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FWIW, Avatar is now the first movie to be #1 at the box office three weeks running since Tropic Thunder (August 2008). Meanwhile, the Associated Press notes:

With "Avatar" closing in on No. 2 film "The Return of the King," Cameron is in striking distance of having the two top-grossing movies globally.

"Avatar" has had a price advantage over those other billion-dollar movies. About 75 percent of its domestic business has come from theaters showing it in digital 3-D presentation, those tickets typically costing a few dollars more than admissions for the 2-D version.

Greg P wrote:

: 16 pages of the same four or five peeps with heightened critical acumen, dissecting a big-budget action flick, post after post after post. Woo-hoo! How fun is that? After combing thru just a few pages of this, i wonder how many of you guys like dancing. Seriously-- the question is totally relevant to the thread.

Well, I don't, really. Like dancing, that is. Though I sometimes condescend to my daughter and "dance" with HER from time to time.

But just wondering: Are you referring to just the nit-picking over the movie's flaws, or are you referring to any and all analyses of the movie's craft and meaning, etc., etc.? Because if the latter, then yes, absolutely, that IS a lot of fun.

And FWIW, I say this as one who was a pretty big James Cameron fan in the '80s, back when he was making really intelligent sci-fi flicks, but who then began to worry that Cameron had begun to lose his mojo when he started making more "normal" movies in the '90s. The first half-hour or so of True Lies made my Top Ten for 1994, but the rest of the movie made my Bottom Ten for that same year, and it bothered me that Cameron had left sci-fi behind to make "just" an action movie (albeit a James Bond-ish action movie that filled a void at a time when there hadn't been any new James Bond films in YEARS). And I liked Titanic, overall, but it, too, struck me as a more "normal" kind of flick. So I've been enjoying the way Avatar harks back to Cameron's sci-fi roots -- heck, it even compelled me to finally get off my duff and watch Piranha II: The Spawning -- and I've been intrigued by the way Avatar kind-of sort-of brings together the sci-fi Cameron of the '80s and the "normal" blockbusting Cameron of the '90s. And as I re-watch Cameron's older films, I find myself making connections both trivial and meaningful, both visual and thematic, etc., etc., etc.

So, yes, this is a lot of fun.

techne wrote:

: obviously, it's my own personal issue and i am struggling with the idea right now that while that money may go to support hundreds of the wealthiest 10% of the world's population, what could that kind of money do if used to help those in the bottom 50% of the world's population?

Heh. Forgive me for saying this, but it almost sounds like you're saying the studio should outsource the visual effects to cheaper companies overseas -- to visual-effects sweat-shops, as it were. Why hire one guy for $100,000 a year when you can hire a hundred for $1,000 a year, and all that. :)

: not that i think most people (including, sadly, myself) would give up their entertainment to do so. or even a portion of the now $700,000,000 in profit?

FWIW, it's not all profit, at least not from the studio's perspective. If the production budget was $300 million, the studio could very well have spent another $100 million or more on promotion. And between a third and half of the box-office revenue stays with the theatres (so it keeps the ushers, janitors, projectionists and others employed). Then again, there may be profit coming in from the McDonald's deal and other forms of merchandising (and I'm just guessing here, but it wouldn't surprise me if the Happy Meal toys were made in China or some such place). There are all sorts of possible revenue streams, and all sorts of people who benefit from all that money moving around.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I've been thinking a lot over the last few days about why I failed, or the film failed, or we both failed, to make some sort of connection to each other. I never really felt immersed within it. I wonder about the specific setting of my screening, whether my seat location ruined my perception of the screen enough to distract me from the film's awesome visuals and focus on its clunky script.

But really, I think the problem lies in that the film strives for realism within its completely CG segments, but that attempt at realism fails to connect with the "real" realism of the live-action sequences.

No matter how advanced animation gets, and how skillful it becomes at mimicking human expression (including motion capture), I can't help but feel that there will always be that barrier between the realism of live-action and the completely contrived realism of animation, and that the closest a film comes to breaking that barrier is in how well it mixes the two within one frame. So much of Avatar is all CG, and despite the real performances given in the motion capture work, it comes off as impressively detailed but ultimately harmless in the sense that the accompanying awareness of its contrivance neuters its power to truly awe. This isn't to say that animation or CG is useless because it doesn't achieve the same fidelity to realism as the film image does, but that when it's employed with intention to immerse the viewer in something new and evoke the other senses to support that illusion, it is undone by its own perfection, and by the savvy of the 21st century viewer, who has been pummeled with CG effects and animation for the last twenty years. Bazin's point about the shadow of doubt cast over a painting by the human hand can be extended to animation.

It's for this reason that a lot of the CG heavy scenes of recent years, especially those in Revenge of the Sith, many in King Kong and the Pirates films, to name a few, fail to truly impress, to truly awe. I don't think I've really been awed by a film's ability to convince me that I'm seeing into another, real world since Return of the King. The sense of tactility just isn't there.

I'm working on a long article for my blog on this topic, but I'm curious to hear from those who did feel immersed in the film. I went into the movie as open-minded as I could make myself, and that includes without seeing the official final trailer released in the fall. I kept my expectations neutral. I'm not out to bash the film or animation; I'm just trying to understand why it didn't do much for me. It probably has plenty to do with my own particular interests within film, including my preference for live-action film, and 2D animation as storytelling mediums over 3D, but I want to know: did the illusion work for you? Why do you think that is?

EDIT: I forgot to mention that there was at least one moment where I felt immersed, which was the brief shot of the interior of one helicopter being destroyed by collision with another. It was a real set, with real actors, combined with CG elements, and the result was very convincing. Other than that, though, I came up dry.

Edited by N.W. Douglas
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N.W. Douglas wrote:

: But really, I think the problem lies in that the film strives for realism within its completely CG segments, but that attempt at realism fails to connect with the "real" realism of the live-action sequences.

FWIW, I think I mentioned this in an earlier post way, way back, but for me the disconnect had something to do with the fact that the live-action footage was all shot on video rather than film. I am thinking of seeing the film in 2D next time to see if the live-action and the CG "fit" better together on a film print, as opposed to the digital projection that is used in the 3D screenings.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I saw this sometime last week (non Imax 3D) and keep meaning to jot down some thoughts. Even as I'm telling people about the film (Dances in Wolves in Space!), I find myself, well, not exactly praising the film, but not bashing it. It was big, bombastic, reductionist, silly, and fun all in one. I don't think it will ever be the new Star Wars; its characters are not memorable, or as iconic, as Vader or Solo, or even a jawa. It was such a mix of the familiar (even the helicopters looked like something I've seen before, like something out of Halo, right?) and the fantastic, such as the jellyfish seeds and the bioluminescence writ large. The blue aliens were amazing technical creations (trying watching Gollum right afterwards: whereas Serkis's characterization was much stronger than anything in Cameron's world, Gollum's rendering looks flat in comparison to the Neytiri or Astro-sioux or whatever they called themselves).

I liked that there wasn't a difficult time identifying key alien characters, and that the exposition was kept mostly to a minimum (a factor of a minimum story, I suppose). But for a movie about souls and soulessness, I found it ultimately weightless.

If you've ever seen the 4 hour cut of Dances with Wolves, you'll recall the greater depth given to Costner's Sioux band--the bison massacre leads to a butchering of the white hunters--than the almost entirely rosy (moral, peaceful unless provoked, noble, gracious, familial) potrayal of them in the final cut. Avatar could have used more of this nuance--a redemptive arc for the Colonel, or a degenerative arc for one of the Astrosioux to add moral complexity to the characters. But, you get what you see--the trickery is all in the 0s and 1s, and not in the flesh. But what digital trickery it was!

And the colonel, holding his breath, shooting lasers right at you in the night escape--that was kinda cool.

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I saw this sometime last week (non Imax 3D) and keep meaning to jot down some thoughts. Even as I'm telling people about the film (Dances in Wolves in Space!), I find myself, well, not exactly praising the film, but not bashing it. It was big, bombastic, reductionist, silly, and fun all in one. I don't think it will ever be the new Star Wars; its characters are not memorable, or as iconic, as Vader or Solo, or even a jawa. It was such a mix of the familiar (even the helicopters looked like something I've seen before, like something out of Halo, right?) and the fantastic, such as the jellyfish seeds and the bioluminescence writ large. The blue aliens were amazing technical creations (trying watching Gollum right afterwards: whereas Serkis's characterization was much stronger than anything in Cameron's world, Gollum's rendering looks flat in comparison to the Neytiri or Astro-sioux or whatever they called themselves).

I liked that there wasn't a difficult time identifying key alien characters, and that the exposition was kept mostly to a minimum (a factor of a minimum story, I suppose). But for a movie about souls and soulessness, I found it ultimately weightless.

If you've ever seen the 4 hour cut of Dances with Wolves, you'll recall the greater depth given to Costner's Sioux band--the bison massacre leads to a butchering of the white hunters--than the almost entirely rosy (moral, peaceful unless provoked, noble, gracious, familial) potrayal of them in the final cut. Avatar could have used more of this nuance--a redemptive arc for the Colonel, or a degenerative arc for one of the Astrosioux to add moral complexity to the characters. But, you get what you see--the trickery is all in the 0s and 1s, and not in the flesh. But what digital trickery it was!

And the colonel, holding his breath, shooting lasers right at you in the night escape--that was kinda cool.

I wonder if some of the nagging feelings of character anonymity among the Astro-Sioux were due to unpronounceable names, or at least names that don't easily resonate with moviegoers not versed in the Astro-Sioux language. Han Solo and Chewbacca still have recognizable counterparts in the English language. Hence, their character names are easier to remember. Hah-eh-eee-ay-nah? Not so much. I can't recall a single Astro-Sioux or alien critter name from Pandora, and I saw the movie less than 48 hours ago. It could be encroaching senility. But maybe not.

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I haven't read all 17 pages of this thread, but what I have read has been fascinating. I saw the film last week and found it visually thrilling. But the story has been rehashed a thousand times.

Seriously, how many times have we seen this schtick: a giant scary monster is chasing the hero when suddenly, BOOM!, an even bigger, scarier monster jumps in from off screen and eats/scares away the first scary monster. Dang, that just happened in Star Trek, and it was also in The Phantom Menace, Finding Nemo, and probably ten other movies that come to mind.

But I'd see the movie again just for the visual spectacle. I was really drawn into the world of Pandora even though the storyline was lame.

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I think I'm enjoying this review as much as I enjoyed the movie.

Here's a bit from the description of the N'avi.

They have clear tears but it's hard to tell and I don't know what color their blood is. They have a language that the human dorks will adopt. Their eyes emote like ours. It would be hard to break up with one because you can totally tell what they're feeling. You might have to text message it to them. They have this tree made of souls and light and God and it's a big deal. There is a battle of dinosaurs vs. robots. I have nothing more to add to that sentence because you're dead inside if you can't get what's cool about that.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I saw it in 3D this afternoon, because clearly this is one movie that is ONLY worth seeing for the visuals, so not a rental. And if I was going for the visual, I was going for the whole 3D--well, I could have gone for IMAX, but I'm trying to remain reasonable. It is indeed a thing of beauty and a joy for two hours or so. The tentacle stuff was creepy, though (I must stop reading about anime fandom). I can't add much to what's already been said here, except that this bit from a review quoted in Overstreet's post:

There is a battle of dinosaurs vs. robots. I have nothing more to add to that sentence because you're dead inside if you can't get what's cool about that.

made me laugh out loud, because not only do I get what's cool about that, but now the question of who would win in a fight between cavemen and astronauts has been settled! It's the end of moviemaking!

There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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James Cameron talks to the New York Times about the controversial smoking scenes:

In a statement sent by e-mail over the weekend, Mr. Cameron said he had never intended Ms. Weaver’s character, Grace Augustine, to be “an aspirational role model” for teenagers.

“She’s rude, she swears, she drinks, she smokes,” wrote Mr. Cameron. “Also, from a character perspective, we were showing that Grace doesn’t care about her human body, only her avatar body, which again is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games.”

Speaking as an artist, Mr. Cameron said: “I don’t believe in the dogmatic idea that no one in a movie should smoke. Movies should reflect reality. If it’s O.K. for people to lie, cheat, steal and kill in PG-13 movies, why impose an inconsistent morality when it comes to smoking? I do agree that young role-model characters should not smoke in movies, especially in a way which suggests that it makes them cooler or more accepted by their peers.”

Smoking, Mr. Cameron concluded, “is a filthy habit which I don’t support, and neither, I believe, does ‘Avatar.’ ”

In other news, John Nolte @ Big Hollywood makes an astute point about the Dances with Wolves comparisons that some people have been making:

It’s also worth mentioning that in “Wolves” the first threat to the Sioux’s way of life are not whites but another tribe of Indians; the bloodthirsty Pawnee who are just as “imperialistic” in their goals to steal land and take slaves as any white man.

He makes a few other good points, besides. (Or at least, they SEEM good to me. I haven't watched the film since it first came out 19 years ago.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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In other news, John Nolte @ Big Hollywood makes an astute point about the Dances with Wolves comparisons that some people have been making:

It’s also worth mentioning that in “Wolves” the first threat to the Sioux’s way of life are not whites but another tribe of Indians; the bloodthirsty Pawnee who are just as “imperialistic” in their goals to steal land and take slaves as any white man.

He makes a few other good points, besides. (Or at least, they SEEM good to me. I haven't watched the film since it first came out 19 years ago.)

Good point, and one of the reasons why Dances with Wolves is a better movie than Avatar.

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Caleb Crain:

It's a finished corruptness. The easiest way I can think of to describe it is by comparison with The Matrix, a movie which is merely disingenuous, and to some extent struggling with its disingenuousness. The moral lesson that The Matrix purports to offer is that the glossy magic of life inside a simulation distracts from painful truth. But the moral problem faced by the Matrix is that this lesson is betrayed by the fun that the movie has in playing inside the simulation. . . . So the viewer departs from the movie with a slightly queasy feeling, a suspicion that visual pleasures aren't to be trusted. That queasiness is the trace of the movie's attenuated honesty.

And such queasiness and honesty are completely absent from Avatar. Some might protest: But what about Avatar's anti-imperialism and anti-corporate attitudinizing? They're red herrings, in my opinion, planted by Cameron with the cynical intention of distracting the viewer from the movie's more serious ideological work: convincing you to love your simulation—convincing you to surrender your queasiness. The audacity of Cameron's movie is to make believe that the artificial world of computer-generated graphics offers a truer realm of nature than our own. . . .

Why does the digital nativity bother me so much? I think the answer has something to do with the smug anti-corporate plot. In reality—in the reality outside the movie—the Na'vi, too, are a product of corporate America and are creatures of technology, not nature. Now there's nothing wrong with technology per se, and there's nothing wrong with fantasy, either. But Avatar claims that there is something wrong with technology, and that the Na'vi of Pandora somehow represent opposition to it. That's rank mystification, and one has to wonder about motive. I think there are aspects of being human that a movie like Avatar wants to collude with its viewers in denying—aspects of need and of unfixable brokenness. There are traces of this denial in the movie. We never see the Na'vi eating, for instance, except when the transcarnated Sully briefly samples a significantly pomegranate-like fruit. Yet they have high, sharp canines. Vampire-like canines. Indeed, Sully turns into a Na'vi after he lies down in his coffin-pod. Once he takes to his avatar, even his human body has to be coaxed to eat. Like a vampire's, Sully's cycles of waking and sleeping become deeply confused. In the unconscious of the movie, I would submit, all the Na'vi are avatars. That is, they are all digital representations of humans, lying elsewhere in coffin pods. And they are all vampires. They have preternatural force and speed, wake when others sleep, and feed on the life-force of mere humans—the humans lying in the pods, as a matter of fact. This, I think, is the strange lure of the movie: Wouldn't you like to be the vampire of yourself? Wouldn't you like to live in an alternate reality, at the cost of consuming yourself? Vampires have a culture, a community, feelings. They don't have bodies, but they have superbodies. The only glitch is this residue offstage, rotting and half-buried, that you won't ever be able separate from altogether—until, at last, you can.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Caleb Crain:

It's a finished corruptness. The easiest way I can think of to describe it is by comparison with The Matrix, a movie which is merely disingenuous, and to some extent struggling with its disingenuousness. The moral lesson that The Matrix purports to offer is that the glossy magic of life inside a simulation distracts from painful truth. But the moral problem faced by the Matrix is that this lesson is betrayed by the fun that the movie has in playing inside the simulation. . . . So the viewer departs from the movie with a slightly queasy feeling, a suspicion that visual pleasures aren't to be trusted. That queasiness is the trace of the movie's attenuated honesty.

And such queasiness and honesty are completely absent from Avatar. Some might protest: But what about Avatar's anti-imperialism and anti-corporate attitudinizing? They're red herrings, in my opinion, planted by Cameron with the cynical intention of distracting the viewer from the movie's more serious ideological work: convincing you to love your simulation—convincing you to surrender your queasiness. The audacity of Cameron's movie is to make believe that the artificial world of computer-generated graphics offers a truer realm of nature than our own. . . .

Why does the digital nativity bother me so much? I think the answer has something to do with the smug anti-corporate plot. In reality—in the reality outside the movie—the Na'vi, too, are a product of corporate America and are creatures of technology, not nature. Now there's nothing wrong with technology per se, and there's nothing wrong with fantasy, either. But Avatar claims that there is something wrong with technology, and that the Na'vi of Pandora somehow represent opposition to it. That's rank mystification, and one has to wonder about motive. I think there are aspects of being human that a movie like Avatar wants to collude with its viewers in denying—aspects of need and of unfixable brokenness. There are traces of this denial in the movie. We never see the Na'vi eating, for instance, except when the transcarnated Sully briefly samples a significantly pomegranate-like fruit. Yet they have high, sharp canines. Vampire-like canines. Indeed, Sully turns into a Na'vi after he lies down in his coffin-pod. Once he takes to his avatar, even his human body has to be coaxed to eat. Like a vampire's, Sully's cycles of waking and sleeping become deeply confused. In the unconscious of the movie, I would submit, all the Na'vi are avatars. That is, they are all digital representations of humans, lying elsewhere in coffin pods. And they are all vampires. They have preternatural force and speed, wake when others sleep, and feed on the life-force of mere humans—the humans lying in the pods, as a matter of fact. This, I think, is the strange lure of the movie: Wouldn't you like to be the vampire of yourself? Wouldn't you like to live in an alternate reality, at the cost of consuming yourself? Vampires have a culture, a community, feelings. They don't have bodies, but they have superbodies. The only glitch is this residue offstage, rotting and half-buried, that you won't ever be able separate from altogether—until, at last, you can.

He loses me with that last paragraph about vampires, but yes, the real ethical issues in this movie have nothing to do with the cartoonish portrayal of imperialist money grubbing, and eveything to do with choosing virtual reality over reality. It's the dilemma we're slapped in the face with every time Mr. Macho Marine tells Sully that if he does a good job, he'll make sure he gets his legs back. Sully, of course, as part of his Na'vi avatar, already has full use of his legs (and a bitchin' tail!). The clear implication -- and one that is borne out later in the movie -- is that it makes no sense to choose reality when one can have a better, happier virtual reality.

That, to me, is where the real debate about this film out to be occurring. Who is Sully? Is he the wheelchair-bound Marine vet, or is he the nimble Na'vi hero/warrior? In a world in which the lines between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred, it behooves us to answer that question for ourselves.

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That, to me, is where the real debate about this film out to be occurring. Who is Sully? Is he the wheelchair-bound Marine vet, or is he the nimble Na'vi hero/warrior? In a world in which the lines between fantasy and reality are increasingly blurred, it behooves us to answer that question for ourselves.

I remember as I watched it, during the moment when we see the physical toll that Jake's human inactivity is having on his human body, I actually sat up straight and became more interested than at any other point in the film. Suddenly, it seemed like it would be going somewhere really interesting, in examining the position of someone having to choose between his real body (and life) or his false one. There was a brief moment in one of the video logs around that point where Worthington's eyes actually conveyed the weight of his dilemma.

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I remember as I watched it, during the moment when

we see the physical toll that Jake's human inactivity is having on his human body

, I actually sat up straight and became more interested than at any other point in the film.

Yes... and where did they go with that? Nowhere. I began to think that it was an error in the film, or a continuity problem created by editing - to show him

eteriorating, and then, suddenly, he looks pretty normal again

at the end.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: The clear implication -- and one that is borne out later in the movie -- is that it makes no sense to choose reality when one can have a better, happier virtual reality.

Well, maybe. The last scene kind of complicates things. It might be more accurate to say that the film presents two realities, and that Jake test-drives the second reality while growing detached from the first reality. It doesn't mean that all his driving in the future will still be test-driving, if you get what I mean.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I remember as I watched it, during the moment when

we see the physical toll that Jake's human inactivity is having on his human body

, I actually sat up straight and became more interested than at any other point in the film.

Yes... and where did they go with that? Nowhere. I began to think that it was an error in the film, or a continuity problem created by editing - to show him

eteriorating, and then, suddenly, he looks pretty normal again

at the end.

Hmm, I took it that once he made his decision to subvert the Colonel's efforts, his psychological dilemma, manifested in his physical condition, was resolved, and so too was his health. Cameron contrasts this a bit with the Colonel's physique, in that we're introduced to him benching what looked to be 325 lbs and he comments about the need to work hard to stay strong on Pandora.

But that may be giving the story too much credit.

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Wells points to a Variety piece:

Variety's Clifford Coonan is reporting an exceptional reception for Avatar in China, which he says is causing "massive ripples." Filmgoers saw it record numbers despite "the worst weather in half a century in parts of the country," he says. He reports that James Cameron's film has "struck a chord with local auds because of the way it deals with people being forced to move from their homes -- a big issue in China where land grabs by unscrupulous real estate developers, aided by corrupt officials, are a national scandal."

Huh. Very interesting.

It hadn't occurred to me to think of Avatar's connections to Still Life or Up the Yangtze.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Will Cameron's next film be about Hiroshima and the atomic bomb?

Man, if I'd given Cameron's future any thought, I might have predicted this. It seems so inevitable. Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Titanic fall in love and have a movie.

Edited by Overstreet

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Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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The Matrix/Avatar comparison is interesting, but there is a rather large difference: the "virtual" reality in Avatar isn't virtual: it's real (within the fiction of the film, of course). The unnamed city in The Matrix is a computer-generated fiction, but Pandora in Avatar is a real, physical place. (Interestingly enough, The Matrix filmmakers created their "computer simulation" world largely by filming the real world, while the Avatar filmmakers created their "real" world largely by means of a computer simulation: in terms of filmmaking methodology, one is the inversion of the other.)

When Sulley chooses to live as a Na'vi, he isn't actually choosing to live in virtual reality. In fact, the world he's choosing to live in is LESS artificial and more natural than the one he's leaving behind, a point that the film makes by constantly surrounding its human characters with machines of their own devising and its Na'vi characters with nature.

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When Sulley chooses to live as a Na'vi, he isn't actually choosing to live in virtual reality. In fact, the world he's choosing to live in is LESS artificial and more natural than the one he's leaving behind, a point that the film makes by constantly surrounding its human characters with machines of their own devising and its Na'vi characters with nature.

No, but he's a paralyzed veteran choosing to live as a running, jumping, tall blue dude with a tail. There is a virtual reality component in this decision. As one of my friends pointed out, the big blockbusters from the early part of the past decade were all about escaping the Matrix, the Fight Club, the Idioteque, and embracing Reality. It appears we've done a 180 and decided it's better to take the blue pill. Probably because of my own personal history, there is a big part of me that clings to the stubborn notion that reality is where the true action is, useless legs and all.

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When Sulley chooses to live as a Na'vi, he isn't actually choosing to live in virtual reality. In fact, the world he's choosing to live in is LESS artificial and more natural than the one he's leaving behind, a point that the film makes by constantly surrounding its human characters with machines of their own devising and its Na'vi characters with nature.

No, but he's a paralyzed veteran choosing to live as a running, jumping, tall blue dude with a tail. There is a virtual reality component in this decision.

I can see that perspective. I'm only making the point that Pandora isn't (in the movie context) a virtual reality at all, which The Matrix is. When Sully is living as a blue dude with a tail, he's actually living a physical life in nature. When he's living as a human, he's living in a giant metal cocoon, with every aspect of his life dependent on machines. Because of its dependence on machines and technology, his human life is arguably MORE virtual than his Na'vi life.

Edited by bowen
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So if I wanted to make an argument that this was anti-Christian, I'd be more inclined to focus on the impacts to incarnation theology, with the consciousness (or soul?) being separated from the body and all. Is this an embrace of Augustinian dualism (body bad/spirit good)?

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So if I wanted to make an argument that this was anti-Christian, I'd be more inclined to focus on the impacts to incarnation theology, with the consciousness (or soul?) being separated from the body and all. Is this an embrace of Augustinian dualism (body bad/spirit good)?

I wouldn't characterize Augustine's theology that way; as with the New Testament, there is a lot of spirit vs. flesh opposition, but neither is truly gnostic.

I also wouldn't point to that as being a particular theological fault of Avatar; few movies are more enthusiastic about the physical world than Avatar is. Its main dualism is nature good/technology bad, which may have its faults from a philosophical perspective, but technology vs. nature is not a fight that the Christian theology has traditionally taken much interest in.

In terms of theology, some issues that I would see are:

(1) It is apparently a post-Christian world, something that Christianity has traditionally held to be impossible; Christianity has generally been strong on the idea that the world cannot outlive Christianity. While no character SAYS that Christianity is dead, the movie puts no obstacles in front of that interpretation. A still-existing Christian church would be expected to take a keen interest in an Alien race, but while scientists are there to study the Na'vi, there is no Christian presence.

(2) Its love of nature goes pretty far into pagan territory. If you look at, say, Miyazaki's work, which is the real deal, you can see a lot of similarities. Its perspective on nature also shows a strong influence of science fiction ideas of Gaia or a living planet. One could imagine ways that the world of Pandora could be integrated into a Christian world-view, but the movie does none of the work for you. Pandora is presented from a pagan perspective and from a scientific perspective, but never from a Christian perspective.

(3)

That one human character gets integrated into the planetery "mind" after death is hard to reconcile with Christian ideas of the nature of the soul and life after death.

Edited by bowen
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Yes...I was exaggerating for effect. :) What is interesting to me is the existential question of personhood being largely defined as consciousness only. The body is just a shell, a vessel. Given the right technology the spirit can survive outside of the body, and ultimately doesn't even need it. That is what I was referring to, the gnostic implications.

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It is the definition of our being as separate from our body that I find interesting here.

That the soul is separable from the body is a Christian idea, although in Christianity the idea is also linked to the resurrection. That the soul can have done to it what seems to be done to it in Avatar is definitely not.

Specifically, that Dr. Augustine's soul seems to be absorbed into Eywa, and Jake's soul seems to transfer to another body.

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