December 27th, 2009



 Yes, I went out and  made history, seeing Avatar on the day after Christmas.  I found it delightful all through -- I was never bored and often thrilled and elated.  That was by the astonishing and convincing 3D effects, the care and attention lavished on every detail of every moment -- the 300M that Cameron spent was all on show.  The scenes in the Floating Mountains (whose gravitational oddity was never explained; maybe something ot do with the huge planet around which the moon Pandora revolves? Nemmine:  Lots wasn't explained, and much was unexplainable).

As to the story -- it was astonishingly standard, every element, every twist, every emotion having been seen a thousand times before.  It was nearly identical to both Disney's and Terence Malick's Pocohantas, but more Disney -- the heroine even closely resembled Disney's.  But it also took from John Ford cavalry epics and a dozen other sources.  It also was a derivative of Ursula LeGuin's The Word for World is Forest, one of her lesser and more platitudinous all-life-is-sacred-and-women-know-it stories, up to and including interconnected wise trees and brutal uncaring corporate and military types.  Hilarious, actually, rather than lowering. Every thousand-to-one chance taken came out right, every just-crazy-enough-to-work hunch worked,  the main badguy met the main goodguy in hand to hand combat at the end.  I laughed a lot, sometimes all by myself.

It's striking that this movie, made by an army run by a macho general, was harder on the US military than any film I remember since Apocalypse Now.  I almost expected the flat-topped axe-faced commander (closely resembling Doc Savage on the old book jackets) to say "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" as his attack force bombs the innocent loving aborigines' tree home.  Technically the armed force was composed of contract mercenaries, Blackwater style; but the point was clear.  Well:  Maybe it will help these attitudes to become generalized.  Of the two simplifications offered, the life-is-sacred and leave the natives alone is the preferable.

My daughter said the story had been made intentionally simple and obvious so we didn't need to pay attention to it, and could admire the effects. 

Of course the picture of extraterrestrial life was absurdly earth-like:  the (single race of) beings, five fingered, teeth in their mouths, with language not much more different from modern white American humans than Plains Indians or aboriginal Australians, with a language you could almost translate yourself and a biology based on the standard symmetries.  But who'd make a movie starring really strange beings?  Not at these prices..  Their social relations (she the daughter of the cheif, betrothed to the top warrior, falls for the outsider, who is put through successive tests of strength and still never accepted as One of Them) comes from Fenimore Cooper or maybe earlier.  The animals -- ferocious six-legged mammals  and pterodactyl-winged flyers -- come from Barsoom by way of Frank Frazetta.

And when I tried to explain the basic premise to my duaghter, and why it was called Avatar, I realized that it made no sense at all.

But walking through those ferns! Looking deep deep down into those corridors!  It was way better than House of Wax, or even Fort Ti.