The family & I headed out to Mission Valley this weekend to catch James Cameron’s latest film, Avatar. We’d seen the previews last month during a 3-D showing of another film (A Christmas Carol) that’d left me wondering if the higher ticket prices ($14.50!) for Hollywood’s latest techo-babble could ever match the hype.
After sitting through all 2 hours and 45 minutes of Avatar, the answer would seem to be yes, at least for this film. Cameron effectively uses the medium to draw the audience into an artificial reality that goes far beyond the usual visual gimmicks employed in 3-D films. Early scenes in the movie are so sensorial that the brain is sometimes tricked into making the viewer experience mild motion sickness. (This passes quickly.) The overwhelming visual imagery will leave the synapses snapping well after the movie ends, however. For several hours after leaving the theater, we all noticed continuing echoes on our perceptions, not unlike the feeling one gets after extended periods of sailing.
The storyline (no spoilers here) centers on a future society in which the trickle down tenants of free-market corporatism have triumphed. Space exploration is simply another avenue for corporate profiteering, and the hapless alien race inhabiting the planet Pandora happens to be standing in the way of some mighty fine “natural resources”, ripe for plundering. This techo-corporate futuristic vision draws upon the hopes and dreams of a shattered populace—with Earth’s environment having been largely destroyed—for its shock-troops.
Having said that, the plot is predictable and shallow in the ways Hollywood has mastered over the years. We were entertained, sometimes appalled, but mostly lead to the conclusion that there could be nothing as people that we should think about actually doing to avert this potential reality. A Poul Anderson short story “Call Me Joe” seems to be—although Cameron denies this—the basis for the central character, but fans of “Dancing With Wolves” or of the Ewoks of the Star Wars tree forests on the planet Endora will also find aspects of their fave story-lines woven throughout Avatar.
The movie depicts our descendants as detestable and totally corrupt people bent on the complete destruction of nature. It’s no small irony here that Cameron uses theatrical technology of the latest and greatest kind to depict the eventual defeat of America’s techno-industrial complex by the spears and arrows of the simple blue space aliens. (Come on, you knew the “good guys” were gonna win, didn’t ya?)
It was a bizarre moment in entertainment history watching an American audience clap for the defeat of our future selves. No doubt foreign audiences will also clap, but with a clearer notion of what they are clapping for than zombified domestic audiences.
Go see Avatar for the eye-candy. And recognize that our perverse relationship with technology and our planet is a big part of the problem that we face in the future, even as you are being wowed.