is more or less an attempt to–in just a half-hour–juxtapose nearly every major action-film trope ever committed to the big screen. 

The popular video-anthology series Robot Chicken was an even earlier adopter of this particular subgenre of metamodern art, as its long-running series of Star Wars-themed sketches turned Boba Fett and Emperor Palpatine into substantially more interesting characters than they ever were in the hands of George Lucas. In a very attenuated way, the humor generated by these sketches was ironic because it played off what we already "knew" about certain fictitious characters; more commonly, however, the humor lay in the construction of the characters themselves. In other words, the alternate-universe Star Wars characters offered up by Robot Chicken were funny primarily because–well–they were funny, not because they reminded us of anything or anyone else. In this sense "Boba Fett" and "Emperor Palpatine" were neither original constructions nor deconstructions of previous constructions, but "reconstructions" of characters who had already been endlessly valorized and critiqued in popular culture. When we speak of "reconstruction" as a metamodern principle, this is the sort of thing we mean: characters who are wholesale reboots of figures we’re already familiar with. Such characters can’t help but be a little ironic (simply by virtue of being recognizably related to their prior appearances), but they function equally well as earnest and entirely original artistic creations.

The brief sketches of Robot Chicken are only one-off or limited-run mini-narratives, however. What Bad Lip Reading has given us recently are fully self-contained artworks reconstructed from existing ones. Consider the genius of the trailer for Medieval Land Fun-Time World, a Bad Lip Reading production that doesn’t so much parody HBO’s Game of Thrones as re-imagine wholesale all its characters and plot-lines. If previous Bad Lip Reading creations had reveled in being nonsensical, Medieval Land Fun-Time World tried to carefully reconstruct believable characters using an editing technique that had previously been purely parodic. For instance, when "Bobby B" (King Robert Baratheon) explains why he’s fat, or "Terry" (Tyrion Lannister) jive-talks with his fellow "park employees," their mannerisms and self-justifications make sense and establish character in an almost conventional way–something we’d never seen before in the frenetic, nonsensical mash-ups of Bad Lip Reading. Or, we can consider the self-contained "song" and "music video" for "Carl Poppa (La Jiggy Jar Jar Do)," a Bad Lip Reading tribute to Carl Grimes of The Walking Dead which, while largely gibberish, is also credible as contemporary nerd rap. The only connection between Carl Grimes and "Carl Poppa" is that both express anger toward their show-stealing father; otherwise, what makes Poppa significant is not so much the way he deconstructs Grimes but plays off the animosity many Walking Dead fans feel toward the young lead. Bad Lip Reading explores this amorphous gestalt in a way The Walking Dead itself never could.

Sometimes making a trailer for a movie that won’t ever be produced makes possible the eventual production of that very movie. A widely circulated script for the movie Deadpool was D.O.A. until (allegedly) its writers leaked the script and some "test footage" of Ryan Reynolds as the titular anti-hero. Suddenly, fans were mad for the film and made such a racket about it that they got exactly what they wanted: the film’s now due out in 2016. While "Dawn of the Planet of the Zombies and the Giant Killer Plants on Some Serious Acid" may not ever end up in theaters, the idea of fan-art–or art somehow promoted and prompted by fans–becoming centralized in popular culture is not one that’s going away anytime soon. Already, the website Twitch allows videogame players of no particular skill or distinction to livestream their personal video game play. This means that an activity formerly both private and a little shameful (at least as to the amount some people play videogames, if not the fact of playing them at all) has suddenly become worthwhile public entertainment. The livestreams that result don’t have to be thrilling to become popular, either; if the players livestreaming themselves are particularly bad at the game they’re playing, or are particularly funny about their own shortcomings, or if the graphics of the game they’re playing are so astounding that merely watching them unfold feels as enjoyable as viewing a decent CGI-heavy action film, the livestream will find an audience. This only underscores that the "new art" in several different media–whether it’s film, television, videogames, or even literature, where self-expressive remixing is becoming increasingly popular–is often the art we already have. This "re-art" is not a vehicle for postmodern critique or ironic deconstruction but an authentic reconstruction that optimistically and creatively refreshes its source material. The possibilities for "re-art" going forward are, it goes without saying, both nearly endless and–if you’re an aspiring artist yourself–well worth exploring with the care and ingenuity Alf Lovvold and others have lately displayed.

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two,Metamericana and DATA, forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor forBest American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

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