Monday, May 16, 2011

James Cameron’s Avatar, 2009

Movie poster courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Ok, ok, I’ve only now seen James Cameron’s 2009 film, Avatar, and the short of it—I loved it!

Ok, ok, I know James Cameron’s films can be hokey and predictable. I know there is something obscene about supporting the work of a man that produces films that earn $760 million; I know he can be a bit clumsy in portraying delicate themes--like, spirituality; and I know we have to endure yet one more scene with a busty, gutsy woman in a white tank top, but you’ve got to admit: if you want a visually-stunning, sensory feast, then Cameron, more often than not, delivers!

Avatar is another telling of the Pocahontas/John Smith story whereby an outsider comes into an indigenous culture and brings along a whole slew of incoming imperialists to harvest all the available riches and throw the indigenous ways of life into ruin.  In this case, the imperialist is the overinflated, non-stoppable machinery of American capitalism and greed—and of course, the bad guys are coming into Paradise to ruin everything.

Cameron’s computer generated film is gorgeous.  Cameron has always worked on the cutting edge of developing cinematic technology and it is said Cameron waited a few years for the technology to advance well enough to reach the vision he demanded for Avatar.  He spent a lot of time under the sea filming other projects, mostly documentaries inspired by his oceanic filming of Titanic.  The influence of Cameron’s long time spent under water is beautifully reflected in the landscapes and movement in Avatar: everything is vibrant in color, and even though Pandora is depicted as a lush rainforest, the flora is reminiscent of coral in its vibrancy and all movement in the film, from the humanoids to the seeds of trees, flows through the air as  it were flowing under water.

The actors for this film are new to me: Sam Worthington plays the male protagonist and Zoe Saldana plays the female protagonist.  While the film is computer generated, Cameron used sensory data (from electrodes attached to the actors’ faces) to portray emotion and gestures.  By Cameron’s account, the film is 60% computer generated and 40% live action.  I wasn’t sure if Worthington would be able to carry off the task of becoming our hero, but handled the responsibility of a star turn quite well.  I was impressed Saldana immediately.  By the end of the film, I was online to see where else I could find these actors. 

Cameron’s heroines ultimately defeat the bad guy in all of his films, but Cameron’s female characters endure bone-crunching brutality in their quests. 

Stephen Lang, of course, makes a great, Cameron-film bad-guy and it was fun to see some of the power-house, human-movement-generated robot concepts from the Aliens movies of twenty years ago.

Although it is evident why Cameron cast Sigourney Weaver in Avatar—she was showcased and ultimately a breakout actress in Cameron’s Aliens film in 1986--, Weaver seemed uncharacteristically vacant and detached from the role of the saucy and bold Dr. Grace Augustine.    Even Weaver’s avatar wasn’t convincing: Weaver’s avatar seemed a young, hip, twenty-year old to Weaver’s sixty year old Grace Augustine.

The highlight of the film for me, is Cameron’s film embracing and celebrating the Gaia Theory, which views the Earth as a planet as a living organism in and of itself.  I love this theory and often think of Mother Earth giving us her best doggie shake to knock all of these destructive human fleas (us!) off of her at any time now.  By using the Gaia Theory as the central theme for the film,   Cameron easily incorporates Native American Indian spirituality that celebrates earth and nature as “all of creation” and reinforces what all good naturalists everywhere know: all things on Earth are connected!

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