Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Since the Broncos lost to the Raiders this weekend, my mind is off football until the playoffs.  I have no idea who is going to win the AFC wildcard, and at this point it doesn't make a difference trying to sort it out.  Instead of focusing on a football column this week, I am going to focus on the best movie I've ever seen: Avatar.

There are so many layers to Avatar that I don't know where to start.  I don't have any business breaking down acting, story structure or sound composition, but I do have business in what the movie made me feel and think about.  The best word I can think of to describe what viewing Avatar is like: immersion.  The 3D depth the screen provided provided a sense of belonging for the viewer in the world of Pandora.  I felt engulfed by the environment, and I certainly did not want to leave.  The main character, Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), was along for the same adventure as the audience was.  Jake was literally the eyes, ears, and arms of the audience.  He asked questions, touched glowing plants and narrated his journey along the way.  His narrations provided evidence of his learning experience; a learning experience the audience was able to share congruently.  This is why the movie had such a profound effect on audiences.  Many people went to see a movie touted as a game-changer, but left after seeing a movie that could be touted as a life-changer.  Not a life changer in the sense of changing your life in a religious way, but more of an imagination way.  There are certain levels of imagination that need to be addressed, though.  One sort of imagination is that of magic and vampires.  Such things lie outside what I like to call the realm of possibility. They require no explanation other than the fact that they are what they are.  I'm not using this article to take a shot at the likes of Harry Potter and Twilight (I will say that they are not my favorite, but I understand why people like them).  Rather I will try to explain why Avatar is such a catalyst of imagination because it pushes scientific knowledge to the extreme. Technology and imagination are merging, and it is believable.  This is the idea that Avatar strikes at.

A few points I want to get at:
1.) What if... What if Avatar is within the realm of possibility and such a life could be lived through another body.  Would the 'driver' prefer his real human life, or the life of his real world character?
2.) Subtleties.  The little things in the background are what make a movie re-watchable.
3.) The Human Effect.  During the movie I felt the 'savage' label would be better attached to the humans on Pandora rather than the natives themselves.

1.) What if... This question nagged at me the most after watching Avatar.  What if such a world was possible? A world not too distant (a fictional world in the real Alpha-Centauri system; 4 light-years away), and a world similar to ours. I could go on and on about this question, (and perhaps I will in an upcoming podcast) so I will highlight a few ideas I have. Living your life through a different character is already commonplace in our society. Anybody who has played The Sims or World of Warcraft has an avatar; a second life so to speak. The former begs the question as to which life is more preferred. In Jake Sully's case, he was a paraplegic who took orders in his human life, while in his avatar life he was a regarded member of society who found the love of his life. Which life is better; which life is more real? The more fulfilling life of course. While modern day avatars are just computer programs, and not living bodies, it is conceivable that in the near future a person might be able to control a real body while plugged into some contraption. Everything in Avatar is within the scientific realm of possibility: it's a good idea, think about it.

2.) Subtleties: I'm not exactly going out on a limb by saying that the makers of Avatar put a lot of effort into the movie. Every piece of the screen is filled with a spectacle worth looking at.  What intrigued me the most, however, were the subtle connections to our life. Humans have a global network of computers that people can access almost anywhere on the world. Pandora has a similar network, but it's network is comprised of every living thing on the planet. The spinal cord/hair attachment on the native Na'vi is something that grows on you as a viewer. How cool is it that a single person can access all the data in the world just by literally plugging their body into the ground. The internet is naturally occurring on Pandora.  There are some little things too: four-fingered hands on the Na'vi; the Na'vi are left-hand dominant.

3.) The Human Effect: Many viewers found themselves internally cheering against the humans as the movie progressed. The human leaders on Pandora often called the native Na'vi savages, when in fact they were the savages themselves. Is it ironic that Jake found more happiness living a life of possibility and learning? Not necessarily so. That should be the life of a human, and it is for the most part. People wake up everyday not knowing what the day will bring. That's what imagination is. The ability to make something out of nothing. Perhaps as the humans in Avatar were destroying planet Earth (as Jake eluded to when he referred to the Earth as no longer being green) they became more savage, while those who value their planet became a more prosperous civilization. It can be a very liberal message, and while this movie is not meant to be political, it still provides some interesting thought.

I have seen nothing like this movie in my life. There are so many trains of thought Avatar can lead one's mind to. I love the originality James Cameron is able to produce on the screen. With so many movies being based on books and comics, it is uplifting to see an original story have such a profound effect on an audience as a whole. Thank you, James Cameron.

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