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Andy Whitman wrote:

: 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.

At first, yes. But not throughout the movie. Hence my reference to the film's final scene. Jake cannot test-drive forever. At some point he must commit to one reality or the other -- nothing virtual about it.

Lance McLain wrote:

: Is this an embrace of Augustinian dualism (body bad/spirit good)?

Heh. Is THIS why James Cameron named the Sigourney Weaver character "Grace Augustine"? :)

Overstreet wrote:

: Man, if I'd given Cameron's future any thought, I might have predicted this. It seems so inevitable.

FWIW, I vaguely recall writing in my review of Titanic twelve years ago that it was the first James Cameron movie in which nuclear bombs or explosions were NOT a crucial plot point (we see them go off in Aliens, Terminator 2 and True Lies; and the threat of them lurks behind The Abyss and the original Terminator; I had not yet seen Piranha II: The Spawning at this time, nor do I know to what degree we should count it as a James Cameron film anyway, considering he was fired two weeks into filming it).

"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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Lance McLain wrote:

: Is this an embrace of Augustinian dualism (body bad/spirit good)?

Heh. Is THIS why James Cameron named the Sigourney Weaver character "Grace Augustine"? :)

I have no idea why he did that. It's one of those things that sure looks like it should mean something, but I can't for the life of me figure out what.

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James Poulos @ The American Scene:

My critique had a lot less to do with capitalism than with science and poetry, so let me double down on that angle to secure its legacy in blog meme history. In fact, let me go so far as to suggest that the word ‘capitalism’ did not appear in my analysis of Avatar because it plays no essential role in the mythopoetry of the film. As I suggested, as I see it, the central conflict is between science enslaved to will — incarnate in militarized violence, and science enslaved to whim — incarnate in love. Please, let’s not make the mistake of thinking that any technologically advanced civilization with a rapacious interest in natural resources and a willingness to kill to acquire them is, therefore, capitalist. Conor is right that the corporation in the film isn’t “meant to stand in for all corporations,” especially insofar as it doesn’t even need to be a corporation for the meaning behind the plot to roll out in identical fashion. To chalk Cameron up to a mere anticapitalist is to bark up the same wrong tree as those who imagine conflicts over oil would end with the end of oil companies. No, Messers and Madams Green: capitalism is just a red herring.

Just so, I don’t think it’s even well advised to go chasing after Cameron’s ‘negative’ portrayal of humans. We all already know well enough how bad humans can be, and Avatar is hardly the most selectively negative showcase of human being to hit the big screen. (Casino, a film that actually is a bitter indictment of capitalism, is worse.) Cameron isn’t trying to debunk a particular false idol — money — but show us the one true path to our salvation. And to understand that, we need to change the conversation from what he denigrates to what he holds up for awe and worship. . . .

"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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Just so, I don’t think it’s even well advised to go chasing after Cameron’s ‘negative’ portrayal of humans.

It always fascinates me when people who refer to themselves as Christians (as many or even most of the conservative critics of Avatar seem to) have an issue with humanity being portrayed negatively. I mean, have these people read the Bible? Seriously, I think Hollywood goes pretty lightly in comparison. If one thing has stood out to me in the Bible it is that God sees every last one of us as scumbags... dirty rotten scoundrels to the core... but He loves us anyways, cause... well, cause He is cool that way.

Edited by Nezpop

"You know...not EVERY story has to be interesting." -Gibby

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FWIW, I don't know if I'd call what Douthat wrote an "accusation". I do think Douthat might have gone a bit too far in calling the film an "apologia", as I'm not sure whether Cameron was really interested in mounting an argument in favour of pantheism rather than simply using conventional sci-fi mysticism as a metaphor for something else.

FWIW, I made exactly the same point (regarding "apologia") in an article I wrote on Avatar for Catholic World Report magazine, as well as in a response to a reader in an upcoming Decent Films Mail column. :)

Thoughts on Avatar as apologetic -- or not.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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FWIW, I don't know if I'd call what Douthat wrote an "accusation". I do think Douthat might have gone a bit too far in calling the film an "apologia", as I'm not sure whether Cameron was really interested in mounting an argument in favour of pantheism rather than simply using conventional sci-fi mysticism as a metaphor for something else.

FWIW, I made exactly the same point (regarding "apologia") in an article I wrote on Avatar for Catholic World Report magazine, as well as in a response to a reader in an upcoming Decent Films Mail column. :)

Thoughts on Avatar as apologetic -- or not.

I agree it is not an apologetic. Cameron's Eywa/Gaia is a well-worn science fiction device that has been used many times by many different authors with widely varying outlooks and I wouldn't read too much into Cameron's use of it. One important point is that the movie makes us as the audience members do the heavy work of integrating Eywa into whatever religious outlook we already possess; the movie does none of it for us. It doesn't tell us that as Christians we are right, and it doesn't tell us that as Christians we are wrong, it doesn't even raise the question. As a Christian, I don't feel a theological threat from a living being that is of planetary scale; making a contingent being bigger doesn't change its metaphysical category and doesn't convert it into a rival answer to any of questions that lead me to believe in God. I see no reason, either theologically or scientifically, why a being like Eywa couldn't exist — of course I also see no reason why such a being would have to exist; it might or it might not.

I wouldn't say that the movie is without theologically troubling points, but the mere existence of Eywa isn't one of them for me.

Your comment, Stephen, that "if Avatar began posting box office numbers comparable to Titanic..." is behind the curve, I'm afraid. The numbers, though incomplete, already are. Avatar just took the #2 all-time worldwide spot from Return of the King and is still going strong. It might or might not ultimately finish ahead of Titanic, but it very much is in Titanic's class. As to what it means, in terms of philosophy and religion I think it means very little. The positive response to the movie is (I think) first and foremost from our sense of wonder. In terms of worldbuilding, Pandora goes beyond anything done before. I don't mean in terms of detailed social or historical construction, where it doesn't even begin to touch an effort like Tolkien's Middle Earth, but in terms of presenting a convincing visual illusion of another world, and a spectacular world at that, Avatar is in a class by itself. Yes, the characters are rather stock and the plot is much more familiar than it should be (although it is well-executed in its details), but I think the movie invokes a sense of wonder I haven't felt in a very long time at a movie, and I think that is what is drawing people to see it.

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Take out the specifics and I think Avatar is very much an apologetic. I saw it that way from beginning to end, nearly having tears in the middle. I don't try to read these things into a story, really, I don't. But in my viewing it seemed the only way to latch on. You have the enterprise. You have the Other. You have oppression without understanding, nor a care to understand. You have hostility from the empire, so to say. You have those trapped on the underbelly of this fight realizing that they do not have to lie down and take it. As Bono said, "Take up arms against his aggressor!"

And because we are in this time when our empire thinks they can topple anyone anywhere in the name of whatever, or to "keep us safe," I think it also translates pretty easily. But it would translate in any culture that is dealing with many of the same issues.

Which in fact, might be most cultures...

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: 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.

At first, yes. But not throughout the movie. Hence my reference to the film's final scene. Jake cannot test-drive forever. At some point he must commit to one reality or the other -- nothing virtual about it.

In the context of the movie, yes, the tag 'virtual reality' can't be fully applied to Jake's experience as a Na'vi. And as bowen said, in some ways Jake's human life is the more virtual reality. Avatar, however, doesn't shirk from flexing its built-in similarities to video games, both visually and otherwise. Viewed alongside the virtualized social networks of the internet (from interactions sims like Second Life to MMORPGS like World of Warcraft), the movie represents a kind of wish fulfillment: to fully jettison the tired old 'real life' and embody that other existence, where one can be strong, beautiful and heroic, and not so broken and blue. Another example of where the film's shouted thematic text is at cross purposes with its more subliminal cultural subtext.

Edited by KShaw

Everything that matters is invisible.

-- Robert Bresson

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Take out the specifics and I think Avatar is very much an apologetic. I saw it that way from beginning to end, nearly having tears in the middle. I don't try to read these things into a story, really, I don't. But in my viewing it seemed the only way to latch on. You have the enterprise. You have the Other. You have oppression without understanding, nor a care to understand. You have hostility from the empire, so to say. You have those trapped on the underbelly of this fight realizing that they do not have to lie down and take it. As Bono said, "Take up arms against his aggressor!"

I was addressing whether it was a theological apologetic for pantheism. Its politics are a different question. In terms of its pro-environment and anti-imperialist politics, I think it's very up-front about them; it could scarcely be more so. You'll get no argument from me on this subject.

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Oh, I wasn't looking for an argument. Just expressing an opinion. And obviously I need to read the whole thread before just jumping in. But the thread is too long and my computer is on the fritz. Hanging in there for now, though...

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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(a little review from damaris)

I don't deny that there should be priests to remind men that they will one day die. I only say it is necessary to have another kind of priests, called poets, to remind men that they are not dead yet. - G. K. Chesterton

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Two things that are currently impressing themselves upon me, re: Cameron's filmography, at least prior to Avatar:

One, the emphasis on family. Family, family, family. Piranha II: The Spawning, Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and True Lies all revolve, in one way or another, around mother-father-child triangles, whether actual or virtual, whether biological or surrogate. And The Abyss revolves around a couple who are on the verge of divorce but, over the course of the film, are reconicled. That leaves Titanic and the original Terminator, both of which feature young lovers who meet, mate, and then, within 24 hours of their conjugation, the young man dies to save the young woman's life -- and the (positive) consequences of their meeting and mating are felt for decades and decades afterwards.

And now there is Avatar, in which people "mate for life" not only with their sexual partners but with the animals they ride. Hmmm.

Two, Cameron's interest in our environment, and by that I don't necessarily mean green trees and so on, but the way he focuses on how we RELY UPON our environment, e.g. for the very air we breathe. Aliens takes place almost entirely within a terraforming colony that was originally designed to make a planet's atmosphere breathable by humans. The Abyss features a key subplot in which someone needs to breathe liquid in order to survive the pressures deep, deep, DEEP underwater.

And now Avatar takes place on an alien world where the atmosphere is, once again, unbreathable by humans. Hmmm.

Side note for those who are into theological readings of Cameron's works: Apart from his tendency to give characters names like Bishop (the helpful android in Aliens) and Monk (the helpful Navy SEAL in The Abyss), I recently discovered that the opening lines of his Aliens screenplay read:

FADE IN SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE - SPACE

Silent and endless. The stars shine like the love of God...cold and remote. Against them drifts a tiny chip of technology.

Make of all that what you will.

"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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FWIW, the screenplay, in PDF format.

"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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Surprise, surprise, it looks like Avatar will be #1 again this weekend, making it the first film to be #1 for four consecutive weeks since The Dark Knight (July-August 2008).

But let's look ahead: What if it is #1 again NEXT week? How far back do we have to go to find a precedent for THAT? Well...

  • The Passion of the Christ (February-April 2004) was #1 in its first, second, third and seventh weeks, but NOT in its fourth, fifth or sixth weeks (when it was beaten by Dawn of the Dead, Scooby-Doo 2 and Hellboy, respectively).

  • Signs (August-September 2002) was #1 in its first, fourth and fifth weeks, but NOT in its second or third weeks (when it was beaten by xXx).

  • The Sixth Sense (August-September 1999) was #1 for five straight weeks.

So we'd basically have to go back over ten years to find the last time any film was #1 for five straight weeks, though we do kind of have to skip over the curious case of The Passion of the Christ, which was #1 for only three straight weeks but then bounced back in its seventh week.

And if Avatar should be #1 for SIX straight weeks? Why, the last film to do that was Titanic (December 1997-March 1998), which was #1 for a straight FIFTEEN weeks.

"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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FWIW, the screenplay, in PDF format.

Thanks! Interesting how many changes there have been from the movie as released; I read that the first version screened was 4 hours and that it was deeply cut to get it down to 2 hours and 40 minutes. I know that he's been planning this movie for many years; I wonder what the early scripts looked like and what changes it went through over the years.

Edited by bowen
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$48.5 million in its fourth weekend. That easily, easily beats the previous record for a fourth weekend, set by Titanic ($28.7 million).

David Poland ponders the degree to which the 3D and IMAX surcharges should be factored into any understanding of the film's revenues. The Hollywood Reporter also has this to say:

Because of its uniquely must-see-in-digital-3D factor, "Avatar" is drawing the vast majority of its overseas boxoffice from 3D venues, which charge higher admission prices. Through its third weekend, per Fox, conventional 2D sites generated 36% of the film's overseas gross total, while 3D locations produced a full 64%.

By way of comparison, 2009's biggest overseas grosser, Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," which was also released in 3D, drew only 41% of its $691.2 million offshore take from 3D venues.

"Up," the Pixar 3D animation feature and Disney's top-grossing release of 2009, realized 44% of its $430 million overseas cume from 3D venues vs. 56% derived from 2D sites. . . .

Imax Corp. reported that "Avatar" grossed $4.6 million from overseas Imax theaters on the weekend, up 13% from the prior round. The company described action at its China sites as "staggering and record-breaking. In fact, in a great part due to China, Saturday was the single biggest international day in Imax history with $1.65 million" in grosses.

There are a total of 179 Imax venues playing "Avatar" in the U.S. and Canada and another 82 sites overseas.

Worldwide cume for "Avatar" from Imax venues is about $91 million as of Sunday night, with the $100 million mark to be passed this week, per Imax. This would "be a first for us for a Hollywood feature." . . .

"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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James Cameron: Yes, 'Avatar' is Political

"Avatar" director James Cameron responded to right-wing critics of his blockbuster hit movie on Tuesday night, saying that "as an artist, I felt a need to say something about what I saw around me."

TheWrap.com, January 13

Why is Vatican paper reviewing Avatar, the Simpsons?

L’Osservatore Romano, the famously staid semi-official mouthpiece of the Catholic Church, has been seeking to remake its image, panning the blockbuster 'Avatar' but praising Homer Simpson and forgiving John Lennon for his 'more popular than Jesus' comment. . . .

Founded in 1861 as the Vatican’s paper of record, it still has to cover weighty theological issues and the Byzantine workings of the Roman Catholic Church. But it has also expanded into the world of popular culture, passing judgment on subjects varying from the Harry Potter films and the rock band U2 to the deaths of Michael Jackson and Paul Newman.

The paper, which is sold at news stands for one euro and has a modest circulation of about 15,000, has also started using color photographs for the first time. The makeover was ordered by Pope Benedict XVI, who – despite his rather austere image – has shown himself keen to explore new ways of spreading the Church’s message, including new technology. . . .

Christian Science Monitor, January 12

Your Unresolved 'Avatar' Questions Answered

Using a James Cameron-approved guidebook, we fill you in on the Pandora details you need to know before your second or third viewing.

MTV Movie News, January 11

The Problem With Avatar

So why did I find Avatar disappointing?

Because it did not create a whole new world – at least not for me.

Pandora basically looks like South America, with a few touches that recall coral reefs and fauna with a vaguely Jurassic Park look. And the reason people assume the Na’vi are supposed to be stand-ins for Native Americans or whatnot is that Cameron didn’t make them alien enough. Why, for example, is their social structure so familiar when they have cognitive abilities that are wildly different from those of humans?

Avatar is a science-fiction failure because Cameron didn’t grapple seriously with making a race of aliens, or an alien world. Science fiction abounds in authors who did so grapple – Frank Herbert, Ursula Leguin, Orson Scott Card, the team of Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. It’s not like it can’t be done. But if your eye is on the bottom line, it probably makes sense to stay well inside your audience’s comfort zone. . . .

Noah Millman, The American Scene, January 11

Avatar: Pantheism, proof, and pretty stuff

Most of the discussion of religion in Avatar has focused on the Na'vi's pantheism. I wasn't too impressed with this aspect of the film, to be honest, and not because I think pantheism is a Bad Thing (indeed, I lean toward it a bit, though at the end of the day I'm more into panentheism). Rather, I thought it was a bit on the lazy, underdeveloped side. Though I loved most of the creature designs (I recognized the very skilled hand of Wayne Barlowe immediately), I found the Na'vi culture to be human, all too human. These are supposed to be aliens, but their culture comes across like a New Age-y romanticization of African and Native American culture-- the monolithization of which is part of the problem. (Few things bug me as much as the homogenization of disparate cultures in New Age spirituality-- it's really just a kinder, gentler cultural imperialism.)

There is one really interesting thing about the Na'vi's Gaea religion, though, and that is its basis in their lived experience. They don't just believe that all life is linked, they have the biological hardware to plug into their planet's organic-electric network and experience it. This was the single most original aspect of the alien biology and culture, but I don't think its implications were pushed far enough-- with the result being a half-baked nature spirituality instead of a truly alien culture. . . .

The fact that the Na'vi religion is "provable" is intriguing, but Elliot (of Claw of the Conciliator) brought up an interesting point to me-- does this mean the oppression and exploitation of the Na'vi would be OK if their religion weren't based on the scientific fact of their biological abilities? What does the Na'vi ability to demonstrate the grounding of their religious experience say about the faith of those of us who don't have planet-communicating nerve clusters growing out of our heads? . . .

Gabriel McKee, January 9

"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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You've got a dropped word in there:

"I would never have predicted that Avatar stood a chance of sinking Titanic’s domestic and [foreign? overseas? international? worldwide?] box-office records"

I'd have just sent you a message on your site rather than posting it here, but you know the "contact" link at the bottom of your pages? It doesn't work for me; I get a "Page not found" error.

Edited by bowen
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Italian parents stage 'Avatar' protest

ROME -- "Avatar" is sparking protests from parents' groups in Italy where the James Cameron blockbuster bows Friday with a controversial general admission rating.

Fox is releasing "Avatar" on a massive 910 Italo screens -- 410 of which are 3D equipped -- totally unrestricted, unlike most of the rest of the world. Pic is going out later in Italy compared with most other territories to avoid clashing with local comedies that customarily dominate the Italo box office over the holidays.

Elsewhere the MPAA's PG-13 rating for "Avatar," "for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking," has been echoed by age restrictions in most countries, such as 12 in Germany, a 12A (accompanied) in the U.K., and 14 (accompanied) in most of Canada. Exceptions include Quebec and France where "Avatar" has also hit screens unrestricted. . . .

Variety, January 14

- - -

Of course, the MPAA's PG-13 rating isn't really an age RESTRICTION, is it? It's purely advisory, like the regular PG rating, yes? That's why it's called PG-13 and not R-13, one might say, yes? So on a purely functional level, the movie basically has a general-admission rating in the U.S., too.

In other news, Avatar is narrowing the Dark Knight gap. It took The Dark Knight only 18 days to gross $400 million, while Avatar did it in 23 -- a gap of 5 days. But $450 million? The Dark Knight did it in 27 days, and now Avatar has done it in 28 -- a gap of only 1 day. (Only one other film has grossed $450 million in its first run, namely Titanic, and it took THAT film 81 days to reach this point ... but of course, it ended up being the biggest hit of all time -- to date, anyway.)

In other news, Avatar is about to knock Star Wars down to the #4 spot on the all-time domestic chart. It hasn't been down there since the mid-1990s, when it was behind E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Jurassic Park (1993) and Forrest Gump (1994); it reclaimed the #1 spot when the "special edition" was released in 1997, but then it lost the #1 spot again, this time to Titanic, about a year later. (And then it lost the #2 spot to The Dark Knight in 2008.)

"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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You've got a dropped word in there:

"I would never have predicted that Avatar stood a chance of sinking Titanic’s domestic and [foreign? overseas? international? worldwide?] box-office records"

I'd have just sent you a message on your site rather than posting it here, but you know the "contact" link at the bottom of your pages? It doesn't work for me; I get a "Page not found" error.

Thanks, I had found and corrected that error earlier, but somehow it crept in again, poor file management. As for the contact links, pick-y, pick-y, you want the top links AND the bottom links to work? Okay, fixed that too.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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