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I don't know if I've seen this spelled out so clearly anywhere before, so, just for the record:

Why are the Na'vi blue? Why not another color?

''I just like blue. It's a good color,'' James Cameron says. ''Plus, there's a connection to the Hindu deities, which I like conceptually.''

In other news, the film was beaten, slightly, at the box-office yesterday by The Book of Eli, but those who follow this sort of thing say Avatar is likely to win the weekend as a whole. (Remember how Sherlock Holmes beat Avatar on Christmas Day, only to lose the weekend as a whole by millions and millions?)

- - -

James Cameron rejects claims Avatar epic borrows from Russians' sci-fi novels

But the film director James Cameron was facing claims today that his 3D blockbuster Avatar owes an unacknowledged debt to the popular Soviet fantasy writers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.

Cinema audiences in Russia have been quick to point out that Avatar has elements in common with The World of Noon, or Noon Universe, a cycle of 10 bestselling science fiction novels written by the Strugatskys in the mid-1960s.

It was the Strugatskys who came up with the planet Pandora – the same name chosen by Cameron for the similarly green and lushly forested planet used as the spectacular backdrop to Avatar. The Noon Universe takes place in the 22nd century. So does Avatar, critics have noticed.

And while there are clear differences between the two Pandoras, both are home to a similarly named bunch of humanoids – the Na'vi in Cameron's epic, and the Nave in Strugatskys' novels, read by generations of Soviet teenagers and space-loving scientists and intellectuals. . . .

Today one film critic said there would inevitably be similarities between Avatar and the Strugatskys' intellectually demanding novels as both were anti-utopian fantasies. The brothers' work sold millions of copies, with many reading their intricate fantasies as a thinly disguised satire on the KGB communist system. . . .

The Strugatskys' science fiction has inspired several high-profile movies – notably Andrei Tarkovsky's 1977 Stalker, loosely based on the brothers' novel Roadside Picnic. Another Strugastky work, The Inhabited Island – in which a 22nd-century space pilot crashes on an unknown planet, was made into a two-part film in 2008. . . .

Guardian, January 13

"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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If the deleted "sex" scene has been linked to here, I missed it--and I would be hesitant to link to it now (though it's really incredibly tame--hardly more explicit than the scene as it stands) except that it contains this exchange which, given all the discussion re: virtual reality, might prove interesting/illuminating:

JAKE

Neytiri, you know my real body is far away, sleeping.

She raises up, placing her fingertips to his chest —

NEYTIRI

This body is real.

(she touches his forehead)

This spirit is real.

As I say, it does add a little nuance that is, unfortunately, lacking in the movie itself re: Jake's real body and his avatar-body.

The scene also contains a nice beat where Jake is surprised that his union with Neytiri means they're mated for life.

[One other thought--reading over that scene, with its willows swaying in the not-breeze and such, I get the feeling that Cameron was going for a one-with-each-other-and-with-nature kinda thing. And it makes me laugh,because I think of C.S. Lewis' comment that lover in D.H. Lawrence novels (who were prone to do the same sort of thing) would quickly find that nature was full of all sorts of ants and bugs, and in general not find the experience all that pleasant. Of course, when the entire ecosystem is run by an Overmind, I guess it would be different, but still.]

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NBooth wrote:

: As I say, it does add a little nuance that is, unfortunately, lacking in the movie itself re: Jake's real body and his avatar-body.

You mean his HUMAN body and his avatar body. ;)

: The scene also contains a nice beat where Jake is surprised that his union with Neytiri means they're mated for life.

Heh. Yeah, that`s the sort of thing Neytiri really should have mentioned to Jake beforehand. Jake could justifiably say he's been taken advantage of, there.

Which reminds me, watching the film a second time today (and I just might agree with those who say the film is even better the second time around), I couldn't help thinking that the way the Na'vi have to wrestle their banshees into submission before "hooking up" with them almost makes it a form of, um, well, "rape" isn't quite the right word, but given that the men and women in this society connect to each other in the exact same way that people connect to their riding animals, that's the analogy that came to mind. At the very least, I think we can say that Jake "forces himself on" the banshee that he bonds with.

On a completely unrelated note, I rewatched most of Cameron's films between my first screening of this film (37 days ago) and my second screening today, and in the interim I became somewhat tired of the casual way Cameron throws the word "bitch" around, especially in The Abyss and True Lies. (There's a famous use of it in Aliens, but I can't recall if it was used more than once in that film.) So I noticed this time how the word comes up at least twice in Avatar, once used by Jake against one of the large noisy monsters and once used by The Michelle Rodriguez Character against one of the (male) humans against whom she and Jake have gone to war.

Anyway, back to the sex scene: In Judeo-Christian terms, we might ask if it's possible for Jake and Neytiri to be "one flesh" when Neytiri has arguably bonded with Jake's avatar and not with Jake himself. And if we take an even further step back, I find myself wondering about the spiritual issues raised by the genetic engineering of the avatars in the first place. Can you create an entire body -- including a brain -- without a soul? Can the avatar truly be an empty vessel, spiritually speaking, or have Jake and his colleagues displaced a spirit that would have been native to the avatar?

"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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NBooth wrote:

: As I say, it does add a little nuance that is, unfortunately, lacking in the movie itself re: Jake's real body and his avatar-body.

You mean his HUMAN body and his avatar body. ;)

Yeah, that's what I meant. The whole real=human construction is kinda hard to shake.

Which reminds me, watching the film a second time today (and I just might agree with those who say the film is even better the second time around), I couldn't help thinking that the way the Na'vi have to wrestle their banshees into submission before "hooking up" with them almost makes it a form of, um, well, "rape" isn't quite the right word, but given that the men and women in this society connect to each other in the exact same way that people connect to their riding animals, that's the analogy that came to mind. At the very least, I think we can say that Jake "forces himself on" the banshee that he bonds with.

Hmm. Yeah, although the banshee-taming scene struck me as more of a horse-taming expy. The use of the queues in mating rituals seems like a example of power-use potential--kinda the logical outgrowth of an already-there ability.

I do wonder, though, if the use of the queue could apply to passing on leadership roles (like the Reverend Mothers passing on memories in Dune). Of course, since everyone has access to a planet-wide database, the kind of memory-exchange that happens when, say, Jessica drinks the Water of Life isn't really necessary on Pandora. (Come to think of it--why do the Na'vi need leaders at all? Why can't they just be coordinated through the planetwide consciousness? It would be the ultimate opensource community.)

In Judeo-Christian terms, we might ask if it's possible for Jake and Neytiri to be "one flesh" when Neytiri has arguably bonded with Jake's avatar and not with Jake himself. And if we take an even further step back, I find myself wondering about the spiritual issues raised by the genetic engineering of the avatars in the first place. Can you create an entire body -- including a brain -- without a soul? Can the avatar truly be an empty vessel, spiritually speaking, or have Jake and his colleagues displaced a spirit that would have been native to the avatar?

Well, I guess it depends on whether we make the brain=person/soul/whathaveyou equation. If we think of the brain as a hard drive that can be formatted and programmed, I don't see why we can't assume that the individual avatars were created "blank" and ready for "software." But that entails a certain amount of spirit/matter dualism that could be problematic in itself.

(Incidentally, did you notice any mention of the other avatar controllers after Jake gets lost in the woods? When I watched it the second time, I was bugged by the fact that there seemed to be a lot more controllers who just vanished until the very end, when I believe one is seen moving around--the shirt he's wearing is a telltale sign. I just wonder what they were doing in the midst of all the action--not that they could have joined in the fight, since the control-room is inaccessible, but the fact that they seem such a non-issue either way seems odd.)

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NBooth wrote:

: (Come to think of it--why do the Na'vi need leaders at all? Why can't they just be coordinated through the planetwide consciousness? It would be the ultimate opensource community.)

Yeah, I think this is the sort of thing Noah Millman was getting at in that excerpt I posted a few posts back.

: Well, I guess it depends on whether we make the brain=person/soul/whathaveyou equation. If we think of the brain as a hard drive that can be formatted and programmed, I don't see why we can't assume that the individual avatars were created "blank" and ready for "software." But that entails a certain amount of spirit/matter dualism that could be problematic in itself.

Exactly. It also raises the question of whether we mere mortals are even in a position to create "blank" hard drives in the first place, if nature naturally endows the hardware with software. How, exactly, does one DISTINGUISH, let alone SEPARATE, the hardware from the software? And when would this separation take place -- when the avatar is first genetically engineered (at the level of pure DNA), or somewhere further down the line (call it a spiritual abortion, perhaps)?

: (Incidentally, did you notice any mention of the other avatar controllers after Jake gets lost in the woods?

Notice, no. It seems to be pretty much just Jake, Grace and, um, whathisname, the other guy who joins them in the mobile unit. FWIW, I did find myself wondering...

... what happened to that third guy after the story was over; I believe he was among the Na'vi who were forcing the humans to march onto the ship that took them away from Pandora. (This, incidentally, would mean that his avatar had been healed of whatever wounds it sustained during the battle.) The movie is basically interested in only three of the avatar-controllers, and of those: one dies, one becomes permanently transferred into a Na'vi body, and the third... well, the movie never says. If all the humans have gone, and there are no more shipments coming in of human food and air and water and so on, then there is only so long that the guy could hope to keep his human body going. And I doubt he would have gotten on the ship with the humans that he had just betrayed. So if he has stayed behind, he's got to be either surviving on what's left of the human supplies or arranging to have a permanent soul-transfer of his own. But the film never specifies.

: I just wonder what they were doing in the midst of all the action--not that they could have joined in the fight, since the control-room is inaccessible, but the fact that they seem such a non-issue either way seems odd.)

Agreed.

"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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*** SOME SPOILERS ***

FWIW, other themes and Cameron-isms that stood out for me on second viewing:

-- Neytiri says of the belligerent humans: "Sky People do not learn what they cannot see. No one can teach you how to see." This obviously touches on the objective science vs. subjective experience theme that we see in Grace Augustine's character arc, but it also echoes the bit in The Abyss where the female scientist who believes in the aliens comments on the Navy SEAL who assumes that the aliens are Communist saboteurs, and says: "We all see what we want to see. . . . You have to look with better eyes than that." Of course, the reference to how the Sky People "see" also connects to the way the Na'vi greet each other by saying "I see you," as well as the various references to "the eye of Eywa" or to how outcasts reside in "the place the eye does not see." (WHOSE eye does not see the outcast? The People's? Eywa's? If The People are claiming that they have the power to cast someone out of Eywa's sight, then it is interesting that Jake Sully is clearly favoured by Eywa on some level from pretty much the first moment he steps into the Pandoran forest on his own. See also Tse-ty's multiple references to Jake as a "demon" who lives in a "false body"; as positive as the film may be about Na'vi spirituality, it is clear that the Na'vi CAN employ religio-mythical ideas to support prejudice against the outsider, etc., when it suits them.)

-- Practically the first line in the film is all about how Jake Sully used to dream of flying, but alas, in the end you always have to wake up. (Given that he is a paraplegic, this opening sequence has always reminded me of The Sea Inside and the bit in there where the quadriplegic played by Javier Bardem dreams of leaping out his window and soaring over the landscape.) I believe this line, spoken when Jake is waking out of hypersleep (and note how he is encased in liquid, not unlike the Ed Harris character in The Abyss), is echoed later on, on at least one of the occasions when Jake "wakes up" in his tanning bed (probably when he wonders if he has begun to get the waking world and the dream world confused). But it is certainly echoed again during the climactic fight, when Quaritch says to Jake's avatar, "You think you’re one of them? Time to wake up!” and then prepares to "wake" (and thus kill) Jake's human body in its tanning bed. Interestingly, the FINAL shot in the film shows Jake's eyes opening in his Na'vi body, just as they opened in his human body in one of the film's very FIRST shots; so, yes, the dreamworld DOES become the waking world, for him, in a sense.

-- The themes of birth and rebirth. Early on, there is a line to the effect that "one life ends, another begins," and while the primary reference point is the death of Jake's twin brother, it is interesting that, even here, Jake's life is said to "begin" in some sense. Later on, Jake tells us: "The Na'vi say every person is born twice. The second time is when you earn your place among The People, forever." And what does Jake say in his last video journal, just before he becomes a permanent member of the Na'vi? "It's my birthday, after all." (His ACTUAL birthday? Or is this just how he sees the day of his "second" birth, as it were?)

-- I have noted before the climactic battle between the mechanically-enhanced human and the dark monster, and how Aliens asked us to cheer for the human while Avatar asks us to cheer for the monster. But I had missed the fact that, when the stampede begins, one of the humans is looking at a motion-sensor rather similar to what the marines used in Aliens, and his last words are "We got movement, 200 meters!" It was like watching Hudson all over again.

"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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SDG's blog post on Avatar and the Golden Globes makes an interesting point that I hadn't considered before:

While Avatar will likely not match the number of Oscar nominations or awards achieved by Cameron’s last feature film, Titanic, Avatar may well result in back-to-back best film and director Oscars for Cameron (if a lacuna of 11 years can still be called back to back).

It's actually 12 years, but anyhoo, this got me wondering who ELSE might have won Best Picture and Best Director back-to-back. The first thing that came to mind, of course, was David Lean's one-two punch of The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

It also occurred to me that Francis Ford Coppola's first two Godfathers (1972, 1974) come close, but don't quite count, because although both films won Best Picture, Coppola actually LOST Best Director the first time around to Cabaret's Bob Fosse. (Coppola also released The Conversation in April 1974, eight months before he released The Godfather Part II, so the two Godfathers weren't really back-to-back directorial efforts anyway.)

Anyway, Wikipedia has a list of directors with two or more Academy Awards for Best Director, and of those, it happened quite a few times that Best Picture went to someone else's movie (e.g., John Ford won Best Director four times, but on only one of those occasions, i.e. 1941's How Green Was My Valley, did the film win Best Picture as well; it is theoretically possible that other films of his won Best Picture too, but if they did, Ford did not win Best Director for directing them; and then there is the curious case of George Stevens, who won Best Director twice even though NEITHER of those films won Best Picture, with 1951's A Place in the Sun losing to An American in Paris and 1956's Giant losing to Around the World in 80 Days).

Anyway, in addition to David Lean, the only other director who seems to have won both Best Director and Best Picture back-to-back, not counting documentaries, is William Wyler, who followed 1942's Mrs. Miniver with 1946's The Best Years of Our Lives -- and in-between, he (co-)directed a documentary or two, one of which (1944's The Fighting Lady, for which he apparently did not receive a credit) ALSO won an Oscar. FWIW, several movies later, Wyler would go on to win Best Picture and Best Director a THIRD time, for 1959's Ben-Hur.

"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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Steve Sailer:

Having been raised on Heinlein novels, I could always see where Cameron was coming from. His second film, 1986’s Aliens, struck me as Heinlein’s Starship Troopers done better than Heinlein himself could manage. Cameron left out the political chatter and added extra helpings of suspense and combat between giant space bugs and humans in powered armor suits.

Indeed, in a recent interview with blogger Jordan Hoffman, Cameron credits Heinlein’s 1959 novel as the inspiration for Aliens. He goes on to denounce Paul Verhoeven’s smirky 1997 adaptation of Starship Troopers. . . .

Heinlein’s thumbprints can be found all over Avatar’s pastiche of a plot. For instance, the device that launches Cameron’s scenario—one identical twin must substitute at the last minute for his brother on an interstellar voyage—is also in Heinlein’s 1956 novel Time for the Stars. Moreover, Avatar appears to borrow one of its central ideas—Pandora, a planet where the entire ecosystem is a single living network exchanging information—from the climax of Heinlein’s 1953 book for boys, Starman Jones.

Indeed, Avatar’s main plot—a human soldier teams up with a seemingly primitive but actually wise alien tribe to prevent an evil Earthling mining company from despoiling their sacred tropical homeland—an be found in Heinlein’s 1948 “young adult” story Space Cadet.

This is not to say Cameron is plagiarizing Heinlein. Rather, Heinlein’s ideas are part of the creative DNA of every artist working in hard sci-fi.

Further, Cameron is confronted with the same storytelling problem as Heinlein: they both love giant machines, but audiences don’t want to see the overdog win. Heinlein used a more convoluted variant of the Avatar plot in both Red Planet (1949) and Between Planets (1951). In these, the heroes are human settlers on Mars or Venus who enlist the admirable indigenous aliens in their fight for planetary independence from the oligarchic rulers of Earth.

In Heinlein’s books, it’s as if the American Revolution saw the American settlers allying with the American Indians to defeat King George. (The reality, of course, was closer to the opposite. As the Declaration of Independence’s reference to “merciless Indian Savages” suggests, “democracy” and “indigenous rights” are more antonyms than synonyms.) Not surprisingly, Cameron, who was born and raised through age 16 in Canada, can’t be bothered with Heinlein’s contortions, so Avatar is politically simpler than its sources in the Heinlein canon. . . .

The Hollywood Reporter:

The 3D and Imax versions of James Cameron's global hit will continue their run into February. But Saturday reportedly marks the end of 2D screenings of the science fiction epic, which also dramatizes the forced eviction of a people - a politically sensitive subject in China. . . .

There is also sensitivity to the movie's plot, which revolves around the forced evictions of the alien Na'vi race by humans - a story line that some have said draws unflattering comparisons to China's own, often brutal removal of millions of residents to make way for property developers.

Columnist Huang Hung penned a commentary in the official English-language China Daily, saying the film had struck a chord with Chinese viewers.

"All the forced removal of old neighborhoods in China makes us the only earthlings today who can really feel the pain of the Na'vi," she wrote. . . .

So it's not just capitalists who have reason to dislike the movie!!

"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 (via WENN) says the movie isn't anti-Marine:

He explains, "The anti-military thing is kind of tough for me because my younger brother Dave was a marine for six years, fought (in) Desert Storm and he's worked for me for years...

"I've got nothing but respect for these guys and I'm a firm believer in a strong defence. My perspective is that I made my main character a marine and I viewed him with heroism and courage and intelligence and all the characteristics I thought would honour them (marines) and I think people are thinking about it too simplistically."

Matt Feeney @ The American Scene:

This brings us back to Jake Sully’s troubling progress from human to Na’avi. To the extent that some latent identity makes it possible for Sully to migrate from human to Na’avi in a psychologically coherent way (unlike the Sigourney Weaver migration, which is incomplete and touristic and, yes, a little condescending), it is not that he is an imperialist-humanist-white-liberal and the Na’avi are passive colonial objects. It is that they are unfathomable badasses and he’s a
Marine
. As such, he’s as close as
we
get to
them
. Among the more overheated critiques of Avatar is that it is anti-military, anti-Marine. The profoundly offended John Podhoretz says that “its hatred of the military and American institutions” is so pat as represent not so much an argument as an unthought Hollywood prejudice. But, if Avatar has any subtlety in its characterization, and indeed any political sophistication, it’s precisely in the spot it puts Jake Sully in as a paralyzed Marine. The cartoonish Quaratich (a name, I now suspect, that’s probably some kind of Cameronian metaphor that’s going to undermine my defense of him) explicitly plays on Sully’s undying loyalties to the Marine Corps, and Sully is shown responding to those claims at first. He bases this reflexive loyalty on the old saying that there’s no such thing as an ex-Marine. But the bogusness of Quaratich’s claims to speak as a Marine is obvious from the start. That’s part of the tension of those scenes, something the audience senses before Sully does (dramatic irony, I think it’s called). Quaratich is not a Marine, he’s a mercenary. He’s using the Marine name, and calling on Marine loyalties, in the service of a paramilitary operation for private interests. As a critique of the Iraq War (which I suspect lingers back there somewhere), this is pretty dumb, but, as a dramatic statement of an entirely defensible general principle, it works just fine, as long as you’re not listening for dog-whistles to chase. I saw Jake Sully as confronted with a series of choices of the best way to be himself, a Marine – remain a paralyzed subject in a science experiment, fight as a mercenary, or become a Na’avi. He chooses Na’avi. Within the moral framework of Avatar, this seems like an obvious compliment to the Marines.

"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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"Avatar" replaces "Titanic" in record books

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "Titanic" just hit an iceberg named "Avatar."

James Cameron's sci-fi spectacular replaced his maritime melodrama as the biggest international release of all time during the weekend and is on the verge of claiming its worldwide crown, which also includes North American receipts, distributor 20th Century Fox said Sunday.

The News Corp-owned studio said "Avatar" has sold $1.841 billion worth of tickets worldwide during its unbroken six-week reign, and was a day or so away from surpassing the seemingly insurmountable $1.843 billion racked up by "Titanic" in 1997-1998.

The international portion stands at $1.288 billion, eclipsing the $1.242 billion haul of "Titanic."

In North America, "Avatar" may have to wait up to two weeks to sink the $601 million total of "Titanic," Fox said. Moviegoers in the United States and Canada have chipped in $552.8 million, enough to replace 2008's "The Dark Knight" ($533 million) as the second-biggest movie of all time. . . .

Reuters, January 24

"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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‘Avatar’ Faces Traffic Jam at 3-D Screens

LOS ANGELES — Will it soon be time for 20th Century Fox’s “Avatar” to surrender the 3-D stage? Walt Disney Studios certainly thinks so.

“Alice in Wonderland,” a 3-D adaptation from Tim Burton and Disney, is set to replace “Avatar” in all commercial Imax theaters and in many multiplexes that operate 3-D screens on March 5.

The problem is that “Avatar” is still playing like gangbusters — especially in 3-D theaters, which charge premium prices for tickets and have been instrumental in making “Avatar” a box office phenomenon — and exhibitors are grumbling at having to let go of a sure winner to pick up an uncertain new prospect.

Fox executives are now quietly talking about fighting to hold some of the big-format screens for “Avatar,” perhaps by giving more favorable financial terms to theater owners who keep it. Disney is set to take over the 3-D real estate just two days before the Academy Awards, a situation that would make it hard for “Avatar” — a front-runner for best picture — to get the traditional Oscar box office bump.

A similar showdown is brewing between, on the one side, DreamWorks Animation and Paramount Pictures, which plan to release the animated “How to Train Your Dragon” in 3-D on March 26, and, on the other side, Warner Brothers. Warner has just decided to convert its sword-and-sandals fantasy “Clash of the Titans” to a 3-D format and release it on April 2. “How to Train Your Dragon” will have to make do with fewer 3-D seats, which sell for a $3 to $5 premium. . . .

New York Times, January 29

Avatar’s hidden pro-property message

Conservatives see this as anti-American, anti-military and anti-corporate or anti-capitalist. But they’re just reacting to the leftist ethos of the film.

They fail to see what’s really happening. People have traveled to Pandora to take something that belongs to the Na’vi: their land and the minerals under it. That’s a stark violation of property rights, the foundation of the free market and indeed of civilization.

Sure, the Na’vi — who, like all of the people in lefty dreams, are psychically linked to one another and to all living creatures — probably view the land as their collective property. At least for human beings, private property rights are a much better way to secure property and prosperity. Nevertheless, it’s pretty clear that the land belongs to the Na’vi, not the Sky People.

Conservatives rallied to the defense of Susette Kelo when the Pfizer Corp. and the city of New London, Conn., tried to take her land. She was unreasonable too, like the Na’vi: She wasn’t holding out for a better price; she just didn’t want to sell her house. As Jake tells his bosses, “They’re not going to give up their home.”

Avatar is like a space opera of the Kelo case, which went to the Supreme Court in 2005. Peaceful people defend their property against outsiders who want it and who have vastly more power. Jake rallies the Na’vi with the stirring cry “And we will show the Sky People that they cannot take whatever they want! And that this is our land!”

That’s a story conservatives ought to be able to understand. . . .

David Boaz, National Post, January 28

With 'Avatar,' 'District 9' and 'Trek,' Hollywood 2010 is a space odyssey

Slasher films, pot comedies, anything starring The Rock -- there are some movies that no one expects to win Academy Awards. And traditionally, Oscar's no-fly list has included science fiction. Academy Award-winning films are supposed to be serious, weighty, historical -- if your movie takes place in a galaxy far, far away, well, you can leave your tuxedo in the closet until it's time to accept a somewhat less prestigious prize shaped like a rocket ship.

This year, however, is looking like a breakthrough year for sci-fi, as the alien vehicles "Avatar," "District 9" and "Star Trek" have earned critical praise and accolades from the industry groups that tend to foreshadow Oscar nominations. Thanks to a convergence of factors, including the expansion of the best picture category from five movies to 10, the ascendance of the post-"Star Wars" generation in Hollywood and the imposing box office success of James Cameron's "Avatar," this Rodney Dangerfield of movie genres looks like it may finally win some respect come Oscar time. . . .

Perhaps the biggest impediment to sci-fi's acceptance at Oscar time has been actors. With actors accounting for the largest branch of the academy (1,300 out of the body's 5,800 members), a genre that showcases ideas rather than performances is at a disadvantage. Only a handful of actors have ever been nominated for a sci-fi performance -- Alec Guinness for playing the sage Obi-Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars," Sigourney Weaver for the role of intrepid space heroine Ellen Ripley in "Aliens," her last pairing with director Cameron before this season's "Avatar." . . .

There have been recent signs the academy is inching toward an embrace of sci-fi. The awarding of best picture and a record-tying 10 other Oscars to Peter Jackson's 2003 adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" signaled a softening toward fantastical movies -- albeit ones with a literary pedigree. Last year, Warner Bros. mounted a best picture campaign for Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight," a comic book movie that shares some of sci-fi's DNA. For the academy, which has been concerned in recent years with the shrinking audience for its award show's telecast, having a box office hit like "Dark Knight" in the mix was attractive. . . .

Sci-fi may be just what the Oscars need. In Hollywood's current, risk-averse environment, it's hard to imagine a studio green-lighting a film as lavish and elaborate as "Gone With the Wind" or "Ben-Hur" -- the kind of grand, epic movies that have historically lent the ceremony glamour and mass appeal. Science fiction has become the last refuge of epic filmmaking and "Avatar," with its heroic, blue-skinned characters, sprawling story set on the alien moon Pandora and extravagant, 3-D spectacle, is closer to Scarlett's Tara or Ben-Hur's chariot race than any of its competition. The blockbuster is also, as everyone from the Vatican's film critic to the U.S. Marine Corps' newspaper has pointed out, stuffed with allegories about war, the environment and spirituality. For academy members who have long considered sci-fi kids' stuff, it's hard to deny that Cameron's film has given adults plenty to think about. And as it closes in on the box office record, and having taken best dramatic motion picture and best director at the Golden Globes this month, "Avatar" is emerging as a best picture front-runner. . . .

Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times, January 26

Building a Better Avatar

In an earlier post, I said that, with Avatar, James Cameron could’ve told basically the same story with a lot more kick if he’d refined the central conflict. I try not to say things like that unless I can at least sort of back them up. So here’s a short, quickly composed list of ways in which I think Avatar could’ve been made better without sacrificing the central story or themes:

Broadly speaking, I think the key is creating stronger characters and giving them tougher choices, as well as laying out the stakes a little more clearly. So why not start the movie by dropping Sully into an avatar Marine squadron and have them take down a problematic Na’vi tribe? You get a great opening action sequence, you give Sully some guilt later on, and you create a stronger, clearer reason for the Na’vi to mistrust, even hate, humans.

As it is, Sully comes off like a teenager — alternately sulky and irresponsible. Why not make Sully an ultra-dedicated, highly-decorated, highly-capable Marine, someone with a deep investment in the Corps’ values and mission? That makes Col. Quaritch — who would spend the first two acts subtly selling Sully on the duty and honor of their work — more convincing, more compelling, harder to resist.

And why not go further by giving Sully a sick father — also a Marine — back home, one whose disease is only treatable by a medicine made with Unobtanium? Done right, this makes Sully’s conversion more anguished, and thus more powerful.

While we’re at it, why not make Weaver’s scientists more explicitly radical in their preservationism? Make them win the argument about Pandora’s natural value, more or less, but give them some flaws, some overreach. This adds some ambiguity, some shades of gray, to Sully’s choice, and it would offer a compelling clash with Sully’s inherent conservatism. . . .

Peter Suderman, The American Scene, January 25

"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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  • 2 weeks later...

And the streak is finally over. Dear John brings in $32 million - Avatar $23.6 million.

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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Baal_T'shuvah wrote:

: And the streak is finally over. Dear John brings in $32 million - Avatar $23.6 million.

But, if estimates hold, Avatar is STILL making more money on a week-by-week basis than Titanic did. Titanic, in its 8th week, made $23 million, not $23.6 million. (However, in its 9th week, it went back up to $28 million or thereabouts. I doubt Avatar will do that.)

BTW, I believe the last movie to be #1 in its 8th week was not Titanic but was, in fact, There's Something About Mary. However, There's Something About Mary was NOT #1 in any of the weeks prior to that; it opened at #4 the same week that The Mask of Zorro opened at #1, but it stayed afloat on the chart and ended up with almost double the lifetime gross that Zorro did. (And by the time Mary had risen to #1, Zorro had sunk to #14.)

"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's first film, a short that he produced way, way back in 1978. There's a plot element that kicks in around the 7.5-minute mark that will be VERY familiar to anyone who has seen Aliens or Avatar.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8786521104625863614

"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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Teresa Jusino @ Tor.com:

. . . What all of these stories do well with regard to religion (with the exception of The Phantom Menace, which did nothing well) is capture what I think the discussion should really be about. Most people who debate science vs. religion tend to ask the same boring question. Does God exist? Yawn. However, the question in all of these stories is never “Do these beings really exist?” The question is “What do we call them?” It’s never “Does this force actually exist?” It’s, “What do we call it?” Or “How do we treat it?” Or “How do we interact with it?” One of the many things that fascinates me about these stories is that the thing, whatever it is—a being, a force—always exists. Some choose to acknowledge it via gratitude, giving it a place of honor, organizing their lives around it and allowing it to feed them spiritually. Others simply use it as a thing, a tool, taking from it what they will when they will then calling it a day. But neither reaction negates the existence of the thing.

Good science fiction doesn’t concern itself with “Does God exist?”, but rather “What is God?” How do we define God? Is God one being that created us? Is God a race of sentient alien beings that see all of time and space at once and is helping us evolve in ways we are too small to understand? Is God never-ending energy that is of itself? And why is it so important to human beings to define God at all? To express gratitude to whatever God is? Why do people have the need to say “thank you” to something they can’t see and will probably never understand? To me, these are the important questions. They’re also the most interesting.

"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 really have no idea what to make of this and what it does or doesn't say about the film, but I thought it was worth noting:

Palestinian protesters have added a colorful twist to demonstrations against Israel's separation barrier, painting themselves blue and posing as characters from the hit film "Avatar."

...

They equated their struggle to the intergalactic one portrayed in the film.

"It's a dangerous business going out your front door." -- J.R.R. Tolkien
"I want to believe in art-induced epiphanies." -- Josie
"I would never be dismissive of pop entertainment; it's much too serious a matter for that." -- NBooth

"If apologetics could prove God, I would lose all faith in Him." -- Josie

"What if--just what if--the very act of storytelling is itself redemptive? What if gathering up the scraps and fragments of a disordered life and binding them between the pages of a book in all of their fragmentary disorder is itself a gambit against that disorder?" -- NBooth

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'Avatar' 3D glasses confiscated in Italy

ROME -- Fans of the blockbuster "Avatar" applaud the film's use of 3D technology, but according to Italy's ministry of health it may also present a health risk.

The ministry said Thursday that it had confiscated about 7,000 sets of 3D glasses from Italian cinemas and could collect more of them, because of health risks it says users face. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, February 18

'Avatar' Sequel Stumbling Block? Director James Cameron Reveals Negotiation 'Hurdles'

Cameron wouldn't explain exactly what part of the process is being held up as far as his agreements with Fox goes, but speaking generally he said "It's never really been properly worked out."

"Everyone is highly motivated," he continued, "because Rupert Murdoch told us we were doing it, so now they have to make a deal." The only thing he'll say for sure is what he's previously said, that we'll be off on another adventure with the same, familiar characters. "It would be a continuation of their story," he said, adding after a brief pause, "and I expect those nasty humans didn't go away forever."

MTV Movies Blog, February 18

"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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Oh dear.

"...and if you don't believe me, go see Avatar, the most demonic, Satanic film I have ever seen. How any Christian could watch that without seeing the overt demonism is beyond me. I logged on to ChristianityToday.com, and the review was reflective of Christianity today. Very disappointing. You see, in that movie, it is a completely false ideology. It's a sermon preached. It's the most popular movie ever made. It tells you that the creation mandate, the cultural mandate, is bad. That we shouldn't develop culture... that's a bad thing. Primitive is good and advanced is bad. That we're not sinners, we're just disconnected from the divine life force. Classic, classic, classic paganism. That human beings are to connect, literally, with trees and animals and beasts, and that there's this spiritual connection that we're all a part of, that we're all part of the divine. It presents a false mediator with a witch. It presents false worship of created things rather than Creator God in absolute antithesis to Romans 1:25 which gives that as the essence of paganism. It has a false incarnation where a man comes to be among a people group and to assume their identity, it's a false Jesus, a false resurrection, we have a false savior, we have a false heaven, the whole thing is new age, satanic, demonic paganism. And people are just stunned by the visuals. The visuals are amazing because Satan wants you to emotionally connect with a lie. ... This is all Eastern-garbage-ism. There's a spark of divinity within you. God is in everything. You don't need God to come and save you. That's all it is. It's worldliness. "

Not a word about the behavior of the invaders in the film.

He actually refers to it as "Eastern-garbage-ism." There's a good generalization. Eastern equals evil.

Where's Thomas Merton when you need him?

Driscoll says the message is that "You don't need God to come and save you." Um, the movie *I* saw has the hero break down, realizing he can't fix this on his own, and call out to a deity for help.

He says it's Satanic to suggest we have a spark of the Divine in us. Maybe Driscoll doesn't feel a "spark of the Divine" in him, but I'll be so audacious as to claim that I was made in the image of God. Yeah, I'm a sinner, but I read scriptures that tell me eternity is written in my heart. When I really listen, I hear a "still small voice" within me.

He says the movie teaches that God is in everything. Well, it would be wrong to say "Everything Is God", but the very Bible he throws at Avatar fans also says "For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." So... might we be intrigued that the "make-believe religion" of Avatar shows us a world in which the deity has supremacy, and all things in that world are connected to their creator in some way? (Sure, this gets complicated when somebody mentions another god, the one ruined by the human beings. And yes its gets complicated further when we ask if the human beings are connected to Eywa or not. But isn't it at least worth exploring what these non-Christian imaginations are getting right, and notice that they are drawn to imagine something that reflects, in many ways, what Christians hold to be true?)

The film's make-believe religion intrigues me. Here we have a bunch of (probably) non-Christian storytellers who have to imagine and invent a make-believe religion. Something to stand in contrast to the crushing, heartless greed of the invaders who represent ... no, not capitalism, but capitalism gone wrong. So they create a people who value the resources their God has given them, a people who pray, a people who respect those who went before them and who honor, if you will, a "cloud of witnesses." A people do not see a difference between sacred and secular, but who are good stewards of creation.

Yes, we can see elements of paganism... elements of many religions in this make believe.

But we can respond in different ways. We can point to all of the similarities to heresies and false religions, and stop there, condemning it. Or we can also notice that this "make-believe" gives evidence of very particular longings, particular intuitions. We can, like Paul at (well, how ironic!) Mars Hill, find an altar to "an unknown god" and take that opportunity to speak to the longing being expressed by the world through imagination.

Or we can just point at it, get angry, rant at the pulpit, and condemn it.

I am not a big fan of Avatar, but I am not about to condemn Avatar as a "sermon" by Satan. I'm inclined to find it as a fascinating attempt to piece together something meaningful, and that what the filmmakers made is filled with evidence of the eternity written in their hearts... a clumsy fumbling toward the truth that, yeah, like most make-believe religions, ends up falling short of being The Gospel.

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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Basically he's calling a work of fiction heresy. It's somewhat the same problem people had with The Shack last year. It's really depressing. I thought in the last twenty years we'd made advances in Christian reading of the arts. I know people like you, Jeffrey, and others here, have. Humbly, I might add too, as we've had to change our minds several times along the way. Driscoll has been in attack mode as of late. He attacked the teacher at our church (which unfortunately has the same name) last year as well. If he is going to be a minister, he needs to get back to ministry. His assessment of the arts is awful.

One word, Driscoll, might help you: fingerprints.

Like a beating heart that is in every man, regardless of which faith or belief. These are fingerprints of creation. Just like Jeffrey said: it's wrong to say God is everything. But I don't think it's wrong to say that you can search in everything for the fingerprints of redemption, and that redemption in most forms is God ordained.

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

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Basically he's calling a work of fiction heresy.

Well, now, I'd be willing to call out a work of fiction for heresy, religious damnability, etc. (and I have done). I just think Driscoll's fulminating about Avatar lacks virtually any discernment or perspective.

“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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