Friday, January 22, 2010

“Avatar: my little cream soda, oh-well, oh-well!”

[Guest Blogger C Lue Disharoon gives us his take on Avatar.]

(with a minimum of spoilers, at that)

I’ve briefly encountered the criticisms related to Avatar, which were typically founded on reasonable observations. It’s true, there’s a science fiction story called The Martian Princess, and it’s true there’s a movie called Fern Gully, another one called Dances With Wolves; it is so, that many elements of said stories echo loudly within the 3-D enhanced cinema plexes of those familiar with them, who yearned for the mind-staggering visuals to be presented in context of a more original story. I follow you: you wanted the narrative to surprise you the way soaring down a cliff on those reptilian banshees might take one’s breath away.

You didn’t want to predict the love interest, the climax, or the treachery within the first half hour. Maybe you wanted something with more intricate characters, or for that Mega Gulp soda not to make you feel as though the Elf With a Gun stopped to jump up and down on your bladder for the last half hour (get this rebellion OVER with, dangit!). You probably skewed the grading curb occasionally, daydreaming through the molasses pace of regular classes (like the physics major, Cameron, who directed this movie). Maybe you would’ve liked something directed a little more at the rational neo-cortex and less in a limbo in the limbic brain. Once upon a time, all you wanted was for a cutting-edge special effects milestone to contain a story you found thought provoking, “oh-well, oh-well... (with apologies to the White Stripes).”

I tilt my head a bit and try to envision: disgruntled viewers walking out of a space opera in 1977, with a rather similar content to their complaints. You know, they were right, too. The scripts of these things are no cause to toss away your Shakespeare or Shaw or O’Neil. But if you are, say, under the age of 50, you possibly have an emotional connection to Star Wars that defies such perceptions of gravitas. Depending on how new these ideas are to you, this could very well become your favorite movie (cue shriek).

Depending on your politics or world view, you may find this movie contains a more resonant theme than is typical in blockbuster land. You may wonder if the science fiction of this story will find its way into the imaginations of researchers of tomorrow, busy clacking their Jake Sully figures across the dinner table. You prefer entertainment still regularly inform you of new concepts that provide analogies to your real world experience; after all, it’s still wonderful when a fiction makes you intensely curious about a subject or a philosophical line of reasoning. Avatar may have a critical impact, if it reaches the home of someone who doesn’t imagine themselves that way.

Imagine being oh-so-new upon that very road; imagine making something for a truck driver or a tool-and-dye machinist (former Cameron professions), head full of far-away places that speak of your world, loading up the kids to see this. Can you imagine---or remember---wishing to duplicate and surpass some amazing special effect?

Some empiricists might prefer another basis for teaching the value of conservation or respect for our fellow humanity in disparate cultures. One needs no belief in mysticism, nor attraction to political correctness, to see its pragmatic interpretation. (For those who like such things, it may also echo a gnostic “body-as-prison” theme). After all, respect for life, the synergy of the entire food chain, and the need to live in harmony with the bounty of your world are sound biological concerns, here shared with some people who may not have thought of this in the abstract with the emotional attachment this movie may give. It’s an important message to attach to a budding imagination. Some concept, regardless, would have to serve as the theme, so in the world of billion dollar movies, I will venture there could be worse guiding lights.

Someone made the argument (on my single visit of late to Peter David’s board of dizzying digressions) that Titanic was also predictable ---long our reason for skipping it. The counter there is that we were given a story that turned a monolithic historical event into personal human drama. Here I suppose those dedicated to literature find some ground. (The “why didn’t they blow them up from orbit?” crowd probably makes a neat Venn diagram with the “oh, great, Earthlings are bad” grumblers). With more distraction from the vicarious visceral experience prominent in this introduction, however, this movie may have sunk under the weight of its own ambitions. The difference between intrigue and confusion minimizes in proportion to the widening of one’s audience; ask the James Bond franchise. In order to deliver the visual “punch” Cameron couldn’t spike the bowl too much, or the film would become the cognitive equivalent of watching much of it with your 3-D glasses off: the context of the action might become too fuzzy.

Yes, it’s perfectly too bad that a film with Fellini-like subtlety has not come out in such splendid technological costume---but the door’s been opened. The expenses (and time considerations) to do similar things within a decade will allow for some breath-taking independent films, countered by an embrace of the documentary style cinematography out of contrarian impulses for actual, rather than virtual, verisimilitude. One can hope the sequel will be written with more daring and ingenuity, as was the aforementioned space opera; for what they had, I rather liked the actors a lot. Though, if the trilogy ends with a fight by tree people against imperial forces---now THAT would be redundancy! One thing is certain: Pandora offers to take us far, far beyond the moons of Endor.


cease ill said...

Thanks for the thumbs-ups! I shared with Neil that my own attachment to the movie really stems from my own associations with nature/people centered friends whose company I so miss, and the hope that, compromises included (as with any generation-defining smash hit), something worth while will be passed along in the hyper-effects extravaganza, as genuine message films seem to only reach a scattered few outside the converted---not that they are unworthy, though, in their nobility.

cease ill said... His special effects were more modest, but my hero Steve Gerber dealt with many of the key issues handled, by the lights of some thoughtful observers, clumsily or offensively, with aplomb...and still delivered a straight super-hero story by commercial conventions!