Sunday, January 31, 2010

Avatar is over hyped

I saw Avatar this weekend and it was an extreme letdown. Well lets start with the good point. The 3D CGI was gorgeous to look at. And Cameron really captured what I have always imagined that an enchanted forest should look like. And yes this was an enchanted forest, just because the Elves where blue 12 feet tall and had tails didn't change this fact.

But once you get past the visual glamor you find a story filled with cardboard characters and plot holes you could fly a shuttle through.

Firstly we have the bad guys: A corporate twerp and a trigger happy Duke Nukem lookalike who have somehow been put in charge of the companies most important mining operation. Its quite evident that neither is actually suitable for the jobs they are doing, and honestly I couldn't imagine them actually having such jobs. The Twerp especially seems completely dominated by his subordinates, there is no way he would have been able to get to that position in such a short order.

The good Guys are euqally cardboard non entities. Even our hero (I can't even remember Jake Sulley seems aqkward and wooden pretty well all of the time. Especially towards the end of the movie he uttered some of the most jarring dialog I have ever heard.

Then we have the Pilot (what ever her name was) who rescues the good guys from captivity. The problem is she has no real motivation to do so. here is a difference between refusing to fire on civilians and active rebellion (and willingness to fire on your former coworkers). She had been there for much longer then the hero and was one of the Marines. When she flew on the Navin side she knew she would be shooting at (and killing) people she had bantered with in the mess hall. More over she was pretty well condemning herself to permanent exile on Pandora. No matter which side one the only thing she could have hoped for if she returned to earth was a long jail sentence as a traiter, or on murder charges.

Then we have the Navin who are steryotipical nobel savages. Theoretically great hunters and warriors who can't seem to get a thing right until lead by a Human Marine.

Why is it that the Navin aren't ready and waiting when the Humans come to destroy hometree ? They didn't even have their flyers ready, even though they had an hours warning. Surly they would have gotten their children and other non combatants out before a known attack force arrived. And be ready and waiting to drop fliers down on the helicopters. This is making their leaders look stupid.

Why is it that their arrows are useless for the first half of the movie. The first Planet side scene a truck drives in with arrows sticking out of its wheel, and they barely penetrated (didn't even flatten the tire), then during the attack on Home Tree the arrows just bonce of the heleicopters. In the final battle however, when our hero is leading the Navin, suddenly their arrows can pierce through the Helicopter windscreens. Either they can or they can't And if they can they should have taken out a good number of the helicopters in the first battle.

In any case the Humans had been their long enough for The Navin to know about metal and that their arrows can not pierce it (Would any sensible hunter waste ammunition, that had to be made by hand, firing at something he knows he cannot hurt. The humans seem to be quite capable of not wasting ammunition (even The Head of The Science team gets the idea).

Why is it that no one rides the armored herbivores (the ones that have gun poof Armour on their heads (WTF)) They look to me like the ultimate in heavy cavalry and if the Navin's link can tame the fiercest predator on their planet surly a herbivore would be tamable as well. What kind of idiot does a cavalry charge against machine guns? These are supposed to be hunters. Can't the find secure positions to stage an ambush, at least it would give them time to fire a few rounds of arrows before getting hit. Even a few pit traps would have helped.

All in all the thing is that If the Navin are as in tune with their world as they are supposed to be, and their weapons are as capable. then they should have been able to wipe the floor with the human security forces without some ex human leading them. And if there not then his leadership would have been useless unless he could find better weapons somewhere, either stolen form humans or I don't know, the artifacts of an ancient Navin Civilization which the people had abandoned.

The whole every creature (and even some of the plants) have exposed links for establishing direct neural connections thing was rather hard to accept too. It really deserved some kind of justification. THere was no hint that it was engineered and at the same time I can't see how it could have provided such an evolutionary advantage that every animal would have one.

Then we have the Energy Vortex. Which is believed to be a very high energy electromagnetic field. Others have noted that such a field should have been quite devastating to humans (if not the local wildlife). However the fact that is selectively knocked out Sensors without affecting anything else is bizzar. Honestly It the flux is so strong that sensors don't work then why do the communicators continue to work? Heck even the computer systems should be affected (uneless they have special shielding). And what about the Avatars, which are also run by remote control but seem to have no restrictions on range (and are also unaffected by the flux).

All in all I loved the visuals but hated the story, and at almost 3 hours a the middle third was frankly boring to sit through. Recently there have been stories of Avatar being the highest grossing movie ever. This true in raw number however when corrected for inflation it comes in at 21st place (when I wrote this, though it is moving up). The actual record is still held by Gone with the Wind.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Post Christian Morality

Quit a while back Australia introduced a citizenship test. At the time the local paper ran a quiz which claimed to contain questions from the actual test. One of the questions was about the guiding principle of Australian law, with answer options including 'Christian' and 'secular' and the obvious red herring of 'Sharia Law'.

The correct answer, was 'Christian'. My partner however, who is catholic wanted to answer secularism. Which got me to thinking that in despite what we might like to claim she is right. I have very much grown up with post Christian values. And indeed ones which are in places opposed to most religious teachings. To me the key concept is the idea of personal freedom. If it harms none, do as you will.

The fact that this also happens to be a key statement of Wicca is coincidence. However it flies in the face of judo christian tradition. Modern progressive churches do (I belive) accept some idea of free will to do. but they do not seem to attach any special moral meaning to it, other than a negative one where your free will gives you the right to damn yourself, or you can surrunder it and follow the church teachings and be saved. This is not however universal as soem Protestant denominations still teach the Calvinist idea that God has decided who is and who is not among the saved, and there is nothing you can do to change his mind.

When I look at the ten commandments, Ignoring the various controversies about what is and isn't aprt of this set, I find that only three of them are enshrined in Australian law. We hare prohibited for Stealing, murdering and bearing false witness. But then again these are things that have been discovered by most successful societies around the world, though granted not all of them.

As to the others. the first Thou shalt have no other god before me, is unconstitutional in Australia. Likewise for the making of idols. As we have freedom of religion. In other words the writers of the Australian constitution, following in the footsteps of the American founding fathers, said that the bible is wrong on that point. That to restrict the free practice of other religeions is morally wrong. So wrong in fact that the fact should be noted in the document of final arbitration.

Adultry, taking the lords name in vain, and being rude to your parents may be considered bad form as it where but are not considered illegal. The last one about honouring your mother and father requires some careful thought in considering what a strict reading actually implies. to me it suggests following their orders qithout question, but what if said orders are themselves illegal. Is a child that is being abused dishonouring their parents if they report the abuse? Morally I'd have to say no, taking the commandment literally I'm not certain of the answer.

Then we come to the idea of working on the Sabbath, and coveting of goods. Both of these seem to be part and parcel of capitalism. A good chunk of our economic activity is based on coveting and encouraging others to covet. On the whole we seem to have settled that coveting, while bad in excess, is necessary in moderation. Without it international trade would all but grid to a halt. Ditto for research and development, which is based on wanting to know and wanting to create.

So overall are we a Christian society then? One third of the ten commandments cannot be enforced because to do so would be against either the constitution or the established conventions of our society. The breaking of another third are either encouraged, tolerated or seen as a personal matters. This leaves only 1/3 which remain codified in law, and these are so common to the human race that they can hardly be called Christian values. So all in all I think that the idea that we are still a nation built on Christian ideals is demonstrably false.

Then there are the many other points which we have made moral judgements on, but which the ten commandments are silent on. Chief among these is slavery. the then commandment eplicitly prohibits you from coveting your neighbours slaves (some transaltions say servant). This implied that your neighbour, and you, might actually own slaves. Similarly no mention is made of universal suffrage, racial or gender equality. Worst still the bible is consistently sexist, implicitly racist (certainly in the old testament), and has historically been used to justify the divine right of certain individuals over others. And yet our values say that these three things are important. Again we appear to be post Christian rather then Christian in our prevailing world view.