I See You, This Time

With the advent of Avatar on DVD, I finally had the opportunity to see the movie. This time there was no booming bass and overly active 3-D, and I didn’t end up feeling nauseous for days after. On a small screen it lacked the compelling sense of being in each scene that the first ten minutes of my theatrical experience of the movie had, before I had to seal my eyes tight for the rest of the film or be carried out on a stretcher. Nevertheless, I was able to follow the story this time.

I have posted several times on my affinity for old science fiction films; a large part of my boyhood was spent watching hours of improbable adventure on the black-and-white. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I ended up studying religion instead of science, or even literature. Religion, however, is deeply embedded in science fiction, probably because it is deeply embedded in people. And Avatar was no different. Early commentators noted the similarities of Pandora to Eden. Two trees in the garden (Hometree and the Tree of Souls) were easily borrowed from Genesis. The idea of nearly naked natives living in harmony with the world around them, the soft, graceful curves of the forest contrasted sharply with the angular, obtrusive construction vehicles intent on raping paradise. I’m a sucker for archetypes, I guess. The concept of Eywa as “All Mother,” a nurturing goddess rather than a frowning father deity, only enhanced the sense that Pardora’s box should not be violently wrenched open. Even the hideout of the protagonists was nestled among floating rocks called the Hallelujah Mountains – presumably the name given by earthlings.

Yes, the writing was at times trite, and the characters were caricatures of themselves, but in the tragic light of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, Avatar’s world was pristine, uncomplicated by greed and corruption. The Na‘vi, like zealous Christians, are born twice; the metaphor of foolishly maintaining hope in the harsh light of uncaring entrepreneurs might lead to a limited salvation even for this tired old planet. I am an unrepentant tree-hugger. And if there is a film that, despite its limitations, says it is alright, even noble, to hug trees, then I say it is religious in the deepest possible sense.

All Mother is watching

8 thoughts on “I See You, This Time

  1. Susan

    The movie was spoiled for me the first time I saw a preview. A tough-looking guy was explaining that the reason they were going to take the planet was a piece of shiny ore that was worth astronomical amounts of money. Any geologist would have instantly recognized the piece of rock as galena, lead sulfide – and very common; the piece in question is worth about $15 at most.

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Hi Susan,
      Leave it to a geologist to make that connection! I had to laugh at the name Cameron chose — unobtainum! Nevertheless, the message of the movie was good, so it gets points for that.

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  2. It’s a shame that the 3-D was such a problem for you. For me, it was the most redeeming feature of the film. The mostly-naked bodies writhing before a sacred tree did more than smack of colonialism for me. I can’t abide such Romanticist conceptions of the “noble savage.”

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Right Jim — I held back from using “noble savage” from the original post, although it had crossed my mind more than once. Yes, the 3-D was bound to be an issue for me. I have trouble with nausea if I turn my head too fast or sit in the back seat of a car. The little I did see in 3-D was enjoyable, but I just couldn’t take more than a few minutes.

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  3. Henk van der Gaast

    Did they say what was in the ore?

    The problem with S.F. writers is that they often haven’t got a clue what would be really valuable.

    The classic is “anti-matter”. I always ask, “which one?” and choof the novel to the fail bin. After all, if a writer is going to spare no descriptions of societies and their complexities, why not describe the very basis of the commodities used that under pinned these societies? Peter Hamilton spends 5000? pages doing just this in the alchemist series (it beats diazepam).

    At least Frank Herbert admitted that interstellar travel was a tad to hard to describe in “Dune”. When ever somebody hopped on the transport reserved for the privileged, the pilots always said “we’ll have to think about it”.

    Its better than the catch cry “god/antimatter/transdimensional beings” did it…

    Douglas Adams spoofed this in many different ways in the Hitch Hikers and Dirk Gently series. The electronic Priest concept was a triple blow to the unthinking SF writer’s concept to how time and travel should be described.

    Don’t we all miss that light hearted knife edge that was Douglas!

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Hi Henk,
      Sci-fi can be dicey business, but well-written sci-fi is a gem! No, the movie does not say what was in the ore, only that it was very expensive and the biggest motherlode was right beneath the Na’vi’s most sacred spot. Avatar has a redeeming environmentalist message, just like the “save the whales” episode in the original Star Trek movie series (I forget which one that was).

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  4. Its basically a Roger Dean painting turned into a movie.

    I enjoyed it, but I don’t feel much sympathy for the sentiments.

    The Navi people and their sympathizers can’t expect their way of life to go unchanged forever.

    No doubt humans would return to Pandora. Some of the things they would bring would cause problems, but also benefits like technology.

    In time, a lot of Nav’i would choose to adapt their way of life to the ways of the humans.

    The sight of the Sigourney Weaver Avatar wearing shorts and a vest points to the future of Pandora

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  5. Henk van der Gaast

    I really don’t get it. I’ve now seen bits of it. My critique is not of the plot rather than the base reality, the sort of person (and its a good percentage) of people who would happily pay for a very long viewing of a cartoon.

    An overblown cartoon doth not make a fine piece of literature. The film didn’t capture much of the attention of this viewer.

    If you want unfair, greed, astounding representations of emotions and ridiculously deep and over blown plots, you need look no further than Ren and Stimpy or Bugs Bunny.

    In All fairness, this viewer gave up after a very short period due to lack of interest of having to be subjected to an hour long cartoon without the emotional roller coaster ride of a cartoon.

    This eclipses bad art, it totally overshadows the childish effort on behalf of Hendrix at Woodstock. As Hendrix’ murder of the “star spangled banner” led to ever increasingly ridiculous renditions (it’s now a requirement apparently) one wonders how a lack of real plot will become the basis for a popular movie.

    Truly, it would be no surprise to me if this came from a computer game that children play in place of hunting, surfing, fishing and reading books.

    What have we geeks let out upon the world (again)?

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