February 1, 2010
I finally saw Avatar… and I’m going to do my best to suppress the fan-boy giggles that have apparently become my only form of verbal communication. But this isn’t a review of the movie. This is about something slightly more serious.
Apparently, the movie’s made people want to kill themselves.
That’s right. Apparently the vistas of the alien world, Pandora, are so realistic and beautiful and the Na’vi are such peace-loving, wonderful creatures to live with, that many people the world over are now utterly depressed and some consider ending their lives. The overall symptoms include a love and longing for Pandora’s jungles and disgust with the world we have right now. People seem to get relief after playing the Avatar video game, talking with others, or searching for more information on James Cameron’s universe.
I hate to sound insensitive, but if you didn’t know the world was a harsh, industrialized place before seeing this movie, you obviously never stepped outside. Yes, it’s tragic what we’re doing to our planet and all the people who claim humanity has no role in affecting the environment. Yes, we’ve done damage to the Earth that will take decades or centuries to fix. We’ve wiped out species and even members of our own species in the name of wars, progress, and religion.
But if you’re an adult, a sane, rational adult, and you watch Avatar and come to all these realizations at once, well no wonder your brain got fried. Hey, did you know slavery was once legal in the United States? I know this because a movie telled me so.
In Dogma, Alan Rickman’s character voiced his disgust with humanity in that if something didn’t appear in a movie, people didn’t know about it. I’m fairly sure things like the colonials killing off and relocating Native Americans is part of middle-school history courses. You generally hear about the rape and pillage of the Earth from… well, everywhere! There’s a big “going green” movement right now. It’s gotten so that I feel like I’m spitting at Gaia herself whenever I drive my non-hybrid car.
If ANY of this comes as a shock to you, I’m sorry, but you need to put WoW away for a few days, go outside, and actually touch a tree. The internet won’t go away. Besides, have you ever actually felt a tree? They’re rough, cold, and some have goo on them.
Immersion has long been the goal of movies. It used to be all you really needed were some good actors, snappy dialogue, and a story to get the group’s attention. Visuals helped, of course, especially once we got past that whole radio thing. Early on, when we decided to create fantastic landscapes and creatures, we used miniatures, make-up, forced perspective, all the cool old-school tricks that set off early fantasy and science fiction from the slick features of today. People had to use a little imagination, but it worked. The evolution of special effects is a book in on itself, but what I’m trying to get at is that we’ve had stories set in alien worlds for decades. We’ve been telling each other these stories for a long time.
Even CGI isn’t that new anymore. Babylon 5 used it years ago. Jurassic Park made it famous and showed us how realistic it could look. It’s been a steady evolution to create the alien, wonderful, and fantastic, and we’ve bought it until now. Heck, I adore B5, but I admit it looks cheap compared to even the stuff on TV these days.
Why was there such a wave of emo because of Avatar? It’s very visually realistic, yes, but does the story hit harder than, say, Ferngully? What about Captain Planet? It has various themes on war, environmentalism, and consumerism, but did it break new ground in that respect? No, that’s not it. We see leveled rainforests all the time. We hear about the polar cap melting. We know all this, or at least most of us do.
Did James Cameron craft a story so compelling that it created a void in the hearts of its viewers? Was this an epiphany? Well, the plot was good, but it wasn’t something revolutionary and awe-inspiring.
Did the photorealism of the characters and setting trigger empathy in us? According to interviews with the director, they had to humanize the Na’vi to make them less alien. In fact, I wonder if they could have gotten away with the treatment of the Na’vi had they been human? I ask this from a ratings stand-point. Without going into detail if you haven’t seen the movie, would the treatment and attacks on the indigenous population have been as tolerable from an entertainment viewpoint if they were human?
Or, just maybe… these are the same people I reference in an earlier article when I talked about fans who become obsessed with franchises. This is really just another example. The only other explanation is that these viewers had never heard of things like deforestation and colonialism.
People need to just learn the difference between fiction and reality. If you get depressed because you’ll never visit Pandora or interact with the Na’vi, then you should just drink some toilet bowl cleaner, because you’re never going to be an astronaut, a dragon-slayer, and, if this kind of reaction is any indication, a productive member of society.
And yes, you won’t even get to work the drive-through. It’s a movie. Watch it, enjoy it, and move on.