December 22, 2009

AVATAR: Poorly Written, Visually Stunning. Go Watch It

There should be two or more agenda for a visit to Gensan to proceed; I remember sharing this personal carbon footprint-lessening policy in a previous post. I am happy to note that the policy is holding. This morning, I and my small family went to Gensan to grace my inaanak's (godson) birthday. We had another purpose: watch the movie Avatar.

My 10-yo kid Anakin, who is not a fan of watching movies in theaters (he'd rather watch videos at home), was not at first keen on the idea. But two hours and forty-five minutes later, like us he came out of Robinsons Movieworld mesmerized; overjoyed by the visual feast he just went through.

Technically speaking, Avatar is a movie like no other that I have seen. To say that the visuals were outstanding is an understatement. I have heard that cutting-edge visual effects/cgi technology was employed to make this movie, ushering in a new era in film-making. I am reminded of the pioneering sci-fi's of the likes of Spielberg and Lucas in the 1970s and 80s (Star Wars trilogy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, etc.); the ooohhs and the aaahhs of the audience awed by the never-before-seen visual FX, never mind the tunog-lata (tinny) sound reproduction of the local moviehouse.

But Avatar is no Bladerunner, the Ridley Scott masterpiece which in 1982 provided us both award-winning visual production and good narrative. Avatar's plot is just so over-simplistic. Well, I know it's simply a fantasy film, a fiction; and the bad narrative might have served the film well -- the audience gets to focus more on the enormous visual canvas, gets a thrill ride and goes out of the moviehouse smiling (even coming back the next day to watch the movie again).

But I also heard Director James Cameron and company confirming Avatar's discernible desire to get an anti-war and pro-environment message across. It would have elevated the movie some notches higher on the billboard of appreciation if the plot approximated the real stories of current advocacies in the area of peace and environment. Because these stories do not usually have happy endings.

The concept of the avatar program, I like. I appreciate the parallelism of the avatars (more that of  Grace, etal than Jake's) to the development workers of the real world. The latter (well, at least some of them; sometimes called community facilitators or community relations officers) are usually employed by institutions like government and private companies and deployed in the front lines to clear the way (diplomatically, that is) for "development" projects on the ground. They immerse with the communities, establish cordial relationships with the people, and help find alternatives for those that may be displaced by the "projects". In mining companies, they are usually the most sincere in as far as goodwill and the promise of genuine upliftment for the communities are concerned; and like in Avatar, they usually become sacrificial pawns in the arena of development aggression.

In the movie, aggression comes in the form of direct military invasion; as management of the mining company becomes impatient over the "slow" progress of diplomacy and integration as espoused by Jake, Grace, etal. This is where the movie becomes OA. The love affair between the Na'vi's Neytiri and Jake (or his avatar for that matter) is more believable than the portrayal of aggression as the unleashing of military hardware. In the real world, the more telling aggressions on the environment are done subtly and discreetly: hiding records, undervaluing compensation, legal compromises, etc. like what big business did (or tried to do) in Erin Brockovich (2000); and classic in the Philippine context, paying off people.

But I do agree that development aggression, especially that done in behalf of business, is planned; its planning based not on the preparedness of communities but dictated by markets. In Avatar, you have a "little gray rock that sells 20 million a kilo" (I presume "million" here is in dollars), what business sense is there to wait for diplomacy to fully work before you mine?

The central character of Jake Sully is lame. It does not even help that the character itself is played out as a paraphlegic marine. For why is a paraphlegic still sitting on a wheelchair in a world where technology can already make humans travel from Kansas to Pandora? Nonoy Zuniga already got his prosthetics during Marcos' time! Cameron should have built on the character of Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and her team, if Cameron indeed wants to deliver a statement on the environment. The story of many development workers on the ground tasked to mediate between and among communities, government and private entities is represented by Grace in the movie. It is a story that does not always end happily but one that poses challenges to old premises in environmental and development advocacies.

Well maybe Sigourney Weaver already had her time with Gorillas In The Mist (1988).

Meanwhile, Jake Sully is only incidental to the whole plot. He accepts the challenge to serve in Pandora in honor of his dead brother; finds himself addicted to his avatar who can walk unlike him; is lost in the jungle while in his avatar and rescued by a Na'vi princess; immerses and learns the ways of the Na'vi people in the service of military intelligence; falls in love with the princess; changes heart and rallies the people against the establishment; eventually calls to Pandora's deity Eywa for help, which the latter heeded. The classic outsider-becomes-hero saves the day for the entire village. Corny.

But forget about the story, for Pete's sake. We all know better that war and conquest do not justify any end, and that nature does fight back when pushed to its limits; though its own viperwolves, titanotheres and thanators do not specify particular villains but rather target all humanity.

Go watch the movie for the visual carnival. To enjoy it more, watch it if you can in a top-notch theatre that offers 3D or at least a qualified surround sound. Robinsons Movieworld in Gensan is not one (at least, as of this writing).

If you work for a mining company, all the more you should go watch it... please.


  1. This is one of the best reviews I have read so far on the movie.

    Made me look hard on its subtext and its "Disneyfied" way of getting its message across. But we both have to admit, that it did so powerfully, taking all of 15 years for Cameron to get his message across.

    If only for that, we have to watch it again and again, and again...and like this, tell the world about it.

  2. Avatar made me dizzy, so to speak, I like the visuals, but I have not fully understood what the story would like to tell me. I can only watch the movie again and again for the movie to get me the message across.

  3. Hmmm..I'm not going to see it, now. Until I get the was it the visual really or the message?

  4. Avatar the movie… had a bias agenda on revealing capitalist aggression and exploitation of indigenous natural resources. The movie is a creative imagination (using science fictions) that is deeply grounded with realities in the contemporary world. I would say, the Avatar movie is a lampoon – design for the young minds (at least 13 PG) – to encourage sentimental legacy of heroism onward ecological security issues. The story is so simple (corny maybe), but powerful enough to re-shape child consciousness, the adaptation of humanist social outlook as significant universal principle.

  5. thank you all for the feedback!

    wow sir hecky, heavy! :D

  6. i think the movie's cool, i just failed to watch it. (nakisawsaw kasi yung mga MMFF, tsk)

  7. yes, indeed it was destined for a 3(even 4)-week run.. thanks for visiting, devon.

  8. I think that the movie is great and it is "geat" NOT because of the visuals, it is "great" because of its spirit. In nature very simple, but very strong and uplifting. The reviewer while he liked the movie, is not willing to admit that... I think THAT is LAME. Bad review.