Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Avatar is Awesome

I'll add my thoughts after the review:


Normally I do not do film reviews. Even though my day job is in film and TV (I have worked in visual effects and computer animation for over 30 years) What Really Happened is a political web site, and I generally avoid crossing the line into the day job. There have been exceptions, to be sure, and today I am going to make a big one. Following a frustrating few weeks filled with social obligations, I was finally able to carve enough time out of a weekend to see the film.

The short version, and at the risk of descending into cheap cliche', is that this is a movie YOU MUST SEE! If you can catch it in 3D, so much the better. But catch it. This film is a masterwork on several levels, and I am going to start on the technical level and work upward.....


Now to the story.

Avatar is a metaphor for the current US aggressions against other countries and Cameron is not shy about making this point. The best line in the entire movie is (I am paraphrasing here) "Someone lives over something you want, you call them the enemy so you can attack them."

It hardly comes as a surprise that the political establishment is hostile to the film. L'Osservatore Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, condemned the film as "an anti-imperialistic, anti-militaristic parable". Many media critics, eager to de link the message of the film from contemporary events, describe the storyline as a metaphor for Europe's decimation of the Native Americans. Yes, it is that, but it is the story of every imperial power that invaded another peoples' lands for profit throughout history and up to the present time.

In brief, and without wishing to spoil the surprise for those who have not seen it, the storyline is of a corporate attempt to exploit the mineral resources of an alien world called Pandora. Pandora is inhabited by the Na'Vi, a humanoid race totally integrated with the environment of their world. As an "old school" Darwinist (and a farm kid), I view such synergy as the perfect result of evolution. Cameron borrows a great deal of the Na'Vi's ethos from the hunter-gatherer culture of the Native Americans (down to the giving of thanks to the animals one kills for food), which is probably where the confusion over the metaphor may arise.

Into this naturist harmony comes a major corporation from Earth, backed up by the military, intent on scraping away the surface of the Na'Vi's world in order to extract the riches beneath. The story centers on a paraplegic Marine who is inserted into the manufactured body of a Na'Vi (hence the name "Avatar") and sees the world through his new alien eyes. It is the 21st Century equivalent of "Walking a mile in the other man's moccasins, or "Dances with Wolves" meets "The Martian Chronicles." Critics may decry the story as contrived, but it does not feel that way. The whole point of any story is to force the protagonist to question his beliefs, and in that challenge, to grow.

At two hours and twenty five minutes, the movie is longer than the usual theatrical fare, but trust me, you won't know it. The film flows so smoothly you will be at the end before you realize it, and perhaps a touch disappointed that it is over and that you have to leave Pandora to return to your own portion of planet Earth. After living with the Na'Vi, Earth is going to be a bit of a let-down.

Some critics have decried the film's happy ending (no spoilers here) as unrealistically silly, in the idea that such a primitive people could overwhelm and destroy a modern mechanized army. No doubt they wish to quell any suggestion that the numerous indigenous peoples the United States is even now divesting of their homes and riches might succeed in fighting back. Obviously, I disagree that opposing a modern invader equipped with the latest horrors of death is a waste of time or I would not have run this web site for the last 16 years. And to such unromantic and indeed unheroic naysayers who insist that victory will always go to the most ruthless and well-armed, I have but one word. "Afghanistan."

In a way, I feel sorry for Jim Cameron. He is a brilliant man, and while I might be (hope to be) pleasantly surprised to the contrary at some point in the future, I think "Avatar" is his masterwork, never to be equaled let alone surpassed. He may even now be facing his "Neil Armstrong" moment, as in "what the heck do I do for the rest of my life, to top THAT?"

See this movie.


I did, and I was very impressed! It didn't surpass "Titanic" for me;, but that is a matter of personal taste. I recognized the theme right away, and I thought what a brave man for having done this.

Of course, his record and success gave him the independence to do such a thing, and the future metaphor (much like what the classic "Star Trek" used to do) allowed him to avoid any direct controversy with the product. But there was no mistaking the message.

The reviewers noting of the time spent in theater and the film being Cameron's life work reminded me so much of my
favorite film and its director, and while I am not elevating "Avatar" to that level (again, due to matters of personal taste), I was very impressed.

I agree with the reviewer.

See this movie. It will make you think.

Also see:
Why AmeriKans Hate Avatar

Maybe that is why, huh, Americans?

1/31 UPDATE:

I will be seeing "Avatar" for a second time (basically at the unspoken request of another) this afternoon -- and am not complaining on bit. May go with notepad this time and scribble in the dark.