In the Dark with Strangers

Avatar TicketWe spent several hours (and $34.50) at the local suburban multiplex this afternoon, watching a talking picture called Avatar. I grew up in Hollywood. I’ve been  involved in the arts since I was about a month old. I figure I know plenty about the picture business and media criticism.

Avatar is the most accurate and sensitive portrayal of the US Military since that classic documentary Dr. Strangelove.

Avatar tells the story of a blue-skinned tribal race on an alien planet.  Earth forces invade because they want to take a valuable mineral, a vast concentration of which lies beneath ground the native people hold sacred. This mineral has a stupid movie name too, something like “reallyrareium.” A US Marine takes the place of his dead scientist twin brother in a program to put human consciousness into the cloned bodies of blue-skinned indigenous people.

This US Marine ‘goes native’ and marries the Chief’s daughter. At the end of the picture the sexy native alien princess kills the ultra-racist military leader by shooting him in the chest with two poison-tipped arrows. Native forces combine with the life forces of the planet and a lot of cool animated alien animals to destroy the high-tech  military force and send them packing back to their (our) home planet.

I see the movie as a retelling of the Native American tale, but this time with the natives repelling the coarse, godless invaders. It’s a feel-good story for the whole family. Plus, it has the greatest actress of our generation, Sigorney Weaver.

Don’t buy into the hype that the producers have reinvented cinema or done anything more than create a really fun cartoon/live action hybrid motion picture.  Yes, it’s a compelling movie experience. Even an innovative, fun movie like this, one with a message I find uplifting and satisfying on many levels, doesn’t really capture me. The pictures are better in radio drama, or in the written word. Avatar is a hyper-violent film with a lot of chase scenes and computer-animated battle. Doesn’t that description match many, many movies? How many last-minute rescues and dangerous near-falls from high places are we supposed to pay to watch each year?

“Theater of the imagination” is more powerful than talking pictures.

When did they start playing 15 minutes of commercials before the 15 minutes of previews? The worst couple of minutes of this horrible stretch of force-fed commercialism was the overtly Nazi offering from our United States National Guard. I’ll bet Leni Riefenstahl is smiling up at all of us from Hell, content that her contribution to the visual arts and her national ideology have found a comfortable (if unsafe) home. My reaction when I sat in the dark with strangers, watching this highly-produced bit of domestic propaganda, was that we’re all being prepared for the regular presence of American troops on our streets. I feel safer already, don’t you?

One has to pause for a moment to consider the mixed messages we received at the Ultra Star Cinema this afternoon. On the one hand, we were offered the US National Guard as a place to devote our love, loyalty, fidelity, honor, respect, goodness, Americanism and apple pie-ism. Then in the feature picture we saw the US Military presented as a bunch of racist mass-murders who feel they “have to fight terror with terror.” I suppose in a sense this is progress: at least the movie didn’t have a hero like Col. Mike Kirby, saying, “Out here, due process is a bullet.” (Lines like that one go to the bad guys in this picture.)

Avatar is a good movie, but it is not worth $34.50 for two adults and one child. See it, but don’t pay retail the way I did!

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