Monday, December 28, 2009

Avatar 3d

Lynnea and I saw Avatar last night. So many people had raved about it as the greatest film of our time that I decided to prepare myself for either a terrific movie or a tremendous disappointment.

I think it was around the time that the grizzled marine in a huge mecha suit was knife fighting with the sexy blue alien babe riding on some kind of tiger-monster, that I said to myself "Boy, James Cameron really knows how to pander to nerds, doesn't he? I'm surprised there weren't ninjas in this scene too."

Also, at some point in the middle I whispered, "This is what I want World of Warcraft to be like in the future." In other words, you step into a cryo chamber of some sort, and then you mind control some fantasy character while feeling what is happening to your other body. Obviously these would be simulated sensations, not controlling a real physical entity. But Lynnea pointed out that this is a nerdy gamer's biggest fantasy, right down to what it turns out the main character can do at the very end. (I will not reveal what it is so as not to spoil the movie, but if you apply two seconds of thought to what a "nerdy gamer's biggest fantasy" would be, other than the naughty stuff, I'm sure you can guess it.)

Anyway, I did come away with a very strong certainty that James Cameron does, in fact, play World of Warcraft. And I'm not the only one to notice that the similarities are uncanny. The Na'vi are basically night elves, and if they work hard and become extra powerful then they get to purchase their epic flying mount when they reach level 70.

Let me not say that I didn't enjoy the movie. It was fantastic eye candy, especially if you pay extra to see it in Digital 3D, which we did. The effects were great, and seeing the paralyzed marine enjoying his new powerful body was fun to watch. And stuff blew up, which is always a plus in a huge blockbuster. Maybe it's in my nature to be a bit cynical and find it corny, but that's how James Cameron rolls, right? I mean, I actually liked Titanic, historical inaccuracies and weepy moments and all.

So I'm giving this a thumbs up, this was a good and crazy picture. I'm not willing to say, as Ebert did, that this is a Star Wars for our time. But then, I didn't even think Star Wars was a Star Wars for our time. I don't dress up for conventions, I don't think it is a movie that defined my childhood, it was simply a good flick where fun stuff happened. In the same spirit, I'll give Avatar four out of five stars, maybe four and a half if I'm in a good mood. It was super corny and the whole angle with the Na'vi as Native Americans was a bit heavy handed. But still a cool experience.

There will be fetish conventions based around this, you mark my words. I'll be skipping them. :)


  1. I just saw the film tonight. The best use of 3d I have ever seen. I saw my bloody valentine in 3d, and one thing that annoyed me/hurt my head a lot was the directors use of blurry to in focus shots...if that makes sense. ie, something in the foreground is in focus, and something in the background is out of focus, then the focus changes to the foreground being out of focus, and the background being in focus. It is a standard director tool to put the audiences attention to where the director wants it to be, and it works well in 2d. But look around, the world is in 3d, and pretty much everything seems in focus when I look into the distance. Basically, it hurt my eyes when the screen was in 3d, but a major part of my field of view was out of focus. Cameron, in this film, did not do that much, or at least did not exaggerate any out of focus areas, which I thought made the film more natural, and more easy on the eyes. Instead of being forced to go where the director wanted me to go, Cameron allowed me, to the greatest possible extent perhaps, to explore all the different visual layers in the film.

    And yes, the Na'vi as native americans was extremely obvious. And the story had been told a thousand times. But I do not have that much of a problem with it. I enjoyed the story.

    Though, from my perspective, the story, in all its incarnations, is slightly, though unintentionally racist. It nobly tries to give the Native Americans/primitive population agency, but it can only give those people agency, direction, purpose, advancement, through the eyes of a white/civilized person. that is a problem. While trying to convey a message that these people can stand on their own, the message to the audience is that they can only do so with a white person around to teach and show them how. Which I think ultimately undermines the message that Cameron was trying to deliver (the genocide by Europeans, and later americans against native americans was bad, and our invasion of iraq to build a better society is bad). A better film to convey the message I think would be one in which we stay the entire film from the point of view of the underdog civilization, and they stand and fight and drive out the invader on their own, or we can see the same story from our point of view...but with no one on our side to feel proud of, to relate to. I suppose their could be a few characters that feel bad about what they do, but their roles and their impact should be minor, the natives should stand on their own. To do anything else only reaffirms the white mans place as superior to the natives, and reaffirms our white mans burden to go around the world/galaxy saving and protecting the primitive people from themselves or from the worse aspects of our own nature. Because without us, they are nothing.

    All that being said, I will be seeing this film a second time, and buying it on blue ray when it comes out. Because it was extremely enjoyable.

    (i like what I wrote here, so I think I might post it on my blog also)

  2. Hello there,
    As superbly rendered as his 3D world is, Cameron has populated it with characters who are strictly 2D. And sometimes not even that.

  3. Good summary, r4i.

  4. Here's what happens without the white man in that story:

    The Na'vi hometree is attacked and they're all run out. If they don't attack the humans do what they want.

    If they do attack they do it without the help of the other tribes (unless somewhere else manages to rope the big bird, but the natives seemed to be too much in awe of it to do what Jake did).

    So they attack in small numbers without understanding how the human technology works. Jake knew their instruments didn't work in the mountains and that was the best place to have the battle. He also had inside information on when and where the attack was going to occur.

    Oh, and the communications they had rigged up between Jake and the other people during the attack. They didn't show it used to great effect, but wireless communications is something the Na'vi wouldn't have had.

    How did fighting back against the white man go for the native Americans? ja, not so well. They started too late with too little force after the whites got too big a toehold. Maybe they would have done a teensy bit better if someone had turned traitor, united all their tribes, and spilt the beans on white people military strategy.

    This wasn't all about the white guy saving everybody. There was a free flow of information in both directions.

    Sure the story could have been done another way, but its easy to work in the expository dialogue without making everything silly when you've got a clueless newb that has to have everything explained to him.

    Having it told from either an all native perspective or all human perspective would have ended up not only with all the characters being flat, but with not a single character going through any sort of character arc.

    The plotting didn't take any risks, appealing to the widest swathe of humanity possible, and that's probably why even after being awed by all the special effects (Imax 3D), it didn't strike me as the best film ever made.

    Cameron has talked about a sequel, so maybe with more of a built in fan base the next movie might have a little more to its story.

  5. I haven't seen Avatar yet,I am not really into sci-fi or 3D or Cameron. As for gaming, call me old fashioned, but I'll rather play good old D&Dr with paper, pencils, dice and descriptions than a computer game, however advanced.

  6. You're old fashioned. :P