AVATAR.

This isn’t a movie review site, but since I posted about the new must-see movie, I thought I’d briefly record my reaction to seeing it last night (in 3D). My reaction was pretty much identical to Anatoly’s:
1. It’s well worth seeing (and you should definitely see it in 3D).
2. It’s amazingly beautiful.
3. The plot, characters, and dialogue are not just stupid but maximally stupid: no cliché has been omitted, and no non-cliché thought has been added.
He has other remarks about what a pity this is, but those three points are the main ones. He also links to an excellent Greg Egan review and a hilarious Filthy Critic rant. And since he doesn’t mention this aspect, which is the only one of strictly LH relevance: the alien language is convincing and well done. If only it were in the service of a better movie!

Comments

  1. Jimmy is my boy! and there were reviews saying the movie could be more profound if the bad guys were more profound, and i thought it’s all about racist stereotypes regarding whites mostly, b/c those are negative stereotypes, so people turn humorless of course watching stereotypes
    i don’t mind ‘positive’ stereotypes regarding blue natives i guess
    it’s like a new test to immediately try people, whether they identify themselves with their race or moral goodness first watching kids’ fairy tale

  2. “Positive” stereotypes are just as damaging – more, because we KNOW that “all white people aren’t like that” for the simple reason that most of us in the US are white people and our views and portrayals are dominant, but we don’t KNOW, many of us, that not all Native Americans (blue skin and tails notwithstanding) aren’t like that.

  3. b/c positive they are, then it’s still less damaging, though what is damaged is damaged for good and without any undoing of the damage
    and one should get over their own negative ones first to critisize others’ positive stereotypes
    b/c greedy selfishness is not attractive and that’s like racist stereotype of white people
    while noble nature loving gentleness or loving their freedom more than their life is great qualities and i don’t mind if the Native Americans are being described like that, they deserve at least the beautiful myth about them

  4. I took my 10 and 11 year old, and my impression is that Avatar doesn’t really have legs. The film will be a trivia question by the end of the decade. The kids loved the film of course, immediately wanted the video game, but the initial excitement has faded pretty quickly. This franchise certainly doesn’t seem to have captured their imagination the way Star Wars got a lot of my generation at age 10. What worries me is that the Transformers franchise has grabbed their imagination – and those films are much worse than Avatar.

  5. another thought that the movie is racist b/c if Avatar was not a white guy but native, then the movie wouldn’t have been as attractive for the most people is also like shockingly racist, and if the kids feel that way, it’s just sad
    kids shouldn’t be that trained to identify racism in the movies, if they are it’s scary who they’ll become

  6. My wife and I made a 3 hour drive to see it in 3D on Sunday, immediately on returning, I posted this – nice to know I’m not alone!

  7. Read, cf. this film, where they replaced the 1940s Brits of historical fact, all of them as white as Л.И. Рогозов, with Americans, because they thought it would take more at the box office that way. Hollywood exists to make money, the content of the movies is secondary to that.

  8. it’s interesting how our sophisticated bored movie-goers use the words like ‘primitives’ so easily, and who’s racist after that
    and who argues that hollywood exist to make money, just it’s funny that so much protest when once in the movie the primitives win

  9. My other half is an anthropologist, and she was delighted to see Sigourney Weaver’s character do exactly what all anthropologists aim to do: merge completely with the alien culture.

  10. Don’t be silly, read. Nobody here is objecting that the “primitives” win; the fact is that artistically, the movie is an abomination. Nobody is preventing you from enjoying it, but it is not an insult to you or anyone else who enjoys it to point out its flaws.

  11. oh, at least people put the word in the quotation marks, i win so far

  12. I am glad you “won” read, because I couldn’t understand a word of your stream-of-consciousness rambling. Kind of apt, really in a discussion of Avatar.

  13. i’ll explain, wasn’t it ‘established’ already that the movie is not about blue aliens on the other planet, but about Native Americans?
    i thought everybody saw that very clearly and using the word ‘primitives’ regarding them even if they have tails and blue skin is very objectionable, to me anyway
    and if you didn’t get anything you wouldn’t have addressed to me, so don’t be a hypocrite

  14. Thank you for the explanation, read. I was simply being honest in my earlier post. I understood your response to me, not your earlier ones.

  15. you’ll get them if you’d read them many times and slowly, I’m glad my comments are so profound and esoteric for you people
    sorry, can’t help you other than that

  16. Greg Egan went to a movie at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century – his description of December, 2009 – and found that “[t]he science is hokum”.
    -
    Stuart’s “Cameron’s [latest] trip to the bank” sounds right — but to deposit or to withdraw?
    -
    The story is what ties all the big-ass special effects together.
    Or doesn’t. Or does in the most inanely cliched way. Which latter is what I thought then and think now of Star Wars – a weak, film-studies-addled attempt to communicate ‘archetype’. Do many people really think Avatar will sneak up on ‘a generation’ the way Star Bores did??
    Of course, “story” has itself become maybe the biggest cliche in Hollywoodland, but I don’t think there’s any getting around the mind’s irresistible constitution by narrative. The unity and coherence of narrative can be challenged and defied and disrupted, but, I think, always from within a temporally unidirectional framework – from within another story.
    A cartoon that tells a vitally disclosive story is always going to be more compelling, after ten minutes, than a merely amazing looking cartoon. To me.

  17. > i’ll explain, wasn’t it ‘established’ already that the movie is not about blue aliens on the other planet, but about Native Americans?
    > i thought everybody saw that very clearly and using the word ‘primitives’ regarding them even if they have tails and blue skin is very objectionable, to me anyway
    It’s not a movie about Native Americans, but about a view of Native Americans as primitives. Calling the characters primitives does not mean calling real Native Americans primitives, unless you accept the movie’s portrayal, which the critics in question do not.

  18. It’s not a movie about Native Americans, but about a view of Native Americans as primitives. Calling the characters primitives does not mean calling real Native Americans primitives, unless you accept the movie’s portrayal, which the critics in question do not.
    you say that of course very circularly and doubly denying what you say when it means just what it means, that Native Americans are portrayed there with blue skin and tails and being primitives, nobody accepts just simply that it’s a movie about blue aliens
    the movie is abominable and cliche? people’s interpretations of it are abominable and revealing
    first, appropriate their country, exterminate their people and call them primitives to that, how very sophisticated

  19. Nicholas Ostler says:

    Yes, the consensus seems to be that this is about a view of Native (Na’vi) Americans – not least because the Pocahontas-Powhatan-John Smith triangle has been inserted without change. But (speaking as a non-American) it appeared to me that the invading Earthlings are just as clearly marked as un-made-over US soldiers (vintage 1965-2005, going on 2015 (?) so as to allow female fighter pilots) with a sprinkling of US academics (vintage ditto). Indeed our hero even claims to be of the Jar-head clan! English is explicitly asserted by name as the only alternative to Na’vi – not just a convenient proxy for whatever Earthlings might be speaking by then. In this respect, it is not just pre-Star-Wars, but pre-Star-Trek in its sensibility. Nice at least that the movie paid lip-service to the problems that different languages might cause in essential interactions; though conveniently but bizarrely, it is easier to find elite Na’vi-speakers who are at home in English than vice versa.
    All in all, the whole thing is an allegory for Americans, concerned to re-write their founding legends so that they come out closer to heart’s desire. Particularly so, since the Na’vi triumph not by eerie alien powers or understanding, but through more constructive use of the same good ol’ American ultra-violence, if combined with greater skill in balletic aerobatics.
    Despite the futuristic setting, it is of the here and now, not sci-fi or even space opera, as I understand them.

  20. Deadgod: Amen about Star Wars. Anthony Lane agrees.

  21. Nicholas,
    Despite the futuristic setting, it is of the here and now
    But isn’t that true of virtually all science-fiction?

  22. “All in all, the whole thing is an allegory for Americans, concerned to re-write their founding legends so that they come out closer to heart’s desire.”
    I rather doubt that, considering that Cameron is a Canadian. I think the film is more fun if you see it as an allegory of Canadian – American relations, with the Na’vi in their pristine resource rich rather empty country obviously standing for the Canadians. It’s a wish fulfillment piece where the Canadians fight off the Americans. And clearly the fast graceful flying dragons are a metaphor for hockey, and the over armored Amerian soldiers are the NFL.

  23. an allegory of Canadian – American relations
    I don’t think you can look to North America as a model for the allegory, if there is one, since the northern Europeans who traveled to these shores, from the Vikings to the Puritans, were looking for a place to live free of European harrassment, which was quite obtainable. For “unobtainium”, look rather to the non-existent city of El Dorado which would provide conquistadors with plenty of wealth in the form of gold to skim off of the New World in order to return to the Old World and live there in luxury, or perhaps to finance a small war or two. The South American/Brazilian systems of land grants by the thrones of Spain and Portugal were based on the slum-lord model.
    For your interpreter prototype look to La Malinche “la chingada”, or maybe Bernal Diaz, the chronicler who escaped from Cortes’ last fatal might in Mexico City not with heavy gold that dragged so many under the water of the canals to be drowned but with cocoa beans which he knew were good for local trade. One could even look to Kipling’s Strickland who, while not treated with quite the contemptuous language as Cortes’ interpreter, was able to cross cultural borders a little too well to be quite marriageable, although his ability to “go native” was what made him noteworthy. (Yes, poor Strickland finally learned to go to the Club instead of the Suq and was properly married, although his friends later did bring him back for an encore caper to solve a particular mystery that required knowledge of local dialects.)
    No, everywhere you look those who try to cross cultural barriers are met with derision, accusations, and presumption of less than honorable motives, either because they come from a more industrialized culture or because they come from one that is less industrialized. Only those who confine themselves to picking at the lint in their own belly-buttons escape from the hue and cry unscathed.

  24. Thank you, jamessal. But let me record an adversion to that Anthony Lane! – I much prefer Denby, who’s easily mocked for his heart-felt straight face, but who actually takes pleasure in going to the movies. Lane is robotically catty about almost every movie he reviews – he doesn’t even feint in the direction of ‘what’s good about it?’ or (usually) ‘what can you get from it?’. With Lane, although there are ‘thumbs up’s, there isn’t really a reference constellation of characteristics, a framework, of what high quality would be to him; he’ll belabor some drama over its head and shoulders with, say, “Bergman”, but I think if Lane had reviewed Persona in ’67 he would have sneered amusingly (well, ‘amusingly’) at it in comparison to, say, Mildred Pierce, which he would have scorned in ’45 for not being [etc.] . . .
    As far as the sell-by-production-date hackwork in Star Bores — compare it with Stagecoach, a movie that traffics comfortably in some of the same cliches. While Star Bores is trundling along, you’ll laugh at hackneyed moments – like “Aw, Dad.” (or is it “man”?) – when Luke is sent back into the desert pod, and at the seriousness which often looks like a desperation to be serious; you probably won’t ever feel ‘superior’ to the storytelling while you’re watching Stagecoach, limited by its historicity though its attitudes be.

  25. Deadgod, I agree with you on Lane. But “Star Wars” is a children’s movie (and written by an emotionally stunted man-child judging by the subsequent films), and should be treated as such. It works very well on that level, possibly one of the best movies ever made if you’re 11 years old. If you see “Star Wars” for the first time when you’re in your 20s or 30s, or God forbid, 40s, then it’s never going to work for you. And if the movie’s fans haven’t grown up, don’t blame the movie.
    “Stagecoach” is adventure pitched at grown-ups, made by grown-ups, I don’t see how you can really compare the two films.

  26. good ol’ American ultra-violence
    Yes, exactly!! Like the ‘ultra-violent’ Tomahawk [thar's Injuns fer yih] missile attacks on artillery placements in Bosnia-Herzegovina in ’95, after western Europe had stood by and watched the carnage for three yea- . . .
    Sa-a-a-y, is thet thar “ultra-violence” some o’ that ‘You-rope-ee-an soe-phistication‘ Ah bin readin’ me up awn? Gawww-lee.
    —————
    the whole thing is an allegory for Americans
    Sure, but it’s not a “re-write” of “founding legends” so much as it’s a childishly simple and inartfully obvious criticism of those “legends” and their uncritical (enough) reception ’til now. (You’ve got to doubt that Cameron has much of an idea of the parallel – albeit rather less copious – history of American dismay at “America”.)

  27. how you can really compare the two films
    Well, vanya, of course one way would be by pointing out that the one is a kiddie flick and the other not – as you’ve done. My grounds for comparison were the bogey-word “cliche”.
    -
    I don’t agree about the movie being “for” 11-year olds; I think Lucas’s ambition was maybe a decade later (including self-consciously precocious high schoolers / sixth form-ers). I still think it’s a failure at that (late teen / collegiate) level; I first saw it at 17, and, delighted though I/we was/were at the noisy action, ‘me and the guys’ – none too schooled in archetypes, etc. – thought the drama was corny- I mean, syrupy enough to hurt your teeth. (We also wondered at light-that-stops sabers, and billowing, smoky explosions in outer space where there’s nothing to burn with.)
    There are great movies for pre-teens: The Wizard of Oz, E. T., Edward Scissorhands. And Star Bores is important both in film history and for its marketing strategy. But, for me anyway, as a movie, there’s no getting around it stinking.

  28. an allegory of Canadian – American relations
    That might be so, vanya – but if it is, Cameron would be one laughably deluded Canadian. I think ‘Europe in the “New” World’ works best, if Avatar has to have an historical parallel.

  29. Anthony Lane: “I still fail to understand why I should have been expected to waste twenty-five years of my life following the progress of a beeping trash can and a gay, gold-plated Jeeves.” That was brutal. Even High Noon wasn’t a cliché when it first came out.

  30. I much prefer Denby, who’s easily mocked for his heart-felt straight face, but who actually takes pleasure in going to the movies. Lane is robotically catty about almost every movie he reviews
    You have put my feelings in a nutshell. I can enjoy Lane’s better mots, but I can’t take him seriously as a reviewer.

  31. you say that of course very circularly
    But read – ran is not being ‘circular’!
    You said, in the first post on the thread, “[I]t’s all about racist stereotypes” – with which insight many people who don’t like the movie agree. What ran points out is that attacking the depiction of a stereotype isn’t criticism of the object of that stereotype.
    I think genuine respect for indigenous people would start with a clear perspective of them, a perspective of their complex humanity. A great obstruction to this clarity, on the part of ‘the West’, is the projection onto indigenous cultures of this sentimental (in the worst way), trivializing fantasy of uncomplicated nobility – a sentimentalization, often marketed as “New Age”, that some people find insulting to, say, American Indians.
    The question is: does Avatar assume for itself this trashily phony virtue? People who don’t like the movie are likely to argue that it’s not a movie “about Native Americans”; it’s “about” the filmmakers’ repellently self-congratulatory support of an inaccurate fantasy of American Indians. Do you see how that’s not a ‘circular’ racism?

  32. I much prefer Denby…
    You have put my feelings in a nutshell.

    Much as I’d like to stand with the distinguished minority here, I think you guys are nuts. Lane writes better and has better taste, and if you disagree I challenge you to watch “The Good Shepherd” — the whole thing — then read Denby’s review and still take him seriously as a reviewer.

  33. jamessal – thank-you so much. I’ve never seen a Star Wars film, and I’m not in a hurry to. My husband says I don’t like movies if people don’t eat in them (and that review implies they don’t) and if they don’t have believable shoes…Mr Lane doesn’t mention shoes. But I do feel more informed than I ever have. And it was amusing. Thank-you for the link.

  34. Daniel Mendelsohn whoops ‘em both, of course (when he’s not stretching to say something important).

  35. so, it is fair and historically true to exterminate them and call them primitive, but it’s disgusting to exterminate them and call them noble and beautiful
    b/c that they were noble and beautiful is inaccurate fantasy and idealizing and trivializing and sentimentalizing
    okay, got it and don’t want to hear about Avatar anymore

  36. Catanea: Your welcome! I also answered you olive oil question ;-)
    I’m curious, which blog did you find first? And did you find one through the other or separately?

  37. Re Mendelsohn: here, here, and here for the uninitiated.

  38. Sorry, I’m with Jamessal. David Denby: by the end of his annoying column, I’m thinking about David Denby and not the film. Anthony Lane writes an interesting review; with jokes.
    Why are you all discussing Avatar? Cameron Whateverhisnameis makes crap films like Titanic, haven’t you all got better things to do? You could have been eating or reading a book or both at once.

  39. Sorry, I’m with Jamessal. David Denby: by the end of his annoying column, I’m thinking about David Denby and not the film. Anthony Lane writes an interesting review; with jokes.
    Why are you all discussing Avatar? Cameron Whateverhisnameis makes crap films like Titanic, haven’t you all got better things to do? You could have been eating or reading a book or both at once.

  40. I agree with the late Poul Anderson’s view of Star Wars: the ultimate skiffy movie serial, only in color, 1970s fx, and 2-hour eps rather than 15 minutes. Ming of Mongo rulez.

  41. read, show us where anyone here says it’s “fair” to exterminate other people.
    It is “disgusting to exterminate [American Indians] and call them noble and beautiful” – especially if what’s called “American Indian” is a falsification that amounts to insult on top of the injury of genocide – that is exactly the point of (some of) Avatar’s critics!
    -
    This thread is appended to a blogicle titled “Avatar.” – making this thread an odd place to go to avoid conversation about or instigated by . . . Avatar.

  42. extermination is there in both cases, it’s like undoable thing historically, right?
    it’s the attitude to present the abolished native people what is different, if their ‘complex humanity’ means to say they were primitive and pitiful and let’s never talk about them or show them in the movies or if to show, then how they were, objectively primitives
    and sentimentalizing would mean describing them noble and gracious even though with tails and blue skin, i would prefer the sentimental description.
    at least they deserved their good name
    people’s objection to the beauty of the legends is what i can’t get, even their legends, legends about them can’t exist after all
    if ugly, then, perhaps, sure, by all means, that’s the historical truth and the movie would have been so much deeper and meaningful and to the tastes of movie reviewers
    but i won’t repeat again, you people won’t change your mind, me too
    seeing NAs in the blue aliens is racist in the first place, that’s all

  43. jamessal, I’d say one couldn’t say much about Lane’s “taste”, because his attacks are so disingenuously excuses to bitchify that his “taste” is hardly exercised. His spoon-sharp sneers occasionally please, but, to me, neither enough nor often enough to call ‘well-written’.
    The means of discerning ‘quality’ in a reviewer/essayist isn’t really agreement, is it? – anymore than you’d think a friend is more or less intelligent because of a disagreement over some piece of music. The issue is: how is the position argued? Over dozens of positions, what does this mind seek or value, what is this person able ‘to see’ and disclose, as some particular reader sees things? And – to me, anyway – where Denby tries to participate in a conversation with the filmmakers, Lane’s not interested in movies. You understand – it’s not that he doesn’t like some movies I do like; the point is that the films themselves are just excuses for (what I take to be) his smug hostility.

  44. by undoable, i meant irreversible, can’t be undone thing

  45. I’ve never seen a Star Wars film
    I would recommend seeing the first one at least. Not that I think they’re profound or anything; they’re space westerns and you watch them to see how the adventure unravels. The characters are creative and you do care what happens to them. When they first came out I saw them more than once, but I had occasion to see the first one again somewhat more recently and was surprised at how unsophisticated the effects look today. At the very least, you should see at least the one, just because the characters and situations have become part of a common culture.
    Avatar
    I just finished watching it online, so I take back everything I said about it before I saw it. I can say the film has no native Americans, and not even one person utters the word “primitive” or “exterminate”. Is this being mixed up with the Daleks maybe? What it does have is extraterrestrials with Spock ears who move their ears like Yoda when they speak. Thankfully, they do not speak like Yoda as well. It also goes a little too far into the fantasy/gaia realm for my tastes in s/f, but, hey. I don’t see how anyone could get excited about the film unless they totally missed the point, didn’t comprehend the English, or don’t understand science fiction as a genre. It pulls out all the standard plots and conflicts from It magazine and Heinlein et al in the forties and fifties, mixes in a bit from the Spock’s Brain episode, then puts in all the stock cardboard characters ever used in Sci Fi history. It has a clean plot without any annoying Ewok or Jar-Jar type digressions, it’s great fun, and visually a treat, even in a four inch window. The Big Lebowski I’m not doing as well with–I’m trying to download it for the fourth time, but if this is the guy who did Fargo, how can it miss?
    film critics
    Whether you like Lane or not probably depends on your reason for reading film reviews. If you want to be entertained, well, I laughed at the beeping trash can remark, even if it was cynical. If you have no taste of your own and want someone to tell you what you’re supposed to like, Lane seems to do that too. If you read reviews to figure out if you would enjoy a particular film based on the description, nothing can ever compare with Siskel and Ebert–Lane just doesn’t do that. The thing is, I DO care what happens to R2D2 and C3PO.

  46. The means of discerning ‘quality’ in a reviewer/essayist isn’t really agreement, is it?
    Sure, it is. David Denby isn’t my friend who happens to like Billy Joel; he’s a workaday movie reviewer, the biggest part of whose job is to reliably steer me away from trite, pretentious, boring crap. When I come home from seeing “The Good Shepherd,” twenty dollars and three hours poorer, I couldn’t care less which member of the production crew Denby imagined himself having a heart to heart with; I’m pissed about my time and money. In other words, I approach these columns in the New Yorker as a moviegoer, not a critic some fifty years in the future trying to assess the consistency of another critic’s aesthetic. That a reviewer be insightful and articulate and entertaining is obviously another big plus, but again, I think Lane mops the floor with Denby on those counts.
    The issue is: how is the position argued?
    When I want to get exercised about a moral or aesthetic argument, I turn to the LRB or NYRB or at least the Critic at Large section. Those guys have eight thousand words.

  47. not even one person utters the word “primitive” or “exterminate”.
    those are the words the reviewers use, here and elsewhere, i really suspect people really don’t get me, being exterminated is the word i used in my comments to describe the fate of Native Americans, you can substitute it by any synonym of it, if it sounds that unusual a word to you, to go search for it in the movie script!
    sorry, of course there was no successful extermination of the poor natives in there, that must be the main point of objection critics find in the movie, that and that the blue aliens are too beautiful that it becomes unrealistic and idealizing and sentimentalizing
    What it does have is extraterrestrials
    my point exactly, and the people seeing in them native Americans and objecting to them for being too beautiful and ideal are racists one way or another
    and i prefer my racists with a beautiful worldview rather than with the ugly one, hope, now it’s very clear

  48. This thread is appended to a blogicle titled “Avatar.” – making this thread an odd place to go to avoid conversation about or instigated by . . . Avatar.
    Assuming you’re aiming this at me, one third of Language’s premise here is that “The plot, characters, and dialogue are not just stupid but maximally stupid: no cliché has been omitted, and no non-cliché thought has been added”, so even if you personally think I should love it or leave it, I’ll just repeat my question: why is it worth the discussion?. Please don’t feel you’re under any obligation to answer this yourself. Once again I agree with Jamessal, in his response to your other points.

  49. This thread is appended to a blogicle titled “Avatar.” – making this thread an odd place to go to avoid conversation about or instigated by . . . Avatar.
    Assuming you’re aiming this at me, one third of Language’s premise here is that “The plot, characters, and dialogue are not just stupid but maximally stupid: no cliché has been omitted, and no non-cliché thought has been added”, so even if you personally think I should love it or leave it, I’ll just repeat my question: why is it worth the discussion?. Please don’t feel you’re under any obligation to answer this yourself. Once again I agree with Jamessal, in his response to your other points.

  50. people’s objection to the beauty of the legends is what i can’t get
    Nobody here is objecting to the beauty of the legends. Nobody here holds any of the positions you are objecting to; I’m not sure where you’re getting them, but I wish you’d stop insulting everyone else here because of racism that exists only in your head. No, I’m not saying racism doesn’t exist in the world, I’m saying it doesn’t exist here among the comments made by the people you’re talking to. None of us likes racism any better than you do, so stop pretending we do to give yourself satisfaction, OK?

  51. Assuming you’re aiming this at me
    No, I’m pretty sure it was aimed at read’s “don’t want to hear about Avatar anymore.”

  52. nobody objects to the beauty of the legends? what are then all those words cliche, sentimentalizing, idealizing etc?
    can’t you acknowledge once just what it is there
    then maybe someone will step into the discussion to say that everyone is racist and there are soft, acceptable kinds of racism
    yeah, I know the lesson and hopefully someone spare me repetition of that

  53. marie-lucie says:

    undoable = able to be undone. Another word for “undo” is reverse.
    If something cannot be undone, or reversed, it is irreversible.

  54. read, please stop accusing other people here of racism. I hope this is the last time I have to say that.

  55. You can also say not do-able to mean something that can’t be done. I’d say undoable in read’s sense is more likely to be encountered than in the opposite sense that you cite, m-l; in that case, I myself would probably use “able to be undone”.

  56. You can also say not do-able to mean something that can’t be done. I’d say undoable in read’s sense is more likely to be encountered than in the opposite sense that you cite, m-l; in that case, I myself would probably use “able to be undone”.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    AJP, I don’t remember encountering undoable to mean irreversible, or not doable either, since the prefix un- with a verb usually refers to reversing the process described by the verb (to undo means to reverse the process meant by to do). What do other people take undoable to mean?

  58. I would definitely parse an unadorned ‘undoable’ as ‘not doable’ (un-doable) rather than ‘able to be undone’ (undo-able). That said, if I heard ‘Oh, shit! I just erased the document!’ ‘Don’t worry. It’s undoable.’ I wouldn’t pause. But all other things being equal I’d go with the former reading.
    I’d say it’s because ‘undo’ is not nearly as strong a lemma for me as ‘do’, and the prefix ‘un-’ is pretty much as productive as they come. In this case, I am parsing it as ‘un’+'doable’ and thus the prefix un- is actually NOT coming before a verb, but an adjective.

  59. I gotta go with Marie-Lucie. I think I use “undoable” both ways, but only to mean “irreversible” when I’m stumbling, as if into a nonce word. Really, I just don’t know.

  60. I think Hat should take a straw poll. It’s interesting, my initial reaction was to parse it like AJP and ZD Smith; it was only after I thought about it that I reached the conclusion in my previous comment.

  61. In my opinion “undoable” should be avoided, precisely because it could easily be taken to mean either not doable or capable of being undone, with not always much help from context.
    the prefix un- with a verb usually refers to reversing the process described by the verb
    Yes, but I bet we can think of plenty of examples of un***able meaning not ***able
    manage
    speak
    shake
    touch
    bear
    flap
    mention
    It’s true that (as far as I know) in none of these cases is there is verb un***, but still …

  62. marie-lucie says:

    Ø: It’s true that (as far as I know) in none of these cases is there is verb un***, but still …
    Precisely, you are quoting verbs which do not take un-, while all the -able words derived from these verbs are adjectives, where the un- is just negative (as in unjust or unlikely, for instance).
    I can see now why undoable would be ambiguous, depending on the possible interpretations undo+able (= can be undone, therefore “reversible”) and un+doable (= cannot be done, therefore “impossible”). But neither of these means “irreversible”.

  63. But neither of these means “irreversible”.
    Yeah, I should have written “I think I use undoable both ways, but only to mean impossible when I’m stumbling, as if into a nonce word.”
    “Irreversible” would have to be un-undoable.

  64. Oh, ir-reversible! I missed that. Sure, of course, that’s not one of the things it could mean to me.

  65. If someone told you that a jug was unstoppable, would you think
    (a) no cork could be put in,
    (b) a cork could be taken out,
    (c) the jug was a juggernaut?

  66. I would think it was a juggernaut a minimum of four times, followed by an uneasy conclusion that it would take no corks.

  67. I certainly don’t think undoable means irreversible. That would be non-undoable.

  68. I certainly don’t think undoable means irreversible. That would be non-undoable.

  69. You’re right. I made a mistake at the start there, m-l.

  70. You’re right. I made a mistake at the start there, m-l.

  71. Just got back from the movies and I have to agree with Anatoly, hat et al.: beautifully done, especially when viewed in 3D, but as for the rest, it’s all a giant repository of cliches. The fact that it was all dubbed in Slovak didn’t help much. The voices were pretty good, but the translation sucked, as usual. And they didn’t even bother translating “unobtanium”.
    Which brings me to Stuart et al. who find it ridiculous that Cameron would name his fictional mineral “unobtanium”. Why? It’s a word that is commonly used in writing about science fiction and has been meanwhile adopted by sci-fi writers themselves as an attempt at self-deprecating humor. Worked quite well in “The Core”, not so much in Avatar, mostly because there wasn’t much humor there. But even if one were to consider it an example of art imitating life imitating art, there is nothing wrong with it.

  72. As long as you’re already committed to not taking the movie seriously, there’s nothing wrong with it. If you were actually making the futile but noble attempt to immerse yourself in the world of the movie, getting hit with an in-jokey name for the vital substance would knock you right out again. Seriously, it’s like calling it “maguffin.”

  73. No need to sound apologetic about fictional substances. They have a long and honorable history, from Star Trek’s dilithium crystals to Vonnegut’s Ice Nine to Rocky and Bullwinkle’s lighter-than-air upsidasium. Unobtainium itself has been documented going as far back as at least the fifties, used by the Air University of the US Air Force (source).Here is a list of fictional chemical substances.
    No one expects Nancy Drew to appear in a Hardy Boys Mystery, or the hero of a Gothic romance to get killed off before he can sweep the heroine off her feet, or for a philosophy text to have a plot. A film set in outer space should pay homage to all the established traditions and clichés to show the audience it shares their values, and this one does so unselfconsciously. When you buy the package you expect to be transported into a familiar reality. I don’t think going to a film for pure entertainment instead of reading War and Peace in Russian all the time is going to ruin anyone’s street creds. Of course this film does have interesting and sophisticated nuances if you know where to look….

  74. a workaday movie reviewer, the biggest part of whose job is to reliably steer me
    That’s where we disagree categorically: ‘steering’ me is only a small part of a critic’s job; and
    insightful and articulate and entertaining
    is where we disagree particularly.
    -
    I approach these columns [...] not [as] a critic [...] trying to assess the consistency of another critic’s aesthetic
    There‘s a problem: how will you figure out which “critic” should “steer” you? (If you haven’t compared their aesthetic ‘consistencies’ to each other, how will you know which one is likely to meet your #1 criterion in a “critic” the next time you want ‘steering’?)
    -
    A “moral or aesthetic argument” has to be “eight thousand words” long before you’ll “want” it “to exercise” you? You make “moral or aesthetic argument[s]” in considerably fewer words; lucky for me, ‘wanting’ that word length in “moral or aesthetic argument” is another difference between us.

  75. Assuming you’re aiming this at me
    As accurate as your ‘assumption’ of where I come from.
    I’ll just repeat my question: why is it worth the discussion?
    Should we talk only about work of high quality? As Anthony Lane has devoted his career to do- . . .? Oh.
    Once again I agree with Jamessal
    How terribly enviable for jamessal.

  76. I think marie-lucie is right about “undoable”:
    un – doable = not capable of being done, impossible
    undo – able = capable of being undone, reversible
    ir – [reversible] = un – [undo - able]

    ‘un-’ is pretty much as productive as they come
    Z. D., it’s because ‘un-’ is so strong that, for me, ‘undo – able’ would prevail over ‘un – doable’, if I heard “undoable” without catching the context (at least, I think so). The contest, as it were, would be between undo and doable, and, while “doable” sounds to me useful, “undo” has an old and potent history in English poetry:
    Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
    And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
    Never, never, never, never, never.
    Pray you, undo this button – thank you, sir.
    O, o, o, o.
    Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips -
    Look there, look there!
    –King Lear

  77. A [genre] film [...] should pay homage to all the established traditions and cliches to show the audience it shares their values
    I agree, Nijma, though I’d drop the “should” and make the purposive clause (‘in order to show’) one of definition (‘I call it a “sci-fi” flick because what defines “sci-fi” characterizes it’). In other words, that a movie falls squarely into a genre isn’t necessarily a sign of commercial calculation – it could be (I think – often is) what the filmmakers actually enjoy making and watching.
    My point in bringing up Stagecoach was to show that a movie could entirely partake of cliches and yet not become submerged by and in their insipidity. In it, the conventions, worked ingeniously, somehow, through the alchemy of ‘art’, meet genre expectations at the same time that they generate feeling and thought that are impossible to anticipate.
    I also don’t mean a movie that plays with its genre’s conventions, subverting or ironizing or whatevering them, like McCabe and Mrs. Miller (a brilliant Western) does with Western-movie “values”. I mean movies that are straightforwardly genre Westerns (say) that also communicate or cause feeling and thought by piercing their routinized trappings without actually violating or neglecting the generic characteristics of Westerns, as do Unforgiven and The Proposition.
    -
    You see? The argument, for me, isn’t against “cliche” qua cliche (though it’s nice not to notice how cliched something is while it’s happening!) – it’s against rote triviality, ineffectual routine.

  78. [language hat, do you collect or harvest spam? You do operate a "language" site - you could construct a cage for the weirder, groovier spamage under the license of the posts' (not the links'; yikes) linguistic (and poetic) topicality. You could attach a comment to each one - why, if your fingers are tired, maybe Anthony Lane's rapier is available for hire!]

  79. Deadgod: I was aware when I described my attitude toward Denby and Lane that I was doing it slightly at the expense of yours (which I found needlessly lofty). Maybe I should have been gentler. I never imagined that, rather than objecting to my distinction between critics and regular movie reviewers (even caricaturing it, if you did disagree), you would immediately break out the sneering scare quotes and hostile literal readings. It seems beyond the pale to me (your cattiness toward Crown as well), but whatever, I’m happy to chalk it all up to misunderstanding.

  80. Once again I agree with Jamessal.

  81. hat,
    If you were actually making the futile but noble attempt to immerse yourself in the world of the movie
    OK, I can understand that – it’s like watching a period piece and getting hit with an anachronism (flintlocks in the 16th century, that kind of thing), that sort of thing always spoils my enjoyment of a movie. But “unobtainium” just didn’t trigger that alarm – it’s not out of place. As Nijma points out, it’s been used not only in speculative fiction, but also in real life.
    Also, no quantium 40? I’m shocked.

  82. This is the best analysis of the movie I have read or, frankly, can imagine.

  83. jamessal, there are no “scare quotes” – “sneering” or otherwise monitory – in my post responding to yours. The quotations in that post are quoted in two different ways: double quote-marks ["x") indicate words quoted exactly as they appear, and single quote-marks ('x') indicate words quoted in alternative parts of speech to the exact wording (for example: "steer" and 'steering').
    (I'm not superior to using scare quotes, but I didn't in that post.)
    The "literal" readings were, I thought, not readings of figurative language, meaning that they were a sign of a kind of respect. If you meant '8000 words' like you might've meant '80,000 words', then the mistake of having misunderstood the figure of hyperbole is mine.
    I don't like Lane's reviews, but I don't think I communicated that dislike in "needlessly lofty" terms, just disdainful ones - but perhaps that's a distinction without a difference. You responded sharply; I think everybody's cool with that.
    Here's some of your language that I didn't quote:
    Denby isn't my friend who happens to like Billy Joel
    which member of the crew Denby imagined himself having a heart to heart with
    not a critic some fifty years in the future
    when I want to get exercised about [an] argument
    I don’t think my response was “beyond the pale” of the “lofty”, “sneering”, “hostile” perspective I was responding to.
    Likewise, AJP(n) would be standing on the legs of a bowling ball when it comes to complaints about ‘cattiness’ – not that he’s made any.
    In responding in kind (as to tone), I don’t see evidence of my having been ‘misunderstood’ at all, but I’m pretty sure my own e-sensitivities (to insult taken and given) are often enough clumsy and imprecise.

  84. I agree with jamessal. It should be un-undoable.

  85. But I understood what read meant.

  86. I understood
    I didn’t. There were no “legends” in the film.

  87. This is the best analysis of the movie I have read
    Too funny, but also within the best Marvel Comic tradition where readers write in to complain about inconsistencies and the editors explain away everything by references to other issues, which the discerning fan will then have to go out and buy. In this case I’m sure the CD(s) will have longer versions with a more complex back-story and the motivational explanatory stuff actors seem to need these days to interpret their characters.

  88. More Avator….
    Some of the criticisms were a little petty though, although exaggerating in order to dump on someone seems to be how critics make money these days. For instance, the reviewer seemed to think the relationships between the characters should have been developed more, but at the same time thought the movie was too long. Can’t have both. Also it’s supposed to be fiction. If you want to see situations where the ex-marine ends up on the unemployment line instead of marrying the princess, or where young people you care about die instead of being spared though the miracle of script writing, or where any number of realities intrude on final end results, you don’t need to see a movie, real life has plenty of that already.
    What the reviewers so far have ignored is that traditionally science fiction has also somehow presented contemporary problems in a fictional setting, where the components can perhaps be manipulated more comfortably that they would in their real context. So in this film we have mercenary soldiers who have come from a “dying planet” where “nothing is green”, we have corporations with enough power form their own armies (I didn’t realize the Weyland-Yutani corporation was also referenced in the Firefly series), and there is the very old but very contemporary question of civilian vs. military control of relations with other cultures. Not so long ago (last year?) Congress was talking about putting military personnel in the Peace Corps to finish their tours of duty (it didn’t fly). Still, we have come a long way from the “Ugly American” days when in some circles it was just assumed the rest of the world would have to learn to speak our language. None of the reviewers even thinks to question the value of learning languages as a tool of diplomacy. It does seem strange that comments are made about the protagonist learning the smurf language, but no one seems to mention (could it be a touch of gender bias?) that the smurf princess can speak English already and makes her own cross-cultural leap, and that her connection with the intruders is what saves her tribe (but not his).

  89. There were no “legends” in the film
    i was talking to people seeing Pokahontas in it, i have no problem with people taking the movie plainly as a sci-fi movie, whether they enjoy it or loathe it, you take my words very literally, Nijma, (and i can’t tell whether you do it on some purpose, like, to undermine my English /a joke, if you are not getting it
    or you really take all things this literally)
    but only when they start to drag into it Native Americans and object to their portrayal
    but i should stop responding to the comments this literally too, just it needed one last clarification imo
    unless i want to earn another deletion i guess

  90. [T]he relationships between the characters should have been developed more, but at the same time [...] the movie was too long. Can’t have both.
    “Can’t have both” sharper character development and a shorter movie? Why not??:
    Rules of the Game: 106 min.
    Citizen Kane: 119 min.
    High Noon: 85 min.
    Cries and Whispers: 91 min.
    Blood Simple: 99 min.

  91. What the reviewers so far have ignored is that traditionally science fiction has also somehow presented contemporary problems in a fictional setting, where the components can perhaps be manipulated more comfortably that they would in their real context.
    I’ve been a science fiction fan all my life, and I have no problem with presenting contemporary problems in a fictional setting. But the entire point of sf is to make the setting as scientifically and rationally plausible as possible; that’s what distinguishes it from fantasy. One of the things I hate about Star Wars (and yes, I was blown away, like everyone else, when it came out) is that it eradicated that distinction; after it, science fiction, as far as everyone but hardcore fans was concerned, was anything with spaceships and aliens and lots of action, and nobody gave one good goddam about plausibility or accuracy. Avatar, like Star Wars, comes with the external trappings of what people think of as sf, but is laughable as an attempt to represent the actual universe we live in.
    That is entirely separate from the issue of its crappiness as a movie—it could have been a great movie, with deep characterization and brilliant dialogue and all that stuff, and still have been lousy as sf—but I’m addressing the specific point you raise. You don’t get to use the “get out of jail free, it’s only sf” card if it’s lousy sf to boot.

  92. And what deadgod said about character development and length. Character development can be done brilliantly in a couple of lines of dialogue. This movie didn’t even have characters, let alone development.

  93. Dead god: Have you heard about the experiment in which the two participants, each given a remote, are told to shock the other with just as much power as they had just been shocked — no more — and before long they’re trying to ignite each other’s hair? I think that happens a lot in threads. I’m happy to drop my remote.
    One thing, though, to avoid future misunderstandings: unless you’re trying to cast doubt on the way someone has used certain words, why put them in quotes of any kind when you use them in your own sentences? I think it invites misreading (scare quotes being so web-rampant and all); people remember what words they’ve just used.

  94. But the entire point of sf is to make the setting … scientifically and rationally plausible …; that’s what distinguishes it from fantasy. One of the things I hate about Star Wars … is that it eradicated that distinction; after it, science fiction … was anything with spaceships and aliens and lots of action
    Steve, you can’t be serious. The term “space opera” was around well before Star Wars ever blighted our cinemas, and it was all about cowboys in spaceships.
    Incidentally, I wasn’t blown away by Star Wars or ET for that matter, and it was a long time before I was able to take Spielberg seriously. Instead of opening up new and interesting horizons, the man seemed intent on taking the most hackneyed themes and repackaging them in the format most likely to appeal to Americans.

  95. the man seemed intent on taking the most hackneyed themes and repackaging them in the format most likely to appeal to Americans.
    Spielberg might well take that as a compliment, plenty of people in Hollywood would.

  96. i was talking to people seeing Pokahontas in it
    I’m afraid I didn’t see Pocahontas (it was a children’s movie after all), or for that matter Aliens, or Smurfs, or some of the other movies Avatar is being compared with. The only reviews I have read are the ones linked to in this thread. None of the native Americans I have known even vaguely resembles the aliens in this movie.
    I thought the movie was first, yet another variation of H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds, with the characters taken from Larry Niven’s Kzin; also Andre Norton did some early stories with a cat-derived race who found humans difficult to trade with because of a hyper-developed sensitivity to smell and some later stories with a telepathic cat species, the cat-human pair needed to operate a telepathically controlled spaceship. The hive mind idea isn’t new either, Heinlein did it in Methuselah’s Children, when the Mary Sperling character joins a planet’s group mind in exchange for immortality. That was a very weak segment of the story though, and I always thought the only reason Heinlein did that was as a plot device to get rid of a strong matriarchal protagonist.
    …that’s what distinguishes it from fantasy…
    …if it’s lousy sf to boot…

    I’m not sure you can say this is a pure s/f film; one of my original problems with the film was that it leaned too far in the fantasy/gaia direction. The sentient tree/USB port thing just wasn’t good science. The few fantasy novels I have churned through (and I’m not talking about Harry Potter or the Tolkien trilogy here) I have found very hard to visualize the action as it happened. The lack of character development is probably part of it. There is usually a Quest and a Journey and some minor romance that is secondary to beating The Dark Hand Of Evil. Still, from what I understand, people buy the things by the carton, and will search for “Lords of ShadowWizard Part XXVII” with great enthusiasm. Fantasy is also a popular genre for NaNoWriMo people to work in as they seem to think it sells. I suspect that losing the hard science part of science fiction is what dumbs it down enough to change it from something with a few geeks in R&D labs chuckling over naming a planet Glyptol to making a blockbuster. I have to admit I saw it on my home computer though, the video equivalent of skimming, so the dialog was already choppy from the frequent breaks in streaming it; also I was doing chores at the same time I was watching it, so maybe I wasn’t as annoyed as some others.
    Of course the whole plotline could have been circumvented in the first place if sometime in those three months the protagonist had actually asked the aliens about the unobtainium, but no, he preferred to make deductions and engage in crystal ball-gazing instead of treating the simple task that had been asked of him as a communication problem.

  97. And Star Wars was a western.

  98. Deadgod: Upon further consideration, I think I’m more responsible for the misunderstanding than you. I apologize. I think your style threw me off, but I’ll get used to it.

  99. The term “space opera” was around well before Star Wars ever blighted our cinemas
    Sure, but it was a subgenre known to no one but sf fans, who could enjoy it for its own silly sake. After Star Wars, sf = space opera.
    (I’ve never understood why nobody bothered trying to make actual sf movies, by the way; they might not be blockbusters, but there’s a pretty sizable audience of sf fans out there who would have loved them and probably gone repeatedly.)

  100. I’m not sure what you mean, LH. There are plenty of “real” SF movies even if they tend to be too intellectual (or psuedo-intellectual if you like) for mainstream audiences. “Bladerunner” certainly counts, so does the first “Alien” movie. “2001″ was real sci-fi, so was Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” (and “Stalker”, more subtly). There was a decent enough movie of “Flowers for Algernon” aka “Charlie.” I would argue that “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was clearly SF. And who in Russia doesn’t know “Kin-dza-dza”? Or are you referring to the fact that classic SF novels either aren’t filmed (“Foundation”, “Canticle for Leibowitz”) or are made unrecognizable? (“I, Robot”, “Dune”, “Starship Troopers.”)

  101. Yeah, OK, I overstated; I guess what I meant was “sf that doesn’t involve aliens and gunfights.” You’re right, Bladerunner is an excellent example of real sf on film, as is Solaris; I didn’t care for Charlie, but yes, that counts too. I think your last sentence sums up my feeling; why isn’t there a Canticle for Leibowitz movie, for Pete’s sake? (Though better none than a Starship Troopers-type travesty.)

  102. And of course I love Kin-dza-dza!

  103. I’m prone to overstatement, as you may occasionally have noticed.

  104. You do overstate, but you don’t overstate enough. That’s the problem right there.

  105. I’ve never understood why nobody bothered trying to make actual sf movies,
    What about Metropolis?

  106. And what about this?

  107. I’m with John (and possibly Jamessal). Actually, I’d say “prone to overstatement” is a bit of an exaggeration.

  108. Planet of the Apes. Flash Gordon. And I loved those Buck Rogers Big Little books from the 40′s.

  109. why isn’t there a Canticle for Leibowitz movie, for Pete’s sake?
    Too much material to cram into two-three hours. But “Canticle for Leibowitz” TV show/miniseries? Yes please. Syfy should be all over this one.
    By the way, what do you think about Babylon 5, hat – sci-fi or not?
    BTW, thanks for the link to autotelic’s review of “Avatar”. It perfectly illustrates the point that has been made here a number of time: if the creators were to change the characters and their relationships in the way autotelic suggests (e.g. Red Shirt would actually be jealous of Jughead’s abilites, Jughead would actually be bad at avataring and perhaps bond with Ripley while overcoming this), the movie would still be filled with familiar tropes and perhaps even cliches. But it would certainly not be trite.

  110. The point of direct and indirect quotation is for both (all) people in a conversation to distinguish mis’hear’ing (misconstruction) from outright incomprehension: “Yes, I said “x”, but I meant x in this other, equally reasonable, way – which way we should both now be clear about.”
    -
    Sadly for me, jamessal, I, misunderstanding the ‘game’, will probably keel over, the remote connected to my tissues clutched – in my own grip.
    Ti estin (h)wnthrwpos;

  111. Bathrobe, do you really think the film craftsmanship and storytelling of Star Bores and ET are comparably inept?!
    To me, although they’re kiddie or young adult flicks, Spielberg hasn’t done any better filmmaking than in Jaws, Raiders, and ET. (The guy’s a nine-year-old genius, the way Tarantino is a 14-year-old genius – you just get the one with the other.) Lucas had already made an actual, and actually good, sci-fi movie: THX 1138. Why he decided to spend his life swirling around clumsily in ‘child-like wonder’ – ???
    -
    As for something called “America” – where does Hollywoodland (or a local version of the same ancient thing) not “appeal” to the indigenes? Which national or ethnic cultures are so aesthetically advanced that a Hallmark card like Titanic is not one of the two or three all-timers? It doesn’t get more “Hollywood” than John Ford and Howard Hawks — where do they make better movies than those guys did??

  112. I’d say that science fiction (in any medium) is the genre where science, especially but not limited to ‘applied science’ – technology -, is projected into a future (or a past), and the story of the sci-fi story is how humans cope with radical alterations in their empirically given world, or how they’ve ‘evolved’ socially to make whatever adjustments that would have been called into existence by that/those new knowledge/technologies, or (most radically) what there is instead of what now we call, with reasonable confidence, “human”.
    (Paradoxically ‘projected’, of course: if it’s really a “future” development, then how can it be imagined now? What we imagine now is ‘now’, in a way, and is not, in another – the way an acorn is both a seed and an oak tree, simultaneously.)
    So, sci-fi, in perhaps too small a nutshell, is the narrative making-present of the social or psychological or (simply) personal consequences of a theoretically and/or technically different lifeworld – “different” in the sense that those technical and theoretical anticipations and understandings that make competence in that world possible we (the ‘now’ audience) understand (paradoxically) to be or to be coming into existence as different from our own anticipations and understandings.
    -
    language hat, I think there’s plenty of sci-fi in this sense. For example, many Star Treks (I don’t know if I’ve seen all the episodes, but most of us have seen a bunch of them) are “science fiction” — unfolding the implications for normal (‘normal’? the historicity of its making contextualizes the story of every story) human life of different theoretical knowledge / practical application is the drama of many particular episodes. The AI story – indeed, the I, and therefore the A – in 2001 is “science fiction”, eh?
    As you say, that first Star Bores movie in no way (that I remember, either) shows or sparks any interest in the implications for the lives of its characters of the futuristic technology. “The Force”? That’s spiritual fiction, not science fiction — not necessarily opposed to each other, but the former surely doesn’t entail the latter!

  113. what do you think about Babylon 5, hat – sci-fi or not?
    Very much so, and the best sf television has yet produced, in my moderately humble opinion (though there was an excellent version of Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven some years back). A wonderful series that I was sorry to see end.

  114. When I was a kid I loved the Outer Limits, when I could get my Dad to let me stay up and watch it — which was seldom.

  115. I used to like Lost in Space, too, but at some point it started to seem hackneyed. And anyway, it was just the Swiss Family Robinson transferred to space.
    Come to think of it, my tastes were probably formed by the Outer Limits, with its exploration of different SF-style themes. That is why Lost in Space and later things like Star Wars finally failed to impress me, despite the groovy effects and swooping spaceships.

  116. I think it’s reductionist to claim that Star Wars is merely a western, or a melodrama, or whatever. Because after all the essential quality of Star Wars is its appeal—not its quality. But it is greatly appealing, and much beloved by many. And I think the specific vision it presents—the costumes and the sets and the models—should not be handwaved away. Star Wars is, for better or for worse, mostly surface; which means that its light sabers, X-Wings, desert planets, etc., etc., have had a tremendous impact on the sensory realization of several generations of fiction. Of course, the plot itself is perfunctory, but to say so and leave it there does, I think, elide the genius of imagination for physical and visual things.
    So—is it science fiction? If it needs to be ABOUT the future in some way, no, obviously not. Explicitly (and trivially) not, because it takes place a long time etc., and more meaningfully not, because as pointed out it doesn’t really engage with any questions of historical projection.
    But nevertheless it’s ABOUT space ships and laser guns. And space ships and laser guns, in 1977, were cooler than not; they were cooler looking, more novel, and engaging. I think then that it’s not useful to attempt to divorce Star Wars, and its appeal, from its visual trappings and the specifics of its setting. Its appeal lies in its specific vision and I think that’s just as SF as a hard-nosed look at the problem of what happens when everybody’s a clone, or whatever.
    I suspect the same is true of Avatar. I haven’t seen it, and suspect I may not—my taste for whiz-bang trappings of the above kind has waned since I was a kid; I’m more of a ‘what happens next’ guy and from all accounts, if you try to actually convert the series of stunning images and vistas into a narrative structure, things get pretty dire.

  117. things get pretty dire
    Not really, I think Hat is overstating. The pacing is perfect, it’s the nitty gritty details of relationships that fall victim to movement of the plot, that is, what is happening on the planet, battle scenes and so forth, which move more smoothly. Some scenes have probably been cut quite a bit. When the scientist meets the protagonist it seem like she hates him, then suddenly their avatars are together talking like old buds and you don’t know how that happened. Or one minute the princess is yelling at protagonist, then in the next scene saving his life, with no explanation of the change of heart. Having seen the lengthy backstory on the Firefly CD as opposed to what made it to the televised episodes, I suspect a lot of the explanatory interaction was filmed, but it was cut. Personally I don’t think it matters because you watch it for the action and don’t really care if X is having deepseated emotions about Y.

  118. I think Hat’s basic visceral reaction was he liked it but he can’t justify that intellectually and keeps trying to resolve some kind of inner dissonance.
    I have no problem with being shallow on occasion. It’s fun.

  119. The Guardian recently had a piece about Wm Blake in which the author proposed that Blake was the greatest British artist. This led to a discussion about whether it wouldn’t be more accurate to say he’s the greatest English artist. It’s such a waste of energy*, who fucking cares whether Howard Hawks and John Ford made better films than Steven Spielberg & this Cameron guy, just because they all worked in roughly the same bit of southern California? Unless you work in PR, it has been an unfruitful comparison for years, and it gets more meaningless by the day.
    *However, it led some commenters to produce some interesting football-position diagrams of national teams of artists. Italy & Spain both looked pretty strong.

  120. The Guardian recently had a piece about Wm Blake in which the author proposed that Blake was the greatest British artist. This led to a discussion about whether it wouldn’t be more accurate to say he’s the greatest English artist. It’s such a waste of energy*, who fucking cares whether Howard Hawks and John Ford made better films than Steven Spielberg & this Cameron guy, just because they all worked in roughly the same bit of southern California? Unless you work in PR, it has been an unfruitful comparison for years, and it gets more meaningless by the day.
    *However, it led some commenters to produce some interesting football-position diagrams of national teams of artists. Italy & Spain both looked pretty strong.

  121. Hollywood and the oscar ceremony and all the outfits and names like gaffer and best boy would have made a good chapter in Eric Hobsbawm’s The Invention Of Tradition.

  122. Because after all the essential quality of Star Wars is its appeal—not its quality. But it is greatly appealing, and much beloved by many. And I think the specific vision it presents—the costumes and the sets and the models—should not be handwaved away…. it’s ABOUT space ships and laser guns. And space ships and laser guns, in 1977, were cooler than not; they were cooler looking, more novel, and engaging.
    All very true, which is why I was blown away by it back then. “Ah!” (thought I), “the plot is childish and formulaic and the acting nonexistent, but look what can be done! This portends an era of real sf done with great special effects!” Little did I know it portended an era of ever crappier movies with ever more expensive effects, which carried with it the death of the American movie in the Cahiers du Cinéma sense, the studio art film that had been flourishing in the early ’70s (Chinatown, The Conversation, etc.). Had I been able to foresee that, you would have seen the end of If… replayed with me in place of Malcolm MacDowell and a movie theater in place of the school.
    I think Hat’s basic visceral reaction was he liked it but he can’t justify that intellectually and keeps trying to resolve some kind of inner dissonance.
    Don’t be ridiculous. Have you never met anyone who was very attractive but a total moron? Does pointing that out mean you are “trying to resolve some kind of inner dissonance”? Not everything in life can be described with a single adjective, and not everything evokes an unambiguous response.

  123. who fucking cares whether Howard Hawks and John Ford made better films than Steven Spielberg & this Cameron guy, just because they all worked in roughly the same bit of southern California?
    I’m not entirely sympathetic to that view. Because of the material and social realities of filmmaking, different movie industries tend to have a pretty strong national character. I think it’s (again) reductionist to assert that there’s nothing noticeable characterizing Hollywood films and their filmmakers in contradistinction to Italian cinema, French cinema, etc.
    And for that matter I do tend to think of Blake as very, very English. I mean, the man wrote “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”. I have a hard time imagining that coming from an American.

  124. it’s (again) reductionist to assert that there’s nothing noticeable characterizing Hollywood films and their filmmakers in contradistinction to Italian cinema, French cinema, etc.
    I think it’s reductionist to compare Hollywood films to Italian cinema. Obviously there are similarities between different Hollywood films, the greatest being (in my view) that they have very often reflected contemporary US attitudes to events (much more so than e.g. Indian or Swedish films do). Nevertheless, look at the crap that comes out of Hollywood these days and then compare it to the work of people who would rather not have anything to do with it (off the top of my head: Coens, Streep, Scorsese, Woody Allen, Tarentino, Spike Lee, and, and) you can’t see it as an entity. Hollywood’s not “the Futurists” or “the Royal Horticultural Society”. These days, especially because of the internet, animation & and international communication, it’s mostly just an industrial location with a lot of PR attached to it.
    Yes, Blake is very English, but who cares who “the greatest English artist” is? You’d be better off comparing Blake to Fusili (who they also seemed to think was English, rather than Swiss, for some reason) or Goya than comparing him to Turner just because they come from the same country. Although there was some humility shown at the small number of Great British Artists, I really cannot stand this kind of chauvinism. Howard Hawks, John Ford, where do they make better movies than those guys did??, blah, blah, rah, rah, …

  125. it’s (again) reductionist to assert that there’s nothing noticeable characterizing Hollywood films and their filmmakers in contradistinction to Italian cinema, French cinema, etc.
    I think it’s reductionist to compare Hollywood films to Italian cinema. Obviously there are similarities between different Hollywood films, the greatest being (in my view) that they have very often reflected contemporary US attitudes to events (much more so than e.g. Indian or Swedish films do). Nevertheless, look at the crap that comes out of Hollywood these days and then compare it to the work of people who would rather not have anything to do with it (off the top of my head: Coens, Streep, Scorsese, Woody Allen, Tarentino, Spike Lee, and, and) you can’t see it as an entity. Hollywood’s not “the Futurists” or “the Royal Horticultural Society”. These days, especially because of the internet, animation & and international communication, it’s mostly just an industrial location with a lot of PR attached to it.
    Yes, Blake is very English, but who cares who “the greatest English artist” is? You’d be better off comparing Blake to Fusili (who they also seemed to think was English, rather than Swiss, for some reason) or Goya than comparing him to Turner just because they come from the same country. Although there was some humility shown at the small number of Great British Artists, I really cannot stand this kind of chauvinism. Howard Hawks, John Ford, where do they make better movies than those guys did??, blah, blah, rah, rah, …

  126. Have you never met anyone who was very attractive but a total moron?
    El corazón tiene razones que no tienen razón.
    And no I was NOT just looking at the skimpy costumes.

  127. David Marjanović says:

    The Tetrapod Zoology guide to the creatures of Avatar. The biology is pretty mixed.

    they’re space westerns

    No, they’re fairytales.
    They even spell it out, for crying out loud: Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…

    El corazón tiene razones que no tienen razón.

    There are blogs where romances are going on in the comment sections. It’s… interesting to see how far people can get when they can’t admire anything about each other than personality, intelligence, knowledge, reason.
    (I’ve even come across one commenter who says she has an intelligence fetish. That’s right, she’s actually turned on by reading intelligent comments. But that’s already something else.)

  128. One can only imagine what might happen if she tried reading a book.

  129. Well, Purcell is the greatest English composer, and after about 1700 you really have to talk about “English composers” if you want to talk about them at all. Handel and Haydn don’t count.

  130. Performance Review
    -
    who fucking cares whether Howard Hawks and John Ford made better films than Steven Spielberg & this Cameron guy
    Near-fatally clownish missing or (less likely) neglect of the point of mentioning “Hawks” and “Ford”. Brave, incisive use of colorful vocabulary.
    Reading comprehension: D-
    Grammar and vocabulary: C [Gentleman.]
    Result: Social promotion.
    -
    look at [...] Hollywood[, ...] you can’t see it as an entity
    Grasps precisely the point of mentioning Hawks and Ford; well-done substantiation through exemplification (“Coens, Streep, [etc.]“). Clumsily phrased (what kind of “entity” status is denied to “Hollywood”?), but does appear to write and read sentences as though they are conceptually joined to each other.
    Retraction of gratuitous (perhaps robotic?) disparagement of “America” qua America? Promising sign: “I really cannot stand this kind of chauvinism”.
    Result: Coddling recommended.
    -
    [Hollywood films] have very often reflected contemporary US attitudes to events (much more so than e.g. Indian or Swedish films do) [emph added]
    Square One. Map to Square Two shredded atop porridge. Chances of landing on Square Two serendipitously: hardly and none; longshot: “hardly”.
    Result: Print: diploma; bank vice-presidency transfer; dole cheques.

  131. Will we also be graded on “playing well with others”?

  132. “playing well with others”
    An important component of much evaluation; well-remembered. However, not to be considered except in the context of provocation. ?

  133. “And Did Those Feet In Ancient Time”. I have a hard time imagining that coming from an American.
    Actually, I have a hard time imagining it coming from an Englishman, too. I have trouble relating Blake to any tradition.

  134. D.M.’s critter website has some interesting links: the Balinese Monkey chant sort of similar to the Avatar ritual and “TV tropes” website for those whose Avatar mantra is “not profound”. (I would probably pay to see “A Canticle for Leibowitz” too, but it is rather Cold War at this point, like the ending of “Planet of the Apes”.)
    she’s actually turned on by reading intelligent comments
    A woman turned on by a man’s intelligent comments? But not a man turned on by a woman’s intelligent comments?
    (So she says. She’s probably just waiting for them to mention food.)

  135. Deadgod, I don’t often read your comments & I’m sorry I bothered to skim them in this thread. You seem quite intelligent & knowledgeable, you have a horribly dense, boring writing style & you don’t understand that nobody except you is here to show off. You’re very insecure, but that’s not my problem, so I’m ending this little back & forth here. And stop devising crossword clues, they’re no good.

  136. I have a hard time imagining it coming from an Englishman, too. I have trouble relating Blake to any tradition.
    That he doesn’t fit is one reason why some people like him. I’m not a big fan (I can’t stand the art), but don’t confuse Jerusalem, set to jingoistic music in 1916, with Blake’s little poem protesting about the industrial revolution.

  137. after about 1700 you really have to talk about “English composers” if you want to talk about them at all.
    “Russian literature”, “northern-renaissance painting” and “English country dancing” are all useful distinctions based on geography, I admit. I’m objecting to people who want to utilise art for their own chauvinistic or nationalist purpose when none is intended* and turn art into a race, with a winner and second & third places.
    *Yes, this gets a bit tricky.

  138. Blake could perfectly well have been an American, as you find out if you read “America: A Prophecy”. (In the Alvin Maker series, Orson Scott Card actually sends him there.) If Blake is to be associated with any tradition other than the artists, it is that of the American Englishman, Thomas Paine.

  139. Another Anglo-American connection was Joseph Priestley, whom he knew. He was only ten years younger than Bentham, so maybe he knew J.S. Mill. Peter Ackroyd says Blake’s best friends who were painters are John Linnell (a not bad Constable-like landscape painter who painted the gravel pits under my school in Notting Hill Gate) and Linnell’s son-in-law, who was Samuel Palmer.

  140. Another Anglo-American connection was Joseph Priestley, whom he knew. He was only ten years younger than Bentham, so maybe he knew J.S. Mill. Peter Ackroyd says Blake’s best friends who were painters are John Linnell (a not bad Constable-like landscape painter who painted the gravel pits under my school in Notting Hill Gate) and Linnell’s son-in-law, who was Samuel Palmer.

  141. The British traditions Blake affiliates with are not much honored any more, but he fits with various of the odder nonconformists and those few British with a sympathy for the French Revolution. As I also understand, he was more or less a tradesman and thus not a gentleman.

  142. Yes, but by that time being from trade didn’t stop anyone from working. Look at Keats and Gauss and Priestly and so on, this was when the middle class developed. I think Blake is currently rated very highly in the visual arts in England, strangely enough. I just found a link to Matisse that I didn’t know of, I put it up at my site.

  143. nobody except you is here to show off
    Irony: A
    very insecure
    [Oh, ok.] Irony: A+

  144. Tell it to Miss Austen, Mr. Crown.

  145. The Bennetts are very middle class.

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