The Common Threads of Avatar Is Avatar the future of cinema? Probably.
There has to be something to draw people away from their computers and home entertainment centers, and with television series now generally at least as good as if not better than feature films, there are fewer reasons to drive to a theater. But you'll never see anything at home like Avatar, which nonetheless holds common thematic threads going back to the beginning of the director's career. I've liked director James Cameron's films since The Terminator in 1984. But I was distinctly under wowed by the first clip I saw from Avatar. Of course, I was viewing it on the screen of one of my laptops. Fortunately, I realized that I was seeing only a fraction of what could be available in the highly immersive, richly detailed 3D world Cameron was devising. What you've heard since the backlash subsided and Avatar came out last Friday (and swiftly emerged as a big hit) is true. To the extent that one can be on the planet Pandora while sitting in a movie theater, you are there. At times, the sense of wonder was such that I felt like a 4 year old back in the boat at Disneyland's old Jungle pandora bracelet usa River ride. Of course, even then I realized that that it was a ride and not real. And with what's dubbed "performance capture" technology (through which actual human performance is transformed into the "alien") and this piece is about themes, not techno geekery the CGI characters come fully to life. So yes, if movies have a future, which they should, Avatar represents the future of movies. Is it the greatest movie of all time? While it's one of a kind, the answer for me is clearly no. Which doesn't mean it's not terrific, for it most assuredly is. While the look and feel of Avatar is new, the rest of its substance is familiar. And by that I don't mean the now tired trope that it's Dances With Wolves in outer space. Actually, it's more like Frank Herbert's Dune, which in any event predated Dances With Wolves. (Who says there are no new ideas?) A hero of heretofore undiscovered grandeur; a planet linked beneath surface appearance in a profound web of ecology; an alien woman, fierce and seductive, who challenges and inspires the hero to great heights; an indigenous civilization of far greater depth than was apparent; a rotting outsider civilization determined to strip mine a planet of its most vital resource. "Hitler Learns That the Avatar Trailer Sucks" became a YouTube sensation at the height of the anti Avatar backlash in late August. With differences, to be sure. Jake Sully is no Paul Atreides, no spacefaring son of a duke but a wheelchair bound recon Marine disabled in one of Earth's many wars. Jake's is the leading voice of Avatar, decidedly non literary and non intellectual, blue collar by choice, perhaps in determined contrast to his late scientist brother. Their shared genome is key to the genetically engineered Na' vi "avatar" that now only Jake can "ride." While the basic story of Avatar bears marked similarities to other works, and is a clear departure in look and feel from other films, including Cameron's own, it is familiar in other ways. There are common threads reaching forward from the first Terminator 25 years ago through Cameron's other films and into Avatar. There is a militant sort of anti militarism (which still celebrates the military), a certain blue collar sensibility (perhaps derived from Cameron's truck driving days), a consistent techno skepticism (driven by technophilia), an environmental concern, and very strong female characters. And, of course, spectacular action sequences. It all springs from this little movie, The Terminator. During his days as production designer for B movie maven Roger Corman, Cameron came up with The Terminator, and then got Hemdale Films and mini major studio Orion Pictures to take a chance. After clearing up some amusing confusion about whether Arnold Schwarzenegger should play good guy soldier from the ruined future Kyle Reese or the relentlessly www pandora jewelry homicidal Terminator, Cameron and the former Mr. Universe the Canadian director and the Austrian actor were off and running with a tale drawing on the dangers of militarism and excessive reliance on advanced technology. Linda Hamilton, a future Mrs. Cameron, was indelible as the waitress turned future mother of the hope of humanity, and Michael Biehn scored as the soulfully stalwart soldier who both preserved and helped make the future. After achieving great success with the relatively low budget Terminator, which quickly became a cult classic, Cameron was able to make Aliens, a rapid fire hardcore action sequel to Ridley Scott's sedately spooky Alien. He made it a pandora bracelet silver charms military scifi spectacular, more Starship Troopers than Starship Troopers, and a suspenseful horror film. Cameron built the film around Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, the sole survivor of the first film, though the studio balked at her salary demands. With Cameron's backing, she was able to become the first million dollar actress, and turned in a classic performance as action hero/mother figure, earning a rare Best Actress Oscar nomination for a scifi performance. With Aliens, Cameron began to get the budget he needed. Cameron ramped up the presence of the Weyland Yutani Corp. far beyond what it was in the original, turning it into the quintessential evil megacorporation that has since become such a dominant trope in pandora charms buy science fiction. Paul Reiser turned in a memorable performance as the yuppie corporado on the mission, Carter Burke, more than willing to sacrifice both the colonists and the foolishly gung ho Marine rescue party alike in order to bring back the unremittingly hostile and lethal alien for use in the corporation's bioweapons programs. Aliens was both a smash hit and a critical fave, earning seven Oscar nominations, enabling Cameron to indulge his deep sea diving passion in making The Abyss. This painstakingly filmed tale of underwater oil rig workers having to contend with a somewhat paranoid Navy Seal officer (Michael Biehn again, not nearly so heroic as in Terminator and Aliens) driven psychotic by being underwater and heretofore undiscovered undersea aliens at the epicenter of a Cold War incident involving a downed ballistic missile submarine has all the Cameron elements. The Abyss was the director's first seaborne epic. Ed Harris is the heroic rig foreman whose love story with his soon to be ex engineer wife, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, revives amidst the chaos. It's a terrific, and under appreciated, underwater adventure that requires a lot of suspension of disbelief where the aliens are concerned. While The Abyss was a success check for the director's cut, which makes more sense, on special edition DVDs it was a step back from Aliens as a film. Yet it laid the groundwork for a future maritime adventure that also ends up underwater. There was nothing qualified about the success of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. You know the story. Arnold Schwarzenegger reunites with Cameron and Linda Hamilton. But this time he's not the villain but the hero. And he's not the most dangerous character in the mix. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the thoughtful action extravaganza that gave Cameron the clout to make all but a few films. With T2's Skynet, Cameron's themes of anti militarism and techno skepticism are taken to new heights, all in a film which made morphing a household word and was the most technologically advanced yet. "You have a tendency to destroy yourselves," Schwarzenegger's T 800 tells the young John Connor. In order to make war more efficient, strategic defense systems are turned over to the artificial intelligence underlying Skynet, which has more advanced plans than its operators suspect, wiping out most of the human race and wrecking the planet's environment. And Skynet's technology is based in large part on a future microprocessor salvaged from the wreckage of the first terminator sent back from the future, rendering human agency even more tangential. Yet still nefarious, as Cyberdyne, introduced in the first Terminator, has used its ill gotten tech from the future to become a giant defense contractor. After the massive success of T2, Cameron could do pretty much whatever he wanted. He decided to work with Schwarzenegger yet again, this time on an ultra high tech version of a Bond film with a twist, Schwarzenegger being a classic Bond aficionado. They made what might be described as a romantic action adventure comedy called True Lies. True Lies, the director's only action comedy, in the Bond genre. As this project, based on a French film called La Totale!, came from Schwarzenegger, it doesn't have all the familiar Cameron themes. There's nothing about the environment, for example. (Ironically, as now Governor Schwarzenegger was featured at the recent UN climate summit in Copenhagen.) And the military is presented as straight up heroic, with Schwarzenegger's secret agent (whose wife thinks he's a boring computer salesman) leading the fight against Islamic jihadist terrorists trying to nuke Miami. While Cameron's progressive politics are largely out of the movie, it does have plenty of spectacular action sequences out Bonding the Bond franchise and a woman coming into her own (albeit psychologically tortured along the way) in the form of Jamie Lee Curtis, Schwarzenegger's cinematic wife. And it's a comedy, too, the only one in Cameron's filmography. (It's also Schwarzenegger's most talkative action role, and the only one in which the future governor of California acts in anything approaching an executive capacity. As when, for example, he calls in an air strike on a convoy carrying nuclear weapons, assuring the pilots that they can't set off the nukes. While not knowing at all if that's the case. Some may call that foreshadowing. I call it comedy.
) Then came a little film called Titanic, in which Cameron's fascination with deep sea diving met the ultimate underwater find. With another frequent Cameron actor, Bill Paxton (an early Schwarzenegger victim in The Terminator, the chronically griping Marine tech in Aliens, and the used car salesman in True Lies) as Cameron's treasure hunter stand in, Titanic explored, naturally, the maiden voyage and sinking of the purportedly unsinkable luxury passenger liner Titanic, that great icon of pre World War I technology and splendor. We all know the love story of blue collar stowaway Jack and feisty Rose, star making turns for Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as the Titanic arrogantly challenged the environment of the sea and lost.
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