Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Avatar Anomalies

As a movie experience, Avatar is a constant stream of stunning images, so if you just want to kick back and be dazzled by computer generated images, then this is definitely the ticket.

Much has been made of the fact that it cost about a half billion dollars to make. But such figures are difficult to comprehend. Not so long ago a million dollars was considered a lot of money. When they say that it cost a half a billion dollars to basically make an adult cartoon, it really makes it seem like play money. Most of us live on a total annual budget that would be totally lost in that figure. There are probably some countries in the world that don't have a half billion dollar annual operating budget or an economy that produces that much. Some numbers are hard to comprehend.

I guess for some people the mere fact that the movie cost so much to make was reason enough to see it. I rarely go to movie theatres any more since I am so happy with the way Netflix works, and the price is a bargain. I like the idea of being able to watch what I want when it fits my schedule. But the idea of a huge spectacle in 3-D is something that would not come across as well on a regular, smaller sized screen, so I decided to see it that way, on the big screen.

What about the story? I heard someone else say that it was a lot like an old Disney cartoon called Ferngully: The Last Rainforest and that Avatar was nothing more than a half billion dollar Ferngully. Not having seen Ferngully myself, I can't say. But I can say that it reminded me of a very well made cartoon. Yes, a cartoon that is light years ahead of what we used to call cartoons in terms of animation and special effects.

What I can say is that in what I consider a well made movie, you have intriguing plot developments and strong characters.

What really is contained in Avatar besides stunning visuals? Well let's see. You have the corporate guy who takes the attitude that "it doesn't matter what the natives want. The minerals under the land where they live are worth a lot. Our wheels do not stop. We have a lot of money to make here, and that is all that is important. They need to get out of our way." He reminds me a lot of some of the corporate guys I work for on my day job.

Then you have the mercenary enforcers, the military kind of guys who think that the best way of resolving different points of view is by destroying the people who have other points of view. Obviously a reference to some current events. Most people can probably pick up on this. Sound like a war where a group of mercenaries named Blackwater has been helping to secure black water (oil)?

The natives in Avatar people have a metaphysical world view of how everything is connected and how healing, visions, interspecies communication, connection to the ancestors and all kinds of marvelous things happen as a result of these connections, which appear to give the people magical abilities. They are a very spiritually oriented people. Yes, our world would be a better place if we were all so attuned.

Much like Dances With Wolves, the native viewpoint really resonates with one of the military guys who decides to go native. He has allies among a few other sympathetic military people and scientists who appreciate the unfairness of it all, who get a sense of the metaphysical connections, and join the revolt against the brute force. This is the part that is kind of like Matrix, where the clash between cultures is really a clash between alternate realities and there is a catalyst who travels between the two. The scenes at the Tree of Souls certainly calls to mind the huge party scene from Matrix. I like these metaphyiscal aspects, and that part is alluring. But we still have stale plot points and stock characters where the only reason for visiting other planets is to exploit their resources, and the only kind of interaction with others is violent, and the people in power are toxic jerks.

You could even dip back a bit further and find a number of ways that this resembles Star Wars with the ex Marine in the robot standing in for Darth Vader, the droids attacking the critters, the muppets replaced by animated graphics of plants, animals and humanoids, and the underdogs are still the only ones really connected to spirit.

But to my taste, some of the best movies I have seen are not these huge eye candies, but rather some of the smaller movies with strong characters and plots that are not predictable from the first frame. Sometimes they win big awards and make big money, sometimes not. There are things in a great movie that are more fascinating than flying dinosaurs and iridescent jungles.

Avatar comes to a conclusion with a lot of stuff getting blown up, burned and shot. Hollywood loves to do that, because it makes for spectacular visuals. As entertainment, I find other things much more interesting, although I readily admit to watching some action, adventure and mystery movies.

Right now, the buzz is such that Avatar will no doubt be nominated as the best movie of the year. But in my opinion, that is more a result of the marketing buzz it has generated and the colorful special effects created than because of the great script and great acting. Sorry, but I am not on the bandwagon. All this movie has going for it is great visuals.

Then again, we have to look at the context to see why it is popular.

I guess it helps to have visual virtual enemies because it at least gives audiences a target for venting anger, compared to nameless faceless brokers who can amass fortunes selling stocks they don't own, those who sold people mortgages they knew that they cannot afford, and those who make profits by offshoring the jobs and selling off the parts and giving themselves massive bonuses while dumping employees and dumping on the ones who are left.

When politicians are trying to convince us that forcing us to give more of our money to the insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies that have been ripping us off for years is a "reform" it is kind of like living in a cartoon or slapstick comedy. The lobbyists write diabolically funny plays, only they call them laws.

In the real world, we have unobtanium too. The script writers didn't really stretch their minds too far to get to unobtanium from unobtainable. Asking some of these politicians to do what we elected them to do and fix what needs to be fixed for us is like opening Pandora's box. Look up Pandora in Greek mythology. Those ancient story tellers could spin fantastic tales that have given roots and wings to our culture and civilization for millennia.

It is not surprising that with all the craziness going on in the world, some people would rather watch a cartoon and forget what is going on. Sometimes it is impossible for comedies and cartoons to one up real life.

So is this giant cartoon the greatest movie of the year? No, but it will help many people find some temprary relief from real problems, and that is what we pay movies to do.

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