Sunday, January 03, 2010

The (Not So) Obligatory Avatar Post

I went to see Avatar at the same theater I saw The Day the Earth Stood Still. It's at the gateway of the New Jersey Skylands, in a once-enormous mall that has metastisized to an almost parodic size. It's also one of the few multiplexes in the area with an IMAX theatre and I needed to see Avatar in 3D on the largest screen possible. I had wanted to see it on Christmas Day, but I was over-ruled by my sons who wanted to see Sherlock Holmes. It was a fortuitous decision, because after all of the excitement of Christmas, Avatar would have been overwhelming. Seeing Avatar was itself like a holiday. It was also a voyage into another world, like nothing I've ever seen on screen in my life.

The omens were not good- it was bitterly cold on Saturday, and the lines for the film were huge and people were not happy. Tickets needed to ordered in advance and shows were selling out very quickly. Our seats weren't great and my daughter's neck ached from having to look up at the screen. But I've never been to a film where the audience was so spellbound.

First of all, let's face facts- the actual story here is derivative in the extreme - Cameron essentially admitted the film was Dances with Wolves in Space (I'd add in films like Little Big Man and The Last Samurai, among others). Its politics are typical Hollywood hypocrisy, the old noble savage/back to nature trope, brought you courtesy of the most elaborate and sophisticated technology ever used in the cinema.

Neoconservatives are having a 24/7 shitfit over its anti-war, anti-corporate, anti-globalist message and Theoconservatives are wetting their pants over its Gaia theory-on-steroids theology. But Cameron is a master storyteller, meaning he knows how to manipulate human emotion, and that means weaving fantasies that are essentially untenable, but speak to human frustrations and wish-fulfillment.

The irony of it all is that Pandora is the most completely wired environment yet seen onscreen (outside of a Borg cube, that is). The Na'vi have a kind of built-in USB hub that allows them to interface with their world. It raised all sorts of interesting intelligent design/directed panspermia-gone-meta kind of questions for me, and reminded me of AAT themed Star Trek episodes like 'Justice' and 'The Apple' (note that the new Uhura motion-captured the Na'vi love interest).

I wondered if Cameron literally saw Pandora's patron deity Eywa as an enormous biocomputer, since that's exactly how it behaved. The over-riding message seems to be that back to nature is fine, just as long as we can keep the Internet. The real appeal of the story here is that back-to-the-womb longing that undergirds our back-to-nature fantasies. That's the keen sense of the 'loss of innocence' we all feel.


James Cameron first got my attention with Aliens ( I didn't see the first Terminator until the missus and I got our first VCR in '86). That movie blew my mind in a way I hadn't experienced since the first Star Wars. But its message is the exact opposite of Avatar's and I'm wondering how much of that is intentional.

The Colonial Marines are the heroes in that film, here they've evolved into thuggish, kill-crazy Blackwater-type corporate cossacks. Sigourney Weaver was the ass-kicking xenophobe, here she's the bleeding heart xenophile. The weasely Paul Reiser corporate drone character from Aliens is largely intact in Giovanni Ribisi's character, but is given a slight hint of a conscience, only appropriate since he's signing off on unimaginable destruction.

In Aliens, human colonists were depicted as victims, even though they had invaded and occupied the aliens' home. Here the humans are the aggressors, destroying the neolithic Na'vis home and culture simply to pull minerals with anti-gravity properties out of the ground. Cameron has made no secret the film is a critique of the endless Oil Wars (which Obama is now getting ready to expand into Yemen) and drops in buzzwords like 'shock and awe', so even the densest viewer will get the message.

That's all fine and good, but for me this film wasn't about geopolitics or religious squabbling, it was about escaping cold, dreary New Jersey and taking the most immersive journey I've ever experienced in a theater. This movie is narcotic- nearly orgasmic- in its power to bring you into another reality. I'm sure every single executive and producer in Hollywood had a grim vacation, since Cameron (whom they already resent and envy) just raised the bar in a way that will make movies even more costly - and risky.

Some reviewers have pointed out that despite its anti-war, back-to nature message, the Na'vi still rely on the white jarhead to be chosen by Eywa to save the day. Some liberals read a racialist message into this (funny how the media types get all symbolical when it suits their own agenda), but being an old school sci-fi geek I recognized the influence of John Carter of Mars when I saw it. Remember that Carter traveled to Mars via astral projection, a mystic predecessor to the (admittedly shaky) science of the avatars themselves.

Don't be fooled, this is a William Gibson story with Greenpeace pretensions (those built-in interfaces are the giveaway). This is about entering a virtual reality, which is exactly what the viewers are doing themselves.

But the thing that struck me most of all though was that pesky human-maladaption thing I keep going on about. We treat this planet exactly the same way we treat Pandora- and this is supposed to be our home, allegedly. Why? Because we don't really feel we belong here (all of our religious institutions tell us we don't, though they forgot exactly why ages ago) and we're keenly aware that if we don't impose our will on the Biosphere it will destroy us, the way it has always done.

In one sense, the kind of industrialism (well, a more benign variety, at least) Cameron decries in Avatar is the only thing protecting us from the kinds of famines and plagues and natural disasters that continue to slaughter people in underdeveloped cultures. Don't be fooled by this geologically-insignificant little respite we're enjoying- this planet hates us just as much as Pandora.

Maybe the Na'vi will turn out to be a post-industrial society, who created Eywa as a self-sustaining biological mainframe, which allowed them to finally harmonize with the world they were left stranded on by some race of previous "Sky People" (which some of you might remember is a rough translation of 'Annunaki').

That would really get the Theocons' blood boiling, Jim.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting article on the Evangelical crusade against Avatar.


  1. Chris, Thanks for this piece, funny but you arrived at the same call that I came to: This was John Carter on Mars, I do have to say, I wouldn't want anyone seeing this with the 3D glasses, while on LSD, too much sensory overload, might short out brain cells. Yes, Interesting how everyone is reading whatever they want into this, based on their political / social agendas. I was looking forward on your take.

  2. Chris, it is too damn sad that your critique of Avatar is not mainline media bound. The connection to their planet was evident, reminded me of a Rainbow gathering circle. Many here on terra firma feel a strong connection to the earth, and strive for a sustained relationship with her. Living within our means is what is needed. I liked the movie for that spark that gives reverence to our planet. Chris your ability to scan movies for syncro-mystic content is. Shine forth brave souls. Dennis

  3. Sigourney Weaver's character comes out and says that Eywa is a interconnected biocomputer at some point in the picture so your suspicions along those lines are right.
    Personally, I loved the movie. This was one of those movies where the creators have an extremely unsubtle agenda, and they have me entrained to dump it into my consciousness. Despite knowing this, I was enthralled and just along for the ride.
    I'm going to go out on a major limb and say that this movie will go a long way in helping humanity's collective consciousness re-establish contact with the blue humanoids that seem to want in. I suspect that was James Cameron's ultimate agenda and the Gaia theory/anti-corporatocracy was just icing on the cake. Along with boatloads of money of course.

  4. Um... everything i was about to say, ^that guy just said... I agree Mark. My favorite element of the film was the dream-consciousness idea; there's a blue god in our dreams that we can live life through.

    Great Post.

  5. Haven't seen the film yet but I really hope to soon.

    But speaking of non-human beings, I came across this fascinating article just a day old. Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human people. Hmmm

    ps-I wasn't expecting a Freemasonry-like group in 'Sherlock Holmes' but thought it welcomed it anyhow, heh.

  6. Now I'm really going to pass on this one. Cameron reached his peak with the first Terminator. Once he went bigtime, he lost all sense of character and story. Titanic was a colossal bore. Every description that someone has given for this film makes me want to run screaming from it.

    Hey, It's just a movie with over-the-top special effects designed to make Cameron a bigger billionaire than he already is. There's nothing more to it than that.

  7. Chris-
    Fascinating read as always. Hate to be this way, but perhaps I'll provide the ' paranoid' perspective. I've decided NOT to see Avatar for so many of the reasos you mention. We already know music, movies and other media can be extremely powerful transmitters of certain memes put forward by their authors. I was impressed that you pointed out that this movie was, as you said , " a voyage into another world like nothing I've ever seen on screen in my life". Coming from you, that's really saying something! But it's that quality of the film that concerns me. Not its obvious politics, which I think you pointed out so well. But I'm concerned about Cameron's new methods for getting his ideas and (signals?) across. Apparenlty a dazzling, hypnotic process that has actually caused some people to become physically ill upon viewing. ( check the web for more details). As always, I enjoyed your review. And I appreciate the fine brainwork that you always help your readers do. But because of the odd technology involved, strong emotional content and the really, really crazy times we live in, It think I'll skip viewing this one. God knows I've got enough strange memes bouncing around in my soul right now. Some of the ones spilling off this film just might be a litte too powerful for me. I'll watch what happens with this one from the sidelines.

  8. Hey Dennis..this is the mainstream. Buck up Chucky.

  9. Nice write-up once again Mr. Knowels...
    I have always felt a major connection to our planet, yet 'forced' to take part in a dirty-back-stabbing system which only leads to the slow-destruction of our home...
    That's where I chaulk it all up to Mr. Kephas' sort of 'old vampiric seers' who have manipulated the race to do their bidding for eons whether you like it or not.
    Why else would it be so hard to 'fight the system'?
    The movie was well done, but as typical as all Holly-Wood Moo-vies are, it was still another brilliant tool to drain you and me of some most precious vital emotional 'juice'...

  10. "...back to nature is fine, just as long as we can keep the Internet."

    Awesome pointers, i'ma go watch it and then come re-read this post to let all soak in. Once again thats why i love the sun.

    We all live in a yellow submarine.

  11. Matt- Cheers- I figured you'd have my back on any of the geekery aspects of the film. And yes- if 2001 was better with LSD, with Avatar it's surplus to requirements.

    Dennis- Sad? I dunno- I think it's a little too free-thinking oriented for the mainstream media, which only allows the prefab opinion modes, in order to endlessly replay the same old paradigm conflicts.

    Mark- We'll see. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst has always been my motto. I just hope Cameron uses some of his immense power to slap down some of the shills who are attacking the film. That's a good place to start.

    Toure- My favorite part was the whole idea of downloading your consciousness into a new body. The whole wired aspect of it was really the cat amongst the pigeons for people bringing preconceptions to the theater.

    Grey- Great article- and highly syncworthy. I've been thinking about dolphins a lot lately.

    Purrl- You know, I though the same thing myself. I've never sat through all of Titanic. But seeing it changed my mind, as it did a lot of others as well.

    Thrace- Yeah, it's the frame-rate on the 3D. My father in law couldn't handle it either. I actually had to wear my glasses beneath the 3D glasses which I normally only use for driving. I think anyone with epilepsy or similar conditions should stick with the 2D version of the film.

    Eric- Wow- heavy video. Thanks for the link.

    Transcend- I think most people don't fight the system because they're not wired that way. I recommend you check out Gary Null's personality classification system- it's really helpful in understanding mass psychology.

    Thanks everyone for a great round of feedback.

  12. Right on- Let us know your thoughts on the film, Justie.

  13. Three things:
    1) Brilliant analysis.

    2) That we don't belong here. When I was about eight, I was home alone sitting on the toilet when out of the blue the thought occurred to me that I didn't belong in my family. I didn't consider whether or not they belonged anywhere else. It was always a personal thing until I moved out into the great big world.

    Is it that some people are just not in tune to this fact, or do some of us belong here?

    3) Speaking of the Gibsonesque, have you seen the 2004 Avatar with Joan Chen?

  14. Chris, Toure -

    I'm also unsure about the blue folk's intentions. I'm just pointing out they've been banging on the barn door of our collective consciousness an awful lot lately.

    Can't wait until later this month, when my favorite blue humanoid race (the asari) will be featured in the Xbox game Mass Effect 2.

    Also, hat tip to the person above who made the connection to the dolphin article....

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. Hello Chris,
    kepler telescope just discovered 5 new planets discovered.
    For the cheap price of $600 million, I bet you it can discover another one :)

  17. Hi Chris,
    What caught my attention was the name Eywa.
    According to Leonard Schlain in 'The Alphabet Versus The Goddess' Eve in Hebrew is Haweh from the verb 'to be'. The Hebrew for serpent is Hewya, and Hawa is the Hebrew verb 'to instruct'.
    Food for thought if this 3D reality is a construct created by Thoth or a hive of techno-mages :)

  18. "If we had evolved here... surely we'd worship an earth-loving god as opposed to a distant absentee landlord one who seems to 'Biblically' enjoy destroying this planet as much as we do."

    thus the elephant in the room toots. the simple message no one wants to talk about is that europeans have systematically stamped out the "earth-loving" pagan [darker-colored] peoples of this planet, culturally and literally, for meaningless profit, and/or genetic/spiritual insecurity.

    this film reinforces -as Chris touches on here- the necessity of a return to the ways of the planet's original people, a metaphorical death of the current way of doing things, and a rebirth into a new consciousness.

    but, yeah, we get to keep our internet. as the film shows, that will be our path to the new spiritual collective.

  19. Davidly- I wonder how many of the world's greatest ideas have struck while someone is sitting on the john? As to that movie- I haven't. Care to share?

    Marko- Yes- Mass Effect 2. I watched the cinematicals on YouTube. Fascinating, particularly with the Mars stuff.

    Soapie- John Varley- sounds familiar. I'll have to look that up. Cameron's an ornery guy- comes with the territory. I just read Easy Riders and Raging Bulls- what a rogues gallery to be had in that book- these Hollywood type A types are like that. As to the agenda, it's obvious that the warmongers and the Religious Right hate it like poison, so any agenda isn't coming from the usual suspects, if indeed there is one. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

    Daniel- Yeah I saw that story. Fascinating goings on in the wild black yonder, eh?

  20. Mick- Good catch! Shines a whole new light on the matter.

    Toure- I was just watching my kids- my daughter had her new netbook to one side and was playing Wii with my wife. My son had his Macbook open and was playing Code of Honor online. They exist in a virtual world as much as the real one.

    As soon as I got on the Internet in 93 I said that newspapers should be abolished and delivered digitally. The amount of fuel used and pollution created to put the Sunday Times on your doorstop (70% of which is advertising) is a travesty. If you told me 17 years ago newspapers were still being published I would have thought you were insane.

    The online experience is inherently evolutionary, even though we're still stuck in this weird in-between phase with people just dumping their trash all over the place.

  21. I've got to be honest, I was underwhelmed by Avatar. The 3D looked more layered than submersive to me.

    The sync I wanted to note was the real world hero at the beginning of 2009 sharing the unusual name of the end of the year hero of Avatar, Sully.

  22. Chris- one of my most woo-woo ideas is that the Gaia consciousness has allowed for humanity to be massively dysfunctional in pursuit of technology because fully-realized use of the Internet will eventually be our saving grace. Once our collective imagination catches up with it, of course.

    The wonderful sci-fi author Rudy Rucker writes about a nanotechnological hive-mind and humanity uniting with our surroundings through a form of telepathy.

    As an aside, I was disgusted when I saw McDonalds sporting Avatar endorsements, with the Na'vi looking on approvingly as some guy scarfs a chemical burger. Hypocrisy much, mr. Cameron???

  23. Na, sorry, I ain't seen it. Can't find a rentable copy in Berlin.

    Yeah, the john. Sadly, the only place I meditate.

  24. I wasn't going to see this in Imax 3d 'cause I'm not within walking distance and didn't feel like making the effort.. Due to this post I changed my mind and just got back from my first ever Imax experience.
    That movie was incredible and I think I love that 10 foot tall blue Na'vi woman.
    Omg, that was the best movie experience of my life.
    Thanks for the push!

  25. Also, what I noticed most about Pandora as a supercomputer...
    Graham Hancock wrote about the organic experience of Ayahuasca and the opposite of DMT.
    Pandora and the Na'vi seem to be a beautiful sort of shamanic amalgamation of those two experiences becoming one.
    It's funny though, this movie was made with the latest technology and I was so emotionally involved it is somewhat of a microcosm of that concept.
    Zoe Saldana clothed in technology as Neytiri captured my heart from the get go.
    The Ayahuasca/Dmt/Human/Technological aspect of this movie is keeping me mindfully busy.
    It has def put a very positive spell on me.

  26. Hello Chris,
    I am amazed by life s9o far. I think your Bbbbbblog is SPPPpppPPPifffffing,.
    I am fr4om England and we AERE 'a Werired sort of peop[le/ I like you, I you are a Cancerian.......O O OI am a XSSSSsssscorpio! I Love the Myths, they are the only way understand ourselvels....

  27. Hello Big Brother, Big Mother or Big Future...What Tomorow brings we cannot know, but What Can We Know....That we Love....Believe, Live and Progress BeyoND rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrUBBBBISH. bEYOHEBE;SGhELLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLOOOO

  28. Hi again , Chris,
    You have Big Minded People on your blog and that's very Good.
    What does your Wife think? I am interested who is behind, infront and with/amongst us, bar you.
    Joy and Blessings to you,
    Davina x

  29. Avatar is just the beginning of some sort of 3D agenda unfolding. At the CES show, the new hot thing is 3D TVs from all the big manufacturers. DirectTv also announced 3 new HDTV channels that will be 3D. This stuff has obviously been planned for production months/years in advance. The first step is using the glasses because it is much cheaper than "real" 3D projection. I had that technology demonstrated to me a few years ago by a famous camera company. It was projection in space without using any glasses. The technology was cumbersome though, since it used two projectors it was the size of 2 large 50' projector TVs. It was really impressive, but the cost and size was a problem. They must be much further along perfecting that tech at this point...

  30. As for derivatives I thought of Dune.

  31. I don't know if this has already been posted and i missed it - it seems that the Vatican doesn't like Avatar (maybe because the Na'vi don't need a middleman to intercede for them with their god)

    Here's the story

    Love your blog Chris - its the first thing i read in the morning!



  32. As a variant, yes

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  34. Re:
    "This movie is narcotic- nearly orgasmic- in its power to bring you into another reality"

    Kubrick didn't have 3-D to immerse you into "2001...",but according to my friend Rob Ager at

    He says,"The monolith is a representation of the actual wide-frame cinema screen, rotated 90 degrees.
    So in the films opening and during the intermission, we are not looking at an empty black screen at all. We are looking directly at the surface of the monolith!
    The monolith is the film screen and it is singing directly at its audience in the same way that the apes and astronauts are entranced by its heavenly voice, not realizing that they are being communicated with directly!!!
    For almost forty years audiences and reviewers across the globe have sat staring at this black singing screen, not realizing that they are staring at the monolith. The joke is on us and Kubrick, if he is watching over us, will be laughing and cheering from beyond the infinite."

    I couldn't agree more with Rob on that point.