Saturday, January 9, 2010

WRESTLING EXTREMES AND BREAKING MIRRORS: THE HAMSTER EARNS HIS OMATICAYA STRIPES


AVATAR is film enough to deserve two reviews, if not more. personally, i would enjoy reading full reviews from the other two Hockey Maskers, as well as those trusted guest reviewers who have helped boost our nielsen ratings in the past few months. there's loads to say about this film. and since we can't order a big round of drinks to chat this one up over pints, Hockey Mask Inc. is a fine platform in lieu.

whether or not we all agree on the visual, narrative, character, and subtextual aspects of AVATAR, none of us can deny the enormity of this film. i've heard several men of my father's generation, including my pops, equate their AVATAR viewing experience with that of seeing STAR WARS in 1977: in both cases audiences left the theater shaking their heads, saying, "movies will never be the same again." i did not attend STAR WARS in 1977. (actually, i was in the audience but in the womb - my dad said i kicked and squirmed in utero the entire film and then popped out squawking and screaming like a tusken raider the very next day; i had a jedi calling to attend, it would appear). however, after seeing AVATAR today in IMAX 3D, i might understand the awe that ushered audiences from the cinema in 1977.

let me begin by declaring that, in my opinion, AVATAR deserves 5 kitty cat earlobes out of 5. and i award all five lobes to the entirety of the film, not just the visuals. granted, this probably says more about me as viewer than it does about the actual film. fine. i'm okay with that. in fact, that's exactly what i've been thinking about since i left the theater today, particularly in light of so much criticism concerning the shallowness of cameron's storyline and the paper-thin quality of his characters. these things never crossed my mind during the film. for nearly 3 hours, i was in that story and on that planet. i hated the humans. i loved the na'vi. i felt queasy on the heights. i prayed under that Tree of Souls. and, as shallow as this might sound, i bought into every bit of it as if i'd hooked my pony tail up to the film and leapt with it off a floating mountain.

i totally agree with sean cathey - AVATAR is why we go to the theater - but i disagree that the archetypes steal from the experience. perhaps the enormity of the human's militant greed and the na'vi's uber-pantheism feels a bit extreme, but i believe this is another reason we go to the theater or engage art: to wrestle extremes.

sure, i sometimes enjoy a believable set of characters and conditions. john hughes is fun for such relations. the duck man? i get him. i think i knew that guy in high school. john bender? i only wish i had been that punk rock once in my life. uncle buck? hell, i'd give anything for an uncle that made snow shovel sized pancakes! sometimes it's fun to shake hands with a screen name that looks and feels and sounds similar to ourselves, but eventually i want to make room for archetypes, for mythology, for extremes, even (or especially) at the cost of my own notions of reality. such archetypes and extremes force us to leave the mirrored reflections of who we are in order to stare down the possibility of who we are becoming, where we are going, what might happen if we don't break that God-damned mirror quickly. could AVATAR offer such a prophetic vision? it depends on the gullibility of the viewer, i suppose.

perhaps it's the horror fan in me that feels safe embracing archetypal extremes. or perhaps its the closet fundamentalist buried deep in my southern baptist roots that readily grants bullets in the battle between black and white, between paper-thin humans and the overly pristine na'vi. whatever the case, john cameron suckered me into AVATAR and i never quibbled one bit with surrendering to him every emotion. this is precisely why i bought my ticket in the first place. such a surrender is exactly what i hoped for when i walked into the theater. i am gullible like that. i want to be ravaged a la STAR WARS ' 77 by that oversized theater screen. i want to walk out with broader territories and more extreme notions of a plausible reality somewhere.

shucks, i might even love trees more today than i did yesterday.

11 comments:

wonderstuff said...

Good review. I have some issues with the story, but none so strong that they kept me from thoroughly enjoying the film. I've just written about it on my blog, too. One thing I did not mention was the blatant allusion to "war on terror" that, while not wholly inaccurate, was something I could have done without. I think Cameron should leave "political" messages to quieter films. Nevertheless, I'm just glad that AVATAR was worth the 36 Swiss Francs the wife and I paid.

the hamster said...

oh, i don't mind the political messages so much. gives the film some heart. raises it above the average bang-bang-shoot-em-up popcorn blockbuster. besides, the political mumbo-jumbo keeps us talking, keeps a bit of controversy in the undertow, keeps those ticket sales soaring. a na-vi war on terror? sure, why not? better that than a sinking cruiseliner.

thanks for coming around these parts, wonderstuff. i greatly enjoyed your review as well.

Amber@theRunaMuck said...

I loved the political aspect. I loved a negative look at the money-whores. I loved seeing something grotesque come out of invasion. I loved the allusions to Africa and how much I thought of Native Americans.

I cried when the prayer was heard, every time. This is what art is for, and yes :"i believe this is another reason we go to the theater or engage art: to wrestle extremes."

Amen to it all, brother.

Lisa said...

I always love reading your reviews on this site. Very thoughtful and witty!

myleswerntz said...

Yeah, Cameron doesn't do political stuff well. He's about as subtle as a sledgehammer with the stuff. For what it's worth, I did find the film 1) visually awesome, and 2) pretty racist.

This film is an event and, your Pops is right: this is why we go to the movies.

Anonymous said...

Sean here. I loved the review. I'm not really sure if a half billion dollar movie with a carbon footprint the size of the Fresh Kills Landfill is the proper forum for delivering a pro-green/anti-consumerism message. That's L.A. for ya. I'm glad you wrote this review. I think you and I are opposites in how we process movies. With that said, I would like to review an older movie: Half Nelson. Let me know if you are interested.

Felix said...

Well put. I loved Avatar as well. I'm a little tired of the bickering about the "storyline". Original stories bless my soul...but so do cute little lizards which fly with colorful whirly things on their backs, giant hammerhead rhinos, blue tiger striped people, and packs of six legged predatory dogs who love their young. In the end a new storyline is rare, but showing this generation something they've never seen before visually...? Well done James Cameron.

Tiffani R said...

Liked it a lot. Thought it was too long. (Did I post this same comment on the last Avatar review?)

I want to know why Myles thought it was racist. I felt like instead it had an opposite perspective, sort of showing what its like to be the "other." I felt like it more closely related to the settlement of the west in America than the war on terror - "teaching the savages," etc. From this perspective, I appreciated that we were supposed to identify with the native peoples.

Other than its length, which I chalked up to James Cameron's vanity, I loved it; thought it was terrifically beautiful; loved the idea of connecting more deeply with the earth and with the generations of history.

myleswerntz said...

The thing I thought racist about it was that while it was technically a Na'vi who did the saving work, it was really a white guy who came in to be the savior to a native people. That didn't sit well with me.

the hamster said...

sean - do it. send the HALF NELSON to me as soon as your fingers finish flying. i'm stoked to get you in here as much as possible. also, i like your connection with the hypocrisy between LA filmmaking and LA film themes. nice.

tiffani - funny, i told my dad and latonya that the film could have been another hour and i wouldn't have flinched. felt fast.

myles - c'mon. you know that Jesus was straight anglo. you know it! the only plausible Messiah in any situation is a Whitey. we learned this in DANCES WITH WOLVES, DANGEROUS MINDS, and THE LAST SAMURAI. that's not racism, that's just white supremacy in subtle action.

Tiffani R said...

Thanks Myles! I think that's a fair perspective. I agree with you and felt uncomfortable with that aspect at the time (like I did in the Blind Side) - though I guess that word that came to my mind wasn't "racist" per se so that is why I wasn't sure what you meant.