Avatar, and 3 DComplications Ensue
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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lisa and I saw Avatar over Christmas. I didn't blog about it at the time because I really didn't see much to blog about. Special effects: spectacular. Cinematography: lush and wonderful. Story: perfectly fine, not that surprising, a little cartoonish.

(Possible spoilers.)

Various people have remarked on how it's very much DANCES WITH WOLVES TALL BLUE ALIENS. White guy comes from far away to lead the savages in battle to protect them from his own people, who are rapacious exploiters and profiteers. America in Iraq, America and the Native Americans, tribes in the Amazon v. loggers, etc. Because atrocities don't happen unless there's a white guy to witness them, and savages can't fight back unless there's a white guy to lead them.

Yeah, that's all true.

But since this is science fiction, some of the cliches of this subgenre of movie got to breathe new life. The Navi of Pandora aren't just metaphorically attuned to the planet, like Native Americans supposedly were: they are actually set up with their own USB cable to interface with it. And the planet isn't just metaphorically alive, it is literally conscious. It literally protects itself.

I thought that was a nice touch.

Science fiction and fantasy -- and stories in general -- get to make the world behave the way we want it to behave. We want to believe that the world is alive and has a relationship with us; in the movies, it does. We want to believe that the natives have a deeper understanding of some fundamental truths that we do; in the movies, they can.

That shadow passing across the Moon really does mean something bad is going to happen. In real life, it means it might rain.

What I didn't really see the point of was the 3D. I watch all my movies in 3D. That is, I watch them, and I have an effortless sense of who's close to camera and who's far. Partly it's size. Partly it's that faraway things are misty.

I never had a sense that AVATAR's 3-D was really bringing something to the party. I was grateful it spared us the "whoo! the rock jumps off the screen at you" and just created a sense of depth. But I remember having a sense of depth watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.

The change from black'n'white to color gave us information we didn't have before. Red, blue and brown all look the same in black'n'white. The change to widescreen gave us something important: vistas, and two shots. But I'm still dubious about the value of 3D.

Oh, I see the value for exhibitors. It makes it harder to pirate the movie, and it makes people want to see the movie in the theaters, at least until the thrill wears off. But is 3-D here to stay? Sixty years of 3-D movies suggests it may not be.



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