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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Discussing Published Hooks & Books » Interpreting Avatar

   
Author Topic: Interpreting Avatar
Crystal Stevens
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I realize this forum is supposed to be aimed toward books, but I've been getting quite a bit of feedback on the movie AVATAR since it's come out on Blue Ray & DVD. First I understand how Cameron wanted it to be interpreted, but I didn't take it that way, and evidently neither did some others.

My bro-in-law was surprised I was so taken with it, since I'm very conservation and this movie was based on liberal values. But I don't see it that way. Not to start a political argument, but I don't believe humans are responsible for global warming or that anything we do will change that. I'm not here to debate this. So let's try to stay away from the political slants. I just want everyone to know how I, personally, look at this subject so you can understand where I'm coming from. But bro-in-law didn't even go and see it for these reasons.

I just talked to another young man, and the only message he got out of it was not to destroy trees because of how it can harm the environment. I realize why it was released for home viewing on Earth Day (4/22/2010), and that it was no accident.

So, how do I see AVATAR? I see it as a people standing up for what they believe in. I see nothing wrong in living "with" nature than "against" her. I love nature, and I'm not more at peace than when I stand in a forest and can soak in the beauty surrounding me. I'd hate to see our natural places destroyed.

AVATAR revealed a world that I would love to live in as a native. I definitely wouldn't enjoy it as a human. Who wouldn't love a chance to ride one of their "horses" through their incredible forests or soar on the backs of those flying beasts (They never called them dragons, and I don't think that definition actually fits.)? That's what fantasy is all about... being able to dream of places like this and living there.

I could go on and on with this subject, but I think you folks get the idea. I'm just amazed at how many different interpretations has come from this one particular movie. I can see the liberal side of it, but I see a conservative interpretation too, and, of course, that's the one I like.

I've talked to several people about this controversial movie, and not one of them got the same thing out of it as someone else. Never have I seen a movie that has come across like this one, and maybe that's the reason for it's popularity. Sure makes me wonder.

One last note; I understand that the author could have made a much better story with a little more thought, but that's not the reason for this post. I'm more interest in what those who saw it got out of it on a whole. More "what" the story was about than how it was written.


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satate
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I agree with you Crystal. I would label myself a conservative too but thought it strange how many people were put off by a liberal agenda.
Some of things people felt the movie was pushing.

1. It was anti military. - The military can never be wrong or there can never be a few evil people at the top? It was a private military anyways.

2. They are a bunch of tree huggers. - They had a special connection to trees beyond what humans have and were connected in a way we are not. If we as humans had that kind of connection we would probably feel the same way.


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snapper
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If I were to associate the movies message to anything it would have to be with blight of the Native Americans, but even that would be a stretch
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InarticulateBabbler
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Oh, come on. How many of you didn't even think once about Fern Gully?


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Robert Nowall
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What I thought of, seeing the plot details described in the media, was Poul Anderson's "Call Me Joe."

I'm thinking of buying a DVD...you guys probably know I'm put off by a lot of what I've heard about the movie...and releasing the movie on Earth Day put me off even further. (I'd tell you why but it delves deep into politics.)


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InarticulateBabbler
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There is controversy over whether or not Call Me Joe was an influence. Cameron claims to have been influenced by Edgar Rice Burrows Princess of Mars, the movie Dances With Wolves, and Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.

[This message has been edited by InarticulateBabbler (edited April 26, 2010).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Hmm. I thought I said this in the other AVATAR topic, but I can't find it there. Oh, well. I'll say it again.

To me, AVATAR is an Andre Norton story. Almost all of her science fiction and fantasy books were about characters who did not fit into the world in which they found themselves, for one reason or another. And in every one of those stories, the characters found and became part of another world.

I submit that the character Kevin Costner played did not do this in DANCES WITH WOLVES--he didn't even marry a Native American woman, and he didn't stay and live with the tribe that had taken him in.

Mowgli (in Kipling's JUNGLE BOOK) did not stay with the animals who raised him, but went back to his own people.

I haven't seen FERN GULLY, so I can respond on that.

And John Carter in PRINCESS OF MARS had no choice but to stay.

These may have influenced AVATAR, but I still think the basic story more closely follows Andre Norton's pattern than any of the other suggested influences.


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JSchuler
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I think one of the more interesting takes on the James Cameron movie that goes by the name of Avatar (yes... still ticked off about that Last Airbender thing) was that it was pro property rights.

Anyway, this reminds me of a recent South Park episode, where the boys write a novel with the goal of it being so offensive and revolting to wind up being banned. Instead, their book is a hit, with everyone commenting on and debating over the deep themes in the book, asserting what they think the authors' intended even though the authors protest that their was no meaning behind the book beyond it being offensive.

Of course, I was that kid in high school English class saying "it's just a green light. Can we please read something fun now?"


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Robert Nowall
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Somebody else cited LeGuin's "The Word for World is Forest" as an influence on Avatar...I don't remember much about the story and picked up this citation elsewhere.

I, too, found the Avatar: The Last Airbender vs Avatar argument interesting, but I have no idea how the parties resolved things among themselves---or, for that matter, why they made a movie of The Last Airbender in the first place...


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Crystal Stevens
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Interesting discussion, though it wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I started it. I wasn't looking for comparisons with other movies or books already published or produced, but more what kind of note it hit with you folks. I, too, thought of "Dances with Wolves" when I saw it, but tried not to mention it. Don't get me wrong. I don't mind the comparisons, but I was more looking for reactions to the movie and how it made you feel along with what you got out of it.

I, too, was very upset with it being deliberately release on Earth Day. I know what Cameron's intend was, but I will always refuse to look at "Avatar" from such a liberal viewpoint... but that's just me. It just irks me to think that conservatives are not supposed to care about nature and the environment and be protrayed as liking to start wars and destroying peoples lives. I know I'm treading very close to political issues, but it is the way I feel, and I'll just leave it at that. I don't want to start a political argument.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Hmm. Okay. I liked it, a lot.

I was impressed by the special effects (loved the "dragons"), but the effect that impressed me the most was how they showed Sam Worthington's legs--they really looked paralyzed: emaciated, skin-and-bones--wow!

I know that's not interpretation either. But maybe I'm just not that into "messages" in movies. Sam Goldwyn of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studios is supposed to have said something along the lines of "if you want to send a message, use Western Union."

So I don't look for messages in movies per se. As I've already said, I think the movie was ABOUT finding your true place when the one you used to have is no longer available to you (Andre Norton story).

I usually only try to suss out a "meaning" when the movie doesn't make much sense on the surface (as in WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE--which, I suspect is about Max confronting different aspects of himself as represented by the different "wild things").


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Robert Nowall
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Ten or twenty years from now, will people remember Avatar as fondly as, say, Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or Citizen Kane?

For that matter, I think Cameron's Titanic is remembered, now, for three things: (1) Taking a record amount of money to make, (2) making a record amount of money, and (3) launching the careers of Leo and Kate. Me? I thought it was okay...but I never liked it as much as A Night to Remember, which covered the same subject with greater artistic success...

Special Effects Do Not a Good Movie Make.


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Crystal Stevens
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I thought Titanic was one long boring movie. You want to talk about special effects making a movie. That was Titanic for me. I also find it very hard to get into dramas. I kept thinking while watching it, "Get to the ice berg already!" I was ready to leave the theatre before the movie was halfway through and kept looking at my watch, but I seem to have a hard time with movies that I already know how they're going to end. This is particularly true when I find nothing to perk my interest in the main characters.

"Avatar" may not have had much of a plot, but it did not put me to sleep. I could've watched another hour or two of it with no problem.

Also "Avatar" was a first when it came to special effects much like "Star Wars" was in its day. I heard because of how well "Avatar" went over that we may see 3D TV's possibly about a year from now. I have a feeling that "Avatar" will be remembered fondly by its fans 10 or even 20 years from now.

[This message has been edited by Crystal Stevens (edited April 28, 2010).]


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Robert Nowall
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One thing I am not going to do is run out and buy a new TV just to watch Avatar or others in some bonehead 3D format. I just moved up to HD...now they want me to buy something else?

I tried the 3D effect in the movies for Up...as a glasses-wearer, trying to balance the 3D glasses over my own glasses was as awkward as it had been with the paper red-and-blue glasses from the last time the movie industry tried to inflict some whacko 3D effect on the unsuspecting populace. 3D is a fad...it'll be around but will not displace anything.

(I think the storyline in Titanic was contrived to put someone (and the camera) everywhere something happened on that trip...I don't think it had much rationality in it. (I saw outtakes from a deleted subplot---the famous Californian incident---that I think was left out because it didn't fit the Leo & Kate plot. I wish Cameron had put together a longer version, with such things restored...and the Leo & Kate stuff trimmed out.))


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Crystal Stevens
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I don't know about that, Robert, but we do have a slight problem in communicating. Am I right that you haven't seen "Avatar"? I may be wrong, but I thought that was what you said. And I have never seen a 3D movie, so I may not know what I'm talking about either. LOL

The young man who told me about seeing "Avatar" in 3D at the theatre said he has seen other 3D movies, but "Avatar" still blew him away. So I do think "Avatar" is a relatively new breakthrough in 3D technology. Of course this is just an assumption on my part. For some reason this movie is different than any that came before it. So, I don't think it's just going to blow over any time soon. JMO

Also, this young man doesn't wear glasses, and yes, you had to wear glasses to watch "Avatar" in 3D. He did go on to say that the glasses lens were not the, I think the standard colors are red & green? Or is it blue? Anyway, the lens were all one color, or is this the norm now too?


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Robert Nowall
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Well, for Up, in 3D, we were handed these glasses, black plastic frames and plastic lenses, about the lens-size of the ones I wear, but the lenses were somewhat darker, almost like sunglasses. The 3D effect worked, with the glasses on...but it was a constant struggle to keep them on, which distracted from getting involved in the movie.

It's nothing like the old 1950s 3D. The glasses were cardboard and had one red and one blue cellophane lens. And the effect wasn't that good. I've got a few pairs around somewhere. Sometimes you see one revived on TV, where you can ...I haven't seen any since I got an HD set, so I wonder how it'd look on that.

There's also the IMAX 3D process, which had a more elaborate mask-thing to cover your eyes...and also Disney's 3D theater, which looked pretty good but if you didn't keep your head level you lost the 3D effect.

The point being, the 3D of the 1950s was "the next big thing"...Warner Bros., at one point, stopped making anything but 3D movies...but, in a couple of years, it was all gone and only popped up here and there, with some movies shot in 3D never formally released in that format. This 3D fad seems the same to me, even in the movies.

3D movies won't catch on until somebody comes up with movies that don't need glasses or special equipment.

[left out a word]

[This message has been edited by Robert Nowall (edited April 30, 2010).]


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BenM
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I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about Avatar, because I think it's important from a writing point of view, as much as anything else.

I hear a lot of people, most notably a 'movie guru' at work, rant on and on about how "exquisite" the 3D is in Avatar, how they went back to see it again and again because of the 3D, and how they think the story sucks. I think this is (mostly) baloney. The hype surrounding Avatar's 3D is important to understand, so that it can be separated from more crucial issues.

Studios have been concerned for a number of years at declining movie sales. HD television and Blu-ray as well as other advances in home theatres mean it's been harder and harder to get audiences into theatres to watch films and pay premium ticket prices. 3D is the current way studios can differentiate between the cinema experience and the home-theatre experience. As a result quite a few (most?) animated films recently have been offering 3D (the actual 'technology' being irrelevant). As I see it, James Cameron's marketing about 'new 3D techniques' is largely aimed at strengthening this gimmick, so that (a) viewers who haven't yet seen a 3D movie will think 'this is different' and go see it, (b) as will viewers who have seen 3D and been underwhelmed by it, and (c) fewer viewers will stay at home waiting for the dvd/bluray release, because they'll feel they're missing out on something.

Having seen the movie once in 3D and then again in 2D, my impression is that the 3D really is a gimmick. It's nice, but it's also distracting to me (maybe due to vision issues) and the movie is immensely satisfying without it.

Rather than rehashing the same topic again, I've discussed my opinion on why Avatar has been successful beyond the 3D marketing gimmick on my blog. But at its heart my interpretation is this: Avatar is an immersive, contemporary epic fantasy. Worldbuilding abounds; the audience is drawn into a new world with its own flora and fauna and its own big problem, and they keep coming back for more of the same. Deep characters and convoluted story would risk distracting the audience from that immersion - sales suggest that there is a market for immersive fantasy just the way it is.

Which is good for writers of fantasy, I'd have to conclude.


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Robert Nowall
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Come to think of it, I've seen only Up in the new 3D process (I don't go to a lot of movies and mostly watch 'em on TV)...and, really, it and Avatar are both computer animation, if you want to get technical. Anybody see something less CGI in the new 3D format? Did it work? Was it any good?

(I thought The Lord of the Rings "special editions" looked worse on an HDTV than on a regular one...sometimes, particularly in the third part, some FX CGI clearly looked back-projected, in a way the shots didn't on regular TV. I know the regular movies are out on Blu-Ray right now...but I think I'll wait for the special editions...)


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InarticulateBabbler
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Just saw this. Had to post a link: read this.
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Robert Nowall
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Facebook wants me to log in, and I'm not joining just to read something...
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BenM
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It is a repost of this image from failblog.
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Robert Nowall
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I saw that somewhere else...here's a link to it on the Huffington Post, though I don't think that's where I saw it originally...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/04/avatar-pocahontas-in-spac_n_410538.html


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Utahute72
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The one thing I like to do with Avatar is to try to find how many different sci fi classics Cameron tapped in doing this.

I found elements of P.K. Dick, Dragon rider of Pern, the Dorsai Novels and the Integral Trees. I saw mention of Norton and others here. I think it was Kathleen that said nothing is new in Science Fiction, but did Cameron have to take something from everyone.


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dee_boncci
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The movie, which I've only recently watched, seemed a lot like "Dances with Wolves" told in a futuristic setting. Even the language was a bit Souix-like to my ears. I realize some of the plot elements were a bit different between the two stories, but to me that was the strongest identification the movie had with a previous work in terms of the story.

All the elements of the setting were obviously quite spectacular, and seemed to blend creatures of the deep sea with modern and prehistoric life forms.


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