Gene Expression

Avatar

I saw Avatar in 3D.

- The special effects were very good. I have seen special effects of similar quality, but never such quality in such quantity. The detail was striking enough that I assume I stopped thinking of it as “special effects” and more as simply a background canvas. I’m talking more about the landscape, the flora and fauna, than the humanoids, who occasionally slipped into uncanny valley territory.

- The plot was melodramatic and not particularly exceptional. The ideological ax didn’t bother me because the plot was mostly extraneous to the film’s experience anyhow.

- I think that the 3D was really not much of a value-add. It was often distracting, especially at the beginning.

I don’t know how well this film will do. But I think it’s right to assume that this sets a new standard in terms of special effects. In many films special effects are most evident and utilized in action sequences or in alien contexts, when there’s a lot of sensory overload and you can’t fixate too much on whether they look fake or not. In Avatar an entire ecology was constructed, and there were many moments of idyllic calm when one could focus on the detail.

Note: The were many sequences which gave me flashbacks to 2005′s The New World.

Comments

  1. #1 Thomas
    December 20, 2009

    “In Avatar an entire ecology was constructed, and there were many moments of idyllic calm when one could focus on the detail.”

    Those were also the moments I enjoyed most in Jurassic Park. The first scenes with grazing or running dinosaurs in good light, not the dark and action packed sequences later on.

  2. #2 GrayGaffer
    December 20, 2009

    3D iMAX. Go see it. Yes, the plot was .. predictable. The visualization was not. Nor is it a blood-and-gore FX shock extravaganza. It achieves its effect without resort to that lowest of lowest common denominators.

    This is the first movie I’ve seen that gives me a reason to go buy a Blue-ray player when it is released later next year.

  3. #3 Meng Bomin
    December 21, 2009

    I for one was a fan of the 3D and I suspect that the special effects wouldn’t have had quite the same luster without it. The plot was forgettable, but the appeal of the movie isn’t really the plot, is it?

  4. #4 rpenner
    December 21, 2009

    How could universal plug-and-play be a stable feature within a biome unless selection operates at a level above that of the individual or even the local populations?

    Is link authority a function of greater mental capability or a mutually agreed upon partnership whereby mental acuity or strategic goals are bargaining chips?

    Do humanoids link to other humanoids?

    Is unobtainium a natural substance or relics of a bygone technological civilization? Would such a civilization be capable of “retirement” to a self-managed biome?

    With regard to brain mapping, to what extent to identical twins have functional mappings more aligned than humanity in the bulk? Assuming there is a minimum threshold of correlation required for reuse of slaved clones, how much likelier would be that an identical twin would be a better match than N candidates chosen at random?

    These might be the painful questions of a layman, but I think Dr. Augustine’s book does the reader a disservice by not acknowledging that they are important questions to consider when we tred on alien soil.

  5. #5 IanW
    December 21, 2009

    This sounds like the kind of review we’d have read had there been blogs back in 1907 when the first color moving picture was released: “Sure we saw the color of the sand and the sea, but really, the color was very difficult to get used to and it detracted from the topic of the movie…”, or when the first sync’d sound picture was released in 1926: “Yeah, the sound matched the picture and John Barrymore and Mary Astor were wonderful, but I didn’t see any advantage to having sound on disc when we can have a live orchestra instead…”.

  6. #6 Anony
    December 21, 2009

    The plot is enough to keep me away, I do not care how good the special effects are. Seems like the typical noble savage, evil colonizer, White Guilt propoganda we’ve been innundated with for decades. Just how bad are we supposed to feel that our ancestors colonized the Americas?

  7. #7 GrayGaffer
    December 22, 2009

    Well, Anony, you’ll be missing out. It’s not “evil colonizer”, it’s shareholder bottom line taken to the limit. Which we are seeing right now right here at home in the mountain top removal mining. And the noble includes humans. Did you also sniff at the original Star Wars for those reasons? At 2001? At Blade Runner? Plot is only one element. This is both visually lush and a story well told, even if the story is familiar.

    Now Cameron’s got the CGI stuff handled maybe he can turn to more plot next time. An easy plot this time probably helped keep the focus on nailing the technology.

  8. #8 Jack Strocchi
    December 26, 2009

    Atavar is a film that glorifies the new religion of ecologism, which it purports is superior to technologism that we liberals are believers in. I am a little depressed, but not surprised, that Razib’s reaction to it is stereotypically techno-nerdy. He seems to have a tin ear for cultural meanings, although I am always around to lend a hand.

    Avatar gave an extraordinarily sympathetic treatment of the Na’avi’s ecological religion, in which they worship Eywa the holistic spirit of Nature. This is stark contrast to the Skypeople whose God is mammon and who worship only money and power, symbolised by the precious metal unobtanium. A conservative commentator puts it well:

    Offering a prayer to Eywa, the Marine, now native, Sully, asks for Eywa’s help in repelling the Americans. In the prayer, Sully states “I know you have chosen me for a purpose…”

    Such a prayer represents atheistic Hollywood’s dilemma. The only way to reconcile a godless Darwinistic worldview with a deeply spiritual American culture is to convert environmentalism into religion. For what greater purpose for man than to save mother earth, or Pandora? And thus, our purpose in a purposeless world.

    I am a liberal myself in most things. But I am also a social scientist who sees liberalism as a spiritually autistic ideology. Environmentalism seems the logical next step for those seeking a higher power to worship.

  9. #9 razib
    December 26, 2009

    jack, a moron would be able to note the basic ideological message of avatar. i’m not a moron. i didn’t focus on it because i’m not one who cares too much about a film’s “message.” in this case the message is so fucking obvious i really don’t see the point in everyone yammering about it all the time. same stupid message. and get off your patronizing high horse. i know about most of the stuff you yammer about, i just don’t care too much about it. and i don’t get depressed that other people have different fixations than i do. perhaps that makes me a techno-nerd.

    jesus. deconstructing the “message” behind avart is like explaining the message behind atlas shrugged. anyone who doesn’t get it isn’t worth explaining to anyway.

  10. #10 Jack Strocchi
    December 27, 2009

    razib@#9

    jack, a moron would be able to note the basic ideological message of avatar. i’m not a moron…and get off your patronizing high horse.

    Razib, I didn’t suggest you were a “moron”. I suggested that you had a “tin ear” for religion’s cultural meanings. This handicaps your otherwise very acute anthropological analysis.

    FTR I think you are one of the smartest guys publishing science journalism on the web. [no homo]

    [clattering of gear and jangling of spurs sound as Jack dismounts from shaky high horse]

    razib said:

    i didn’t focus on it because i’m not one who cares too much about a film’s “message.” in this case the message is so fucking obvious i really don’t see the point in everyone yammering about it all the time. same stupid message.

    I dont think everyone has been “yammering” about the film’s “stupid message…all the time”. Most have focused on the purely environmental aspects, or the politics of imperial-tribal relations or the corporatisation of all aspects of life. The depiction of the spiritual-social aspects of the Na’avi’s religion has been missed. Although it did merit a Douhat column, pretty good one.

    Razib said:

    i know about most of the stuff you yammer about, i just don’t care too much about it. and i don’t get depressed that other people have different fixations than i do.

    I seem to have touched a raw nerve here. Its a gift that I sometimes wish I did not have.

    Generally speaking, I often “yammer” about religion and race because these are two major areas of life that liberals, whether Right- or Left-, have gigantic blind spots or tin ears for. I try to apply 19th C social theory (which includes Darwin, Durkheim, Nietzche, Weber, Galton) to many of these areas because 20thC & 21stC analysts ignore or deplore such thinkers.

    I do find this a bit “depressing” that liberals lack ideological self-awareness about aspects of life that are critical to the subject matter of their studies. (Economists are notoriously “Aspergy”.) Since pretty much all bloggers are liberals, of one form or another, this means that my intrusions are generally critical. Sorry about that.

    But I am a little skeptical of your assertion that you “just don’t care too much about” the religious aspects of popular culture. You did after all start a blog – Secular Right – that focuses criticism on just that subject! A very good blog and one that would perhaps be a better forum for this tiff.

  11. #11 razib
    December 27, 2009

    jack, you have a really obnoxious tone a lot of the time and put words into people’s mouths. i normally ignore your comments because i’m not interested in the “he said, she said” discussions which i’ve seen you get into, but this time i bit. in any case, i mention the religious aspects of avatar at the end of the my diavlog with nicholas wade (which should be up on bloggingheads in a few weeks). so yeah, i noticed it.

    you consistently confuse omission with ignorance. once you assume someone is ignorant you proceed to get professorial and explain it. it gets old.

    look at this:

    But I am a little skeptical of your assertion that you “just don’t care too much about” the religious aspects of popular culture.

    you put the quotes in there and made it seem that i said something specific that i didn’t say. not wanting to deconstruct a movie with kind of a dumb and predictable plot becomes not wanting to discuss the religious aspects of popular culture!

    it’s fine if you want to discuss at the various diverse aspects of avatar. but don’t make like it’s a big deal if other people aren’t too interested in that. a thousand blogs have gotten deep into avatar’s politics of race and religion and stuff. i frankly think it’s kind of a generic movie which is only notable for its special effects. which is why the in-your-face-ideology bothered me not a bit; i was expecting dumbness from that quarter.

  12. #12 tim
    December 27, 2009

    The Slate site links to an article discussing Race issues in Avatar (See here). Possibly of interest.

  13. #13 Jack Strocchi
    December 27, 2009

    razib@#11 said:

    jack, you …. put words into people’s mouths. i normally ignore your comments because i’m not interested in the “he said, she said” discussions which i’ve seen you get into,

    you put the quotes in there and made it seem that i said something specific that i didn’t say. not wanting to deconstruct a movie with kind of a dumb and predictable plot becomes not wanting to discuss the religious aspects of popular culture!

    Razib, I do not “put words into people mouths” that were not there already. I tend to scrupulously quote from my targets. Perhaps this is a little unfair in blogs where posts and comments tend to be unscripted. Perhaps I draw the wrong conclusions in interpreting those words.

    razib said:

    i mention the religious aspects of avatar at the end of the my diavlog with nicholas wade (which should be up on bloggingheads in a few weeks). so yeah, i noticed it.

    Good, in which case I withdraw my “depressed but not surprised crack”. I also see that you have reviewed Nicholas Wade’s book The Faith Instinct which is more than I can say for myself.

    My main beef against the New Atheists in general (and sometimes SR in particular) is the way you guys tend to treat religion like a (bad) joke and concentrate your attacks on soft targets like Creationists, fundamentalists and the Christian Right. This seems like criticizing the humane treatment of animals movement by only focusing on the people who bomb vivisectionists.

    The New Atheists ignore, deplore or deride the secular rational justifications for religion. The founders of the anthropology of religion – such as Darwin, Weber, Durkheim, Marx, Freud, – whilst generally secular in themselves did take religion seriously in their professional social analysis. By contrast the 20thC analysis of religion, esp in the post-modern era – is shallow and shabby. And in the 21stC it is just plain derisory.

    Going by your posts I dont think you dont understand or have simply missed out on this (fairly crucial) aspect of anthropology. (Although you are by far the best of a bad bunch.) I would like to challenge you guys at SR to a debate on the secular rationalization and justification of religion. Put up a post giving your take on why religion evolved and I will then demolish or applaud it in comments (or a guest counter post if you are feeling generous).

    Come on, lets dance.

  14. #14 razib
    December 27, 2009

    Going by your posts I dont think you dont understand or have simply missed out on this (fairly crucial) aspect of anthropology.

    of course i understand. i’ve read *darwin’s cathedral*, and spoke to david sloan wilson at length about his attempt to revive functionalism and a durkheimian tradition (we didn’t get to all my questions about the relationship of group level adaptation and religion because of lack of time length). one reason i don’t post about that stuff in depth is that it is hard to talk about in blog format without being either true but trivial, or plainly false but non-trivial (most of the scholars you cite made non-trivial predictions which turned out to be generally false, modern day scholars tend to make true predictions which are trivial). in any case, i’m not a new atheist, have never been. it’s obvious from my posts. get your blinkers off. you can read my religion archives if you want. i’d like you cite posts where i take the new atheist stance. you’ll probably find them, i estimate i’ve put up 10,000 posts in 7 years across various weblogs now, but they’re not typical.

  15. #15 Jack Strocchi
    December 28, 2009

    Razib@#14

    of course i understand. i’ve read *darwin’s cathedral*, and spoke to david sloan wilson at length about his attempt to revive functionalism and a durkheimian tradition. one reason i don’t post about that stuff is that it is hard to talk about in blog format without being either true but trivial, or plainly false but non-trivial.

    Now you are talking. It seems off the same script as me. Wilson’s work on group selection is exactly what we need to update 19thC sociology (Durkheim-Weber-de Tocqueville-Darwin) in the light of 21stC biology (Smith-Hamilton-Williams-Dawkins). I see you have actually talked to the great man himself on Blogging Heads. I am gratified to see that “your own perspective is becoming more pluralist”. You are by far and away the most intellectually sophisticated of the New Atheists. I take back all the snarky things I said about you and I am sorry.

    As you know I am a socio-biologist* by hobby and a methodological pluralist by inclination. We need to employ both the sociological compositive and biological reductive methods in explaining individual behaviour. That means allowing a role for group selection, which is gradually taking hold of the community of evolutionary thinkers. Here is Wilson taking down Dawkins in no uncertain terms. Godless capitalist would be apoplectic.

    I do not suggest there is one unit of selection can be deemed “right” for any given form of analysis. Epistemically, following Ockhams Razor, the lowest scale of organization that generates accurate predictions is best. Ethically, following Kant, the higher the scale the better for mankind. Optimum scales vary with the stage of world-historical development ie tribal -> provincial -> national -> global.

    This philosophy of evolution can be generalized up into a scalable multi-level theory. Any phenomenological embodiment is a function of the interaction of the (top-down) cosmological environment and (bottom-up) “atom-ological” endowment. In Darwinian terms, phenotypic nurture is a function of sociotypic culture and genotypic nature. The incarnatable phene is a function of intellectual meme and instinctual gene.

    The benefits of altruism at any scale of organization are obvious. Morality requires some degree of self-sacrifice rather than pure self-service. The Prisoners Dilemma proves altruism can encourage group productivity in theory. Weber’s Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism showed how altruism worked in corporate practice.

    Given the reality of scalable units of selection and the importance of altruism in improving group efficiency it follows that institutions that foster group altruism should be treated with utmost seriousness by evolutionary anthropologists. That is why I keep harping on about the importance of religion in anthropological evolution. Most New Atheists treat religion as a series of tragi-comic wrong turns taken by our thick-witted ancestors. Or a racket set up by the combination of war-lords and witch-doctors. Or as some kind of mental disease.

    Religion sanctifies the institutionalization of morality ie gives rules all-pervasive transcendent validity. The religious sanctification of institutional authorities encourages self-sacrifice by individual autonomies. Obviously the greater level of trust the lower the policing and transaction costs. God as a permanently on-duty spiritual policeman, working through the conscience, can rescue us from the Pareto sub-optimum equilibrium of the Prisoner’s Dilemma.

    Moreover the greater the scale of religion the greater the potential positive-sum pay-off for participating members. Monotheistic universal religions are all-inclusive, pervasive and perpetual. Not hard to see why the Romans eventually came around to the idea of combining the universal philosophies of antiquity – Semitic theology, Hellenic epistemology and Italic sociology – into one great Catholic Church. Everyone now on the same program.

    Religion’s role in the genetic evolution of human society is absolutely fundamental. It acts through the mechanism for sexual selection in forming and growing groups. It refined eugeny, maintained fidelity and promoted fertility. The evolutionary pay-off, both qualitative (breed with this person rather than that) and quantitative (breed more rather than less), is obvious.

    And religion’s role in memetic evolution seems at least as important. We could not have done without self-sacrificing, law-abiding and God-fearing religious culture in our pre-modern evolution. An atheist-egotist tribe would have been wiped out by a theist-altruist one in very quick time. We still accord the highest status to the most self-sacrificial acts of heroism.

    Obviously in the post-modern era the moral and intellectual environment has changed drastically. In many areas the optimum size of the firm has become smaller whilst the extent of the market has broadened, allowing the sharpest elites to appropriate a higher share of the gains from co-operation. The higher-IQ types can think for themselves and do without most forms of religion. Not so with the lower-IQ population members, particularly those with poor integration in civil society. Can you see where I am heading?

    Post-modern liberalism is hostile to churches (“God”), states (“King”) and families (“Country”) – any institutional authority that claims the higher loyalties of individual autonomies. Pre-modern conservatives (“corporalists” in Strocchi-speak) were onto something and we post-modern liberals ignore them at our peril.

    * Anthropologist and socio-biologist are synonymous for the “student of man”. But political correctness neutered the former and censored the latter.

  16. #16 Jack Strocchi
    December 28, 2009

    Razib@#14 said:

    i’m not a new atheist, have never been. it’s obvious from my posts. get your blinkers off. you can read my religion archives if you want. i’d like you cite posts where i take the new atheist stance. you’ll probably find them, i estimate i’ve put up 10,000 posts in 7 years across various weblogs now, but they’re not typical.

    I totally withdraw the accusation I made that Razib is a “New Atheist”. He is no such kind of animal, as evinced in general by his numerous posts in the religion archive and in particular by his sophisticated interaction with notable critics of New Athesim.

    I apologise for making rude and untrue remarks about Razib’s religion posts. He is appears to be a fine fellow, genuinely concerned to get at the truth.

    I put my outburst down to a few recent altercations I have had with militant atheists on PZ Myers site. That man is an academic low-life and his posts and commenters caused me to lose my normal icy self-control.

    At the risk of alarming Razib I would like to put it on record that his philosophy on the evolution of religion are probably not so very far off mine, as outlined in the lengthy comment above.

    I look forward to having more civil discourse with Razib about this interesting and momentous topic.

  17. #17 Billare
    March 8, 2010

    I just saw it and felt compelled to broadcast this: This movie was terrible, just jam-packed with horrible, horrible cliches. Ugh.