Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Kid Could Have Written That

How many pairs of glasses does it take to watch a movie these days, anyway? Going in, I hoped previews would still be playing, because we were late. But when I saw the intentionally blurred double-vision images on the screen, I knew we were in to it already. I tried to watch without the glasses, but that was impossible. I had to keep them on and cope with the artificial feeling of paper cutouts set at varying distances in front of me, like the layered images in a Viewmaster or targets at the shooting range. You could tell that everything in the frame had a discrete distance classification: there would be the foreground image, like maybe some seed pods lazily floating; then the middle-ground images, like maybe the characters in the scene; and then the background, which was usually a single flat plane like a normal movie. I would have preferred the whole movie to be on a single plane so that I would not have been thinking about the 3-D effect. When someone in the seats ahead of us got up to go to the bathroom, he looked like he, too, was a part of the movie. Indeed, some objects in the movie looked closer than the real people in front of me, and this makes me think of combining live-action with 3-D cinema. Let’s remake Rocky Horror so that it blends better with its simultaneous re-enactors.

I heard that this is the movie James Cameron had wanted to make since he was 14. I believe it. With a planet called “Pandora” and the precious metal called “unobtainium,” it seems like he wrote it more like when he was 4 and did not revise it since. The alien Na’vi are portrayed with the same lack of nuance, with obvious elements of African and Native American hunting, dance, spirituality, and medicine mixed to achieve generic foreign-ness. If you wondered where banal world music comes from, it is probably James Cameron’s Pandora.

A friend said it would have helped to see some kind of exchange in the alien society -- a place where they are gambling, or paying taxes. “Like the cantina in Star Wars!” Svetx said. Indeed. The basic grit and grind of life. As it stands, you think the Na’vi do nothing but pay homage to nature and hunt, hardly a believable or even interesting existence.

People are marveling at the special effects, but wasn’t the flying more exciting in the Superman movies of the ’70’s? The battle more exciting at the end of Star Wars episode IV? Who can forget the quick character development of showing each fighter pilot in his cockpit talking on his intercom?

In more recent history, I remember almost being moved to tears by two awesome movie battles: The battle on the fields of Pelennor in Return of the King, for all its orchestration couched in desperation and forboding; and the middle of The Incredibles where it showed the family working together with all its awesome powers unleashed. There was nothing so satisfying in Avatar.

There is one thing I do admire about this movie, and that is it’s own paradoxical nature. It is the feel-good blockbuster of this holiday season. But what we feel good about is the pagan nature-creatures triumphing over a U.S. military that is essentially working for a large corporation. Anyone who has looked at a newspaper headline in recent years surely can’t miss the parallel to U.S. involvement in the Middle East. I expect this movie to draw fire from war supporters as well as fundamentalist Christians. Looking on the Internet now though, I can’t find scathing reviews from a Christian website. If anyone finds one, please let me know. If there really are none, then maybe the Christian Right does not notice the connections to our foreign policy, or doesn’t think this is what our foreign policy amounts to. In that case, in a seasonal action blockbuster, what’s not to like?

Continue . . .