chipotle: (Default)

In some of the discussion on my previous post, [livejournal.com profile] cargoweasel expressed disappointment in the “Avatar” trailer for not having a very alien world or very alien aliens. The Na’Vi are very anthropomorphic and distinctly feline; what we see of Pandora doesn’t look that different from a terrestrial rainforest (if we disregard the huge floating islands). As I wrote in response, first I agreed with this, then upon thinking about it I started to disagree with it, then upon thinking about it some more my mind went off in an only tangentially related direction.

First off, it would be neat to see more alien aliens in science fiction cinema. We’ve had fantastically weird aliens in novels for decades, and special effects technology is certainly at the point where we could realize them on film. I certainly don’t disagree with that premise, and I hope someone takes up that gauntlet. Cameron clearly isn’t.

I’ve seen other complaints about the aliens in the trailer. “If Cameron had any guts, he’d have made the Na’Vi look like slime molds.” “It looks like a Disney cartoon about blue people in a magical jungle paradise.” And this started to raise my curiosity. Why is the way the Na’Vi look a source of negativity?

What I’m considering is that the Na’Vi actually are different than other cinema aliens. I can’t think of another one quite like them. They’re markedly more non-human than Vulcans or Centauri or any other TV or movie alien that audiences are supposed to find attractive. But they’re still beautiful.

They’re beautiful. After decades of xenomorphs and creepy black-eyes humanoids and space prawns, with alien “love interests” always being either conveniently shape-changed to human or basically elves in space, the Na’Vi are just maybe a little more unusual than they’re being given credit for.

And yes, of course someone could make a far more exotic alien that’s still beautiful. The Na’Vi aren’t alien to the point where it requires a substantial amount of work to convince the audience that Jake Sully, the paraplegic marine controlling a Na’Vi/human hybrid ‘avatar,’ can still fall in love with a Na’Vi; any truly “alien alien” would be another matter. I’d love to see someone take on that challenge, but the story that could be adapted to that is probably not “Lawrence of Arabia.” (I think [livejournal.com profile] toob was on target with that comparison.)

The reason that many people are taken aback with the Na’Vi—and I’m not thinking of Cargo’s comments, to be clear, but rather the “ick, they look so cute!” comments around the net—is, I submit, that we have a set idea of what makes aliens alien, and that set idea pretty much is: chitin. Chitin and tentacles and glistening ooze, and a scientist character who says “they’re beautiful in their own way” shortly before being eaten. If we’re really lucky, they’ll be omnipotent balls of light who, after we finally succeed in making contact with them, will tell us that we’re not ready yet. We’re willing to accept that as realistic—but beautiful aliens living as hunter-gatherers in a mostly unspoiled world? C’mon, that’d never happen.

I think I’m okay with Lawrence. And while I would like to see more alien aliens, I’m thinking maybe a good first step is somebody finally giving us pretty non-human aliens who aren’t humans with pointy ears and, for the love of God, aren’t frikkin’ bugs. In modern sci-fi cinema, that’s actually bold.

chipotle: (beer)

So the real trailer for James Cameron’s next movie, “Avatar,” is finally out, and I’ve been observing three general strains of reaction:

  • This looks really awesome!
  • Meh, that’s an awful lot of CGI and we’ve seen it before. What’s all the hype about?

My reaction is more the first than the second.

I think the hype—which should be noted is only present in some quarters, as I know more than a few people who haven’t heard much about this movie at all yet—is unfortunate, since it can blow expectations to an unrealizable point. It’s also inevitable, given that “Titanic” remains the highest grossing film of all time, and “Terminator,” “Terminator 2” and “Aliens” are among the best genre action films ever made.

But that is an awful lot of CGI and we have seen it before. Right? AFter all, we’ve seen fully CGI actors before, like Gollum in “Lord of the Rings.” Of course, that was just one CGI actor. Well, we’ve seen whole movies with CGI actors before, though, like in Beowulf.

Right then. Really, we haven’t quite seen this before.

CGI hit a point a few years ago where the challenge started to be less about being true to life and more about being true to film. Can you direct the “virtual” camera the same way you can direct a real one? Can the CGI actors be real enough to act? So far, the only CGI films that have really been pushing the true-to-film limits have been Pixar’s.

Cameron has been (at least implicitly) promising a paradigm shift with this film, so if expectations are unduly inflated he earns a good chunk of the blame. But the thing is, he may actually be right. The “paradigm” isn’t about technology, per se. It’s about making the technology seamless to the director, and about what possibilities for storytelling that may open up.

What he’s trying to do, in other words, is bring Pixar-esque magic to live action, to make CGI more than just special effects. Will “Avatar” manage that? After just two minutes of footage, I’m pretty sure it’s the best shot we’ve seen to date.

And it has Space Marines and 10′ tall blue cat people. C’mon.

(N.B.: There is also a third strain of reaction, mocking the movie for looking like “Ferngully” or having a “Dances with Wolves” kind of plot. The first comparison is bluntly pretty stupid; the second one isn’t, although what came to me was Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest. Cameron’s never been a particularly original storyteller. But his execution is always top-notch and—I’m looking at you, Bay—he doesn’t believe action/adventure tales require you to turn your brain off.)

chipotle: (Default)

I’m back safe and sound from Pittsburgh, and had a wonderful time at the con. I’ll try to write a more useful con report by the weekend, before the information is too stale.

Currently, I’m in a Taxi’s Hamburger in Santa Clara, before a showing of Harry Potter and the Overpriced Movie Ticket I’ll be joining [livejournal.com profile] jakebe, [livejournal.com profile] toob, Malin and a bunch of other locals at. The Taxi’s here not only has free wifi, it has free WPA secured wifi, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, it’s still a Taxi’s, but what can you do.

I’d entertained fantasies of getting going again on a couple projects in the hour—45 minutes?—I’d have before it’d behoove me to get in line, but that seems highly unlikely. That’s okay, though. It’s about time to head out one way or the other.

I’ll try not to give spoilers to the estimated 3 people in America who don’t know what happens. Yes, as strange as it may seem, some of us are not actually reading the books, and it’s a little grating that it was completely f—ing impossible to have avoided learning that Darth Vader killed Dumbledore.

Anyway. See you all on the flip side!

chipotle: (Default)

There were a few formative commercial works in the early years of furry fandom—we’re talking around two decades ago—that took the idea of “funny animals” and treated them in serious, adult fashion. (“Adult” in this case simply means “not aimed at children,” although the arguments about the place of sexy critters in the fandom started, well, before the fandom did.) Mostly, these were comics: “Albedo Anthropomorphics,” “Usagi Yojimbo” and “Omaha the Cat-Dancer.” You’d occasionally hear novels mentioned—Spellsinger, or The Pride of Chanur.

Animation, though, not so much. Fans liked cartoons where lines for the adults were snuck in, too, and found shows that could be appreciated by an older audience, like Disney’s “Tale Spin.” But animation was—and remains—resistant to stories that aren’t aimed at younger audiences, and the idea of using animal-based characters for such a story would likely be laughed out of the studio. (At least for Western studios. And, remember, Japanese animation was still largely unknown here in the mid-’80s.)

The great exception to this: a little-known Canadian film called Rock & Rule.

Rock & Rule can be described, facetiously but not unfairly, as what the Heavy Metal movie might have been like if it had been given a plot. (No, it was a collection of unconnected stories. No, the Great Ball of Evil wasn’t a plot. Don’t even pretend.) It takes place in a dim, grungy future after a great war has wiped out humans, and the Earth is populated with “mutants” who rose from the animals. The storyline concerns an eccentric rock musician staging a comeback concern during which he plans the “effect” of summoning a demon—magic for which he needs to find one special voice.

Yes, this meant it was a musical, but a musical in which the characters were, well, musicians. The songs generally made, y’know, sense. And, incredibly enough, they recruited interesting musicians for this: Mok, the villain, was sung by Lou Reed; the band he pursued was performed by Cheap Trick, with a female lead sung by Debbie Harry. All the musicians wrote their own music, original to the movie.

Now, with dystopic science fiction, mutants, satanic magic, and a quasi-punk soundtrack, how can you possibly vanish without a trace? As it turns out, you can’t even get a proper theatrical release. United Artists, the releasing company, had undergone a management shift, and the new MGM/UA had no interest in the movie at all, performing their duties to the absolute bare minimum of the contract.

So, the last time I saw this movie, it was a third-generation VHS bootleg. That’s the way most fans saw it, if they’d seen it at all. MGM/UA did release a videotape, for an exorbitant price and with a mediocre, pan-and-scan transfer; I’m given to understand there was also a videodisc released in very small numbers.

A few months ago, though, it was released on DVD by a company specializing in cult movies, from a newly restored print, with a remastered digital 5.1 soundtrack. I couldn’t resist buying a copy.

It’s usually the case that things you remember from the past aren’t as good as you remember them to be, and frankly, I didn’t remember Rock & Rule as being that good—I remembered it more as being in the “interesting failure” category. But as it turned out, it’s better than I remember: the script is better and the animation is considerably better than my memory.

This is still the stuff of cult followings: the storyline is downright weird, the soundtrack is not pop radio friendly, and the animation veers more than once to the psychedelic. But if you’re the sort of person who might like a trippy post-apocalypse rock-and-roll fairy tale—with the sexiest mutant mouse girl ever as the lead (granted, there’s not much competition in the field)—it’s definitely worth seeing.

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August 2017

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