Monday, March 22, 2010

I surrender.

For months now, I've resisted while the people whose opinions about movies I respect the most -- including the now reclusive host of this blog -- have argued the merits of Avatar as fiction and as film.

A couple of things have turned me -- first David's demonstration of the extraordinary effects possible in a layered three dimensional image. Not accepting this put me in the position of the derriere garde critics of the fifties who decried as inauthentic the deep focus shot of the young Kane playing with his sled while his mother signs him over to the bank. To call this image -- as chilling a one as you'd care to chill to -- bogus because it was composed rather than shot clean is prissy, even for Tulkinghorn.

Complaining about the uses of 3D in the composition of the frame -- and the fractal placement of information in a way that can only be seen with a BIG image in the theatre ..... well, the fact that the technology is at present useful only in movies made for eight year olds doesn't mean that there won't be a Hitchcock or Ford someday who will carry this off in a way that means something for grownups.

The final straw was an interview with Michael Chabon I just read at an ERB fan website. (By the way, Chabon comes off as a complete geek -- not a fake geek, or a recovered geek, or an ex-geek who patronizes geek, but a real geek.)

Chabon says two things here of relevance. I'll give him the last word, but just point out (i) how cleverly he uses the very same political argument that I made against the movie, but to precisely the opposite point and (ii) how he says EXACTLY the same thing that David and others have said about the craft involved. Craft, empire, and H. Rider Haggard..... I was a fool. is very good for John Carter that Avatar has done so well. It legitimizes and helps solidify the idea that a movie like that with interplanetary romance can be a big commercial success if it's done intelligently.

I liked (Avatar). I really liked it. It's fun. It's well made, it's creatively well-thought through, it's so rich in detail. The alien creatures, the evolutionary process on that world is clearly worked out.

There's one total throw-away moment when you see the effort taken. They're stealing a ship at one point -- a military craft. As they're getting ready to power up the engines, a character climbs up on the back and lifts these fabric covers off the intake ducts. The manual labour involved in getting this thing ready... it just shows me that the dream is being dreamed very vividly. There's a checklist of things that are being done by every character about to take off on this vehicle. I really admire that level of care -- it's very carefully thought through.

Avatar is truly right in the line of Burroughs and Haggard, in that it's a story of adventure but it also a story about the contact between a doomed, traditional, but in many ways incredibly rich and advanced civilization, and an adventuring, imperialistic -- as far as we can see in the movie -- predominately white empire. It is a very old template, in many ways, that has been with us at least since the adventure fiction of the 1870s and 1880s.

You've surely read War of the Worlds (MC: Yeah) People who think that's about Mars invading earth are reading or seeing it only on the thinnest surface -- which is there, but it's really about the British Empire, most specifically India.

Adventure fiction as we most commonly understand it is about imperialism in one degree or another. All the great archetypes, the prototypes from Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan and John Carter, H. R. Haggard, and all the way up to, even the western novel, The Virginian, all the way through to James Bond -- they're all about empire -- the interaction between empires and colonies as they are colonized. So Avatar fits right into that pattern. I wasn't surprised to hear that at all.

1 comment:

Generic said...

This is truly a princely response. Honorable and then some.

It may even suggest a way in for you, if you allow yourself to think of "Avatar" as (among other things) a children's film.

Well done, sir. And a tip of the hat to M. Chabon.