So I Just Saw Pacific Rim

My anime phase was a relatively brief one that lasted for only a few years in late high school through early college.  I’ve tried to check out stuff that I hear buzz about since then, but generally I don’t watch much new anime.  Of the anime that I did watch during that period of my life, very little of it revolved around the giant-robot-and-monsters genre.  If I think really hard about it, the only series that I can come up with that fit that mold were Voltron (which I watched when I was a kid before I knew what anime was; also, just the one with lion robots) and Neon Genesis Evangelion.  I also happened to be in that special American generation that was the first wave of fans of the Power Rangers franchise (I distinctly remember thinking that ‘ranger’ was a weird term for a superhero, but they piloted giant robots so I didn’t care that much).

Pacific Rim Locandina

Pacific Rim (Photo credit: Debris2008)

All this is to say that I am not an expert on the giant-robots-and-monsters genre, but I’ve been exposed to some of its most prominent entries, so I feel qualified enough to talk about Pacific Rim.

Now, unlike when I went to see Man of Steel, I had high hopes for this movie.  This promised to be a giant robot action movie that was, above all things, fun, unlike a certain other giant robot movie franchise that is nothing but hard to watch action scenes, juvenile humor, a bizarrely fetishistic obsession with the military, and unapologetic objectification of every person with a vagina (*cough*Transformers*cough*).

Pacific Rim is none of those things.  Not a one.

Let’s go ahead and get the obvious things out of the way.  This film is absurd.  The conceit that the best way to fight giant alien monsters is with giant humanoid robots, with all the physical limitations of the human form intact, is ridiculous.  You cannot take it seriously.  Also, every character in this movie is a straight up type that you’ll find in most giant robot anime.  They’re all played completely without irony.

All of this is okay.  It’s charming and contributes to the appeal.

Once you get over the silliness of the conceit, what you find is a movie that clings hard and fast to my favorite mantra about absurd fiction.  Don’t think too hard about the reasons you wouldn’t conduct an interdimensional war this way, just enjoy the way it’s being conducted.

At the heart of many giant robot shows (which, if you want to get technical actually do have two distinct flavors: ‘realistic,’ which goes to a lot of trouble to highlight how the logistics of fighting in giant robots is handled, and everything else; Pacific Rim straddles both types and laughs at my subcategorizations) you have the melodrama surrounding the psychological issues of the heroic pilots.  Psychodrama is usually entertaining, so it makes sense from an entertainment perspective that the heroes in the giant robots would be subjected to all kinds of weird psychological issues.  At the same time, from a pragmatic perspective, this is a horrible idea because the organizations in charge of these machines should probably be screening pilots to avoid this kind of stuff.  There’s a war on, after all.  Pacific Rim acknowledges both points by depicting a rather rigorous screening process for picking the new copilot for the protagonist, Raleigh, and at the same time ultimately choosing to go with the person with the most emotional issues that are similar to Raleigh’s, the rookie pilot Mako.  The explanation for this decision comes from Pacific Rim’s imagined giant robot technology that requires two pilots cooperating in tandem through a neural interface where they share each other’s thoughts and memories while they’re in the cockpit.  If the pilots aren’t compatible enough, then the giant robots don’t operate as smoothly.

So yes, for a perfectly plausible logistical reason, the pilots in Pacific Rim have to have intimately parallel psychological profiles, which typically include some major emotional issues.

I mentioned that the characters are all standard types from traditional giant robot shows, and it’s true.  You have everything from the battle-scarred ace to the quirky scientist to the stern but compassionate leader.  What’s amazing about these characters though is that they still feel fully realized on the screen rather than just tired tropes.  I cared that Raleigh was still grieving over his brother while trying to mentor Mako as a Jaeger (giant robots) pilot.  I cared that Newton had a serious fanboy crush on the Kaiju (giant monsters) while he was busy trying to track down an intact Kaiju brain for his crazy experiments.  I cared that Marshall Pentecost (Marshall’s his title) felt protective of Mako, and had to come to a point where he was ready to let her stand on her own as a pilot (which isn’t really the case, because pilots always work together and the bonds of friendship are a huge theme of this movie).

Most thankfully of all, I was so happy that there was no romance in Pacific Rim.  The story revolves around the friendship of Raleigh and Mako, and while there may be some attraction between them, what’s more important is that they learn to trust each other as partners.  There were a couple moments when I thought they might be moving toward a romance, but it never turns out that way, and I think that’s a good decision.  It’s refreshing to see a relationship between a man and a woman that’s just about friendship and not predicated on romance.

So, if you haven’t seen Pacific Rim yet, then go see it.  It’s incredibly good fun, and it’s a good story on top of that.  Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself grinning while you’re watching it because the things happening on screen are just too awesome for words.  That’s part of the charm.

So I Just Saw A Bunch of Movies

Rachael and I go to our local video store quite regularly during the summer.  They have such an excellent deal on rentals that it’s hard not to take advantage of it and catch up on all the movies that we’ve been meaning to see but just never have.

This week, we decided after listening to an old Arthur C. Clarke story, “Rescue Party,” on Escape Pod that we wanted to finally see 2001: A Space Odyssey.  That didn’t work out, because someone else had already rented it.

So we did a modified seven degrees to Kevin Bacon and ended up at The Shining in two steps.  Going with the horror theme, we also picked up The Thing and Vertigo.  Okay, Vertigo‘s more suspense than horror, but I felt pretty horrified by the time I was done watching it.

Normally I’d choose just one of the films that we rented to discuss, but all three were so good that I couldn’t choose.  So instead of an in-depth look, I’ll give you an overview of what was cool about each one!

I’m not terribly well-versed in Stanley Kubrick films, but I’ve seen a few of his more famous ones, like Dr. Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket.  I generally liked Full Metal Jacket, though it had a detached quality to it that I also noticed in The Shining.  Kubrick’s films seem to generally be of a more analytical bent.  He looked at subjects who were a little unhinged with the attitude of a researcher running a rat through a maze.  The Shining was creepy, but it was also familiar, since it’s been so heavily parodied (it’s always weird seeing the original source of a meme).  I’d best describe it as sterile; Jack Nicholson comes off as crazy from the very first scene, Shelley Long plays a very pitiful abuse victim who, despite her hardship, I just found irritating, and the kid’s bad acting was covered up by the fact that he was supposed to be half crazy himself.  That’s not to say it’s a bad film.  I thought it was quite good, but I felt no investment in what was happening.  Of course, I usually don’t feel very invested in any characters when I’m watching a horror movie; what’s the point when you know everyone’s purpose is to be terrified or killed for the audience’s entertainment?

In contrast to The Shining, The Thing is a horror movie that wants you to feel as viscerally as possible what the characters are feeling.  The eponymous thing is a shape shifting alien that infects other organisms with its cells, converting them into aliens as well.  You see men who’ve been infected have their chest cavities cave in and turn to giant maws, their hands turned into grotesque claws, their heads pop off their bodies to escape fire.  All of the special effects are practical, and they are gloriously grotesque.  Though the film’s trying to gut check you with every surprise, it’s such wonderful fun.  I particularly loved one brief scene where the research team’s medical doctor is in his lab running tests on samples of one of the thing’s victims, and the computer concludes matter-of-factly “Chance at least one team member has been infected: 75%.”  That’s just goofy no matter how you look at it.

Vertigo

Vertigo (Photo credit: andy z)

Now unlike the others, Vertigo is more suspense than horror; there are no supernatural or science fiction elements to the story.  I’d also say that it’s objectively the best film of the lot from this week.  I was expecting more of a traditional murder mystery, but it was a very compelling psychological thriller.  The twist halfway through the film was entirely unexpected, and I can honestly say that what happens in the final third left me feeling thoroughly icky.  You might be able to handwave bald sexism as an artifact of when the film was made, but it still left a poor taste in my mouth.  I’m still trying to parse out how much of it was done as a way to show just how far gone John Ferguson is at that point.  Even so, it’s probably worth watching again sometime, because it was just such a tightly written film.

What do you guys think?  Have you seen any of these movies?  What’s your opinion on them?

So I Just Saw Man of Steel

I write a lot about movies and comics.  They’re, objectively, some of the best things.   So when something like Man of Steel comes along, I get pretty excited because I can talk about both of those things, plus some other stuff, all in the same post.

I have to say that when Man of Steel was first announced, I was skeptical.  Superman Returns, the previous Superman movie, was poorly executed (though, like every other time they’ve done Superman in live action for the last forty years, the casting of Big Blue was impeccable).  The first promotional photo, which featured Henry Cavill posing in front of a smashed bank vault in a costume that brimmed with subdued colors and a texture that looked a far cry from the standard blue tights, left me wondering if this film was going to have the right feel for Superman.  Hearing that Zack Snyder, whose films I can say I’m generally ambivalent towards, was directing left me nervous.  I loved 300, because it captured the spirit of an epic poem with the gross exaggeration of feats and the reveling in the physical prowess of impossibly perfect figures, but I felt apathetic towards Watchmen because Snyder had stayed too faithful to the book.  Regardless of the quality of those films, I also thought it was a far stretch to go from the grim and gritty material of Frank Miller and the unapologetically pessimistic work of Alan Moore to something so idealized as Superman.

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/3/30/All_Star_Superman_Cover.jpg/250px-All_Star_Superman_Cover.jpg

If you want to read a quintessential Superman story, All-Star Superman is a pretty good place to start.  Cover of All-Star Superman #1. Art by Frank Quitely. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before you can start talking about Superman, you have to throw in the caveat that he holds a very special place in superhero mythos.  He was the first modern superhero, and over the course of three quarters of a century, fans have come to a general consensus that Superman stands in a place above the cynicism that crept into comics in the ’80s and ’90s, set apart from the deconstructions that the genre has gone through, beloved because he’s antiquated, not in spite of it.

Attempts to revamp the character have been generally unsuccessful.  We don’t speak of the period when he traded in his cape for electricity powers.  At one point, yes, he did sport a mullet, but it was a poor fashion choice for everyone, and we eventually realized that that way lies madness.  Superman doesn’t need to be modernized, because he’s idealized.

So yeah, I heard Zack Snyder was going to direct, and I feared that he’d go in the wrong direction.  Pretty much right out the gate, I decided that I wasn’t going to expect anything from Man of Steel.  At one point when I was talking with some friends about this year’s blockbuster season, we discussed which movie was going to be an unexpected flop.  I said without reservation, Man of Steel.  Of course, then just before it was released I read that Warner Bros. had already greenlit a sequel before they had any opening weekend numbers to judge it on.  Well, maybe it wouldn’t be a flop.  I still doubted it would be a very good movie.

I’ll say it now: I was wrong.

I can say wholeheartedly that I thought this film did everything a Superman movie should do.  It made him seem larger than life in comparison to the humans that he’s saving.  It rejected out of hand the idea of genetic determinism in favor of optimistic possibility.  It had Clark struggling with his otherness while embracing his adopted home, and then somehow managing to find the balance between them.  It had Kevin Costner as a farmer in Kansas (let the Field of Dreams/Man of Steel mash-ups begin!).  It had bang-you-over-the-head-with-it-Superman-is-Jesus imagery.

Yeah, that’s not suggestive of anything.  Cover of All-Star Superman Trade Paper Back. Art by Frank Quitely. (Photo credit: mycomicshop.com)

Something should probably be said about that last one.  Man of Steel is rife with parallels between Superman and Christ.  He’s supposed to lead the world to a better way, but he has to wait until they’re ready.  He’s 33 when he begins his important work on Earth.  His adopted father drops out of the story before he becomes a man, and his actual father reappears to guide him towards his greater purpose.  He descends into the grave and then rises again to smash the world engine.

Okay, that last one’s not exactly a parallel.

The point is, this was not a subtle feature of the movie.  I’m actually not sure Snyder knows how to do subtle, but that’s beside the point.  Superman-as-Jesus has a long, rich history going all the way back to his creation.  Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster wove into Superman’s mythos a plethora of messianic elements, ranging from his escape from the destruction of his people a la Moses to his alien name, Kal-El (which bears a strong resemblance to the Hebrew word for “voice of God”).  Of course, those are messianic characteristics in the Jewish tradition.  Later writers and artists incorporated more Christian elements into the character.  It makes sense, given the history, that there would be tons of Jesus references thrown into Man of Steel.

And I loved every single one!

Though I’m generally more of a Marvel Comics fan, I love what DC does with their flagship characters.  Where Marvel’s about people with cool powers trying to be normal, DC is all about people with cool powers being larger than life.  There’s a reason that the great pop culture icons of the superhero pantheon come primarily from DC.  Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, they’re supposed to be the absolute best imaginable.  Each one embodies a specific ideal to its fullest.  For Superman, that’s hope.

He’s the embodiment of all humanity’s hope, because he cares about them no matter what, and he wants to show them a better way, but he will never force it on them.  He just waits patiently for them to come around, winning through persuasion rather than power.

Okay, moving on.

General Zod (Terence Stamp, center), Ursa (Sar...

Zod made no demands that you KNEEL! in Man of Steel.  General Zod (Terence Stamp, center), Ursa (Sarah Douglas), and Non (Jack O’Halloran) in Superman II (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All of this is not to say that Man of Steel was a perfect film.  There were definitely some missteps.  General Zod was a little strange, with his bizarrely flat affect.  Even when he was raging, I didn’t get a sense of any emotion from him.  I think the point of him is supposed to be the problem with the genetic caste system that Krypton builds its society on.  He was born to protect the interests of Krypton no matter what, and his inability to choose a different purpose makes it impossible for him to stop.  I think his flatness is supposed to be an indicator that he’s actually subhuman because he lacks free will.  Clark, by contrast, was intended from the start to choose his own purpose, and this allows him to be not only human, but superhuman.

Still, Zod was definitely not what I was expecting.

Though overall I thought the movie was rather positive in its feminist themes (Lois pretty much never ends up needing Clark to save her just because she’s a woman, though he does save her several times just because falling from great heights will kill any human, man or woman; throughout the film women are portrayed as operating in positions equal to men, especially in military settings), I have one nitpick.  I read a while back that the decision had been made to cast Jimmy Olsen as a woman.  At the time I thought it wasn’t a big deal.  Then I saw the character Jenny, who ends up in a classic damsel in distress situation during the film’s climax.  To be fair, the credits don’t list her last name as Olsen, so the gender swap may have been an idea that was scrapped for the end of the film.  But even if this isn’t supposed to be Jenny Olsen, why didn’t they have Jimmy in this situation instead?  A person trapped under rubble is harrowing no matter what, so why make it a woman at all instead of just nodding toward the fact that Superman’s pal gets into tight spots all the time?  It’s not like the character was important at any other point in the movie!

And that leads me to my biggest gripe, which is only a gripe because of how thematically well done I thought the movie was.  The final fight between Clark and Zod is an impressive piece of action cinema.  It’s truly spectacular.  But the whole time it was happening I couldn’t help thinking, “Why isn’t Clark trying to get Zod away from the city?  There are still people down there getting crushed by all their collateral damage!”  And it lost me.  Everything in this film was orchestrated to make me believe that Clark’s the kind of guy who cares about every person he meets, who will protect everyone that he can.  Then the final fight breaks out, and he makes absolutely no effort to get away from all the squishy humans.  It broke the illusion.  I think it’s the film’s largest flaw, hands down.

That’s not to say that it isn’t worth seeing.  I’m actually quite glad that I went to a theater for Man of Steel.  As far as Superman movies go, it’s probably the best we’re going to get.  And I’m okay with that.

Have you guys seen Man of Steel yet?  If so, what did you think of it?  Where might the series go in the sequel?

The Problem with the End of the World

Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about the end of the movie Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.  If you haven’t seen it and you don’t want it spoiled then don’t read this post.  I think it’s kind of an underwhelming ending though.

Okay, so I was thinking about this the other night after watching a very mediocre movie that was trying to explore what people would do in the event of the impending end of the world.  It had all the typical tropes you’d find in an apocalyptic story: people giving in to wild hedonism, people sticking to their regular routines because what else are you going to do when everyone’s going to die, people hunkering down with some wild thought that they’ll take shelter and survive the meteoroid impact, things like that.

It’s all very existential, with a major focus on people making their own meaning out of the ends of their lives.  I could probably write about how the story assumes that no one is seeking a spiritual explanation for humanity’s imminent demise, but that’s probably best left to another post.

English: Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona.

I think the meteoroid in the movie is supposed to be a lot bigger than the one that made this crater. Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The protagonist of the film is a withdrawn guy who sells insurance and finds himself dealing with his wife running away with her lover, taking care of an abandoned dog, and trying to help his downstairs neighbor find a flight home to her family in England (we learn early on that all flights have ceased because what’s the point?) all while trying to get in touch with an old flame who he apparently never got over.

It’s all kind of maudlin, because every scene carries this pall over it with the fact that a giant meteoroid is going to strike the earth and wipe out humanity in less than three weeks.  I expected more quirky comedy, because it was billed as a quirky comedy about a pair of lonely people just looking to cope with the world ending.

Halfway through it turned into a romance that didn’t make any sense other than, “The world’s ending, and I guess we have an emotional connection, so let’s be a couple!”

Okay, fine.  I’m not going to poo-poo on whoever wrote the script for examining what kind of relationship emerges when you have only a week to get to know each other before your imminent deaths.  But a romance?!  Really?  I picked this movie up because I thought it was going to be about a friendship.  Instead I got a bait and switch with the two leads deciding they were in love with each other just because meteoroid.  Give me a break.

I think what irks me is the fact that the third act sees this huge escalation of the relationship to the point where the protagonist says to the female lead, “You are the love of my life.”  That’s funny, because I thought the woman you never got over from twenty years ago was the love of your life.  What about your wife, who, though I’ll grant you she ran off with another man, you built most of your life with?  Does she not count because the two of you let your relationship deteriorate to the point that she ran away?

The film ends with the two now-lovers lying in bed, waiting for the meteoroid to hit, talking about the impossibility of their relationship.  The protagonist says that he’s happy he met her at this point.  She says, “If only we’d met years ago,” and he responds, “No, it had to be now.”

What?

So let me get this straight.  This woman is the love of your life.  You feel so wonderfully happy that you met her and got to have a crazy week with her before everyone dies.  But if you had met her years ago then it wouldn’t have been right?  Forgive me if I’m being a little cynical, but that sounds to me like you think the relationship wouldn’t have worked out long-term, so it’s good that you’re dying while it’s still fresh and exciting.  God forbid you two are together long enough for it to turn into something resembling your desiccated marriage.

The film ends on a fade to white that implies the meteoroid’s striking, but I want to interpret it a different way.  Just before the end, a news anchor who’s been giving updates on the end of the world throughout the movie says that scientists have made a mistake in their calculations.  They thought the meteoroid wouldn’t hit until next week, but it’s actually going to hit at the end of today.  Sorry.  Be with your loved ones.

There’s one problem with this explanation for why the movie gets to end with a week to go.  I’m not a physicist, so maybe the way you calculate two astronomical bodies colliding is more complicated, but it seems to me that they have to meet at a specific point in three dimensional space at a specific time.  If your calculations are wrong about when the two objects will collide, doesn’t that mean that the meteoroid will hit the rendezvous point early?  And since the Earth is not a fixed object, but orbiting the sun, wouldn’t a week make a huge difference in where the planet is in its orbit?  Like big enough that the collision doesn’t happen?

So here’s what I propose happens after the credits roll.  The bright flash of light isn’t the meteoroid hitting Earth, but passing so close that it lights up the sky, possibly wreaks a little havoc with natural weather patterns, and then continues on harmlessly through space (I guess it’s technically an asteroid again, since it didn’t enter the Earth’s atmosphere).  Everyone braces themselves for the impact that never comes.  Then they wake up and realize that they’ve all made a royal mess of their lives.  Time to start cleaning up and moving on.

And the two lovers, who were lying in bed waiting for the end?  They awake, and the protagonist realizes that no, he’s not dead, and here he lies committed to a girl who in the long run he won’t be able to stay with.

Oops.

The film is called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World if you’d like to check it out, but I can’t recommend it.

So I Just Saw The Secret World of Arrietty

Remember when I said that Japanese culture is kind of sexist?  Well, that’s still true.  But Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t really fall in that category.

He kind of has a fascination with little girls.

English: Hayao Miyazaki at the 2009 San Diego ...

English: Hayao Miyazaki at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, not like that!

I mean he’s written and directed a number of internationally respected films over the course of his career, and in almost all of them he features a protagonist who is both young, and a girl.  They’re also some of the best written female characters I can think of in cinema.

Miyazaki says that he usually writes child protagonists because he thinks children are important as the inheritors of our world’s culture, and he enjoys exploring what the world looks like from their perspective.  The fact that they also tend to be female probably stems from Miyazaki’s generally progressive view of social issues.

So, Arrietty.  This film was not directed by Miyazaki, but he co-wrote and produced it, so his creative signature is hard to miss.  It’s a story about a little girl (literally) and her family who secretly live in the walls of an old house where they borrow what they need from the humans who live there.  It’s based on a children’s book from the ’50s called The Borrowers by Mary Norton.  Arrietty gets spotted by a young boy who’s staying with his aunt to recuperate before he has surgery, and this leads to problems for Arrietty’s family (borrowers aren’t supposed to be seen by humans).  It’s a relatively simple story, and it’s not told perfectly (the housekeeper Hara makes for an unusual villain with a poorly explained motivation), but it’s beautifully animated, and the score is quite good for the most part.

The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arrietty’s an energetic character who takes initiative in trying to figure out if contacting the boy Shawn is actually as harmful as her parents believe.  She’s continually curious about the world and helps the audience look at mundane things like an ordinary kitchen with wonder as she explores the house for the first time.

Her parents are rather standard types of the overly worried mother and the quiet but competent father, which I didn’t mind so much, though I found the choices for the American voice actors jarring in comparison.  Arrietty’s parents are Leslie Knope and Gob Bluth.  What?  This casting seems so far against type that I’m not sure what to make of it.

Well, actually I do know what to make of it.  See, Studio Ghibli, which produces Miyazaki’s films, has a partnership with Disney for their American localizations.  That’s not so bad, except that Disney expects to make money on these films, and they’ve gotten it in their head that the best way to get people on board with going to see an anime is to pack the dub with as many celebrity voice actors as possible.  Every localization that Disney’s handled has involved a cast full to the brim with names that American audiences will recognize, despite the fact that most of the time these actors don’t have a lot of experience doing voice work.  The end performances usually have varying levels of quality, but I’m willing to forgive that because the films are so excellent in every other aspect.

Also, having for all eternity a recording of Christian Bale saying this:

Sorry about the quality of the video, but it gets the point across.

So celebrity actors I can forgive.  What’s become irksome with the last few localizations that Disney’s done is the inclusion of Disney’s in-house manufactured teen celebrities and their bubblegum pop songs getting stuck on the soundtrack.  Disney did it with Ponyo, and now they’ve done it with Arrietty.  The quality of the music on Ghibli productions is always outstanding, and shoehorning an overproduced pop song into the films is a shame.  At least they have the decency to put these songs in during the credits–oh wait, the credit sequences have been animated too, so I want to see them, but I have to listen to that irritating music while I watch–first world problems suck.

What’s your favorite Miyazaki film?  If you haven’t seen any Miyazaki, why not?

So I Just Saw Avatar for the First Time

In the course of my day to day life, my wife Rachael and I often come across things that make us say, “Hey, we should see that movie!”  We’re both on summer break now, so we recently decided that this is the time to catch up on all the “We should see that movie!” movies that we’ve been accumulating.

Fortunately, we have an excellent video store in town that carries pretty much every movie or TV show you could possibly want to see, and they have a pretty nifty deal where you can get five movies for a week for $5.

Being both thrifty and homebody-ish, Rach and I call that cheap date night.

Of course, we’re not terribly organized when we go to the video store, so our trips usually go like this:

We have one or two movies that we want to see.  But then we need to find something else to pick up so we can get the awesome rental deal.  This week we went looking to rent The Bridge on the River Kwai, and ended up picking up some other random movies based on directors towards whom we are generally well disposed.

We also picked up Avatar.

I had low expectations because my friends who had already seen it all said that it was pretty, but the story was cliche, and the sci-fi elements were kind of nonsensical.  Why are the aliens humanoid at all?  What’s up with the feline features when nothing else on the planet is apparently mammalian?

Avatar - Bow and Arrows

Crysta, how… blue… you are. (Photo credit: k-ideas)

Rachael, in her wisdom, helped me readjust my frame of reference for the movie:

“Just think of it as a better version of Ferngully, but in space and without the smog monster.”

Oh.  Okay.

And then the movie got so much better!

The story was still cheesy, but in comparison to a bad kids’ movie, it was great!

To be fair though, I do think that James Cameron came up with some interesting ideas.  Having Pandora basically be a giant cloud computer really did strike me as nifty.  Kind of a materialist take on spirituality, but generally nifty.  Paradoxically, it also seemed to be going for some kind of Intelligent Design motif with the fact that none of the alien species made any evolutionary sense, though they all had the same USB ports installed for ease of compatibility.  That’s a design feature I always appreciate.

The symbolism of the wheelchair-bound Marine struck me as a little overwrought (why not go for something more subtle, like a guy who’s struggling with depression, but in the Avatar body his brain chemistry’s not messed up so he actually feels normal again) but it made its point well enough.  I cheered for him getting to be awesome in a giant, blue, smurfy-kitty body, and I liked the dichotomy they set up in the second act where he neglects his human body, letting his muscles atrophy and his hair grow out, in favor of spending more time in the Avatar.

Generally I enjoyed the action too.  Rachael always tells me that when big action scenes start in movies, she tunes out until interesting things start happening again.  I, on the other hand, enjoy dumb action pretty well, and Avatar‘s certainly wasn’t boring.  I still can’t figure out why the helicopter pilot was wearing war paint at the end though.  It’s not like anyone else could see that she had it on.  Also, for the Mr. Exposition character who explained everything about the aliens to the audience surrogate Marine, why was he carrying an assault rifle?  Belonging to a developed, mechanized society does not automatically make you an expert with its weaponry, even in comparison to the natives who are using bows and arrows.

I digress though.  Avatar was a beautiful, dumb action movie.  About what I expected, in retrospect.  If you’ve seen it, what’d you think?