Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avatar Review: We are all Jake Sully... pt. 2

At first the opportunity to walk again even if it means through an alien creatures eyes, is amazingly clear. Jake almost salivates when he enters his avatar for the first time, running and jumping about, and enjoying a renewed freedom.Jake's life is a tragedy unto itself. He's lost the use of his legs, confining him to a rugged wheel chair. He's status in his life so far is painfully clear, and it's painted on the back of that chair in the word 'Grunt'. He's given part of his life to the military and they have seemingly returned precious little. Adding to his tragedy is the loss of his twin brother. It's never implicit on screen, but one can infer and imagine that his brother was a research scientist and also at odds with his twins warlike ways.

...experience as a human in jungles
of earth or on other worlds will not
help him on Pandora.

As Jake begins to explore the jungle he, like us, is mystified and stunned by the beauty and the elegance of the Pandoran jungle. Soon, through a wild animal attack and a night of fear, we meet our first Naavi, Neytiri, a princess of the Naavi people. (Why does it always have to be a princess?) She is thin, but strung and agile, and everything action she takes is efficient and or deadly. She is as dangerous as the jungle she calls home, and Jake's intrusion into that world is one that is first. She saves Jake's life, though she is disgusted by his very existence. She quickly shows the naive Jake that his experience as a human in jungles on earth or on other worlds will not help him on Pandora. One of the most shocking things is her putting out his fire. This is an act that has some many layers of significance.

Fire for humans is a sign of civilization, it is one element what separates us from the animals, and its duel purpose of protection and destruction embodies our relationship with technology. For Neytiri to extinguish Jake's fire would be an act tantamount to murder for many of our ancestors. Yet she does so because the fire makes jake blind to the world that he thought he was seeing. The act opens his eyes to the illumination the Pandoran jungle provides for itself, and yet another amazing dimension of Pandora dazzles our eyes.

It is easy to see humanity becoming
the aggressors as they are in Avatar.

The Naavi are an amalgamation 0f many different native cultures. The tribes of south america, the now nearly extinct cultures of North America, the zulu warriors of Africa, the Dayak tribes of Indonesia. Yet they are different then these, and here is where nuance is shown. They are reflections of a people more in tune with their environment. Wether technology has ever been a facet of thier lives is not known, nor is it asked here. They confound us, especially during a time when most of us have a link to technology nearly from birth. It is easy to see humanity becoming the aggressors as they are in Avatar. What is shown, is their stark contrast to the technology crazed and greed driven humans that have come to their world. While not all humans share in this greed, it is not hard to draw direct allegory to some of the events in our own shared history. An examination of which still inspires ire and anger at the ravages of our own species.

After being examined by the Na'avi, Jake is allowed to live and invited to learn the ways of the Na'avi. At which point the second act of the movie begins. It's a period of learning and unlearning, and a time for us to learn just how connected to the planet the Na'avi people are.

While the plot of the rest film at this point is predictable, the execution of the storyline is where Cameron shows brilliance. There are a handful of lines that or clumsy and not 'poetic' but there are moments of cinematic brilliance where what is seen on screen creates a spectacle that both awes and inspires.

If you don't see Avatar, then you will
have missed a major part of the beginning
of the second century of film making.

By the films end, we have seen our hero undergo a transformation, and find an ending a bit different then Cameron's pastiche for bleak or bittersweet conclusions. If you dont see Avatar, then you will have missed a major part of the beginning of the second century of film making. Sci-fi movies have a new standard to reach... one created on a planet called Pandora.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So the Challenge has been issued and excepted!

Well really its just a Challenge to myself. But a challenge none the less. the Challenge to average one X-box 360 Achievement a Day for a Year. To follow this Challenge I started a new Blog.

please comment and let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Avatar Review: One Geek's Apology... pt. 1

Ok, so I was wrong. There I said it. James Cameron is one of the most influential and talented film makers of the last century. He's proven himself time and again, confounding both the pundits and critics. So why did I so doubt him this time? There was a time when I didn't believe that serious cgi characters could ever appeal to my least not enough for a 'serious' movie. The technology did not exist, or the filmmakers couldn't make the effects seamless with the live action portions, or aliens were simply too unbelievable.

There was a time when
I didn't believe that serious CGI
characters could ever appeal to

my least not enough
for a 'serious' movie.

These things may have been true of other films, but not Avatar.

Why does Avatar raise the bar for sci-fi movies? Simple, the special affects don't overule the story, nor do they fade to the background after repeated viewings. There is a near perfect synthesis of plot, acting, and effects. Avatar is the type of movie that George Lucas wanted to make when he made Episode 3. A deeply engrossing story, a visual effects powerhouse, a 3-d experience that will leave everyone who watches in nearly gasping in amazement by the time the film is in its 7th minute.


Avatar is the type of movie that
George Lucas wanted to make

when he made Episode 3

The story begins and we awaken from cryo-stasis, a very old sci-fi trope, used by Cameron to great effect in Aliens (a great nod to fans of that movie) and as we do the first 3-d effect allows the audience just a taste of the virtual 3-d extravaganza to come. A doctor tells the main character that a little disorientation is normal, and we almost nod to him as if he's speaking directly to us, mainly because we are all adjusting our eyes to the amazing effects.

We begin the film with Jake Sully, the (main protagonist) just as he does. Never before has the hero's birth effect been used with such stunning effect. In mere minutes we sympathize with our new hero, and find him to be the kind of guy we could all be friends with. He's relate-able, and he acts as our human 'avatar' into this incredibly rich world of Pandora. And what a world! It's an world teaming with life on every continent, and if not for the un-breathable atmosphere (to humans at least), and the viscous indigenous creatures it would be dubbed paradise found. Jake is offered the role of Avatar-pilot, as his twin brother (a research scientist) and he share the same genetic code used to create the Avatar. Avatar's are not unlike the "android's" in Blade Runner, they are designed to look like the Naavi, a people indigenous to the planet Pandora, more on them in a bit.

... In mere minutes we sympathize
with our new hero, and find him
to be the kind of guy we could all
be friends with.


Pandora is altogether plausible, a massive planet that is a lot like earth not unlike the types that are being discovered even as I write this post. Of course the reason for Sully to be there is another common trope, a precious mineral that we humans highly prize for something. It doesn't really matter what we call it, but its a sure fire bet that we homo-sapiens will always have some rock we desire and place as more valuable then nature or just about anything else.

The Naavi at first dont come off as hokey or overly sympathetic creatures, our first glimpse of them is somewhat shocking, almost as if they are just another strange dangerous creature gracing the surface. From afar they are tall imposing, animalistic, and downright scary. We first see one in the form of the Avatar Jake Sully will eventually inhabit. They are strong, fast, cat-like people that somehow never manage to become cute or familiar, or overtly foreign.

The human base on pandora is downright para-militaristic. The corporation. whose name is not important (just think of the Weyland Corporation from Aliens) has spared no expense in bringing ex-marines and 'warriors' to protect their interests. The military hardware is inventive, but not implausible and or unbelievable.

We meet Colonel Quatritch, who's size and stature is equaled only by his machismo. He has all the hallmarks of a man with balls the size of the moon, and a heart inversely proportional to the size of his balls. If we were all gung-ho marines about to invade Afghanistan or Iraq... we'd love this guy. He's a natural leader, and Sully appears as a shell of man compared to his visage. Yet as much as he impresses, Quatritch is not someone we the audience like, and like the scientists who share the base with the military elements, we bristle a bit at any man who is so unforgivably militaristic.

Quatritch...has all the hallmarks of a man with balls the size of the moon, and a heart inversely proportional to the size of his balls.

As we explore the jungle the abilities of 3-d story telling become abundantly clear. We are sucked into the beauty as it surrounds us and brushes by us. Several times, the audience collectively brushes aside amazingly detailed lifeforms that seem to illuminate the screen, only to be confronted by wondrous other creatures that both terrify and intrigue.

I could go on, but this seems like a review that needs at least another part. So I will pause only to say: Go see this Movie! Avatar is worth twice amount of admission. And please see it in 3-d, as this is the best possible way to see it.
...End of Part 1...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Just Checking in!!

Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy and prosperous new year. I just want to thank everyone who has checked out this blog and listened to the Podcast. It has been a great year and the coming year should be even greater.

More to come very soon.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New Segment: 'Geek' Hurdles

In the pantheon of hurdling, there are few jumps larger then the proverbial 'geek' hurdle. Of course some might say that 'nerd' hurdles is the correct term. I chose to ignore those people, as I hope you will as well. A 'geek' hurdle is the level of acceptability a concept can create in the common man-geek (or she-geek if you prefer.) It's the moment when the non-geeky general public tunes out of a science fiction movie, or starts to yawn on the genre tv show that just got canceled.

You know those moments in movies where the unexplained is explained? The super scientist gives you a thirty second explanation for why a certain tech works? Or how he figured out the planet is in danger? Most of the time, that moment is the pinnacle of the 'Geek Hurdle'. Of course you might have other moments, but a majority of the cringe worthy moments, that happen in a blockbuster happen in the exposition.

Here in an uncertain terms (feel free to argue) are the top ranking Geek Hurdles.

Super Soldier - Yes Captain America I'm looking at you. Characters that have enhanced strength and speed due to a special serum, a rigorous training program, or some combination thereof. It's not to far out there, what with the accusations of doping in professional sports. Maybe they don't have a target on their chest, and they probably don't wield a shield, but they are generally believable.

God - Angels, Demons, and general biblical creatures. We live in a Judea Christian Western World were most people learn about the G-O-D when they are young, regardless of wether or not you are religious, most people will buy the big guy getting involved in some fantastic plot.

Mutants - People with special abilities, people who are different from me and you, minus the Xavier school, are generally acceptable, while they begin to strain some credibility, most people will stick around.

Vampires / Werewolves - Sparkly or not, Vamps are a bit of a pill to swallow. At this point your movie/tv show has opened a whole gate way to bigger and crazier concepts. Granted your mind knows they aren't real, but who would argue that David Boreanz is fake? Not me.

Zombies - Walking, running, stumbling, and mostly undead. Once you see these guys its over, forget about it. Realism is gone, and its time to start throwing the undead kitchen sink into the mix. No one is watching zombies and expecting them to be completely believable. If they are they've gone insane, or are watching to many zombie movies.

Magic - You might think that the mysticism would be much lower on the list. Magic is to much of a cure-all. IE Marvel's "House of M". At it's most extreme, Magic trumps plot 9 times out of 10. No matter how impressive, Magic is a costly element to add to any story.

Aliens - They used to be interesting, back before Star Trek and Babylon 5 ruined it for everyone. They've become watered down, overused, walking cliche's . When they are used these days people yawn, become disinterested, or they generally recall post traumatic stress from the last India Jones movie.