Tell 'em what I took, man!

Reflections of a repatriated ex-patriot

Saturday, January 09, 2010

If you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right.

Went and saw the IMAX 3-D version of Avatar on Saturday. It had been a long time since I’d seen anything filmed in IMAX, much less anything in 3-D. But I have to say it was well worth it. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t completely enthralled with what was taking place on screen. The depth of expression on the Navi’s faces, the seamless integration between animation and live action, the cool symbiotic bonding thing, all the impossible jumps, the decadent proliferation of colors on the screen—all were mesmerizing.

As far as story-line goes, though: meh. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Dances with Wolves. It was almost the same exact plot-line:

  • White man reaches deep into the frontier of a natural, savage territory.
  • Natives dislike white man.
  • Gradually white man wins trust and respect of locals.
  • White man starts stroking inner Gaia, goes native, and decides to switch sides.
  • Other white folks find out white man went native, and look at him with derision.
  • War ensues.
  • We get close ups of the devastation and pain wrought upon the natives by the now "other" evil, greedy white folks.
  • And everyone in the audience gets to feel guilty.
  • OK, movie is over, we’ve had our cathartic moment of collective guilt, but we don’t have to feel bad anymore, so let’s hop into the SUV and go get some ice cream.

The only real difference in this case is that in place of "white man," it should read, "lanky blue weird-looking alien dude mentally controlled by crippled white man in special bio-link tube."

As one of the inevitable extensions of the virtual reality craze from way back in the nineties, I'm surprised this concept hadn't been tried before in a major motion picture. There's a sci-fi series of books I read which took the idea to a severe extreme: Otherland by Tad Williams. The last three of the tetralogy are pretty much devoted to what's going on with the major characters while they're "in the tube." And, like Avatar, one of the main characters lives much more completely in his virtual life than in his real one because of a physical defect. Whereas Jake in Avatar doesn't have the use of his legs, the Otherland dude has progeria, the weird aging disease where a seven-year-old has the body of an eighty or ninety-year-old. Man, those books were intense! If James Cameron made a series of movies based on those using the same budget and technology used in Avatar- now that would be awesome!!


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