The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why I don't go out to the movies all that much

So we went to see Avatar yesterday. We emerged with a pair of splitting headaches and had to go home and lie down. Before the feature film (long, long before -- that's another issue I have with the modern theater experience), there was a promo for the National Guard which almost sent me out of the place, not for any political reasons but because it was so badly produced and so goddamn loud. Is this what it takes to get the attention of yoof -- quick-cuts and montages fit to produce seizures and inept vaguely metal music at actionably high decibel levels?

However, my aging intellect and hearing aside, I wonder if anyone else who saw this thing noted all the references and homages and outright thefts? Just as examples of those I picked up on, in between rubbing my aching eyes:

  • Obvious similarities among the military and scientific technology of Avatar and Aliens (and of course, Sigourney Weaver as another link between the two films). I am not the first, by far, to make this observation.
  • Weaver's character dies as a result of a stray round coming in the open door of a helicopter during an escape; lifted from an action bit in Tom Clancy's Clear and Present Danger (the book -- it didn't make it into the film)
  • The female alien trapped under her fallen mount, unable to reach her weapon, while the bad guy menaces her; very similar to the final scenes of True Grit with John Wayne under his horse and Glen Campbell (!) picking the villain off at long range with a buffalo gun.
  • The hero communing with the spirits of the dead or mother nature or something prior to the final showdown and saying, just as Sean Connery does in Outland, "I could use a little help."
  • And finally, one that perhaps fewer of y'all will remember, the whole concept lifted from Clifford D. Simak's 1944 short story, Desertion, about a scientist / bureaucrat who's trying to explore, let alone colonize a vastly hostile planet (Jupiter; I said this was written in 1944) by transferring his staff into the physiotypes of a species of wolf or dog that inhabits the place. Trouble is, they don't come back. So he and his old faithful dog make the switch themselves and ... discover that what is to mankind a howling inferno is to the indigenous critters a heavenly place. Eventually (as mentioned in another Simak story (City? Don't remember.) everybody leaves Earth to become wolves on Jupiter.

In fact, the notion of a supposedly civilized individual "going native" with good, bad, or indifferent consequences is a central theme in the dialogue of imperialism. Who transforms who? Which side suffers most (although by now, I think the data are pretty clear on that question.) See Greene's The Quiet American for one exposition; A Passage to India (E. M. Forster) for another. Although I did like the idea of multiple species across multiple phyla evolving with compatible USB ports coming out of their heads, Avatar is still a silly film with little or nothing to say, and the 3-D glasses made my head hurt. The sheer amount of money it cost will probably bring in some Academy Awards, but for Christ's sake, folks, if you're going to spend all that dough, why not allocate a larger percentage to the writers? If you can simulate anything at all, why not simulate something new?