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December 11, 2009

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Tony Dayoub

Well, of course we're gonna see it, Glenn. Even if we think the Na'vi look like they walked straight off of FERNGULLY.

Snarkiness aside, though, I always feel like Cameron's films are enjoyable, even if I don't necessarily go "all in" as some others do.

In regards to THE ABYSS, have you seen the extended version? Do you have a problem with that cut as well? What are your problems with either version?

Account Deleted

As a Cameron 'groupie' from way back I find it hard to express fully how much it means to have Cameron 'back'. This is a guy that I actually love on a certain level, for filling my teenage imagination with the sights and sounds of The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2 and True Lies (which is still the last good action blockbuster IMO - as Jan DeBont said at the time "How do you top that?", turns out nobody could, until now perhaps).

Disappointed you don't like The Abyss though, personally I find it to be Cameron's most interesting film.

Brian

Dammit, Glenn-- I was all set to ignore this film and mock its trailer some more on Facebook, and then you had to go and drop those Kirby and Steranko references, and now I kind of want to see it (it also looks like we like/dislike the same Cameron films). Love the comparison between Kirby and Cameron's dialogue, too-- a very apt comparison, I think, but one I hadn't thought of before. Thanks for the very cool review.

Shane Dobbie

People always criticise Cameron's dialogue, but I guarantee we'll all be quoting it happily before long. What's the alternative - Kurtzman and Orci? I wouldn't let them near a shopping list.

bill

"This despite the fact that it wouldn’t be a stretch to interpret the picture as a call for worldwide jihad, and its hero Jake Sully as a more competent, successful John Walker Lindh. Okay, I’m playing here. A bit. But man, those buzz phrases “shock and awe,” “fight terror with terror” and “preemptive war” didn’t come out of nowhere. We can discuss this further after you’ve seen the picture. Which you ought to."

No thank you.


John M

After watching an advance scene online, I got worried that the film would be too overloaded with hyper-viewpoints and impossible physics, with lots of crowded swoops, like the dinosaur sequence from Peter Jackson's KING KONG (a sequence I loathe). Is it more coherent than that, visually? I'm hoping so...Cameron's stuff in the past has been at least clean, from a mise-en-scene perspective.

Earthworm Jim

I've been waiting for an excuse to get excited about this, so thanks. My only qualm is about the 3D; would you say Cameron uses it artfully? I tend to find the whole 3D thing rather obnoxious, but I acknowledge that there are artistic possibilities therein...

Stephen Whitty

I enjoyed a lot of the film -- great to see Sigourney Weaver in any form, thought Zoe Saldana really created a character even through the motion capture, and felt the final 45 minutres were truly kick ass.

Was the whole film groundbreaking? I don't know. I still haven't seen 3D used in the same change-the-form way that widescreen (or color, or souund) was. And for all the press, this motion-capture/CGI was slightly better -- but not much.

Again, I had a decent enough time. A fun one, honestly. But, yeah, what I found really annoying as the film went on was Cameron's taking a 22nd-century story, and then using it to overlay '7os antiwar politics on top of current events.

I mean, I get the whole better-I-betray-my-country-than-my-friend thing that at's the heart of our hero's rebellion. And the re-purposing of our 19th-century-American colonialism to address other, modern sins is obvious (and accepted) in films from "Soldier Blue" to "Little Big Man" and beyond.

But Cameron then takes all that evil Army-against-soulful-Native-American-warriors stuff and tries -- very clumsily -- to use it for an anti-Iraq-War message. (He even, as you note, has characters talk about "daisy-cutter bombs" and fighting "terror with terror" and a "shock-and-awe campaign.")

And yeah, you can be totally against the Iraq war, for a number of reasons. I was, and am. And you can think the Native Americans came out the losers in a long-ago genocidal war with John Ford's soldiers. I do.

But you can't just take "Dances With Wolves," stick it in space, add some contemporary references, and think you're making a statement about Basra.

Because, whatever you think of our policies in the Middle East, the one thing they AREN'T about is a war in which a superior technological culture tries to wipe out an endangered world of sensitive, New Age eco-warriors.

And making a movie in which the "happy ending" consists of the hero killing hundreds of his former comrades -- while the rebel women ululate war cries -- is either the biggest balls-to-the-wall radical stance I can think of or just plain stupid.

And I'm going to say the latter.

Glenn Kenny

@ Stephen: I know what you mean. I was wondering if I was going a little over-the-top with my "it wouldn't be a stretch..." interpretation, and I think I was, anticipating that SOME chucklehead will eventually make that interpretation in earnest...but, yeah. The buzzwords aren't even on a dog-whistle level, and that ululating bit—just one shot, but a real WTF? moment—is the sort of thing that studio executives are good for. As in, "Jim, lose the ululating bit."

So, as the commercial says, "It's in there." DId it spoil the movie for me? Not entirely; such are the joys of being something of a formalist. Is it going to change young hearts and minds? Very doubtful. Is it, as you say, stupid? Yeah. Or if you want to take a kinder stance, extremely ill-considered.

pdf

I'm probably gonna blow this thing off for a few reasons: 1) as a writer, the dialogue in the trailers makes my head hurt; 2) the plot makes my head hurt even more; 3) it's almost three hours long; 4) I just don't like the alien character design.

Unrelated aside: The Abyss is my favorite Cameron movie.

Stephen Whitty

@Glenn

And, as a p.s., I think the REALLY amusing media question is -- what are the angry yellers at Fox News going to make out of this, coming as it does from their sister studio? Rage and fulminate, as they would if it were coming from those degenerate, cosmopolitan Weinsteins? Or somehow, conveniently, give it a pass?

Tom Russell, World's Biggest Fan of Flippa-Dippa

I always *liked* Kirby's dialogue, "on-the-noseness" and all. Like his art/storytelling/wealth of crazy-ass ideas, it's like he's punching you in the forehead with his dialogue. I can see where it doesn't necessarily fit every story-- or even most stories-- but when you have the Black Racer-- it's Death on frickin' skis!, or, to be more accurate, a paraplegic Viet Nam vet who transforms into Death on frickin' skis! -- it kinda fits.

As to whether or not that sort of dialogue works for Cameron, well, that's a whole 'nother story, and being that I haven't seen Avatar yet, and probably won't for a few weeks yet, I don't have an opinion on that, per se. Though his dialogue in his science fiction films worked a lot better for me than his dialogue in Titanic; like George Lucas, I think the farther Cameron stays away from "romantic" dialogue, the better.

Glenn Kenny

@ Stephen: Unless Prince Rupert really wants to appear obtrusively meddlesome, there's no way that Fox News will be able to let this lie; just as it drives a certain segment of conservatism, it is also driven by that segment. It'll be interesting to track once the film comes out.

@ Tom: Flippa DIppa lives! I come to love the awkward earnestness of Kirby's dialogue (and captions), which of course has nothing at all to do with whether it's "good" or not.

Frank McDevitt

Dammit, Glenn! Now I actually want to see this. Sam Worthington does kind of have the face for a Kirby hero...I could actually see him playing Orion in a New Gods movie. I was always more of a DC guy so the Kirby stuff in my collection is mostly New Gods/Fourth World, and I can sort of see shades of that in the clips and screens for Avatar.

The Siren

After reading Stephen Whitty's assessment, I must say I can't wait for John Nolte's review. And that isn't because I'm certain he'll hate it--the man did give a good review to Che.

On other hand, this is a cinch to turn Debbie Schlussel as blue as Zoe Saldana's character. Good times ahead, folks.

Titanic was definitely a left-wing reading of that catastrophe, so the Avatar themes as Glenn describes them don't surprise me. But I will also be very interested in seeing how Cameron's underappreciated flair for the romantic/women's picture angle plays in Avatar. You guys find your references, and I'll find mine. :D

partisan

James Cameron, the anti-Ozu. It's for this reason that "Aliens" is his best movie, because a woman not wanting a small girl from being eaten alive by vicious, genocidal imperialists is more emotionally real than making love to a woman once, getting her pregnant, and dying shortly afterwards.

bill

So everyone who has seen AVATAR seems to agree that it's a blatant Iraq war allegory that apparently roots for the death of American soldiers at the hands of peaceful (in Cameron's version) terrorists, and yet all anyone seems to care about is how crazy this is going to make conservative critics. That's interesting.

Glenn Kenny

Whoa, Bill. I don't think the film actually roots for the death of American soldiers. I think it uses certain symbolism and terminology very irresponsibly (that's not my preferred term, but it'll have to do at the moment), and I'm not cool with that, and neither is S. Whitty. There are a bunch of dimensions to this situation to be discussed, but let me make clear that I find a lot of what's in "Avatar" pretty off-putting, and am a little surprised at what, say, Nolte did NOT notice.

bill

Oh, I'm sure if you asked Cameron if he rooted for the deaths of American soldiers, he'd be aghast at the very idea. But, I mean, look at what Whitty (and, clearly, I shouldn't have said "everyone", but the more I read, the more pissed off I become, and so I wrote my last comment in the heat of that -- I apologize) and, well, YOU, lay out as evidence for the film's irresponsibility, and then acknowledge -- I'm not wrong about this, am I? -- that the villains in this film are the American military (and yes, corporations, of course), and then consider, if not what I proposed, then what IS the film rooting for? At least regarding the combat scenes.

Glenn Kenny

Look, it IS problematic. It might have been less so had he not made the Earthling invading force so largely identifiably American. I don't know how much actual practical effect the film's "irresponsibility" will have. But I'm not interested in whipping things up, which is maybe why I prefer speculating on how other parties might whip things up. All I'm saying is that this particular aspect of the film WILL be a pertinent aspect of the debate about it.

Brian

Bill, if that's really what the film seems to be "saying" (or at least raising, however unintentionally or unconsciously), I would be aghast, too. But I'm still intrigued by Glenn's descriptions of the film's visuals and their links to comics and other media models I'm really interested in, and I wonder if what might seem like simplistic or offensive concepts on paper (er, blog-screen) become more complex as they unfold through those visual choices. For me, that doesn't mean they're not still worth criticizing (indeed, maybe they're MORE worth critiquing because of the way they draw on our enthusiasm for sci-fi, Kirby, etc.), and as I say, I'm very much in sympathy with the concerns you raise. But given how thoughtfully Glenn writes about them here, I'm curious to see what that relationship between form and politics (or whatever term we prefer) is.

Account Deleted

Cameron has pointed out that the film is not specifically an Iraq war allegory, but drawn from all the examples through human history where invading forces have displaced an indigenous race for means of profit, from the Conquistadors onwards.

bill

"Cameron has pointed out that the film is not specifically an Iraq war allegory, but drawn from all the examples through human history where invading forces have displaced an indigenous race for means of profit, from the Conquistadors onwards."

But of course he is.

bill

But of course he DID, that should have said.

JC

I dunno...Iraq War, Conquistadors....

All the image above brings to mind, for me, is William Wallace. "YOU'LL NEVER TAKE...OUR FREEDOM!!"

But I suppose bringing Mel Gibson into this is the last thing I should be doing right now. ;)

Zach

I gotta say that the purported political content, and the resulting furor, has raised my interest in this flick by a couple of notches. A couple friends have agreed with the "story is adolescent, but the experience is so VISCERAL" assessment, but we didn't have time to get to the politics.

What would be interesting is if people (left, right or in between) manage to keep straight the notion that an allegorical critique of a particular war or policy - such as the Iraq war or the, ahem, recent escalation of the Afghanistan war, is not the same thing as being Anti-American or in favor of terrorists.

bill

"Yes, it's an Iraq War allegory. And yes, in this allegory, the US military is compared to terrorists. And yes, the allegorical terrorists are the good guys. And YES, the US military are portrayed as monstrous villains. And, okay, YES, in that sense, you're rooting for the terrorists over the military. But that doesn't mean..."

Save it.

lazarus

While I thought the dialogue in Titanic was atrocious, The Abyss had a pretty tight and cringeless script. Maybe it was easier for him to write about a relationship on the rocks than it was to write about people falling in love. Or maybe it was because Ed Harris and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio were the ones delivering it. But I don't remember anything cringeworthy in that film.

And I agree with whoever else said it was their favorite Cameron film. His Close Encounters, with more identifiable characters and groundbreaking effects that came off very natural (compared to the too-eager-to impress work in the overblown and extremely pandering T2). Even if the message was a little heavy-handed.

As for Avatar, I'm wondering why Cameron's lesson about white invaders exploiting natives and their resources is somehow a more impressive sci-fi idea (and more worthy of respect) than George Lucas's critique of the Bush Administration (or in more general terms, the examination of decaying democracy) in Revenge of the Sith. Lucas certainly could have completed his saga without even addressing that parallel so directly, and it's a more interesting subject than Cameron's fairly worn-out liberal guilt.

John M.

"What would be interesting is if people (left, right or in between) manage to keep straight the notion that an allegorical critique of a particular war or policy - such as the Iraq war or the, ahem, recent escalation of the Afghanistan war, is not the same thing as being Anti-American or in favor of terrorists."

Bill seems to be confused about this already.

God forbid the US military (150 years in the future, no less) be portrayed as anything but the sensitive, goodwill-spreading bunch of chuckleheads that they are.

I gotta run to the department store. I'm sending out smallpox blankets for Christmas.

Glenn Kenny

I agree with Zach in principle, and would be relatively on board...EXCEPT for the shot in which the Na'vi heroine gives her ululating war whoop. It was off-putting as I was watching the film, and the more I think about it the more agitated I get at how cutesy and in-your-face the shot is. Call me insufficiently multicultural, but I find ululating pretty creepy in the same way I find Pentacostal speaking in tongues creepy, and I've never been particularly crazy about the contexts in which I've seen it done. So there's something that's repellent about Cameron's evocation here.

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