When I was little, one of my favorite books was The Wump World by Bill Peet. I've read it to my own kids dozens of times. And I could not help by think about it as I sat through 2 hours and 40 minutes of Avatar. The Wump World is about a group of blue aliens, called the Pollutians, who come to a peaceful green planet of the wumps, who are small rodent like creatures. The Pollutians have destroyed their own home and now destroy the wump world in the name of progress. In Avatar, the Pollutians are us... and the blue aliens are the wumps. The rest of the story is pretty much the same, except that the wumps didn't have bows and arrows. I've heard many people compare Avatar to Dances with Wolves... and there is something to that too. But The Wump World came out in 1970 and I have yet to hear anyone connect the two. I think the point is that Avatar was predictable from a story perspective, because most of us have seen it before.
Because of this many have already criticized the film, calling it everything from derivative to tripe. And yet the same people that lambaste Avatar are the same ones that look at Greek myth with reverence. We story tellers admire these myths because they form the foundation and roots of our own collective literary knowledge. But they were, themselves, derivative stories of their time. I am not saying that Avatar is in the same category. But the story it is telling is. It is the new mythos that we have seen repeated over and over again for decades... the need to connect to this planet. This idea grew out of James Lovelock's theory of the 1960s that all the world was an interconnected organism. This theory, commonly called the Gaia Theory, informed a generation of storytellers to come... James Cameron included.
Cameron is our PT Barnum. He is a man who is a highly proficient story teller. But he is extraordinary at creating interesting worlds... be it The Abyss, Aliens, Titanic... he has the capacity for drawing an audience into a world with a hyper sense of being there. He is also a showman... like Barnum... who is able to trumpet his own legend and groundbreaking technological expertise while being completely lacking in the humility for those whose shoulders he has stood upon to get there. The 3D effect in Avatar I have seen before... at Disney World among other places. But the 3D in a world that was thought up by Cameron, and filled in with some of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy artists in the business, is spectacular.
I am a fan of cinema. I am a fan of the spectacle of sitting in a darkened theater with a huge image and loud sound and experiencing a movie with others (as long as those fellow watchers are also movie fans... and thus are quiet). For years after I graduated from film school, my friend Dave would call so we could discuss the latest "groundbreaker". Like many of our generation, we got into movies because of George Lucas and the world that he created. But as we have aged, both Dave and I have become a little more jaded by the business... to the storytelling... to the attempts that many make to recreate what Lucas did many years ago. Like Cameron, Lucas was an okay writer with an extraordinary abilty to create a world. And at the time, it was groundbreaking and it was, for Dave and I, the beginning... because for us, it was the moment that started it all, regardless of what came before. There were moments, as I sat alone in the theater watching Avatar, when I felt some of that wonder return. When I talked to Dave later on, our views were the same. We remembered, if for a short time, why we love the movies. It is spectacle on a grand scale. It is the retelling of a story that brings us together... as myth should. It is a movie which will lose much when viewing on a television and thus it was build and should remain in the hallowed and darkened halls of the theater. And while it was not necessarily groundbreaking for me... it will, perhaps, begin a new generation of movie lovers.
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