Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dances with Viperwolves

(Image from Wikipedia)

I took my 13-year-old daughter out yesterday afternoon to see the 3-D version of Avatar, also known as Dances with Viperwolves.

The story is already well known (so no need to summarize it here), and the characters are stereotypes (albeit interesting stereotypes with enough complexity to keep one's attention), so the real attraction is the 3-D visuality of a primeval world filled with wild nature of the sort that Kaczynski would surely love and of a motion-capture technique so highly developed that it has even succeeded in capturing and depicting lifelike eyes.

The visual effects were so good that I could almost ignore the attempts at topicality. Almost. I couldn't quite ignore Colonel Miles Quaritch's remark about using "shock and awe" to cow the native tribes of the planet Pandora into submission so that the 'sky people' (i.e., the earthlings) can obtain the mineral 'unobtainium' (as if that were possible!). I mean, in 2154 AD, some hundred and fifty years after the Iraq War, the US military is still using that failed Rumsfeldian expression? As if the military never learns anything about how to deal with counterinsurgency?

Despite the crudity of the anti-American, even anti-Western stereotypes -- especially of ruthless capitalist corporations and brutal military techniques -- I (and my daughter) enjoyed the film and just couldn't help siding with the Na'vi, the local Pandoran tribe that the main character Jake Sully in his avatar form joins.

But I suppose that I and my daughter (Sa-Rah Ahyoga Hwang) aren't entirely Western.

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At 8:29 AM, Blogger John B said...

I think George Orwell and Anthony Burgess were the only writers who could invent a new, credible, easily understood euphemism.

At 8:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John, that's a double-plus droog-free good!

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:33 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

Back in 1991, The film "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country" (set in the 23rd century) lost all of its punch when the line "lock and load" was uttered. Also, Klingons reciting Shakespeare was a tad bit over the top.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Phil said...

....in 2154 AD, some hundred and fifty years after the Iraq War, the US military is still using that failed Rumsfeldian expression....?

Well, I dunno, some three hundred and fifty years after Shakespeare, people are still using that failed Shakespearean expression, "To be, or not to be.....".

At 12:39 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John from Daejeon, good analogy.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:42 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Phil, I guess that we'll have James Cameron to blame when the earthlings really do invade Pandora:

"Just following the script, sir!"

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:25 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

I didn't see the movie, but I got this perspective from another blogger.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Hathor, that was interesting and I think, at least in part, correct.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:50 PM, Blogger John B said...

Now I've actually seen it, a few comments.

(1) "shock-and-awe" was not coined as a counter-insurgency strategy, rather than a strategy for defeating an inferior conventional force. Insurgency was actually the counter to "shock-and-awe".

(2) As a political allegory, "Avatar" was crap. It's like everything Cameron knows about indigenous resistance movements is what he saw the Ewoks do in "Return of the Jedi". Cameron is not an idiot (I don't think) so it is hard to really ascribe that (asinine) interpretation as something he intended. Rather, the allusions are intended to give the characters verisimilitude rather than make a real political point.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John B, I realize that "shock and awe" was meant to be used against conventional forces, but it gives rise, as you noted, to counterinsurgency. That's what I was referring to -- that the military would surely have learned this fact by 2154 (and may already have learned).

On your second point, I also agree (though I can't take credit for having thought it through already).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:21 PM, Blogger Robert Koehler said...

Speaking of "indigenous resistance movements," I think I've finally "heard it all" this week with the BBC History Magazine Podcast:


"Robert Ferguson argues that the Norse raiders who ravaged Britain in the eighth century regarded their attacks as acts of self defence."

Vikings as resistance fighters to Carolingian Christian cultural imperialism... Can our self-loathing as a civilization get any worse?

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Robert, I suppose that the Vikings could think whatever they wanted to . . . and we could agree or disagree with them.

I haven't read the article. Is the argument that this was a response to Carolingian attacks on the pagan Saxons?

Thanks for the visit.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:40 AM, Blogger Robert Koehler said...

I haven't read the article. Is the argument that this was a response to Carolingian attacks on the pagan Saxons?

Indeed it was. And since the Vikings did far more than just rob --- they killed defenseless people, including monks --- their raids show signs of hate, in which case, we need to ask ourselves WHY they hated us so. Or more to the point, what WE did to make them hate us so.

Seriously, I was speechless.

At 10:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

From my glancing familiarity with the Vikings -- and that sort of culture going back to the time of Beowulf and earlier -- raids and fighting were a way of life for them (Valhalla and all that).

I also wonder why the Vikings would attack Anglo-Saxon England in response to Carolingian attacks on Saxons. But I'm no expert on all of this.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:51 PM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

I finally got around to seeing “Avatar” on the big screen after a holy day marathon reading frenzy of the last few Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast novels by the greats Preston & Child. Sadly, I was a bit disappointed by Cameron’s using Model T versions of aircraft and firepower in the future. Even in this day and age we have vortex, laser, mircrowave, sound, biological, and chemical weapons in development by numerous agencies around the world (DARPA to name one in the U.S.). Yes, the new-fangled wrapping paper it was presented in was pretty, but I’ve seen and read the story countless times before. My favorites are some of Robert A. Heinlein’s, such as “Farnham’s Freehold” where the once conquered “natives” of Africa now rule the world and have a very unique way of dealing with “men lacking their same skin pigmentation”—castration; however, those who are now the defeated get to enjoy a life of bliss in their baked out minds.

Yeah, I get the point: So as long as the human animal exists in our present state of mind (driven by money, power, desperation, and the need to reproduce), we can expect history to continue repeating itself. Instead of new lands being fought over, it just might be women (China) and water becoming the spoils of war. Who knows? But if the global warming alarmists are right, it could be over land once more. And whose god will rise up like Eywa in “Avatar” and prove itself to be the one true god of the planet Earth? Judging by the fates of so many great and powerful past civilizations who put their faith in their Sun/son gods, I have a feeling their will be a lot of wasted prayers and eventual disappointment as those with the biggest guns and the latest in weaponry will ultimately prove victorious.

At 7:19 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

John from Daejeon, lots of good points, especially about technology. The earth isn't going to intervene (though I had the impression that Pandora differed from earth in being a planet-sized brain), and only science and technology combined with humanistic knowledge can truly offer a secure future.

One thing that I kept thinking as I watched Cameron's paeon to 'nature' was that no planet, not even Pandora, can defend itself against meteorites or comets bearing down on its orbit at an unfortunate moment. Only science and technology can offer a solution.

Jeffery Hodges

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