Friday, December 18th, 2009

Flicked Off, with Mary HK Choi: 'Avatar'

THE 'TARThis movie makes me emo. Thinking about it makes my nose do that chloriney thing you get right before you start crying. I am SO GAY for this movie that I can't stand it. And you know what? Having finally seen it, I don't even care what the haters have to say. I am a happy meniscus that your spite sauce slides off of. I'm lifted.

I waited three hours in July San Diego sun to watch 27 minutes of this movie. I had to cross the street from the convention center to where the line serpentined to the water by the Hilton to catch the Cameron panel at Comic Con. I sat ON GRASS next to a very nice but distinctly aromatic 19-year-old quasi Juggalo who worked in human resources at a tech firm and wanted to talk the whole time to get my ass into Hall H and my eyeballs behind some 3D specs and I'll tell you what, it was worth it.

I have zero idea why they bothered with a trailer. It confounded me that they then rolled out the extended trailer, almost as if they'd anxiously detected the ire with which the first trailer was received. That fools had the gall to even BEGIN to form noisy opinions about the movie based on some analog shitstain smearing across their janky computer screens made me want to smash and kill. I was even mad at the movie for being such a pussy as to question its own awesome.

I can't even tell you how insane I feel trying to rock up a buncha words to ya'll in some sufficiently synergistic configuration that'll convey what makes this movie so rad. I feel ridiculously ill-equipped. It's a joke. The words don't have one million motion-capture dots on its face with a squillion teeny cameras trained on just their eyeball areas with the whole thing plunged into a gigantic motion-capture volume set. The words won't peel their skins off and spazz for you in waves and particles and alchemy and phosphorescent flowermagic and hypercolored superdinosaurs and I feel shameface about it because they'd need to ferry a petabyte of information to properly get my point across. I feel like I'm trying to tell you in mashed potato.

"Avatar" is staggering. It's seismic. Evolutionarily speaking it is cladogenesis in a thunderclap. Punctuating the balls outta equilibrium. Think about it: You can't bit torrent this shit. And even if some very industrious pillager cops the glasses and figures out how to do it in the way it was intended to be seen, that person is a hope rapist that should be shot in the face for dream treason because James Cameron and a gang of wizards made this beautiful, beautiful thing for us-in 2009 of all years. We should ALL hold hands about it.
Gun Show. Welcome.
Yes, the Na'vi look like giant Matthew Lillards (and circa "Hackers" too, since there is long hair involved). Sure, the dialog has the subtlety of dubbed German porn and granted, the narrative is basically a cave drawing of a mother and child since it better make sense in Kerala as well as Kansas but here's why THIS DIRECTOR, your man who sat there in that pulsing convention hall at SDCC with his grown-out silvered skaterdude hair, was the one to make this movie: James Cameron is a fanboy.

A fanboy's heart is filled with love, enthusiasm, and insecurity. Duly, he flexes the SHIT out of the technology. Cameron waited 15 years to get it right and grabs you by the neck and takes you on an EPIC tour. He starts with the rinkydink usual chicanery-some "Final Destination" shit-making things fly towards you. He moves us through lucite. He shows us holographic computer interfaces where you can just grab something from your screen with your hand to slide-copy it onto a tablet. Whatevs, "Minority Report" OS 2.0 zzzzzzzzzzzz.
King of the world!
But then he shows us Pandora. This planet that he made for us. And it overshadows every suspension bridge, pyramid, and skyscraper all at the same time because I swear to God, THIS is what makes me want to have a kid. And I love bridges. I want to get to be the one who adds this to their source material. I want them to draw from it when figuring out what to love about life. And I want that love to determine their life's work. THIS IS MOVIES KICKING VIDEO GAMES' ASS.

As a shit-ton critics have already described there is incandescent flora and a Pantone seizure of fauna. They're pretty great. You should check them out. It's an insanely tactile experience that makes me wish they could score it not just with music but a sequence of smells. There are sparkling waterfalls and because Cameron knew we'd love to, he lets us careen through, past, and underneath them on mythic FLYING creatures in this reality where everyone gets their own special one and there are these mountains that have been magically uprooted (though it's a terrestrial and myopic failing to consider that they'd ever have to be grounded) that are breathtaking to almost crash into when you get to be the hula hoop to the supine floating magician's assistant and poke around to see if there's fishing wire.

The locals are awesome. They're tall and have these spooky braids that have tentacles that curl out and do synaptic axon/dendrite neurotransmitty stuff but like in alien. They do it to animals and plants except they don't do it to each other which is weird because I'd bet it would feel like sexdrugs. We don't get to see them actually mate which sucks and we don't get to see a pregnant one which also sucks because that would've been neat. But we do get to see some babies. They're cute.

They have clear tears but it's hard to tell and I don't know what color their blood is. They have a language that the human dorks will adopt. Their eyes emote like ours. It would be hard to break up with one because you can totally tell what they're feeling. You might have to text message it to them. They have this tree made of souls and light and God and it's a big deal. There is a battle of dinosaurs vs. robots. I have nothing more to add to that sentence because you're dead inside if you can't get what's cool about that.

Here's the nut. You know the best part of the superhero narrative? The part where the hero discovers the power and learns to use it and you get to be along for the ride and it's the funnest thing ever like when Spider-Man first goes flinging himself allover Queens? Well, that's Queens. This is that, times a billion. It's on another fucking planet, and the whole thing goes on for almost 3 hours and short circuits your brain because your mind's eye has NO IDEA what's happening because this is the glamour of its life. If there was a button that I could push that would agog my brain to the level that I felt first seeing "Avatar" in its entirety and another one for food pellets, I would die of starvation.

84 Comments / Post A Comment

balsa_wood (#465)

"I can't even tell you how insane I feel trying to rock up a buncha words to ya’ll in some sufficiently synergistic configuration that’ll convey what makes this movie so rad."

This sentence is very Poochie the Dog.

Hobbesian (#255)

Rosetta Stone: Mashed Potato

balsa_wood (#465)

Also, the "HK" stands for Harry Knowles, no?

RAP vs. SWEDEN (#2,668)

the "HK" stands for "Total Babe"

balsa_wood (#465)

Hey man, I'm lookin' at the picture and it's not like I'm disagreein'. Though it isn't not fun to imagine that head on Harry Knowles's body.

Dan Kois (#646)

Their blood is red.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Is it? I think I have problems with this.

Dan Kois (#646)

Yeah, I think so. I have problems with the kiss. Why would Na'vi kiss?

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Right? It's because they're "still in Alpha Centauri"! Also, how LOL was it when the AMP suit pulls a big-ass loose knife out on someone? Because that's how anyone would EVER design a blade for robotic armament.

Dan Kois (#646)

Here comes our blog-to-book deal! "Improbable things about Avatar"

balsa_wood (#465)

It is absurd, but also somehow so so awesome.

I saw it this morning, and agree that it's pretty much breathtaking.

But how would it be as a 2D experience? Seriously hobbled, I think.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

@Kois: SOLD! I have a list actually (of course).
@balsa: You know what it is? This movie's important. And the full visual effect is what makes it so.

BoHan (#29)

Also, the American Savior packs a machine gun on the back of his dino-bird. Made my head hurt more than the 3D IMAX.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Then I am glad there is no such button.

That Denby is still fucking employed and you have not replaced him is a motherfucking crime.

rj77 (#210)


HiredGoons (#603)

"a hope rapist that should be shot in the face for dream treason"

In an alternate universe, I'm straight and we're married.

And blue.

HiredGoons (#603)

Aw, cheer up!

Oh wait, don't. Things are terrible.

KenWheaton (#401)

"A hope rapist that should be shot in the face for dream treason." This will totally be appropriated by the Obama administration to be used against opponents. Fucking love it.

Kataphraktos (#226)

Darling, breathe.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

Hurts. *Rocking*


iwantyrskull (#1,706)

"There is a battle of dinosaurs vs. robots"


kneetoe (#1,881)

First I have to know who wins.

Rw (#1,458)

We all do!

kneetoe (#1,881)

My money's on the dinosaurs. Nothing can stop the dinosaurs.

Atencio (#399)


Rw (#1,458)

well yeah but don't you need to be down at the theater in 3hrs to get in line?

Atencio (#399)

Arclight's reserved seats are a godsend for people like me who take no pleasure in waiting in long lines with our fellow nerds.

SemperBufo (#1,849)

Juggalo: this season's least popular fragrance gift.

iplaudius (#1,066)

The word nose was right over the word GAY in your opening lines, so I now I am thinking about nosegays. BE MORE CAREFUL NEXT TIME, plz.

iplaudius (#1,066)

I finished and savored all of this review, and I think I understand how the "glamour" of a thing like Avatar can become a life-force – especially for those of us who live half the time trying to tune our imaginations to the natural frequencies of things, to start the aesthetic and sympathetic vibration. I am very, very excited to see Avatar now.

metoometoo (#230)

"those of us who live half the time trying to tune our imaginations to the natural frequencies of things, to start the aesthetic and sympathetic vibration"


josh_speed (#97)


"Evolutionarily speaking, it is cladogenesis in a thunderclap."


paco (#2,190)

I must be old before my time. The hyperventilating, circle-jerk tone of this discussion makes me want to hate this movie, and everyone who is so agog about it. (I haven't seen it yet.) And, yes, I know — what's wrong with a good circle jerk?

Is this meant to be a review, or just a spurting paean? I appreciate the sentiment of the following: "There is a battle of dinosaurs vs. robots. I have nothing more to add to that sentence because you're dead inside if you can't get what's cool about that." But it feels a bit like "You're either with us or against us."

I understand that the movie makes you want to have kids, and that's really lovely, but it feels like there's no room for discussion here. (Hence the circle jerk?) Maybe room for discussion is overrated.

["Agog" is not a verb. It's an adjective, and possibly and adverb. Nothing can "agog" your brain to any level.

You're missing a c in "phosphoresent".

And this sentence is broken:
"I was even mad at the movie for being a pussy as [sic] to appear to question its own awesome."]

paco (#2,190)

"and possibly and adverb" = "and possibly an adverb"

Hi Paco!

Well I too am old before my time. Heh. One of us, one of us!

Thanks for catching "phosphorescent." That is an editor's error; fixed!

As for agog, I personally approve of this particular highly-irregular usage. (On the principle of language being a virus.)

And as for your notes about room for discussion; well, you're discussing!

brotherman (#2,684)

I didn't know there was supposed to be an invitation for discussion. Or at least the discussion you're looking for.

I liked that this wasn't an academic essay about the movie so much a one-man bukkake of emotion (or solo jerk to use your wording.) I like that it demonstrates a refusal to hear "Well, the story is derivative of the archetypical Campbell-ian-" STFU because that is just how the writer feels about it. There's no uncertainty about how much they loved it.

This is the kind of review I like. The "This-is-how-I-feel" kind of review. I hate the kind of review that just gives people an excuse to wank their film/TV correspondence degree from USC, where in the end, no one's listening to anyone else anyway.

balsa_wood (#465)

"where in the end, no one’s listening to anyone else anyway."

Wow, that's cynical. And inaccurate, I think.

Also, you're a little bitter about film critics. There are plenty of good ones out there, who care a lot about movies, and aren't in it to masturbate all over their readership.

brotherman (#2,684)

Isn't the writer of this article a film critic?

balsa_wood (#465)

Not…exactly? (Don't wanna step on any toes.) I mean, I don't think she's a professional film critic, but it's not really your response to her I'm talking about.

You're contrasting her with other film critics, who in your opinion (as it reads) write primarily so they can show off their hoity-toity knowledge of cinema. Which presumes that a) this is a real epidemic, and b) displaying a broad knowledge of film doesn't belong in film, um, criticism. I don't even know what to say about "no one's listening to anyone else anyway," because I don't buy it at all…just as I don't buy the knock on "correspondence" degrees from USC. Who are you talking about?

If you want good film criticism online, it ain't hard to find. Dave Kehr, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Manohla Dargis, Glenn Kenny, Richard Brody, etc.

brotherman (#2,684)

Why are you inferring that I only think there are two kinds of reviews? If I say I love apples but hate oranges, I'm not saying there are only two fruits. I understand that this particular review is an extreme, and my other example is also meant to be presented as an extreme.

Let me also ask you, what is your definition of a professional film critic? I assume this writer was paid for this article. If I was paid to twitter, "Avatar sucked," or "Avatar rocked," wouldn't that make me a professional? Clearly you have a definition other than the literal one, so what are your qualifications?

What do you think the point of a film review is?

blue deux noobs

Br. Seamus (#217)

So, it's not actually Furry Titanic? WHEW.

Abe Sauer (#148)

3Dsturbatory Star Wars-opera ripoff of Daces with Wolves with shamefully pornographic amounts of Noble Savagery thrown in.

And every time I saw Michelle Rodriguez piloting that Aliens drop ship I kept waiting for her to scream "Spunkmeyer!?"

balsa_wood (#465)


Abe Sauer (#148)

Really? For a film that is "groundbreaking" it is quite possibly the most derivative production I have ever seen. It steals from a heap of films (including Cameron's own). Hell Cameron himself admitted to the LA Times that it was "Dances with Wolves in Space" which I only learned when I got home and googled "Avatar" and "Dances with Wolves." Give that search a whirl. I'm nowhere near alone. The technology is amazing and a far leap from the Creature of the Black Lagoon 3D I used to watch as a kid; but Avatar will be forgotten 10 years from now when all movies are busting out this technology. Ironically, it will be Cameron's Aliens, Terminator 1, and (yes) Titanic that people will still want to watch a decade from now. The film is important and everyone will remember when/where tey saw it. But only historically, like Pong. Nobody wants to play pong anymore.

Thank you Abe! Derivative was the first word I thought of. An absolute blow-your-mind 3D tour de force for the effects and CGI. But the plot? The characters? Even down to the indigenous culture? Been there, done that.

Maybe he did it to make it more accessible? To make the messages obvious to everyone?

Was it worth my $20? Yeah, but only cause that's what Imax 3D is for.

Mary HK Choi (#1,469)

I guess it depends what you're applying "groundbreaking" to. The story's shit. I address it in the post. "The dialog has the subtlety of dubbed German porn and granted, the narrative is basically a cave drawing of a mother and child since it better make sense in Kerala as well as Kansas."
BUT the story has absolutely nothing to do with why this is a groundbreaking movie. What are they going to do about DVD sales? I mean, you can't get a passable facsimile of the viewing experience at home. Are they going to extend the theater run? Also, can you really "forget" about something when it's the benchmark to beat? I agree that movies will bust out this technology in the future but if you look at what came before, this is an absolute quantum leap in CG and that's the part that I find awesome and worthy of celebration.

balsa_wood (#465)

First off, I highly doubt it's the "most derivative production" you have ever seen. I'm sure you've seen more derivative movies, probably this year. That's web hyperbole.

The DANCES WITH WOLVES parallels are clear, yeah, and the simplicity of the natives will be the most shopworn element years down the road. But he doesn't stop there, really. Cameron takes the stranger in a strange land line further into a pretty trippy realm with his seeming conviction that there's a unity between all living things. This is something that George Lucas never could say directly, because he's such a lame-o.


The big twist at the end–when the ferocious rhino-like animals of Pandora revolt against the villainous army–it's a little silly, yeah, but it's also positively Emersonian, this notion that, if under duress, the entire natural world might just up and revolt. I'm not sure I've seen something quite like that before in something that's not a cartoon. I mean, this movie is passionately green: our hero only is able to "see" at the end, once he's become a member of a forest clan. Loopy and slightly new-agey and hippy-friendly, yes…but derivative? No.

In ALIENS, those robot suits that the Americans wore were just cool-looking hardware–here, it's a pretty efficient symbol of our disconnect from the world we're dispassionately trashing.

And I haven't even started on the effects, which are singular.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Mary: Oh, agreed, The FX are without even close equal. They are the Tiger Woods of FX.

Balsa: Well, I believe I said that for a film heralded as "groundbreaking" it was the most derivative I had seen. As for "green" films. I guess I see that but it's ham-handed as hell. As for Emersonian, I don;t know if we need to create other worlds. Personally, I find Malick's onscreen studies and lingerings on nature (in New World, Thin Red Line, and Days of Heaven) to be far and away more powerful than anything in Avatar, partly because they are real things that I can experience (something, real and no manufactured, that I would hazard Emerson would side with). In the New World you even get real Indians and militarized human invaders set on plundering the natural riches!

balsa_wood (#465)

Hey, you'll get no argument from me about Malick–even though I do think people give him a pass sometimes on what I see as pseudo-spiritual faux-naivete (I also find it easier to connect with a big blue alien than with Colin Farrell).

But is it so bad that the film is broad? That it's unsubtle? And how do you know that Emerson would've had a problem with it? It seems that Cameron was very interested in having his audience see something anew, with fresh eyes–and, for my money, he succeeded at that. Again, as with the 11-foot-tall blue aliens, he wants as many people as possible to connect with something strange and foreign and (in his mind) beautiful.

Okay, I'm starting to scare myself. But it really was one of the very few movies I've seen that I felt fully justified its own obsession with technology–I'd put AI in there, as well, and the past two movies of David Fincher (all these movies are about replication)–and while I do think that the world we have is usually enough to ruminate on, our world is not all that he's interested in.

Excuse me, I need to go join a cult.

deepomega (#1,720)

STRONGLY AGREE. It cannot be overstated how great the graphics were, but jesus christ. A Facebook friend posted saying Cameron was the new Lucas. I don't think she meant it as an insult, but I agree wholeheartedly. And I could've handled the gentle racism, the mind-bogglingly shallow plot, if the dialog were written as though it were words actual human beings would say, but no.

Abe Sauer (#148)

The Lucas comparison is important and I'm no film scholar but Cameron is wildly (and maybe destructively) departing here from operatic sci-fi child's-play epics (Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica (original) or even Star Trek) and that is the failure to create HUMAN heroes. Jules Verne to HG wells to Lucas all knew that the "good guys" had to be human characters kids could relate to (and want to be). Even Cameron knew this in Aliens and Terminator. But Avatar? How does a 9 year old boy "play" Avatar? get a wheelchair? Pretend to be 11 feet tall and blue? Cameron has, unfortunately, been misled into thinking he's making a "message" film for adults when he made a Star Wars for the Next Generation.

balsa_wood (#465)

You see that he's "failing" to create human heroes…and I see it as the one of the film's major achievements that we sympathize fully with non-humans, that THEY are who we see the conflict through.

And I'm not sure I'm worrying too much about how a 9-year-old plays AVATAR. If you think Lucas's strength is his slavish need to connect with little children, then we disagree mightily. You've seen the PHANTOM MENACE, yes? That's what happens when you obsess over creating relatable human heroes for 9-year-olds. (George Lucas is pretty much worthless in my book…bad director, bad writer, good toymaker.)

Abe Sauer (#148)

I was just looking at the parallels b/w Lucas and Cameron in their sci-fi. They are very different. Where Cameron IS like Lucas is this obsession with technology improving films. Both were extrordinary story tellers in the earliest stuff (Terminator/THX1138) but then their stories became increasingly horrible as their FX obsessions took over. See, esp on this subject: David Foster Wallace.

balsa_wood (#465)

Which David Foster Wallace? I'd love to read his thoughts on this, actually…

balsa_wood (#465)


Pop Socket (#187)

Cameron went to the Lucas School Of Dialog. After three viewings, you will have to watch it with the sound off just to endure it.

paco (#2,190)

Is there a reason the author of the post and the commenters here insist on using the acceptable but variant secondary spelling "dialog"?

Seriously, just curious. Am I weird to be annoyed by this? I think most people spell this word as "dialogue", and most dictionaries suggest that that is the preferred spelling.

“James Cameron’s Avatar is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in years.”â€" David Denby, The New Yorker

“An extraordinary film.” â€" Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“It extends the possibilities of what movies can do.” â€" Peter Travers, Rolling Stone

“Evolutionarily speaking, it is cladogenesis in a thunderclap.” â€" Mary HK Choi, The Awl

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

100% nobody is stating the obvious: The number #1 movie in the nation that many folks will be getting stoned to.

Someone please bring Laser Zeppelin back.

Thank you.

Dave Bry (#422)

"The words won’t peel their skins off and spazz for you in waves and particles and alchemy and phosphoresent flowermagic and hypercolored superdinosaurs…"

Yes, the words will. Your words do.

Bittersweet (#765)

I just read this review while listening to 'Ice Cream Castles' by the Time, and the two awesome sensory inputs together have just caused my brain to explode. In a good way.

p is for pee (#900)

oh my god. I want to have sex with this post and Choi and the movie all at once.

Clip Arthur (#2,024)

Oh hey, late question but does anyone know if anyone anywhere is attempting to figure out if Avatar sync well to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon?”

Now that’s something!

joeclark (#651)

+(10⁴ Ã- 10¹²)

brotherman (#2,684)

Between someone that LOVED something and another who didn't, I'd rather be the former.

The most overrated thing in the world is a discerning palate. In the end, no one gives a shit except you. It's like going through life, only fucking with a condom on, and you're bragging about how thick it is.

The Zissou (#2,686)

This movie doesn't interest me. The commercials look like Amazonian Smurfs fighting robots. That being said, this is an excellent review and I wish all film reviews were written with this kind of passion. Sometimes a movie can make you feel much more alive than any aspect of your daily routine, which I think is much larger praise than any number of appendages or celestial objects.

paco (#2,190)

"But then he shows us Pandora. This planet that he made for us. And it overshadows every suspension bridge, pyramid, and skyscraper all at the same time because I swear to God, THIS is what makes me want to have a kid. And I love bridges. I want to get to be the one who adds this to their source material. I want them to draw from it when figuring out what to love about life. And I want that love to determine their life's work."

This passage confused the fuck out of me on my first pass. This is why: the author uses "their" to her unborn child, to avoid the use of "he" or "she" — but the placement of "their" leaves the reader lost. The lack of specifice reference leads to all sorts of problems in the rest of the passage:

"I want to get to be the one who adds this to their source material."

As noted, the use of "their" in this sentence leaves the reader initially bewildered as to whom the author is referring. (This problem could have been corrected by replacing "their" with "my child's" — but our author probably didn't want to go to that level of sickly sweet specificity.) The confusion here is further compounded by the author's use of "this" in the above-quoted sentence. What does "this" refer to? Does "this" refer to the bridges in the immediately preceding sentence? Does "this" refer to this review? No, the reader eventually muddles to the conclusion that "this" refers to AVATAR — at least, that's what we deduce through the haze of the writing.

Enthusiasm is fine. I have no problem with it. Long live enthusiasm and joy. But bad, lazy writing — no matter how tricked-out and gussied-up with fifty-cent words and appropriated slang — is excruciating.

paco (#2,190)

"the author uses 'their' to her unborn child" ==> "the author uses 'their' to *refer* to her unborn child"

"specifice" ==> "specific"

What's your problem, bro?

brotherman (#2,684)

Hmmm. You're putting up with "excruciating" for "fine" and "no problem." Not only that, but you're repeatedly putting yourself through it, despite how "excruciating" it is. Are you THAT bored? Is this a service you provide? I thought most people tend to avoid things they find excruciating.

Now, if this article was something that you LIKED, but are trying to improve for your future reading enjoyment, that would make a lot of sense. Otherwise, I have no idea what you're getting at.

Sorry, I meant, "I have no idea at what you're getting."

Ronbo (#2,383)


Earth/America/Capitalism Are Inevitably The Nasty, Imperialistic Villains.

Enviromentalist Wacko Politically Correct Aliens Are The Heroes.

Beam me up, Scotty! There are no intelligent movies on this planet!

I finally saw it. Somewhat visually interesting, but tedious, tedious, tedious!

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