Avatar

We’re not immune to entertainment hype over here in Korea. We may not get the same deluge of advertising, or have our faces shoved into the trough of the ‘next great thing’ — for which I’m grateful — but hype travels across oceans. It seeps through internet tubes, it buzzes through Facebook status updates. I could feel the hype about Avatar. But I intentionally closed it off. I never saw a trailer, never (intentionally) looked at images, shunned interviews, shut people up during dinner conversations. I did everything I could to wait until it was real. Because I could feel it. I didn’t know what it was. But I could feel that something amazing was coming.

When I finally sat down in the theater and fixed those 3D glasses on my nose, I was going in blissfully ignorant. So I’m not ashamed to say this: I’ve been waiting my whole life for this movie, for that experience. We’ve gotten close in the past 30 years, but nothing got to that place that Avatar got to. All during my childhood, I stared at images of otherworldly places in the pages of Heavy Metal, in the art of Vallejo, Giger and Dean. I’d stare at them and imagine a culture within and beyond the frozen image. What’s beyond this moment? What happened before and after, what’s going on outside the margins? That’s the great thing about geeky fantasy art. The static images allow your mind to fill in the rest; they free you to wonder and imagine. It’s the reason I started drawing pictures, making up stories in my head. But all the time I’d be frustrated because my imagination wasn’t good enough. I kept thinking, “dammit, when’s it going to MOVE?!”

Now it has, for the first time ever in my life, in the way that I’ve been waiting for. I saw Star Wars when it came out in 1977, but I was too young to get it. I soaked up every frame of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. But Avatar, in 3D, was the first time that cinema took me there. I almost cried a couple times and I’ve never cried in a movie in my life. When they first started flying on the dragon creatures, oh my god. Many times in the movie I let out little unconscious, unintentional sounds, little tiny orgasmic sounds. I couldn’t help myself. They finally did it, and I lived long enough to see it. I’ll never get my own personal space ship, but I have this.

A few random, more sober thoughts about Avatar:

  • Roger Dean deserves mention, somehow, some way. This is my favorite artist, for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Dean is, for me, the visualist who best gives me that imaginative lift. Take a look at his Morning Dragon, his Arches Mist, his Flights of Icarus. Take a look at this article and gallery. This isn’t just coincidence.
  • The only major flaw I have with the movie is the godawful song at the end. Who the hell was that? Celene Dion? That pulled me right out of my warm and cozy diegetic fusion and into the Hollywood machine that I was trying to avoid. Truly dreadful, dreadful stuff. In fact, while I loved the sound of the movie (Christopher Boyes can do no wrong*), the music by James Horner didn’t do much for me. I know he worked with an ethnomusicologist and all that. I applaud the effort, but it’s surprising how unimaginative the result is. The earthy percussion and breathy pan flutes bordered on new age, and the orchestral stuff seemed really heavy handed at times. And it covered up too much of the movie. You’ve gone and built this amazing visual culture; now please, let me hear the sound of that culture too.
  • Finally, one of my former sound students from when I taught at SFSU was one of the sound effects editors. He actually visited me here in Korea recently and without saying too much (I wouldn’t let him), got me excited about seeing the movie. It was a kick to see his name in the credits.

* Ahem… SFSU alum, I should also add.

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2 Responses to “Avatar”

  1. That’s an endorsement. Guess I’ll have to see it.

  2. I’m really moved with the kind of words you’ve chosen in describing this film. I share the same thoughts with you. Thank you for telling it all^.^

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