30 December 2009

A Miscellany of Avatar Thoughts

1. The first thought in my head after the film was that it reminded me forcefully of FernGully: The Last Rainforest, both in plot and in visuals. The next thought was of "Call Me Joe," a classic sci-fi novella by Poul Anderson about a human paraplegic who (as part of a scientific mission) inhabits a blue centaur-like body on the surface of Jupiter and eventually elects to transfer himself permanently into this altogether better embodiment. Then I realized that all of these plot themes probably appear in hundreds of other works of fiction, and decided to let go of being indignant about it.

2. I did not interpret the movie as being about 'race' so much as about what invariably happens when a technologically-sophisticated culture wants something possessed by a technologically-primitive culture. Maybe I don't understand what these folks mean by 'race'.

3. I was interested in the analogy of the Pandora planet to a vast, possibly intelligent network. It's possible that this was just a way of talking about it without coming out and saying "magic," but I'm more interested in what it would be like if the Na'vi really are inhabiting a planet-wide neural network. It might mean that, rather than being technologically primitive (i.e., at an early stage in the development of tools), they're technologically naive: they have zero need for tools to mediate their interactions with their environment, since they're able to interface directly with the 'mind' of their planet and accomplish what they need in that way.

4. One of the most striking images for me was when Neytiri, the hot daughter of the Na'vi chief, is holding protagonist Jake Sully in his (injured) human form. We're used to images of huge male monsters/aliens picking up human-sized (often blonde) female characters; it was so unexpected to see a larger, more powerful female character holding/protecting a weakened, child-like male hero. The only analogy available for me here was the Pietá, which come to think of it, isn't inappropriate; in fact, maybe it was an intentional bit of cinematography.

5. Lore Sjöberg writes:

Spock ears may be the driving force behind the Trek phenomenon. Roddenberry apparently tapped into one of the strongest symbols in the Universal Geek Unconscious. Somewhere in the back of the mind of every D&D-playing junior-high-schooler is the equation "pointy ears = cool." Elves, Vulcans, Yoda, six-breasted Cat Women -- wherever you find dweeby wish-fulfillment, you find pointy ears.
Pointy ears, check. Also, they swivel, which is cool.

6. People keep saying this film is the Star Wars of generation Y. This seems true in terms of representing a quantum leap in special effects. But Star Wars came packaged with an entire mythology and backstory that just isn't present in Avatar. The film is making so much money that I can't imagine they won't want to make a sequel, but I can't see it becoming part of the American collective unconscious the way Star Wars has, or even the way The Matrix has.