Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Avatar Lacked

I went to see Avatar for the special effects and because I liked James Cameron's Terminator 2. The special effects did not disappoint, but everything else did.
What a sodden lump the movie was, a big pile of warrior worship.

What it lacked entirely was any sense of humor.
A little irreverence.
A buffoon.

They got the Hero all right, but they got the Hero formula wrong.
There's supposed to be a funny, bumbling sidekick or an incongruous pair to lighten the load, like
R2D2 and C3PO;
the Terminator and the boy;
or Caldicott and Charters (right, in Hitchock's The Lady Vanishes).

Without them, the hero's self-seriousness is insufferable.

I've walked out of two movies in the last twelve months.
One was Avatar. The other was Year One.

I actually kinda liked Year One--a spoof of those mighty-tales-of-prehistory movies mixed with Bible epics.
I laughed at its irreverent humor, poking sticks at sacred cows.

Like this scrap of dialogue:

High Priest: "Behind these doors is the Holy of Holies, earthly domain of the gods. A place so ineffably sacred, so powerful, that he who enters is instant death."
Oh [Michael Cera]: "Who cleans it?"

I left, though, because it was full of stupid poop jokes designed for ten-year-old boys. I was bored.

Wonderful plantlife aside (I did love the plants! weren't those jellyfish/milkweed ones cool?), Avatar also bored me.
And scared me a little too. Warrior worship scares me. The blue people seem to be a mishmash of the Masai, the Maori, and the Marines.

I am not into warrior tribes.
I don't think I'd do well in them at all.
I'm with Samuel Beckett, who said he just wanted to sit on his ass, fart, and think of Dante. This won't cut it in a warrior tribe.

Did you notice, the blue people didn't have any books?
Or anyone who was less than a perfect physical specimen?

I know why we are nostalgic for nature--we in the overly industrialized world never get tested physically at all.

But I don't want to get tested. I'm not such a fan of Natural Selection, which is what all that "nature keeps the balance" hoo-ha boils down to.
I'm pretty sure I'd be among the first Nature would select to eliminate.

I don't want to wrestle a dragon and bend his will to mine. I don't even have a driver's license.
Sleeping in hammocks hurts my back and makes me seasick.
And when the tribe goes climbing up vines to reach the sky islands, all I could think of was how I couldn't do the rope climb in first grade.

You know people like me would fall off those pretty tree limbs as children and everyone would say how sad it was but that it was the will of nature.

These blue guys didn't want roads and medicine.
I want roads and medicine.

I like modernity.
It means a society that can afford to support losers like me and the Dude.

I want the mess of democracy.
I don't want to live in a tidy Spartan society.
As bink commented to me, it wasn't Sparta that left us the ancient Greek comedies.

I don't want to be part of any tribe that doesn't include Jack Black.

Left: King Leonidas, of Sparta, the first guy to say "Bring it on!"
Right: Avatar


ArtSparker said...

I dislike 3D animation for the ease with which it makes a better. prettier world - this has been especially pernicious in films with talking animals, in which googly eyed creatures lull the young viewer into thinking the real ones are dispensable, cause these are way cuter.

and, well, you know...some film that makes me go ooh and ah rather than think, not so interesting.

My second post later today has a meditation about war/warriors.

Fresca said...

ARTS: Yes! I am not interested in a better. prettier world either.

I like Joss Whedon's Firefly movie "Serenity" for that reason--it's all about the horrors humans create when we try to make a perfect world.

Watch out for the drive for purity, I always say.
When I see it coming, I take cover.

I did love the 3-D technology, though--the depth it adds is exciting.

bink said...

I like your point that nature's balancing act eliminates most of what is best about civilization--compassion, creativity, tolerance, etc. mostly go by the wayside when it's survival of the fittest.

Recent research--which seems less inclined to come with preexisting ideas (noble savages for one)-- into some of the most remote primitive tribes still existing sheds some light on some pretty scary cultures. Being more one with the earth doesn't automatically make people into Gaia's peaceful loving children... as Avatar seems to suggest.

Surely there is a middle way--respecting nature and embracing civilization--we just have to figure it out.

Totally agree about the need for humor.

Fresca said...

Hi, bink!
I suppose people might say the blue people were compassionate and all that,
but I saw no signs that the movie's creator(s) had taken into account any of the things I care about.

Like, how 'bout inventing some supercool handicap accessibility stuff in the jungle?
The film cost $300 million or something--they sure could have added a sky rope-and-basket system, say, for kids with disabilities.

But, like humor, invention was oddly lacking in this movie. It was mostly a mishmash of Earth things--cultures we already recognize, animals that are variations on the ones we know---even the cool plants were recognizable--mostly from undersea life.

Well.. grumble, grumble... I was just plain old disappointed, as I wanted to like it as much as Terminator 2.
Hasta la vista, baby!

Lee said...

In defense of natural selection, it also produced compassion, love, creativity, language, morality, sex, beauty, tastes and sounds and colors, and intelligence.

But, yeah, the movie, story-wise, was not terribly original, complex, or inspiring: basically Pocahontas or Dances with Wolves in space. But the visuals were often good. My main beef, though, was that the aliens just weren't ALIEN enough. They were so transparenty versions of native americans, etc. If Cameron could have just given the Na'vi actual CHARACTER instead of just pasting stereotypes on their big blue bodies, the movie would have been fundamentally altered and improved. Even saved.

Also, I agree, the whole violence/ warrior thing is too much. The presumption that "good" will inevitably kick "evil's" ass is dangerous. Indeed, as you and I show, good (insofar as we are good) is ripe for getting its ass KICKED! It's hard to kick ass when you're sitting down so much!!!

Rick said...

support losers like me and the Dude

Heh, gotta love a Lebowski reference in a review of a James Cameron movie!

I haven't seen Avatar, so I can't really comment on the movie. Regarding "warriors," however:

I don't really disagree with the gist of what you wrote, and certainly I wouldn't want to live in a "warrior society" (although a Friday night on the Klingon homeworld might be a blast). But when I think of, say, a literary character like Homer's Odysseus and some of Aristotle's writings on ethics, I get a more positive image in my mind.

Odysseus is punished repeatedly by the gods for adhering to a strictly warrior-code, but by the end of his journey he's learned to temper his warrior instincts. He's ready to go home, he's fit to rejoin civilized society. That might be boring if it were the end of the story, but it's not. Before Odysseus can assume his proper place he has to fight off a bunch of guys trying to take what is rightfully his. If he is not still in some very real way Odysseus the warrior, how can he protect his home and family? In Aristotelian terms, it's a matter of things in their proper balance (which is developed through habit). Nietzsche would say that we have to sublimate the warrior, but it would be a big mistake to tame him (or her!) completely, and a disaster to eliminate him.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting!

momo said...

FilmStudiesForFree has a great post rounding up all the various takes on Avatar-as-allegory, with a very intelligent analysis of it in terms of narrative, if you are into that kind of things;

Fresca said...

RICK: Yes, I agree, the warrior is a wonderful part of ourselves! And of our society. (Captain Kirk!)
Even wonderfuller when *balanced*, as you say, with justice, mercy, intelligence... either in our warrior selves or in our compatriots.

I'm a huge fan of checks-and-balances, and humor is one of my favorite correctives (to the warrior's tendency toward self-righteousness, among other things), which is why I complained that this movie was missing the funny fool, the lazy bum (I'm glad you caught the Lewbowski reference!). It still wouln't be a great story, but it would have a little more balance.

Hardly fair, maybe, to point out that Cameron is no Homer... He's a genius at moviemaking but not at storytelling.
These genius moviemakers need their court jesters too, to prick their egos and to remind them that they can't do it all themselves. (Like, if only George Lucas had let someone else write his dialogue.)

Thanks for writing something that got me thinking... or rambling, anyway.