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April 2017

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where's the rum

I watched Avatar for the first time today. I wish I'd seen it in the theater - it must have been incredible.

I had the same reaction to it that I had to Titanic (and, for that matter, Quest for Camelot). For those of you who want the short version, I'll just say that I liked about half of it a lot. For anyone interested in the details, comments are under the cut.

I am finding it hard to believe this movie got an 82 on Rotten Tomatoes. Mind you, I have a high tolerance for the familiar. Hell, I read romance novels and watch action films. But when I open my 125th Nora Roberts novel or see Die Hard IX, I expect cliche and same-old-same-old. I don't mind, as long as it is reasonably well done and entertaining, and if it doesn't actively offend me. But when a movie promises to be much more, I get pissed off. Good concept, good universe to build on, great execution, characters you can care about... and then a script so pedestrian that a 12-year-old could not only predict it, but probably have written it - well, it's a bit like having your butler bring you dinner on an elaborate silver tray, but when the cover is removed, you only get a hot dog. I find it hard to believe that the same man who wrote the scripts for Terminator (which at the time was pretty original) and Aliens (an example of a really good formula film) could have scrawled this dreck.

I guess I'll do the cons first and get the whole load off my chest. Right off the bat, I'm rolling my eyes at an eco-message so obvious that it makes a Jethro Gibbs slap to the back of the head look subtle. I'm going "oh, so beautiful - EW, ugly, must be where the humans are". And I'm right. *sigh* Then there's the scientist vs businessman-backed-by-the-military. (Recycle some of Aliens, James?) Actually, I'm rather amazed that, in our current political climate, Cameron went ahead and made (apparently American) soldiers into bad guy cannon fodder and got away with it. I'm one of those who doesn't like cannon fodder. I think, "Each of those guys is following orders, and it will hurt someone back home when they don't return."

But never mind that. On to other stuff. So, Kevin Costner - oops, I mean Sam Worthington - joins the indigenous natives to spy on them, ends up falling in love with their women - I mean, culture - and joins them against his own people, even knowing that his own people have Winchesters - I mean, missiles - when the natives only have bows and arrows. Of course these natives have a spiritually richer way of life than the humans, simple and clean, respectful of nature, even asking the pardon of animals they kill for food. I've only seen that sort of thing in every movie dealing with Native Americans in the past 20 years or so. Even the songs and language resemble Native Americans. What does it say about us - both the people who made this movie huge and the writers whom Cameron imitated - that we are so willing to swallow the idea that the human race is basically destructive and soulless, bent only on mass destruction (preferably with giant machines - oh, memories of Ferngully!) and hateful of any minority? Why do we accept, even for a couple of hours, that civilization is BAD and an unsophisticated culture GOOD? The term "noble savage" was coined in 1672, for God's sake! Nobody getting millions of dollars for a movie should be allowed to walk that well-worn road. No wonder Star Trek always feels like a breath of fresh air to me.

Anyway, it rolls along in predictable fashion. The hero undergoes his rite of passage and picks his mate, naturally the most desired girl in the village, and naturally she wants him, too. The good guys, although vastly outnumbered, band together and outwit the military-business complex, befriend the natives, and help save the day. The expected number of secondary characters bite the dust, and the last-second deus ex machina is rolled out, just like the cavalry coming over the hill. It even has the typical, oh so totally inevitable mano a mano fight between the bad guy and the hero.

Also, why was it never explained that the humanoids of Pandora have four limbs and the other animals all have six? And didn't anyone tell Cameron that apostrophes in a name is SO cliche in sci-fi and fantasy now?

Never mind. Lets move on.

All that bitching being done, here's why it offends me when I can happily enjoy almost all of Steven Seagal's movies.

First, this movie had a wonderful concept. Yes, the idea of an energy flowing through all things is hardly original (that's what The Force was, for example, before Lucas introduced - sigh - midichlorians). But the direct bonding of the life forces of Na'vi and Eywa is something that has rarely been done, and never, as far as I know, in exactly that way, physically, with what looked like plant tentacles. Also, the avatar concept, although not original (there is nothing new under the sun), was different from most and far from being cliche.

Second, the execution of it was near-perfect. Gollum, your life was not wasted. The Na'vi and creatures almost made me forget that it was CGI. The landscape was deliciously gorgeous, and I doubt there is anyone who did not ooh and aah at the many light shows and way-cool creatures. As with the Titanic, Cameron created a place that felt fully realized, one where I not only felt I could go, but wanted to. (I wonder how much Avatar fanfic is out there right now?) As high as I can pile the disparagements of this film, I can never pile them high enough to disguise the beauty and wonder of it.

So, here's some more stuff I liked:

The ikrans and their taming. WAY cool.

The idea that Jake ended up in the program for no other reason than that he was a genetic twin.

Sigourney Weaver. I love Sigourney Weaver.

The concept of the villain being smart enough to hunt down and kill the (vulnerable) human controlling the avatar instead of trying to beat the avatar itself.

Although most of the script was a yawn, some parts were good. And at least one showed some genius - when Jake is being told why he, and not the scientists, has been chosen to be taught, because "It is hard to fill a cup that is already full," and Jake assures them that his "cup" is empty. That was both funny and profound. (I had a spirit guide tell me once that, as soon as a person thinks she is learning something, she ceases to learn. It's always fun for me to see someone else say that.) Or this:
Grace: Yeah, yeah, I know who you are and I don't need you. I need your brother. You know, the PHD who trained for 3 years for this mission.
Jake: He's dead. I know, it's a big inconvenience for everyone.
Grace: How much lab training have you had?
Jake: I dissected a frog once.

The pacing and the battles. The final battle was everything I could want, even if one of my favorite characters did go the martyr route. Watching the ikrans tossing helicopters like my dog tosses her toy was worth the price of the DVD in itself! (Although, yes, I did feel sorry for the pilots.)

Jake's reaction to his first avatar "walk". So touching.

The creatures. Everything about the creatures. Loved the timid hammerhead monster, the pseudo-wolves and horses, the thanator, and especially the ikrans. Not to mention those cute little buglike things with the sunset colored wings like helicopter blades.

The scenery and plants. So beautiful. What a clever foreshadowing of the "oneness" of the planet, when Jake touched a couple of those plants that popped down, and then they all popped down. Not to mention floating mountains (I was back in my favorite world from FFXII!).

Somebody in the military who actually said that what they were doing was wrong, and bugged out.

The action of the Na'vi, their incredible grace. Sometimes the CGI leaked through, but mostly it was just awesome. Move over, Tarzan!

The ways they showed how much larger the Na'vi were than humans, particularly in the scene where Tsu'tey jumps into the helicopter bay and starts kicking butt, and in the one where Neytiri is cradling human Jake in her lap.

The fact that the thumb-in-the-eye eco-messages were packaged in such a way that they'd be palatable for kids and young people. I'd much rather see the entertainment business giving our young people hope than despair.

On a different note, I had to take my cat, Half-Patch, to the vet today. She was throwing up water, had lost weight, and her coat had dried out. However, as soon as I called the vet, she got all better, so it was a healthy, sleek critter I took in. However, her heart rate was elevated and her BP high. The doc suspects she's a "thyroid kitty" - apparently thyroid problems are very common in cats as old as Half-Patch (who's 15). The tests should be in on Tuesday. That's a LOT better than kidney failure, which was what I feared from the water vomiting. The vet's not ruling that out, but she says it is very unlikely, as she has no sign of dehydration.

I continue to neglect my friends and forums in my recent writing frenzy. Aku Kat.


So that's where you've gone... Not mired in mud, but in writing!

Glad you haven't been swallowed by quickmud (sorta like quicksand) between the house and the barn....
We call that stuff suckmuck, and no, even with the recent rain, I haven't been in danger of it for a couple of weeks. WHEW.
You mentioned the fact that for some reason all the other creatures on Pandora have six limbs while the Na'vi only have four. I agree that it seemed a bit odd, and also nonsensical when you consider the horse-like creatures in a rainforest environment. How does something like a horse evolve in a jungle? It just seemed so impractical, what with all that treacherous terrain filled with soft moss and roots sticking out of the ground. It's like they didn't think at all about realism, just about making it look cool. Which is sometimes okay, but I had other problems with the film, so it was just one more thing to add to my annoyances.

"Each of those guys is following orders, and it will hurt someone back home when they don't return."

What also irritated me about the soldiers was how obviously all of them were made to act like ignorant rednecks. When the evil general was showing them footage of the Na'vi homeland and mentioned they worshipped "some kind of deity", all the soldiers started scoffing and laughing. "Ohh, look how ignorant and intolerant they are, they have no respect for nature. Doesn't it just make you want to see all of them killed in battle?" The dividing line between good and evil, black and white (or blue and white) was embarrassingly blatant in that movie. Like you said, a 12-year-old could have written the script.

In fact....

*cracks up* Oh, that is SO cool!

And you are quite right. Horses do not do well in forests, and are by nature plains animals. So yeah, unless there are plains on Pandora which we weren't shown, it is unlikely that they would have evolved there.


You two should both have been film critics! Hilarious! And astute. Did I mention astute?

The "Dances with Wolves" and "Pocahontas" parallels have been made before, so I guess one could give Cameron the benefit of the doubt and say he was working with an archetypal story. Right? naaaaaah..... too easy. He has too much leeway with his power to go that easy route.

But as the tree-hugger I am, I can't say I wasn't a little bit pleased with the in-your-face message, because it basically *is* a kids' movie, violence notwithstanding. I don't think that this is brainwashing. It's the kind of thing that will make kids rightly question things in their own lives and cultures, and maybe...just maybe...when they are a little older and able to make the transition...to be a little bit more tolerant because of what they learned.

No, not subtle at all. But neither was Bambi. And that movie was so formative for me. It instilled the idea of empathy in me forever, though I couldn't fully process it and implement it 'til I was older.

So I look forward to seeing what this highly influential movie will do to the outlook of those impressionable wee ones who are growing up on it now, in their critical stages of mental development. I think it won't be bad. I can only hope.