Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Man Group in Space

Avatar is an unequivocal visual triumph. The Pandoran world is truly believable; there's no sense that you're watching computer generated characters with human voice overs. The Na'vi are real, so real that when the human actors enter the picture towards the end they are the ones that seem fake. I saw Sigourney Weaver on The Daily Show and she explained that the actors were wired to track their movement but, most importantly, could see themselves in real time as the giant blue goodies on a monitor. Whatever. It works and works well, especially in 3D (IMAX was sold out).
What to make of the story? It's easy to make it a play on the Americans v. the Indians. The high schoolers I saw it with viewed it through that prism, but I think there's more to it than that. After all, if you're going to slam Manifest Destiny, it would be best not to work in Hollywood, California. It doesn't help the argument.

I saw two sides of the American experience. The Na'vi suffer a 9-11 tragedy. I won't go into details, but it's hard not to make the connection, especially when the extra-terrestrial high rise is seen in its skeletal form surrounded by smoke, eerily reminiscent of the Twin Tower remains. So what do they do when confronted with an attack on their most significant structure? Like ideal Americans, they rise to defend their culture in ways that show their strength and goodness. Just like us.

But there's that other part of us, the part represented by the human-corporate-Blackwaterish plunderers, the ones who seek to destroy the alien world for its raw materials. They'll do anything to achieve their goals, including full scale annihilation and murder of innocents, or as we like to call it "collateral damage." Try thinking of your kids in that light.

Sure, the U.S. v. the Native-Americans comparison is valid and obvious. I like my view better. It makes for a more interesting movie.

Here's where the movie bites and bites hard. In typical Cameronesque fashion, there is a high level of stupid. What is the magic mineral that the Earthlings have come to take? What could this impossibly rare rock be called? "Unobtainium." I shit you not. Ridiculous. What, was "hard-to-get-ium" deemed too simplistic? I picture a meeting that went something like this:

James Cameron presents the script. Everyone at the table is too scared of his well-deserved tyrannical reputation to speak out. As someone is about to say, "Um, Jim, that's really dumb," they think twice and shut up. It stays in the final cut.

And what is this "unobtainium" needed to be obtainiumed for? Who knows? We're told it costs $20 million a kilo, but why? And is that a lot of dough in 2154? Even a throwaway line like, "We couldn't travel this far in space without the stuff," would have sufficed.

Also, the whole green, preserve the planet spiel gets weary. There's only so much of that "we can learn from the indigenous people" stuff I can stand.

A few words about the acting. It's damn good, often a rarity in effects driven flicks. Giovanni Ribisi, who I haven't seen in a good long time, though he seems to have stayed active, is a hoot as the leader of the greedy capitalists. Sigourney is wonderful, and kinda hot in her bluish incarnation. Zoe Saldana, however, steals the show, after the technology, of course. As Neytiri, she is fierce and sexy. Her hisses of anger, cries of frustration and wails of agony are visceral. Again, it's her acting, not a voice over. She is powerful, and when Neytiri appears next to a human, you're struck with how organic her ten foot presence feels. It's remarkable.

So see it and overlook the flaws. While tickets are hard to come by, they are not unobtainium-able.

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