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Ravi Tepfer
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Glad you got to see it in 3D! That really is the way to do it. I’ve been recommending that method of viewing to everyone I talk to. I’m also glad to be able to read your suggestions and thoughts on the film. Your insights have been enlightening. I suppose this is the essence of true allegory: by their simplistic nature, they leave room for meaningful interpretation and allow for renewed perceptions. I admit to seeing much more in the film now than I did before reading your blog posts, and I look forward to reading more. In the interim, allow me to extrapolate on the issues I have with Cameron’s particular telling of the story. As you say, complexity and deception are not requirements of a good story, and, indeed many of the greatest books and films are derived from the basis of myth and legend. But such themes, in and of themselves, do not automatically translate into great works of art simply by their retelling. A quick aside... I’ve often thought it would be good to see more of this “classic” mode of storytelling in Hollywood today. Too often we are asked to set aside our natural, human perceptions, withhold our judgments and simply be entertained for the sake of entertainment. Then we’re expected to praise one film or another because of some unique effect it had on our senses, its exposing of some hidden aspect of human psychology, or, because it was intricate and clever, even though its premise was completely absurd or obscure! These films have their place, but they ultimately do very little to uplift us. We may leave the theater entertained, but rarely do we leave the theater with a sense of true elevation. Ok. Back on point.... It seems we agree that the best stories are often the simplest ones; told from a universal and relatable, human foundation. As you said: “such is the nature of myth”. And, as you have so deftly articulated, Avatar, at its core, seems to have many mythical elements. Unfortunately, the profundity of their meaning is overall diluted by Cameron’s use of dialogue. Here are just a few examples: When referring to the military’s buildup prior to the invasion of Pandora, one of the scientists calls it, “some sort of shock and awe campaign” (sounds familiar), and, in his speech to the troops just prior to the invasion, the military commander actually says, “we’re going to take the terror to the terrorists”……umm….what terrorists? I don’t remember any terrorism in the film; the Na’vi were portrayed only as a highly evolved and idealized race with no visible flaws. By referencing such specific, politically charged events in this way, Cameron detracts from the transcendent message of the allegory and insults the intelligence of the audience. A truly great story stands on its own and does not need its meaning spelled out -- that’s the very definition of a universal message. From my perspective, some of the inherent inspiration in the story was eclipsed by these examples, and, ultimately, the archetypal message was rendered flat. As such, I gained no new perspectives from his telling, and the movie did little to change my way of thinking. In fact, if it weren't for your blog, I would have overlooked much of the symbolism and the many philosophical layers hidden beneath Cameron's overstated theme. Overall, I enjoyed the film very much. It was a truly unique experience. And, I was glad to see Cameron attempting to fall back on these restatements and celebrations -- as you so eloquently characterized them -- as a mode of story telling. But he would have done well to use more subtlety and much less pretense. It is possible for a story to follow a familiar template but still shed light on some aspect of the human experience in an original way.
Toggle Commented Jan 15, 2010 on Avatar Ga Ga at Pneuma Fenestra
Ravi Tepfer is now following pneuma fenestra
Jan 4, 2010
Recently saw this in 3D on an IMAX screen. What a spectacularly original movie-going experience! Just when I thought that technology and special effects could not possibly surprise me ever again, along comes Avatar, a truly astonishing feat of visual cinema. As impressive as the aesthetic elements were, I came away feeling equally unimpressed with the story and the characters, which I found cliched and shallow, respectively. I very much enjoyed reading your exploration of the deeper, philosophical themes at work. You’ve certainly added a great deal more to the story, and given subsequent movie goers a new prism through which to view the film. If only Cameron had consulted with you prior to writing the script, perhaps the final translation would have incorporated the profundity and substance needed to make it a more well-rounded piece.
Ravi Tepfer is now following The Typepad Team
Jan 4, 2010