Posted by: greercn | December 18, 2009

Avatar

There are three myths every North American child of the 1950s child believes, when very young. First of all, there is when you wish upon a star, your wish comes true. Second is that good always triumphs (eventually) over evil. For these, Walt Disney takes the responsibility or the blame.

The third myth is rooted in consciousness by Hiawatha, Pocahontas, “The Last of the Mohicans” and countless other  tales of what we would now call First Nations or indigenous people, but that we would have called Indians or native people in childhood. That myth is that First Nations are more intrinsically linked to the environment, the land and justice than we can ever be. They control the stars and they are good, while we watch stars and are evil.

“Avatar” is firmly rooted in all three myths. For a movie that cost upwards of $250 million, it sure exploits one-dimensional thinking.

I longed to see this movie, having seen a 15-minute clip in the summer. I was invited to a special screening to see it and I was very excited by the idea that 3D could be elevated to this level. I was then invited to a special preview screening, which I missed because of an unbreakable commitment and I missed three other previews for similar reasons, which left me feeling gutted and like I was the last on the boat to disembark.

But let’s look at the story. Boy meets girl, girl tries to kill him but that turns out to be foreplay, girl is promised to another, another boy backs off and leaves our guy and his girl to it, boy comes to value village life, boy decides to protect village from the bad guys – his own kind – and – well, we aren’t dealing with complexity here, are we?

What is happening on screen is astonishing. The 3D elevates the interplanetary opening sequences and brings new depth to waterfalls, alien creatures and our disabled hero, who happens to fall into being able-bodied because his twin dies and his DNA matches an Avatar being built to explore the Nav’i First Nations group. There is much here to delight language lovers, too. Nav’i is native without the “ET” and the guide to their language is written by Phred Palmer, who comes up later in the credits.

Each bit of the Nav’i language is a pun or a play on established science fiction and anthropology lore and you do feel really clever as you spot each one.

What James Cameron’s “Titanic” does for Jung’s water images, “Avatar” does for flying. You feel you are up there on the exotic creatures, looking down on the most extraordinary landscape. Your senses are engaged physically and emotionally, from the first moments.

And if you stay right through the endless closing credits, you get a song by Leona Lewis, who won Britain’s “X Factor” two years ago and sings “I See You” in a beautifully clear soprano that enhances key concepts of the film, by the lyrics and the delivery. (When I saw the movie, Leona was singing for just me and the cleaners, although the cinema had been packed).

Yet – I really hate to say this – it’s a teenage boy’s idea of a plot. I think that’s why I think of Walt Disney and myths. It’s facile and detracts from the film. It’s a missed opportunity to say something original and match the oomph of the technical wizardry.

Did I think that as I was watching it? No,the plot hurtles along and any holes are covered by by some of the best action scenes I have ever seen. This is a very serious anti-war and anti-invasion movie, paying homage to “MASH” and “Saving Private Ryan” and “Anzio” in equal measures. The message is that people should not invade other countries and that disability can be beaten by science, which are both pretty and heart-warming messages.

Zoe Saldana is a real kick-ass feminist heroine who fights and flies competitively with the best of the boys. Michelle Rodriguez gives her a run for her money as Trudy, the pilot who questions her orders and looks terrific. And – unusually for a big budget Hollywood film – Sigourney Weaver plays a great role as a scientist with class and conscience, who happens to be an older woman. You won’t see this many strong women in anything else this year.

Sam Worthington goes from strength to strength, drawing on his everyman credentials to be fascinating, both in his own face and body and as his Avatar. It is so refreshing to see an American film in which the bad guys don’t have British accents.

I absolutely adored it. I want to see it again and again.

Yet, I am left with a feeling that – despite the language play, strong women, disability plot and fantastic battle scenes – couldn”t a little more money have been spent on making a plot that matched the huge achievement of the effects? Plots seem to be getting more conservative and taking fewer risks. The song of the tribe sure sounds like my school hymn.

Do we want the familiar? Or do we want our big budget blockbuster movies to elevate us as much as the technical wizardry does? I am not left unhappy about it, but I think I wanted an extra dimension in the script. I loved it – but it’s like popcorn. Great in its place and highly entertaining, but a real meal is about steak, isn’t it?

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Responses

  1. I think now I wuold quite like ot see it- after seeing teh trailer I did not want ot see it at all, contrary to you- but the plot lines sound interesting. And sometimes, if too complex, could put off mass audiences, to whom this film, with its huge budget, is definitely addressed.

  2. My colleague Priyanka came into the office this morning and had seen the Atavar film. I assume it was one of those rare outdoor girls movies. Most girl movies are indoors. Anyway, rather in the way you liked it, so did Priyanka, so I thought I would wait till it got to HBO in a year or two and allow it to join others of its offerings which I flip through with momentary pauses on each flipping immediately if some one is kissing, a woman is upset with a man, or a man is looking sensitive and weepy, or there’s a woman holding a gun and running a swat team or an infantry squad, which covers just about every film HBO offers.

    Of course, my tastes run to Zulu, The Man Who Would Be King, and lately Master and Commander, the last film I actually saw in a cinema. That must have been three or four years ago.

    The boy movies today are usually brainless action stories, which are unrealistic and tend to see fighting as a form of dance. What I notice on HBO, my only exposure to movies at all, is that what few good ones there are – good for me, that is – are endlessly recycled while the endless throughput of girls movies, where the principal story is about a relationship, are discrete items in constant throughput seldom if ever repeated.

    I find that in the 1930s- ’40s films, when Lauren Bacal was in her prime, women actually played roles on which the story hinged, rather than the endless harlequin formula of boy finds girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl. Or of course, woman as action hero which is as rare in real life as it is abundant in cinema today.

    Curiously, men have lost their grip on films since the 1980s, perhaps 1990s with the advent of the home video and its DVD successors with HBO channels contributing mightily. That is because the public cinema dominated film distribution. These were dark place in which women if they wanted to see movie would have to sit alone and risk molestation. So either they had to go in groups or go with men. This allowed a disproportionate number of men to dominate the movie-going audience as they were not affected by such fears. Therefore it was important to appeal to them.

    After this period war movies, even good one’s had to have some squishy theme to justify their existence. Saving Private Ryan had to be about getting one soldier out of battle for the sake of his mother. Glory was a good civil war movie, but it was about a black regiment. Master and Commander was a rare exception, but it is the exception which makes the rule.

    Then we have the women with a gun thing behaving like no women I have met with the exception of a few dykes I have encountered. This is not entertainment for me – and I do not think for very many as they are not recyled but drift of into the vapor trail of forgotten movies.

    It is rather like newspapers these days. They have been taken over by a politically correct cabal and have totally lost touch with their market because of their monopoly situation. But while they enjoyed monopoly certainly in the North American context, less so in London where there is still competition and in third world countrie without broadband internet connection where men can flee to find a handy satisfying exit from the media schlock pile.

    The problem with political correctness in media, but particularly print journalism where the consumer is expected to do some work in reading, is that it is a lose-lose situation. Those who agree with the politically correct view know what the article is going to say and those that don’t reject. Readership is low on two fronts.

    The problem is that women are vital for retail advertising and if you have retail to advertise you must appeal to them. But their interests are limited to sex, recipies and disease, or food, fashion and fucking as the old Fleet Streeters used to say. In fact, they are interested almost exclusively in things that touch their own bodies.

    I remember this teaching English as a second language to refugees in Canada. For a month or two they were all male in my class and a devised a method that both inculturated them into Canadian life and encourage them to speak up. I set up a parliament and divided them into two parties and the bill was giving children the vote. We were getting on well doing this once a week. They guys like shouting each other down the very argument got them speaking.

    But in the next session, I got a whole load of women, about 40 per cent. This did not work out at all. They were silent so it just wasn’t working. What’s more they did not like being shouted down. So we back to the old ways in which we talked about relationships and shopping. The men could at least manage this, though they had a lot more fun in my mock parliament in which I played the role of Speaker.

    So if you want to maximise your audience, you must appeal to women so that means anything that would interest males, which can be anything from cross channel ferry engines, Kantian philosophy and dog racing, hold little appeal to women. So to get the lot – or so it is assumed – one had to make the love interest central. Just as the Daily Mail is pretty much a girls paper, in that females dominate the pictures of the notable with the except of heart throbs “What is Prince William Really Like?” or beasts we love to hate like the fellow in Austria who was raping children in his basement. Again things that might touch their bodies in their dreams or nightmares.

    So I think I might go to Youtube now and see if I can find The League of Gentlemen with Jack Hawkins. Haven’t see that is 40 years. Atavar can wait for a couple of years when I will give it five to ten second of my time while I am in search of something like My Fair Lady or The Tunes of Glory.

    • Great. Thanks. But did you like what I wrote? I always value your opinion.

  3. Ha ha. That last one was clearly not a comment. I think this was a considerate and fair reveiw. Not having seen the film, but I can tell it must be somewhat seductive. Although rodrigues is not my taste. Look forward to more reading from this website x

  4. Seems like a good review to me. Effects first, plot second. It’s the way things are. It’ll get worse. For me, the best use of CGI is to film the unfilmable in a good plot that already exists (Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Spiderman – hmm, am I displaying a less than intellectual filmic attitude? Well, there’s lots more) rather than devising all these whizzo effects and then trying to figure out a way to use them.

  5. Having now seen this film. Slow. I am suprised with the fixation with special effects, in peoples reactions. The environment is fantastic but I knew it was coming, I am not very happy with what the film is trying to say about people. Especially considering the script was pretty poor I feel there was no right to imply such strong distaste on aspects of society, military and technology. I refuse to feel inferior to a race that does not invent, and I look forward to other films with similarly impressive visuals and a less righteous attempt at a plot.


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