Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Havacar and "Avatar".

As previously mentioned, The Wife was in a car accident last month and her poor Ruby was totaled.  Well, not that either of us wanted to be car shopping the week before Christmas, but she ended up with a very nice replacement.  Her blog post is here.

People seem shocked that she's not very enthusiastic about this new vehicle.  I told her the other night that it made me sad, but that I understood.  I told her that people used to ask if I just LOVED my rebuilt home, and I would tell them I didn't really want the old one to burn down, but if something was going to come at such a high personal cost, then a rebuilt home with upgrades was better than the charred, blackened version.

Same with the car.  She didn't want to total Ruby, but if she had to lose Ruby, this is a darn fine vehicle to drive in her stead.

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In other news, I took Kayleigh to see James Cameron's Avatar in 3D IMAX today, and it rocked my world.  It pretty much rocked Kayleigh's too.  I can see that I'm cultivating an appreciation in her for things like cinematography, sound design and production design.

There's a lot of hype surrounding this film.  It's James Cameron, after all, and if he's good at one thing, it's generating hype.  I avoided watching Titanic for years just because of the overmarketing and endless hype.  But as a guy who builds sand castles and sandboxes for a living (meaning worldbuilding for narrative and interactive media), the moment I saw teen-foot-tall blue aliens riding quasi-pteranodons through a bioluminescent primeval world, I was hooked.  I simply HAD to see it.  They had me at "flying lizard".

First, let me say that nobody is going to win any acting awards from their work on this film, which I actually find sad.  It's got to be brutal to have to work your craft wearing a green bodysuit in a green room with ping pong balls as reference points.  But this movie isn't about breakthrough performances.  Sometimes, "acting" just gets in the way of the story and takes me out of the setting.  That said, Sam Worthington (Macbeth, Terminator Salvation and the upcoming Clash of the Titans) is completely credible in the lead role, and the supporting cast is made up of talented newbies and journeymen actors alike.  Giovanni Ribisi is a really great corporate whore, Stephen Lang is menacing (if a bit two-dimensional) as the jarhead Colonel, and the main Na'vi characters are brought to life by some fine talent, including Wes Studi as the chieftain, CCH Pounder as the shaman, and Zoe Saldana as the love interest.  Sigourney Weaver's performance was surprisingly wooden.

Keep in mind, some of the criticism Avatar has faced (lackluster acting, simplistic story) was also thrown at a certain sci-fi blockbuster in 1977 - which spawned an entire media empire and popular subculture.

Minor performance quibbles aside, Avatar is important, and I'll tell you why.  On the technical side, it has changed the way blockbuster movies are made.  And whenever technological advances are made in Hollywood-scale cinema, that technology trickles down to the indie guys, who make better, more creative use of it more cheaply.  On the story side, as much as it is an archetype (see Dances With Wolves or Heart of Darkness), it is a really serious look at our own world through the lens of sci-fi escapist entertainment, sort of what the original Star Trek series did.

The basic premise (no spoilers) is that an invading population wants a resource that the native population considers sacred, and that the invaders de-humanize the natives to justify their removal and, if necessary, their genocide.  It is our own American history, our broken treaties with the native populations, our strip mining, gold rushes, our smallpox-laced blankets.  It is our shame as a nation, and unfortunately we are not alone.  It is Belgium in Rwanda, Spain in South America, France in Southeast Asia, Britain everywhere they put down stakes, Australia's treatment of the aborigines.  And yet at the same time, you forget you are seeing our own history and maybe learning something because you are watching compelling science fiction.

It always makes me happy when a movie transports me into its world and makes me feel any sort of emotion; it means the film is doing its job.  Avatar is very good at placing the viewer in the world.  3D IMAX may have helped in that regard, but more than anything I think it was just a really well-designed world.  The ecosystem made sense.  There wasn't anything that felt out of place or just there for the hell of it.  Even my 12-year-old daughter remarked afterward, "I really felt like I was there."  And the sociopolitical message wasn't lost on her either.

I felt it was a good film, both in technical polish and in message.  Recommended viewing, on the big screen.

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