In my own write: Emotion in 3-D

Bored by Avatar, enchanted by Toy Story 3.

avatar sam worthington 248.88 (photo credit: )
avatar sam worthington 248.88
(photo credit: )
After seeing two films in 3-D this year, I’ve been thinking about why I was irritated and essentially bored by the much-hyped Avatar, while being enchanted and quite profoundly moved by Toy Story 3.
Blockbuster extravaganzas on the scale of director James Cameron’s futuristic sci-fi epic aren’t really my style, but – like millions of others – I was intrigued by one that took 14 years to develop, three years to produce and a rumored budget of half a billion dollars; while being compared to groundbreakers such as Star Wars, which took science fiction to a whole new level, and The Jazz Singer (1927), which brought talking into mainstream cinema.
And I wouldn’t have thought of paying to see a “children’s movie” like Toy Story 3 – nor its precursors – had my daughter, who is 24, not urged: “Go. You’ll really like it.”
Watching a whole film in 3-D – three dimensions – is undeniably a remarkable experience; and if the special viewing spectacles handed out start to chafe your ears after an hour or two, it’s a minor nuisance compared with the wonder of seeing a flower open or a cloud float by at what seems like a few inches from the end of your nose.
DIRECTOR Cameron has created a visually beautiful fantasy world.
And I’m ready to grant every plaudit the critics have conferred on Avatar as being an extraordinary technological feat; also to concede that the art and skill involved in cutting-edge computer animation are things I really can’t appreciate.
But one thing I do understand is the need for a good storyline – and this is where Avatar, with all its innovation and panache, exits the Planet Pandora and enters Snoozeville.
While 12-year-old fans of action films likely hung on every twist and turn of the plot, I didn’t see how anyone much older could find it anything but hackneyed.
Briefly: It’s 2154, and the inhabitants of a dying Earth are forced to exploit alien worlds. An unnamed company has located a powerful source of energy on distant Pandora and is determined to tap it. It first dispatches avatars – artificial projections of actual human beings – to try and win over the native population; then engages it in a brutal war to the death.
Avatar is said to have been influenced by a 1957 story titled “Call Me Joe” by Poul Anderson which centers on a paraplegic – Ed Anglesey – who telepathically connects with an artificially created life form in order to explore a harsh planet (in this case, Jupiter). Anglesey, like Avatar’s paraplegic hero Jake Sully, revels in the freedom and strength of his artificially-created body, battles predators on Jupiter and gradually goes native as he becomes more and more connected to his artificial body.
The movie’s message: Indigenous peoples are noble and pure; modern man is mostly corrupt and rapacious. He is the true primitive, trampling on the environment and lashing out at anything he doesn’t understand. Nature is good. Ancient traditions are good. Love is very good. Hatred is bad... see what I mean? “During the first half-hour of watching,” a friend commented, “I thought: How could Avatar not win the Oscar for best movie because the special effects are so impressive and the film is just so beautiful – breathtaking.
“But by the end, I understood why: The story was lame and predictable.”
APART from the predictability, I found Avatar incredibly noisy, with what felt like endless scenes involving dragon-like creatures who bellowed, screeched and roared their way across the alien skies (and this was before the war had even begun).
No doubt, the 12-year-olds were enthralled.
Nor, I confess – and despite the hero’s goofily engaging avatar persona – did I much take to the native Na’vi people (the name sounds, incongruously, like the Hebrew navi, “prophet”), whose members were 10 feet tall (there could be some envy on my part here), lizard- or catlike in appearance, and bright blue.
Again, I was disconcerted by the hero’s courtship of his Na’vi love that involved as much hissing as kissing.
And perhaps part of me felt that just being yourself in today’s world of false appearances is enough of a struggle without the lure of an avatar to escape into.
I’D like, though, to highlight a deeper attribute of the film that might have escaped me had it not been pointed out by a paraplegic colleague: “Avatar portrayed a disabled man who was not only equal but superior to his able-bodied colleagues in suitability for the job at hand; he eventually gave his loyalty to those who accepted him. I empathized with the joy he felt when he could walk and run and do things he could never do when he was in his wheelchair.
“Disabled people,” my colleague went on, “are very often better equipped in today’s world to do things that are mainly a matter of deep thought – pure physics, for instance. Stephen Hawking is just the most famous example.
“The loss of the physical,” he said, “leads to an increase in mental powers – not necessarily in I.Q., but in the ability to concentrate over extended periods.”
Will Avatar have the effect of improving society’s attitude toward the disabled? It would be good to think so.
WHILE the toys and child characters in Toy Story 3 vastly outnumber the grown-up ones, this film, ironically, struck me as far less childish than the ostensibly more “adult” Avatar.
The latter left me with an impression of color, noise and impressive special effects; but not much else. No scene remained fixed in my mind.
Not so with the saga, produced by Disney’s Pixar studio, of a bunch of beloved toys that the movie’s human hero, Andy, has outgrown and whose fate he must decide as he prepares to enter college.
Colin Covert of the Star Tribune called the movie’s cast “some of the most captivating, fully realized and touching characters onscreen today” – at least partly, perhaps, because we recognize them as well-loved companions from our own or our children’s childhoods (remember the miniature plastic soldiers, the green rubber dinosaur, Slinky Dog, Mr. and Mrs. Potato-Head, the smiling telephone on wheels?) The toys remain stiff and toy-like in the presence of their human owners, coming to animated life only when they are alone.
Andy’s toys fear they are “finished, obsolete, over the hill, getting thrown away” – like so many veteran workers abandoned in today’s globalized job market – and cowboy Woody, their leader (voiced by Tom Hanks), faces a lonely job as he attempts to keep their spirits up.
Later he helps in “The Great Escape” from the Sunnyside Daycare Center, ruled by the initially warm and welcoming but ultimately evil Lots-O’ Huggin’ Bear, who smells of strawberries, and his sidekicks, the purple plastic octopus and creepy, zombie-like Big Baby.
This movie is worth seeing if only for the sly, satirical scenes between Barbie and Ken; and the amazing “Spaniardization” of Buzz Lightyear (voiced by Tim Allen).
The scenes that stayed in my mind are two that, for me – poignantly and quite unexpectedly – evoked the Holocaust.
The first is when the toys have been tossed into a truck and are being carted away to the daycare center. All we see is a narrow, dark slit in the back of the vehicle and the terrified eyes of the occupants, bumped about inside, not knowing where they are going or what they will find when they get there.
The second scene comes near the end, with the toys in mortal danger, having landed in a huge garbage dump and about to be crushed into landfill. As they realize their impending doom, they slowly join hands, one by one, close their eyes and wait for the end.
Which... but you have to see the movie.
While computer-animated and comic-book characters can deliver a somber message (Remember Maus?) Toy Story 3 is anything but somber. It’s quirky, clever, funny, inspiring and full of color. It’s about friendship and loyalty and rites of passage, and the ending is upbeat.
Strange, but true: This movie starring a bunch of old toys is one of the freshest and most human I’ve seen in a long time.