Sunday, December 27, 2009


I've been meaning to do this for the last two days, having been waylaid by Christmas festivities and several attempts at installing Windows 7 on the laptop. So, while I see that "Expanding Windows files" is 87% complete, let's write a blog post, eh?

I've made some good progress on the second act of chapter two; I think this chapter's going to pan out after all. But let's talk about Avatar.

Avatar reminds me how film and writing are different. In writing, you might be able to get away with the same sort of plot, but you'd have to rely on different techniques and skills. Avatar, in my opinion, totally blows people away visually, and thus, it can get away with a plot that's entertaining but somewhat predictable. If you disagree, was there ever any doubt that Jake would come to join the natives and band against his human brethren? No, there wasn't really; he didn't, we'd have a much different story (and indeed, this could've been a shocking swerve, so to speak). When what characters do is predictable, what they come to believe, how their viewpoints change and evolve, must be compelling, and I don't think Avatar did that. We see what Jake does, mostly out of necessity, yet I have to think a human being would have more qualms about defying his people, and while Jake chooses a side and we see that, it still doesn't ring true to me. I feel like we're watching an image, a reflection, when there could be something much deeper going on.

But, as I said, Avatar is stunning, and I would take no credit away here. The technology is impressive. The presentation is absolutely amazing. To see a Na'vi towering over humans and seemingly interacting with them, to see Zoe Saldana interact with Worthington in such meaningful ways through an artificial interface is all the more telling. Let there be no doubt: Avatar is a novel feat of technology, technology that lets the director's imagination better translate to film. And despite my criticisms above, I think the film did have some of those components I spoke of, just in more subtle ways. Jake does say he doesn't know what is dream or real anymore. You can see his legs atrophy as he neglects his human body in favor of the avatar he uses. Perhaps what I was looking for really is there, and the filmmakers wisely show it without hammering on it. Or, perhaps, they tell the viewer that this is happening without really examining Jake's dissatisfaction with his human body or humanity, only glossing over it. It's hard to say. I do think it's fair to state that Avatar's main point isn't that dissonance or any other serious examination of the human mind (interesting though that would be). Rather, the theme comes out in the Tree of Souls, in the vast network that connects all life on Pandora. Perhaps this is seen as a metaphor for environmentalism, but I think it's valid: what we get from the Earth must eventually be paid back, whether through our bodies as they decay or something else. Eventually, the Earth will run out of whatever we take from it, even if what we take is enough to last a thousand or a million years. It's only through this network that Jake can live in his avatar forever after; it's only but for those connections that the animals come out to save the na'vi from humanity.

I don't think this film aspired for such high meaning, but it does contain a smattering of it. Enough to gel with the sheer power of its visuals, at least. I wonder, though, how critics will receive this film in 10 or 20 or 50 years, when the technology they have far surpasses what we have today. I suppose we'll have to wait until then.

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