Tag Archives: Avatar

Young Man On The Road #4: Tossed Salad and Scrambled Eggs

Seattle and Mountlake Terrace, WASHINGTON 

June 21-24, 2011

Ian and I had no regrets leaving Portland after just an afternoon because waiting for us in Seattle (well, just outside Seattle in Mountlake Terrace) were the sweetest, most accommodating hosts we could ever ask for.  My Uncle Scott (and by “Uncle” I mean cousin’s wife’s older brother) and his wife Jennifer let us stay in their beautiful home even though they were going to be away in Montana for business.  They were leaving Wednesday morning and were willing to let us arrive after they’d left, but we thought it best to power through Portland to see them Tuesday night.  Best decision yet, as Scott and Jennifer are terrific company: equally interesting and interested, always willing to provide, and offering to cook meals for us! Ian and I almost didn’t want to leave the house, but we had a city to explore.

On Wednesday we toured the University of Washington and the surrounding U District before driving downtown.  The redbrick buildings and wide open spaces of campus were pretty, but it wasn’t Berkeley (I say, completely unbiased).  However, University Way, a.k.a. “the Ave” was like a cleaner, longer, friendlier version of Telegraph Avenue.  No street vendors, granted, but no hobos either.  We scarfed down some $3 Vietnamese sandwiches (score!) and then headed south towards Seattle’s most prominent landmark.

I did not go to the Seattle Space Needle the last time I visited the Emerald City.  Crazy, yeah?  They friggin’ love that thing; it’s plastered on every souvenir and half the business logos.  But Anthony Bourdain was too cool to see the pyramids while in Egypt, so I felt no pressure to see the Needle during my first visit.  This time, I felt somewhat obligated to go.

Thing is, it’s actually a pretty cool place.

Behind the 360-degree observation deck is somewhat of a lounge area with a cafe, snacks, and a post-modern aesthetic.  Just below that is a swanky rotating restaurant that Ian and I definitely could not afford.  I did, however, spring for a chai latte upstairs.  I felt very Seattle-y sipping a Starbucks beverage with a view of the city below.  Due to a private function, we had the great fortune to be turned away from the Space Needle when we first attempted to ascend to the top that afternoon.  Returning that night after exploring Downtown, I’m sure we got a much better view with the lit city skyline and the long-lasting twilight sky.

The area around the Space Needle was even more impressive.  It’s surrounded by the monorail that leads straight to Downtown (three blocks from Pike’s Place Market) and the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum.  Our first goal of the next day was to visit the EMP/SFM because their two featured exhibits were the  Nirvana and Avatar!  You can really gauge where you stand on the nerdy-to-cool scale by seeing which side of the museum you’re most excited about.  I love me some Nirvana, but I was totally geeking out over the interactive Avatar displays.  That should be no surprise to you folks.

We ate a packed lunch in the car (thank you for the leftovers, Scott and Jennifer!) then headed to Belltown afterwards too see my former roommate Charlie.  We lived together in my first apartment in Hawaii, but he left the island for Seattle a year ago.  He is now a bartender at a sleek Japanese bar where I ate sushi, drank beer, watched Cal baseball lose, and caught up with my old buddy.

After a little more downtown exploration, we packed it in somewhat early.  Ian and I had laundry to do, dishes to clean, and cats to feed.  Plus, beautiful house.  We were reluctant to leave the vibrancy of Seattle and the warmth of Scott and Jennifer’s house so early, but we had am eight-hour drive ahead of us.

Up next, Boise!

P.S. Sorry these posts have been pretty long and decidedly not “micro,” but I’ve had the opportunity to use my laptop more often than I thought.  Also, brevity ain’t my thing.



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Film Review: Avatar (2009)


2009, Dir. James Cameron

Avatar (2009) has been churning about in James Cameron’s head for the past 15 years. He intended to release it right after Titanic (1997), but decided to wait for technology to catch up to his vision. At an epic 160 minutes, Avatar was well worth the wait.

The story follows a paraplegic Marine of the mid-22nd Century who jumps on (figuratively, of course) the opportunity to travel to a distant world and control an Avatar: a biological-created life form resembling a Na’vi. The Na’vi are the intelligent, peace-loving, tribal species of the Earth-like moon Pandora. By adopting this body, the Marine will not only be aiding Earth’s effort to integrate with the local population, but he’ll also get to walk again. Of course, humans didn’t travel 4.6 light years across the galaxy to make friends. No, Pandora is the source of unobtainium, a mineral worth millions on a resource-depleted Earth. Clan integration via Avatar is the humane scientists’ attempt to peacefully deal with the Na’vi, convincing them to move before the evil industrial military folk rape their land of the precious rock, destroying their village in the process.

A military man thrown into the clan of the native population his side is trying to take over? Nature and peace threatened by a money-loving industry? Gigantic military spaceships? One can pretty much guess the rest the plot from here. While Cameron directly cited Dances With Wolves (1990) as part of his inspiration, to me it was an epic, sci-fi version of Fern Gully(1992). It “sampled” from the Pocahontas story as well. Needless to say, Avatar’s storyline is about as original as a P. Diddy song. Also, the characters were formed from oft-used molds: a gun-toting hero with a heart of gold, a terse yet passionate scientist/humanitarian, a diehard military leader, an attractive chief’s daughter that shows the outsider her clan’s way of life. The list goes on. And yet, despite these worn-out clichés, I still held my breath during the narrow escapes, felt grief during the village attacks, and cheered when the good guys won. Why? Although Avatar does not work your brain too hard, it will capture your imagination. Last night, it captured mine and, frankly, still hasn’t let go.

One reason I think Avatar worked so well is that its cutting-edge animation technology supported the core parts of the film (story, plot, actors, setting, etc.), instead of the other way around (cough—Star Wars prequels!—cough). The final film is a reported 60% computer animation and 40% live action. Though I could easily deduce one from the other, they blended so well together that the hybrid nature of the film was not a distraction. However, more amazing than the grand views of Pandora—and my, were they grand!—was how easily the actors’ movement came through. Apparently, the new motion-capture technology they used maintained about 95% of the actors’ performance, and it showed. Their movements were tight and subtle, not sweeping and exaggerated like we’re used to seeing in typical animation, CG or otherwise. Specifically, the Na’vi facial expressions were what really blew me away. I could sense the characters’ thoughts and emotions in the small way their eyes changed or their mouths moved. And—I promise you this—I realized that Neytiri, the lead female Na’vi, was played by Zoe Saldana by facial recognition alone, not only in the structure of the face but its movement, as well. I had no idea Saldana involved going into this film. That, my friends, is how spectacular animation supports the film instead of taking center stage.

The other reason I believe Avatar captured my imagination is because Cameron worked hard to create a world in which I could immerse myself. Filmmakers have been creating alien worlds and alien species forever, but they often stopped when they have everything named. Cameron went a few steps further and created a culture, a society, and a language (the Na’vi language consists of about 1000 words, sentence structure, conjugated verbs, and so on). He created flora and fauna. He created an entire ecosystem with mystical understanding and scientific explanation. The kicker, though, is that he created a whole new world whose intricacies are accessible by viewing the film alone and not through “expanded universe” books and whatnot (George Lucas may have created a galaxy far, far away, but it was hundreds of Lucas-approved authors that drew up the intricacies of said galaxy, accessible through beyond-the-film merchandise). I found myself caring about these remarkably-animated characters because I believed in the world from which they came and the cause in which they fought.

In conclusion, although I had walked into Avatar apprehensive about the latest big-budget, CG spectacle film of the season, I walked out wanting to see it again, to return to the world of Pandora, to care for the Na’vi, to cheer on the protagonists and hiss at the villains. The story is familiar, as is the not-so-subtle “imperialism is bad” message, but that pales in comparison to how well it’s told and how beautifully it’s shown.

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