Mark Metcalf
Moving Pictures

Avatar thrills on many levels

By - Dec 21st, 2009 11:26 am
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A still from the film Avatar.

A still from the film Avatar.

By the time you read this, half the world will have seen James Cameron’s Avatar. I’ll try not to spoil it.

Already, I will have to listen to constant hurrahs for the movie for the rest of my life, since my son hails it as, “The greatest movie that will ever be made,” and claims he will say this everyday for the rest of his life. Already “I love you,” has been replaced by, “I see you.” (When you see it, this will make sense.) I feel a little bit the way the parent of a 12- or 15-year-old might have felt after the kid saw Star Wars in 1977, or when it came back to haunt us in 1999. I just hope I don’t come down to breakfast and see my son painted blue with little freckle stars all over his face. I like him fine the way he is.

The movie is just as spectacular as they insist it will be in the advertisements.

The technology that Cameron developed captures fantastic images, and now since everything (even a Dave Matthews concert film) is in 3D, the only way to see a fantasy, action, adventure film is with those ridiculous glasses on your face.

Movie synopsis: The Na’vi, Pandora’s humanoid creatures, stand 10 feet tall. They’re beautifully athletic and blue and sport long, braided hair. And, every emotion that they feel, which is a lot, is captured by the highly evolved motion-capture system and cameras that Cameron has trained on them. Planet Pandora is threatened to be ruined for its precious metal by earthlings who have already ruined their own planet.

The Na’vi forests are as lush with plant life, water and wonderful six-legged creatures that are unlike anything you have ever seen. Yet, their look doesn’t surprise you; you do not feel as though you are seeing something for the first time.

avatar_posterPIC1Certainly when it comes to the story, you are not hearing anything for the first time. It is the un-Disney version of Pocahontas. A friend of mine thinks there is a little of Dances With Wolves thrown in, too, but the story of Dances With Wolves had a slight element of authenticity, which nothing of Disney ever had and I am not sure if Avatar has either. The exposition is handled in the most perfunctory way. The author of the screenplay doesn’t bother to disguise it at all. We just have two or three scenes where a subsidiary character tells us all about the planet, the people and the history of the ‘Sky People,’ the “aliens” from earth and the scourge of natural life.

What we call progress is often really greed draped in religion and morality. For the sake of progress, Europeans, white folks, have murdered and ruined indigenous populations and much of the natural surroundings on all continents. But the way Cameron tells this story, mostly with the postured bleating of actors whom he uses as his mouthpiece, makes me shudder.  There are about seven inches of icing and two inches of cake in this story about the innocent purity and fierce fragility of the natural world and those who listen to the earth and chose to live with it rather than against it. It’s enough to bring on a diabetic coma.

The most confusing thing about this film is that it reportedly cost $230 million to make (and the Hollywood inside story is that its real cost was more like $400 to $500 million). That seems like an absurd, if not obscene, amount of money to spend creating entertainment. That kind of money should help to cure cancer or find a way to reduce the epidemic level of AIDS in Africa.

Nevertheless, Avatar is likely to bring joy and a gentle obsession to lots of young people. It will stimulate imaginations and conversations. And even with what I find to be its heavy-handed liberal environmentalist politics, the movie will probably set many young people off in the right direction in terms of thinking about the planet. I just hope they don’t think that it’s all a fantasy of such meager depth. Eventually, I hope they see the bare truth and can turn that despair into action.

Avatar is in theaters now.

Categories: Movies

0 thoughts on “Moving Pictures: Avatar thrills on many levels”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I thought the movie was crap, all sizzle (effects) no Steak. I guess its easy to sell sizzle…

  2. Anonymous says:


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