Saturday, March 27, 2010

Did Avatar Leave You Feeling Blue?

by Jennifer AlLee

My family and finally I saw Avatar. It cost $33 for my son, husband and I to attend the 3-D version, so no snacks for us. But so much has been said about the mastery and technical awesomeness of the film, I didn't want to miss the chance to see it on the big screen, awkward glasses and all.

In a nutshell, Avatar is the story of the Na'vi. They are uber-tall, blue, almost cat-like people living on the planet Pandora. They are in touch with nature. They live in harmony. And the sky scraper tree they call home just happens to be sitting smack dab on top of a rich strain of Unobtanium. Not only can the mineral help the Earth (which has naturally depleted all its resources) solve its energy crisis, but it's worth about a bazillion dollars an ounce. You know what that means... if they won't give it to us, we'll take it by force. Human scientists and ex-Marines are able to interact with the Na'vi via the use of avatars: biologically engineered bodies that can be controlled when the user is in a pod-like machine.

You can probably figure out where the story goes. And I'm sure you've seen some of these characters before. (Colonel Quaritch is such a clichéd, over-the-top, nothing-good-about-him bad guy, he comes across as funny when he's not meant to be). What made Avatar spectacular wasn't the story as much as the delivery. The 3D effects are pretty awesome. James Cameron (who wrote and directed the movie) has every right to be proud of his accomplishment. He created a world that captivated people and drew them in.

In fact, it might have drawn some people a little too far in...

On January 11th, ran an article reporting that, after seeing Avatar, some fans were feeling pretty blue. Over at a fan forum site there have been over 1000 posts on the Ways to cope with the depression of the dream of Pandora being intangible forum. Dr. Stephan Quentzel, psychiatrist and Medical Director for the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, had this to say:
"Virtual life is not real life and it never will be, but this is the pinnacle of what we can build in a virtual presentation so far. It has taken the best of our technology to create this virtual world and real life will never be as utopian as it seems onscreen. It makes real life seem more imperfect."
This article made me stop and think about people being so taken by the virtual world they'd be depressed that they couldn't be part of it. For me, while Pandora was beautiful and full of bizarre, intriguing things, it always felt like I was watching extremely high quality computer animation. That doesn't take anything away from the movie, I just never felt like I was taken to another physical world.

A lot has been said about whether this movie demonizes the military or is something to be laid on the altar of pantheism. I don't think either is true. The biggest good guy in the whole movie is ex-military. And yes, there's a "let's live in harmony with nature" message (which James Cameron admits he wanted to get across to people.) I don't think there's anything wrong with that. As long as we don't start worshipping nature, it's a good thing to take care of the world we live in.

One thing that might make my fellow Americans squirm is the outing of one of our oldest, and darkest, traditions: Manifest Destiny. That belief that if you have what we want, and you won't give it to us, it's okay for us to take it. Our country was built on this principal (just ask the Native American Indians). It's motivated by greed and not a pretty thing, but it's something we need to be aware of. While we don't call it that anymore, we still do it. Only now, individuals do it to each other. And thinking about that does make me sad.

All photos credited to James Cameron


  1. I've been wanting to see this one. I need to get on the ball.

  2. Interesting post, Jennifer! Though I do want to note that Manifest Destiny was the way the entire world worked, for hundreds of years. They just didn't feel bad enough about it to justify it with an official philosophy. Individuals all over the world are still doing it to each other, and some entire nations still think it's OK. So, while it's nothing to be proud of, it's also important not to let America be singled out as a particularly imperialist nation. Other countries have tried to blame America for years, conveniently ignoring their own darker histories and in some cases, ongoing atrocities.

  3. Jen, it is sad. And Rosslyn, you make an interesting point. People today are still squabbling or stealing space.

    I still haven't seen Avatar. It seems like people either love it or wish they hadn't bothered. I know I'll miss the intensity of the big screen if I watch it on DVD, but it may be my destiny. Seems I can't get to the theater for anything but G & PG rated fare. (Just saw Diary of A Wimpy Kid.)

  4. Hey Rosslyn, great to see you here! I agree with you. Americans aren't alone in the desire to take what they want. But, as an American, that's all I feel I can really speak to (and the "bad guys" in Avatar were all American). Sorry if it sounded like I was making one country out to be the "big baddie." Also, I believe there are many, many people in America and throughout the world who are grieved by the idea of taking things by force just because we want them.

    Dina, I'm sure you can still find it in theaters. And James Camerson said it may be rereleased on the big screen over the summer. Seems it may have lost about a million when Alice in Wonderland came out and stole some of its thunder (nothing like squeezing every last drop out of a movie!)

    Susie, I love movies, but I have SUCH a hard time getting to the theater anymore! Avatar was one that both Son & Hubby wanted to see, so we made a point to go see it. I haven't seen Alice yet, which I would like to, but am definitely going to see "How to Train Your Dragon" next week with Son. Looks like all kinds of fun!

  5. Well Jen, ended up waiting so long that we bought it on DVD. But we're loving it. We had to break it into several viewings to fit everyone's busy schedules.


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