Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Incarnation

Perhaps it was my association with the word Avatar. Some years ago, I gave that name to the big research project my English classes were assigned. it began as an I-Search paper (the personal pronoun I means I, myself search or discover something about a topic I really care about) but after 10-12 years, I gave it a new incarnation. It was pretty much the same assignment, but the many revolutionary changes in technology, especially the internet and email required the assignment be "adjusted" just a bit. The name Avatar was chosen because of the secondary definition: The incarnation of an idea in a person. I wanted my students to talk to people...literally. Might not sound like such a big thing, but I could see the future and it didn't include much face to face contact. Something happens when two human beings with a passion for the same thing get together. That's the experience I was going for; that's the experience that involves some risk-taking. My students never let me down.
So it was that I came to view the film AVATAR recently. I knew what I was in for, and although I'm not big on straight up fantasy (I find real life much more stimulating) I had read and heard a good deal about James Cameron's ground breaking film.
I knew it would be visually stunning, and it was. The use of computer graphics and animation at such a high level can give anyone a good acid trip. I didn't even see the film in 3-D but it doesn't take much to make the visual jump; at least for someone from my generation.
I can't find the right word to describe my reaction to the film. If I say disappointed, I'd be implying I didn't enjoy or appreciate the film and it's story line. Somewhere between surprise and approval is where I line up. Here's why:
The story line is trite. I wanted something fresh. How many movies with an invading U.S. Army destroying the environment of an indigenous people can we stand. I would remind you, gentle reader, that I spent all my early allowance money watching the U.S. Calvary stick it to various Indian tribes, watching renegade soldiers stick it to innocent bystanders, usually women, children, and the elderly, watching too many advertisements for the Army of One, the methodology of Be All That You Can Be. In fact there was such glaring contradiction/irony in the theater where I saw the film between the National Guard advertisement shown before the film and the fiery explosive, bullet ripping crescendo of Avatar that most of the audience appeared numb t it all.
In fact, my little trivia test for now seems to be, In what year did Avatar take place? I noticed the year (2154) early on in the computer graphics on one of the screens in the spaceship/vehicle the bad guys occupied. I would have hoped by then that people had stopped smoking, especially in space, that the vernacular wouldn't include lines like, "I'm not the only one with a gun, bitch." But we all know what's behind that. Just in case you haven't noticed, a film, any film, says more about the year it was made than the year it portrays.
I was hoping that the dialogue might have taken the opportunity to advance more sophisticated ideas. Certainly Cameron's head is in the right place. What a lost opportunity, in my view.
On the more positive side, I noticed some literary components. Cameron seemed to borrow a page or two from Steinbeck, something that could never hurt. The character Jake Sully even has the same initials. I know, I know, a stretch, but Jake wore the same wound as Tom Joad (the marked man) near the end; that little Christ-like cut on his face was there for some reason, no?
I like that Avatar makes a statement about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I like that military personnel can make the moral/ethical leap to change sides in the middle of a war. And I really like those six-legged horses. There is hope.

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