Avatar is so anti-American! OMG!

I’ve been hearing quite a bit about how the story for the new film Avatar is “anti-American” or “anti-military” or whatever. I don’t really get it. I saw the movie, the images were fantastic, especially in 3D. The climactic battle sequences with rocket guns leaving 3D trails of smoke and futuristic helicopters duking it out with giant alien birds were probably the best battle sequences I’ve ever seen in cinema. The story, however, was (like Star Wars) pretty basic. Not that that’s bad, it could’ve been much much worse. It’s probably good that it was basic; makes it that much more accessible, which it almost has to be when you’re spending a bazillion dollars on the special effects.

Unlike Star Wars, though, Avatar does not take place a long time ago in another galaxy far far away, but in our future with our very own great great grandchildren (or whatever, I didn’t do the math) in our galaxy. So I guess some people are thinking “Wait a minute, are you saying that’s that what we’re gonna be like? Evil industrial money-hungry warmongers who don’t mind killing other beings who are as conscious as we are? How dare you!” Now, that could very well be exactly what Cameron is trying to say, but at no point in the movie did a character look at the camera and say “You better watch out and not end up like this, America!” so I can’t respond as if one did.

And if you do sense an anti-American theme, what about the Americans that end up being the heroes? The theme would obviously have to be that indigenous people are too stupid and weak and distrusting to save themselves and must depend on external help, and American people provide such help! American people are actually so much help that a race of thousands can be saved with just the help of three or four (short and less symmetrical) Americans! This is a message to the world! We are America; we are powerful enough to crush you, and benevolent enough to stop ourselves.

But I can’t buy any of it. Everybody agrees that war is bad. What we argue about morally and politically is the nature of its necessity. Similarly, no human is going to prefer living in a flat grey cold metal room when the beauty and wonder of Pandora is just outside the window, especially when the Na’vi (the indigenous aliens of Pandora which are conveniently quite human-like but just a bit more visually interesting) seem to stay very clean, well-fed and sheltered, out of danger, and have no waste management problems. The only reason we humans would prefer a less beautifully green living atmosphere is to make the aforementioned aspects of life more practical. A toilet may not be the most beautiful thing in the world, but it’s extremely practical. Most humans would probably want to stop being humans and become Avatars, as the main characters in the film do.

Here on Earth, you’re perfectly free to live as naturally as you want, so why don’t people who claim to want it actually pursue it? Because they don’t really want it. They want to keep using their toilets and air conditioning and email, and then complain about the evils of industry. Meanwhile, beautiful green nature will freeze you and burn you and starve you and get you dirty everywhere. Woohoo. (But not Pandora!)

I digress. In Avatar, the differences between good and evil are pretty easy to recognize. The story might’ve been more powerful (to some audiences) if the differences were more ambiguous, but that would’ve also made it more challenging, and thus more risky business-wise. If you find it anti-American, I guess it’s because you feel the film is negatively stereotyping Americans. But in the film, you really only see the Americans that are part of the story’s conflict, so you’d have to be assuming an awful lot about the Americans in that future that are not part of the battle and/or that are still on Earth. Kinda seems like you’re doing most of the stereotyping yourself.

(Also, I don’t recall America ever invading any country as different and beautiful and wondrous as Pandora, so I don’t see any important similarities between the Pandora invasion and any real-world historic or current invasions.  If Cameron wanted to make a statement that such beauty and wonder are inherit in any culture we invade but are in the eyes of the beholder, he wouldn’t need many special effects for that.  And he wouldn’t make as much money.  And I think others have already tried.)

Watch the movie first, don’t read the book

I woke up with a really bad headache today.  Fortunately by the time I had to go to work it had subsided enough that I could act normally, but it didn’t fully go away until about 10 hours after I woke up.  So I didn’t do anything but rest and pace around in the morning.  After work, though, I did draw about a week’s worth of new comics for Hannifin World.  It gets addicting when you start doing a bunch of them.

I’ll probably start watching Dollhouse on Hulu again because, from what I can tell, the creators are indeed going to try to wrap up the story as best they can in the final episodes, so hopefully there will be some closure.

And now I shall dedicate the rest of this post to talking about why you should watch a film before reading the book, or at least why I prefer to:


I know a few people who, when a movie based on a book comes out, they refuse to watch it until they read the book version. When such a situation comes up, I prefer to watch the movie first for a couple reasons:

1) Time Investment – The movie will take less time to watch; reading the book could take ten times as long, or longer. If the story ends up to be stupid, it’s better to spend less time experiencing it, in my opinion.

2) Books always seem better – Books and films are two different art forms. You tend to get less *story content* with a film, because films only have a couple hours to tell the story. Reading the book first gives you a high risk of comparing the stories of the two different art forms, and of course the film’s story will then seem like a “watered-down” version of the story, as they almost always have to take things out for a film, because of time and pacing considerations. In other words, reading the book first tends to taint your expectations for the film, which sets you up for disappointment. If you don’t read the book first, and you find the film to be good, there’s a greater chance you’ll also enjoy the book, as it will then seem like the story has been expanded. If you don’t enjoy the film, you may or may not enjoy the book, but at least you won’t have wasted more than two or three hours with the story.

That said, my favorite films based on books tend to not only just take out story content, but also change the story content, so that what’s left flows and fits together nicely. The Prestige is one of the best examples I can think of at the moment. The Harry Potter films, on the other hand, I find terrible, and not just because of the acting. (Actually, even though it would’ve made far less money, I think Harry Potter would’ve worked much much better as a TV miniseries.) (John Williams’ Harry Potter themes are brilliant, however. I cannot imagine more perfect melodies to fit the Harry Potter world.)

So, when a film comes out based on a book, I just watch it!

Some people might argue that watching the movie first makes them think of the actors playing the character in the movie when they read the book.  To which I say: well, then, you must have a weak imagination!  But I suppose it’s a valid argument…

A happy Wednesday to you

And now, 23 more days until Christmas…

I worked a little more on my Android game; I created a poorly animated bouncing head to represent the player, which bounces in whatever direction you move him. Unfortunately his directional movement is a bit jittery; I need to figure out how to update his position on every frame, but not when a frame isn’t being rendered. And then I have a bunch of other work to do on him. (If I ever actually finish programming the game, I might look into hiring a pro artist to do the art for it… but for now the game can look visually awful.)

I also added a “readers” counter on the side of this blog; you can see it over there below the subscribe buttons. So if you’re ever feeling low on self-esteem, maybe taking a look at my low reader count will give you a boost (but then reading the blog and realizing what a genius I am in all that I do might lower it again).

The only other thing I’ve done worthy of note (but not really) besides going to work is to watch my new Dr. Strangelove blu-ray last night. Quite a funny film, and it looks great on blu-ray. Blu-rays are the way to watch movies. DVDs are losers. (Except for TV seasons, because blu-rays currently cost too much for those.) I will say, though, Stanley Kubrick’s sudden endings are kind of annoying. You really get into the ending scene and then BOOM it’s over. No closure. No goodbyes. Just BOOM. The end.

For my blog, I would never–

Project Trico, Google Wave, and Benjamin Button

Project Trico

Two of my favorite video games are Ico and Shadow of the Colossus . . . actually, I think they are the only console games I’ve ever been able to pass (not that I play very many).  They’re like puzzle adventure games.  The team that makes them is working on a new title for the PS3 (which I guess I’ll have to get) which for now is being called Project Trico.  The video on YouTube looks . . . interesting.  Some kid going around with some strange cat-bird with arrows in it.  The cat-bird’s movements look very realistic if it wasn’t so humongous.

Anyway, what I really loved about the video was the music.  Very epic and inspiring.  I learned from Wikipedia that music was from a 1990’s film called Miller’s Crossing, a Coen brothers movie, and the music was by Carter Burwell, who recently scored Twilight.  So I put the movie Miller’s Crossing on hold at the library; I’m interested in seeing how the music fits with the dark gangs-and-guns story.  I’m also probably going to end up buying the soundtrack (because they still sell on CD *cough* stupid Disney Records *cough*).

Google Wave

The other exciting thing I saw earlier this week was this video on Google Wave (or this article which sums up the main points).  Ooooh, doesn’t that look awesome?  Hard to say exactly what sort of impact it will have on online communication, but it could be very big.  I’m especially interested in the real-time multiple-user collaboration; I would’ve loved to have that available while still in school working on group projects.  I’m also excited by the gaming possibilities this could provide, and would be very interested in trying to program some gadget-games for it.  I requested a sandbox developer account, but they never got back to me . . . of course, I’m sure tens of thousands have requested one, and when this Google Wave goes live to everyone, it will already be oversaturated with games . . . which is good!  I look forward to playing them!  But I will still want to try designing my own.

Benjamin Button (with spoilers!)

I finished watching the film The Boring Stupid Case of Benjamin Button the other day.  Visually, it was great.  The recreation of older time periods, the make-up, the cinematography . . . brilliant work.  But the story . . . what story?  There really wasn’t much of one.  There was hardly any conflict, only a couple of very shallow romantic conflicts.  The main character, Benjamin Button, had no important goals, and therefore there was really nothing he had to overcome.  This is a huge disappointment because the premise, a boy being born old and becoming younger, would seem to spark many conflicts.  How would others react if they knew the truth?  (They didn’t seem to be very bothered.)  How would he find love when he was young but looked old?  (Easily, it seems.)  When he was young, shouldn’t he be jealous of normal people?  And when he got old, shouldn’t others be jealous of him?  (Nah!)  When he grew down into a child’s body, wouldn’t it have been more dramatic if he had been a wise 70 year old, trying to convince adults that he was older and more experienced than them?  Nah . . . they just have him start forgetting everything when that point comes.

And, since Benjamin really had no goals, he had no personality.  He never really wanted anything, besides to be with a woman every now and then.  He didn’t struggle with envy for normal people, he didn’t worry very much about his awkward future, he didn’t deal with anger issues toward his father who abandoned him, he didn’t struggle with very much loneliness.  Lots of missed potential.

It seems like the writers were in a bit of a hurry to create this film, because they did a horrible job.  They expanded an idea into a screenplay without adding any story.  *Sigh*  It could’ve been good.

Remember . . . an idea is not a story!  You might start with an idea, but the story still has to be about something.  It might seem mundane or cliche, such as a simple love story, or a war story, or a life-struggles story (which is what Ben Button should’ve been about), but it needs that conflict built around the initial idea.  You can’t just take the idea and run with it.

The only way Ben Button could’ve succeeded without a story is if it had been a comedy.  Comedy can get away with there being little story because the point is in the little stories, the gags, the jokes.  Forrest Gump had no big story, but it was funny.  A Christmas Story had very little story, but it was funny.  And I’m sure there are plenty more . . .

So I give Benjamin Button 2 out of 10 stars, which is pretty pathetic.

Okay, that’s all I have to say for today.

Is doubt good?

I saw the movie Doubt last night.  It was… eh… it wasn’t bad, it was better than I thought it would be, but it wasn’t that good either, in my opinion.  You can definitely tell it’s based on a stage play, and if you’ve been to a few stage plays you might recognize it’s style: pacing is different, there are long conversations, little music, little action, lots of talking.  Not necessarily boring conversations, sometimes quite engaging conversations, that’s an area playwrites can be brilliant at while most films move much quicker.

Anyway, one of the themes of the film was, not surprisingly, doubt.  Which is a nice coincidence since I was just reading a book (and still haven’t finished it) called Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.  I mentioned the book a few posts earlier; it’s about the history of questioning religion, the history of people doubting.  The philosophical question is: is doubt good?

From a scientific point of view, yes, of course, one should always be questioning.  That’s what leads to more experiments, more discoveries, and a better knowledge of our world.  And you do experiments to try to prove your guesses wrong; that’s often the easiest way to go about it.  And when you can’t prove yourself wrong, you know your theory may be on to something.

But with religion, you can’t do experiments.  You can’t even get God (or Zeus, or whatever) to talk to you man to man.  So what’s the use of doubt?  It becomes not an act of experimentation, not a question spoken out loud, but a thought, something to think your way through (of course you can talk about it with others, but your answers won’t be emperical).

I think a good faith embraces the questioning of itself.  That might seem contradictory; how can faith really be faith if it’s being questioned?  On the other hand, how can faith really be faith if it’s never questioned?  Isn’t that blind faith, and thus, not faith at all?  But faith being questioned isn’t true faith either, it’s uncertainty.  But isn’t that the way to faith?  Through uncertainty and questions and doubt?  After all, if you had perfect faith in everything you believed in, you’d be perfect.  You would do everything right and always be pleased with yourself.  You’d always be happy, I would think.  You would never face any moral dilemmas.  And I bet a lot of people would envy you.

In college, I sometimes came across people who thought they had all the answers and went around campus advertising their religion… but they really didn’t have all the answers, they just didn’t have any questions.  Ask them about some moral dilemma or about the nature of God and they only gave empty answers, like “Well, God is mysterious!”  Well… yeah!  A mystery is something you don’t know!  That God is thought of as “mysterious” is an indication of an imperfect faith.  And I would think faith must be imperfect for us, it’s ingrained in the very nature of our humanness.

So, in a way, to doubt, to question, is to have faith… faith in faith.

But what about atheists?  (Some might even say that atheism is a faith, and the only way to really have no faith is to not be human, or to not have life at all.)  Would it be equally beneficial for an atheist to doubt and question their own atheism?  Is “blind” atheism really atheism?  Are atheists that are certain with themselves just not asking any questions, or giving empty answers?

Obviously science doesn’t have all the answers, or at least we can’t find them all right now.  But does that mean the answers aren’t there?  Scientists still spend plenty of time looking and questioning… isn’t that faith?  Faith that answers exist, that there does exist a knowable truth?

So… is doubt good?  I don’t know… it implies an imperfect faith, and is therefore bad… but it’s required to arrive at a more perfect faith, and is therefore good…

Blah blah blah blah . . .