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Arts and Culture

Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Awes the Skeptics

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Posted on Dec 15, 2009
Mark Fellman / WETA courtesy 20th Century Fox

By Peter Z. Scheer

(Page 2)

At one point, Weaver declares that Pandora’s riches can be found in its ecosystem, not its lifeless minerals. We get it. We got it the first 10 times you said it. Life, good. Rocks, bad. The “Dances With Wolves” bit wears thin, too. Yes, we ought to respect native peoples, but is it really a cultural exploration to listen to a made-up language for nearly three hours? It’s just too hard to take some of this stuff seriously, and, as a result, the movie lags before the final act and while we learn the intricacies of Na’vi culture. This is how they learn to ride horses, this is how they hunt, this is how they brush their teeth in stunning 3-D! Can we get back to the part where my brain is exploding?

While they can be tiresome, not all of Cameron’s political efforts fall flat. There is something very powerful about the nature argument, the suffering of indigenous peoples is always upsetting and no one will walk away from this movie thinking a well-armed ignoramus is a good idea. Will moviegoers make the leap from “Avatar’s” Col. Miles Quaritch to Gen. Stanley McChrystal? Doubtful. Although there were some references that won knowing chuckles in the theater—the “hearts and minds” line, for instance. Quaritch also tells us that we must fight terror with terror and argues the virtue of a pre-emptive strike, which earned a golf clap from the presumably lefty Los Angeles crowd.

One might also quibble with some of the production design. The human stuff in the movie is all very slick, but the look of the planet was clearly inspired by a black-light poster in someone’s rumpus room. The flora and fauna of Pandora, it appears, evolved not to perpetuate the various species, but to inspire pot smoking. This is where “Avatar” has taken the most heat from sci-fi fans. Things just look too weird, they say. Maybe, but who cares? They’re supposed to be aliens—what are aliens supposed to look like?

WETA / 20th Century Fox

It’s hard to tell whether “Avatar” is the future of movies or the past. Hollywood can’t really afford to keep making $300 million juggernauts, even if some succeed. And where exactly is Cameron supposed to go from here? Each of his blockbusters has been bigger than the last. Assuming “Avatar” does well at the box office, is there someone out there who wants to finance the $400 million Cameron movie? Probably.

There are going to be plenty of people who don’t like “Avatar,” but then Parisians at first thought the Eiffel Tower was an eyesore. “What does it do?” they demanded. It shows us what we’re capable of. “Avatar” is not a work of high art or substance. As a call to action, it is simplistic and awkward. But James Cameron has created a movie monument of unrivaled technical sophistication. Even if “Avatar” isn’t your bag, you should go see it. Spectacles can be dangerous distractions, but some demand to be witnessed. This is a moment in film history. It’s also an absolute thrill ride that makes skeptics shout “Yes!” in wonder.

 


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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, February 19, 2010 at 10:33 am Link to this comment

I can’t wait for the novel of the backstory on earth of the various human characters he is working on now.

Also another anomaly I noticed was that most of the other animal life on Pandora has six legs so the Na’vi should of had four arms to fit in with most of the other animal life. Nature is consistent as we see on our own world with four limbs, one heart & 5 digits.* But that is just me an most will not quibble over that. A good film that kept me busy through its 3 hours that just flew by.

*Exempting all arthropods of course.

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By Free Games, February 18, 2010 at 2:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Watching Avatar, I was struck by the resemblance to drawings in the Dr. Seuss books (children’s books by Theodore Geisel).  Anybody else think it might have been an influence? Free Games

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, January 30, 2010 at 1:44 pm Link to this comment

The Avatars were created for the express purpose to ease the human contact with them concerning cultural shock. They may be strange still but less so with the idea of being able to manipulate the natives more easily. (They obviously misunderstood just how perceptive the Na’vi really are.) Not the first time in our own world.

The only glitch in the entire film was the name of the radioactive substance they seek so much “unobtainium” was over the top—-otherwise a very good film in all respects

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By oyunlar, January 30, 2010 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

the studios deeply distrusted and feared because they couldn’t control it—could now be Oyunlar
Oyun
compartmentalized, and contained.

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By Mestizo Warrior, December 30, 2009 at 2:45 pm Link to this comment

Critics who state that Avatar’s story line is bad, are obviously missing a very clear and vital lesson. That lesson is that corporations and their mercenary armies cannot just grab other folk’s natural resources without any regard to these people’s natural environment and lives without resistance! At least not on Pandora. This is what makes the story line interesting, that the Navi people by joining other indigenous tribes on Pandora along with aid from the indigenous animals and their god Eywa. Good confirmation for political solidarity and spirituality.

The fact that Cameron used Afro-Latina (Zoe Saldana) , African American (CCH Pounder), American Indian (Wes Studi) and Latina (Michelle Rodriguez) actors to play the roles of the Navi people reminded me that it is the indigenous people of Africa, N. America, South America and Mexico that have been driven off their lands by multi-national corporations with the backing of our military or the military of right wing despots (such as in Brazil)

Avatar is much more than just science fiction… it is spiritual, it is political and it is inspiring. I would urge all that are tired of seeing corporate dominance in our lives to see this wonderful new movie.

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By Job62, December 26, 2009 at 8:26 am Link to this comment

This movie goes way beyond anything I have seen on a technical level sure but also on a political and spiritual level too. Corporate “elites” will be horrified when the real power of this movie is seen after it is shown in places like Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria and the middle east.  The corporations have sent a message “we can take what we want.”  This movie stirs in the heart the will to fight, and awaken and scream back into their faces “THIS IS OUR LAND.”  I remember being motivated to workout and get in shape after seeing the Rocky movies. After Avatar I am motivated to double my efforts to buy fair trade, by local and support legislation that supports peace and a just and sustainable world.  If it can do that in materialist America imagine what it can do in places where the indigenous people are being threatened with losing their way of life or even complete annihilation by the insatiable greed of corporations.  If those threatened people are blessed to see this film the parallels with the modern world will be clear and fertile ground for active resistance will be created.  Hopefully that active resistance will be peaceful but as in the film often there isn’t time and force becomes the only option.  And as in the film that resistance will be called terrorism so keep your eyes open before you choose a side.

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By Job62, December 26, 2009 at 8:18 am Link to this comment

This movie goes way beyond anything I have seen on a technical level sure but also on a political and spiritual level too. Corporate “elites” will be horrified when the real power of this movie is seen after it is shown in places like Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria and the middle east.  The corporations have sent a message “we can take what we want.”  This movie stirs in the heart the will to fight, and awaken and scream back into their faces “THIS IN OUR LAND.”  I remember being motivated to workout and get in shape after seeing the Rocky movies. After Avatar I am motivated to double my efforts to buy fair trade, by local and support legislation that supports peace and a just and sustainable world.  If it can do that in materialist America imagine what it can do in places where the indigenous people are being threatened with losing their way of life or even complete annihilation by the insatiable greed of corporations.  If those threatened people are blessed to see this film the parallels with the modern world will be clear and fertile ground for active resistance will be created.  Hopefully that active resistance will be peaceful but as in the film often there isn’t time and force becomes the only option.  And as in the film that resistance will be called terrorism so keep your eyes open before you choose a side.

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By Loak, December 22, 2009 at 3:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Watching Avatar, I was struck by the resemblance to drawings in the Dr. Seuss books (children’s books by Theodore Geisel).  Anybody else think it might have been an influence?

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By MC, December 21, 2009 at 6:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I saw the movie at an Imax and though Imax tech is primitive compared to RealD’s digital circular polarization I found it to be a fantastic film with an excellent story line.  Though many readers have commented that its a hackneyed story that has all been said before they are incorrect.  Though there are similarities to earlier stories, Avatar certainly goes well beyond and actually is the highest sci fi, which has the purpose to put forward new technology or new visions.  This is a distinctly new vision showing how spiritual beings can actually communicate and can bring about a better place rather than the run of the mill tripe which only brings victory to those who use force and little intelligence to conquer weaker foes and other life forms in general.  I highly recommend seeing it at a regular 3D theater with the RealD tech which is truly revolutionary.

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By duane, December 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

these so called experts in entertainment ought to step back and realize the the majority of the population dont give a hoot about the story line, they only want to be entertained. If they want to have to think they will. So those who wish to influence thought should just find a hole in the ground and live with it. And yes i have an education and also am intelligent enought to know that their is a child in all of us, so use it andbe a bit more happy in life

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By sns, December 21, 2009 at 1:48 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i am stunned that Avatar is considered anything more than mediocre. the story
is plain awful, the plot twists and general story development are generic like
going through hackneyed checklists. the fx aren’t even that good. that’s right,
they are not impressive save for motion capture emoting. this thing is a stinker.

why cameron creates a new language and fauna and essentially new alien world
spending in excess of 450M is almost as bad as the thin disingenuous save the
savages Dances with Wolves nonsense. both not half-baked and overcooked
and yet how beautiful would it be to make a similar movie right here in the rain
forest where we are still cataloging undiscovered fauna and species of wildlife
as it all dwindles away—ya think 450M would preserve quite a bit of the
lungs of our earth at the expense of saving us from middling status quo
entertainment, or lack thereof, disguised in shiny throbbing cgi rainbows of
fake.

one thing all of this conclusively confirms is the idiocy of our land. forget art,
this flick is just like crap between most people’s ears and behind their eyes.

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By ceti, December 21, 2009 at 11:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It was good, very good (even in 2D), despite all the
cliches. Indeed, the RDA mercenaries getting their
comeuppance, and Cameron not flinching nor being
subtle about the message is actually quite
refreshing. The storyline is more like the Mission
with a happier ending and amped to the Nth degree.
Also, this stuff is still going on in the specific
context of indigenous people being forced to relocate
due to resource extraction, and in the broader
context of imperialism run amok.

There are some unbelievable moments, but I for one am
glad that Cameron made this film and hope the vast
mainstream gets some sort of message from it, while
the more critically minded can quibble about the
troubling but unsurprising racial politics and
hackneyed script.

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By KidGenius, December 21, 2009 at 9:39 am Link to this comment

This is essentially why I wanted to see the movie in the first place…technical advancement.  If there is anything cameron has, its vision.  Think all the way back to T2 in the early 90s…i was awe struck.

However, I am really looking forward to TRON Legacy which is supposedly taking a technical queue from Avatar…I’ve watched the preview about 30 times…

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By eso, December 20, 2009 at 9:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I did not see this Avatar “thing” yet, but my friend in the US writes:

I just saw Avatar, which no doubt will arrive in your country some day…. its being hailed as a great movie… The techniques of animation are impressive, the story is just a re-hash of old cowboy and Indian movies where the Indians are the good guys… I mean the story line is so hackneyed it was hard to believe someone could do it with a straight face… So… While it does make a good point, it is written for the lowest intelligence and from that point of view I found it boorish and offensive…

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By Fred Harris, December 19, 2009 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I’m constantly amazed at the willful ignorance, of the purportedly smart, to the power of mythical archetypes to move the human spirit.  This movie does it in ways that would amuse and astound Joseph Campbell.
“Avatar” is brilliant.  It surrounds the viewer with wonder from its beginning and doesn’t release its gentle embrace until the closing credits.
I’m also always surprised by the mundane complaints about dialogue by those who seem to imagine their own conversations and prose somehow move evocative.  Natural life, even in Science Fiction fantasy, has only fleeting moments of brilliance.  This film has many more than that.  I can’t wait to see it again.

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Night-Gaunt's avatar

By Night-Gaunt, December 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm Link to this comment

once you get passed all the glitz and wow the story is a human story. Just imagine if the Spanish could insert themselves into Aztec bodies with all their data and language? How much more easily would some of them have turned native and turned against their comrads? I like the idea but for some they are either there for the ambiance or despise it for such as vainglorious and “showboating” whereas I can see it from different aspects and appreciate them all. Politically incorrect for the right wing? You betch ya!

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By anambrose, December 17, 2009 at 2:02 am Link to this comment

Not McChrystal!
Eric Prince and Blackwater!

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By Ken, December 16, 2009 at 10:19 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I agree with this article and the comments.  It’s all “showmanship.”  It’s all special effects… but once you look at the story (or lack of one) this film is nothing to get excited about…

The worst part of this is that it’ll still make a billion dollars.  Same story.  Transformers (my opinion) was a terrible, loathsome film, and yet it made tons of cash.  It seems like bad movies are rewarded these days.  If only audiences can “wake up” and be more selective in their movie choices.

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By tres, December 16, 2009 at 10:08 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Sounds like a total crap. I wonder the $300million spent, how much are used to hire all these “critics”?

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By WriterOnTheStorm, December 16, 2009 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

To summmarize: a clunky collection of narrative doggerel and one-dimensional picaresque heroics wrapped
up in stunning but showboating technical wizardry… Now where have we heard that before?

Peter Scheer’s review applies, albeit in lesser degrees, to just about every Hollywood tent pole picture in the
post-Star Wars era. In the late ‘70’s, the studios began to understand that spectacle was the way to go,
since it obviated the need for story or even character. As long as the viewer was sufficiently wowed, they
scarcely noticed that the content of these trundling behemoths was negligible at best, and downright
insulting in the case of pictures like Transformers 2. Who cares if the story had all the nuance of a cudgel,
the important point was that the creative aspects of the filmmaking process—the part of movie making
the studios deeply distrusted and feared because they couldn’t control it—could now be
compartmentalized, and contained.

On the other hand, technology has always been the prime mover in the arts, wether it’s the printing press
or the Moog synthesizer, or image compositing software like Flame. I can’t wait to see what Cameron’s come
up with, but what others eventually do with these new toys is where the real magic will happen.

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By sollipsist, December 16, 2009 at 8:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Quick quiz: which supposedly hard-hitting progressive site did articles about Tiger Woods’ mistresses and James Cameron’s latest gross mainstream spectacle?
Answer: Truthdig—Pandering Beneath the Headlines.

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By montanawildhack, December 16, 2009 at 3:44 am Link to this comment

If you see a guy taking deep drags off a blunt in a 1991 Buick Century in the parking lot of the local I-Max theater…. that’s me….  I can’t wait to see this f*&ker;.....

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