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Michael Jones Headshot

Avatar Park

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Yes, I saw Avatar, in a regular theater not in a HD 3D G8 B-12 C3PO theater. I don't know if I missed anything by going low tech, but this review may be as an old rotary to an iPhone if you are a techie. Avatar is so high tech that many scenes took on the veneer of watching a HD LCD/Plasma 1080 TV from the side...you know that silver tinty thing was going on, but so distinct that you could count the actor's and Avatars' pores. Which makes me observe that the Na'vi, that being the name of the indigenous people who people this movie, are so perfectly reproduced that they too have HD quality pores, although I did not see a pimple.

The Na'vi exist, it seems, chiefly to make us all feel guilty at our humanity. They are so noble that our collective guilt can only be expiated by taking the next flight to Copenhagen to beg forgiveness from any, soon to be submerged, Pacific Islander freezing in Denmark's worst blizzard in decades.

So to the movie: I didn't feel as that 162 minutes had elapsed by the end. But, then again, I didn't feel much of anything before, during, or after the movie. I tried but could not connect to the story, the characters, the plot, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir-ish soundtrack. A soundtrack that has to be heard to be believed. I haven't heard so much heroically soaring music since Ludwig Van's, Ode to Joy. Or, maybe, Queen's, well over the top, Flash Gordon soundtrack. Indeed, to this viewer, Avatar channels many scenes from Flash as well: think about the Birdmen and their bird craft. The special effects of Flash were rudimentary, Avatars' are beyond state of the art.

We are Jurassic Parked to death with scene after scene of techno nature wonderment. Done with verve and attention to living things large and small, a Noah's Ark of animals, an entire brave New World, a world that overwhelms the plot and viewer. From a director whose idea of subtlety can be defined by the inconvenient truthiness of The New World's name: Pandora. Pandora, hmm, Pandora...as in box? Cameron's ponderous cinematic symbolisms bludgeon, using bulldozers not scalpels.

The McGuffin of the movie, the to-kill for mineral that Earthlings need more than the audience needed a bio break at the eighty second minute mark, wait for the irony: Ireallyneedium. Or was it Weneedium? Can'texistwithoutitium? Needaplotdeviceium? Why humans shouldn't be allowed to exist...ium?

Whatever it is, we need it. And, we will do anything to Third World countries and Indigenous Peoples get it. We will use our science and technology and weapons and demented bloodthirstiness to strip mine what looks like the inside of the Lincoln Park Conservatory on steroids to get it.

But, to get it, and move the plot along, we need all manner of new movie special effects. We need a world that looks more real than my hands as I type this on my MacBook. We need Smurf colored giants within Pandora's box that are as alive as you and me. We need to populate the world with animal thingies that excite the imagination and cause oohs and ahhs whether 3Ded or not. Five stars to Avatar for flora and fauna. For at least twenty minutes it is amazing. Made more so by the subtle soundtrack noted above, dahhhhh dahhhh duh dahhhhhh du dahhhhhhhhhh, the orchestra swells, keying those special scenes that the Director knows will dazzle the easily dazzled.

To understand the Na'vi and to tap into the virtual reality/video gamer market Cameron creates believable Avatars. Avatars were once manifestations of deities but now are more prosaic: they can be sports stars in video golf games or you on too many Cuba Libre's at the office Christmas party. The whydoweneedium scientists, trying to open Pandora's mineral box for unnamed mining interests, insert a few intrepid sociologists and one crippled Marine, to live among the Na'vi to learn their ways. To investigate a way to get them to give up the destroythemiftheydon't-ium without resorting to what Americans do best: violent shock and awe.

Without giving away too much of the plot, let me say had the avatars' mission been successful the movie would have cost a mere $50 million and I would have been back home in time for Cash Cab.

So we avatar into P'land's forest primeval and live among the large blue Chiricahua Apaches. At least it seemed like it to me. From war paint to war yips I would bet carbon credits to nuclear waste that Jim is channeling John Ford here, complete with bows and arrows, war paint, travois, proto horses and young braves. I kept waiting for a John Wayne Avatar to stroll in to a scene and toss a few Kimosabes around.

Beyond the special effects and music lies a deeply political movie. The seekers of makealotofmoneymining-ium are Americans. Not the UN, or some New World Earth Order, or a new French Very Foreign Legion, but US soldiers and Marines. Mindless mercenaries in the employ of one of those shadowy multinational security companies that Hollywood loves to depict. Trained killers all, having raped and pillaged the Third World to their hearts content, turning the Earth brown, they are on to a Fourth World. A few trusty scientists, hopefully not from East Anglia University, are on hand to play our conscience. They are shocked, shocked, that jimmustthinkwe'redopes-ium will disrupt the idyllic Na'vi world that the movie has created.

Beyond the special effects lies a deeply silly movie as well. Dialogue that would be risible in a junior high play, turns of phrases curiously dated as if the script was written in the eighties and never updated. Our Hero Avatar trash talking a Na'vi circa White Men Can't Jump. It seems that the great ideas of science fiction are rarely combined with great plots or great dialogue.

Beyond special effects, Avatar is a polemic on capitalism, Americans, Western civilization, modernity, Judeo-Christian beliefs, even budget deficits and the health care debate. The movie admires a feudal society, voodoo-esque priestess led cults, swaying group chants as medical cures, and Tree of Life mumbo jumbo. Beyond the special effects, it might be described as a Gaia based fantasy of the noble savage endangered by the Man.

Noble? In Pandora the Na'vi never eat, they kill with kindness, never defecate, micturate, burp, shave, use deodorant or tweeze their eyebrows. Hold it...do they have eyebrows? The special effects always allow the female Na'vi to have strategically placed folderol to maintain a PG-13 rating but an alert male can catch a bit of nipple-age here and there.

And, yes, the innocence of the Na'vi and their Pandoran paradise demand that we interloping greedy humans be destroyed.

My, oh my, at $187K a minute, Avatar reeks of Hollywood theology: the American free enterprise system that creates enough prosperity to invest $300 million in an idea for a movie, well, sucks. $300 million for ars gratia artis used to demean the system that gave the ars birth. A filmmaker who uses the $300 mil to bludgeon us for mindlessly consuming what is rightfully the birds, bears and bees. Our original American sin of despoiling a land once populated in some Edenic past by Indigenous tribes leading simple lives of complete happiness, given cinema reparations.

In Avatar, we lose. Deservedly so, given the world Cameron has created. We are meant to cheer as the Na'vi wreak their vengeance on, on, well us.

Avatar is certainly worth experiencing, but enjoying it beyond the effects? The most elusive special effect is one that touches the heart, alas, even $300 million can't buy that emotion.