Tuesday, January 19, 2010


This post is going to be different from my usual unimportant self-indulgent crap. I want to set down my thoughts on an actual socially relevant issue. I don't have any real point to this other than explication and examination I guess. It does tie in to one of my pastimes so it is not totally off-the-wall.

My usual approach to discourse on political or social topics is to question a) the harm to others and b) why or how a government should be involved. Adults talk politics. We all have opinions. We approach it from all angles and talk the subject to death. Particularly Americans. On the one hand citizens of the USA are proud of a society where the individuals can (seemingly) affect change to their government at any level. On the other hand this makes getting anything done in this country really complicated. Sometimes drawn out to an interminable degree as we argue over every little thing, and wrangle back and forth while every viewpoint and appeal is heard.

Plenty of issues have circled round to prominence in the media and public debate only to fade for a little while... only to come back 'round again. If you live in this country, you know the topics: abortion, euthanasia, the war on drugs, the war on terror, etc. etc. If I apply my usual... dare I say 'simple'... approach as stated above on any of these issues, I usually can find my own position and hold it with conviction. Both parts of the question are answered, of course, through the filter of my personal political philosophy. Understanding labels to be much more limiting than most public mouthpieces seem to indicate, I would probably be classed as Libertarian or REALLY old-school Republican. That is, I generally believe it is not the government's place to be involved any more than it must. Of course what it MUST be involved in is the complicated part.

Some debates are much simpler to sort for me than they seem to be for the general public. Given that I hew to a conservative view of government involvement, a lot of other adults seem to think this should just adhere me to SOCIALLY conservative views as well... but that's a bunch of crap. Here's an example: Abortion.

Whatever a person's moral views on abortion, to me this comes down to whether the government should actually be involved. I believe there comes a point where any government is not a fine enough instrument (at any level) to be making, or helping to make, this decision for an individual. Whether abortion is the taking of a 'life' or not is beside the point for me. To expect the government to get between a mother and a (potential) baby is just too much. There are some decisions, even critical life-or-death decisions, that are not the business of a governing body. It is going to have to be between that person and their notion of God, if anyone really. I think the only answer is for administrations to butt the fuck out. Roe v. Wade has to stand on its foundation as a right to privacy, and I think a lot of socially conservative bulwark positions fall apart on these same grounds (euthanasia anyone?)... a pillar the Republican Party at one point stood upon. No law is going to be a fine enough instrument to be able to rightly-divide justice in a decision THAT personal.

Advocates on one side or the other of social debates like the abortion issue can seek to educate and sway all they want. I would encourage that. If you want people to cling to YOUR opinion, then persuade away. But to expect the government to get right down between the fetus and the womb that is carrying it? Uh, no.

Again, it really has nothing to do with the moral, spiritual or criminal arguments on whether the fetus has a 'right to life'. It comes down to it being up too personal. If we've decided (rightly in my opinion) that the government cannot decide for its citizens what is an acceptable sexual practice between two consenting adults in their own home... then it sure as hell doesn't get to wedge in even closer to the core of an individual and decide what one does with the contents of their own body.

So as I said, it is often pretty simple for me to find my view on a topic. I know there are lots of complications... and every political hot button has myriad aspects to it. Some of these can be solved... or rather a compromise can be reached... by individual states and their constituents. The federal government sledgehammer frequently is not the answer. Occasionally my social views make me sound rather like an ally to most liberal causes. Which I'm not. Or rather, I'm not if it requires the government to intervene. So that brings me (FINALLY) to the topic of the post.

I'm finding myself more an more in a quandry about smoking bans.

Cigar smoking is another pastime of mine, and I could definitely wax geekerific about it if I chose to. I'm not having any difficulty with whether or not I will actually continue to smoke cigars... I will if they continue to be available. But I'm finding my venues to actually DO the smoking to be rapidly vanishing.

A point to note maybe: this is more of a philosophical debate for me, than a matter of physical need. I'm a typical cigar smoker in that I indulge regularly, but not often. Addiction doesn't inform any personal part of the issue for me.

On the one hand, I have my own selfish desire to be able to enjoy a fine cigar. Its historical, its traditional, its awesome. Like fine wine or great food, cigars are a luxury and often an exclamation point on good times or a great moment (like ad copy for the cigar industry?). While the ones actually worth smoking can appear expensive, they are still an affordable luxury on a per unit basis. What I mean is that you can spend hundreds on a fine bottle of wine or wonderful dinner and get at most a couple of hours of enjoyment out of it. There are really good cigars to be had for several dollars each, and even the most expensive (barring really exclusive editions) are still less than twenty apiece... and typically take an hour, sometimes more, to smoke. Yeah, it'll take me three or four cigars before I get all the way through that bottle of port or cognac, but the booze also cost three to twenty times as much!

And, yeah yeah, you don't inhale cigars (you do a little, lets be honest), they don't have all the additives cigarettes do (true), and they are occasional (also usually true). They are not marketed to 'kids' the same way cigarettes are (also true, it requires a degree of affluence usually not associated with young smokers).

But most importantly, as with alcohol, pot, sex toys, and of course saturated fats, free-thinking adults should be allowed to put what we choose into our bodies. And, as with abortion, I feel no government should be getting right down to the level of telling us our personal business. The problem of course comes from the other aspect, the one that falls under part a) of my 'approach' the 'what harm' part.

In the case of alcohol, pot, and saturated fats there ARE larger 'harms' that folks want to consider when debating legislative action. Economic and criminal impacts obviously. The social and criminal harm inflicted by drunk drivers. The burden on society's medical costs from heart disease and the obese. In this country we are continually torn by trying to allow individuals to be individuals without infringing on someone else. Like I don't want the goverment telling me what to do, I don't want my neighbor imposing his bullshit on me either. Now drunk drivers impacting my life? Not all that common. I try to exercise common sense for myself and my friends. Yeah, I could be hit by some OTHER guy, but statistically not all that likely. So I can justify alcohol consumption (and for similar reasons pot consumption) being legal. The impact on my medical insurance costs by heart disease, diabetes, and other unhealthy food choices is probably significant, but somewhat diffuse. I can read all kinds of data on this, but there are obviously a ton (heh) of other health cost-impacting elements as well. And the regulation of food contents can be handled in ways other than laws restricting the individual citizen.

Smoking ain't so easy to just write off because of this: passive smoking. Or second hand smoke. Or environmental tobacco content. Whatever. If you are smoking in a public place, so is everyone else around you. There is no distant 'maybe' aspect to the infringement. Looking at some other social issues; you aren't running around to folks and throwing liquor down their throats. You can't find some anti-gay crusader at the bus stop, bend him over, and push your persuader (whatever THAT might be) up in there.

You do MAKE other people smoke when you are smoking in an enclosed space.

When the first inklings of increased smoking restriction started appearing in the 90s, I didn't give it all that much consideration. Then before the end of last century, California enacted a pretty comprehensive smoking BAN. In more recent times New York City has followed suit. Now the majority of states have some sort of ban. Most are not as comprehensive as that of NYC, but the political winds seem to indicate that eventually they will be. As this movement gained momentum over the last several years I was, on principle, generally opposed to almost all measures as infringements on personal liberty. But truthfully, most jurisdictions seemed to be banning smoking in non-adult workplaces, government offices, that sort of thing... and I could live with that because I wasn't a cigarette smoker and as long as I had a place I could go myself-- a bar typically, where I COULD light up a cigar-- who cares? I just shook my head at the gradual shutting down of smokers' rights as unfortunate but of little true impact to me.

Then as the bans started hitting closer to home (towns and cities nearby, my own town is still relatively smoker-friendly at present), I was confronted with the very real possibility of my indulgence being in danger. It's actually retarded to be unconcerned with political or social change until it arrives on your doorstep, but there you go. So I started looking into this a bit more. Most who feel a legislative injustice coming on not only view the immediate issue but also how it could affect future social regulation, ie 'what will they outlaw next'. I wasn't quite so paranoid, but with a certain amount of indignation in mind, I started looking into the debate for real.

Like the 'does life begin at conception' issue that has become the fulcrum of for morality debaters on abortion, passive smoking also has its grey area which pro and con advocates wrangle over. How bad is second-hand smoke REALLY? I've seen reports and propaganda. I've seen accusations of bias, bad data, junk science, and bribery. Personally, I've seen really variable data ranges for just how much of a cancer risk increase there actually is. It doesn't look like the numbers are hard factis. BUT. It just seems ludicrous to think there isn't some health risk to passive smoking, particularly from so-called sidestream smoke, the shit pouring off the cigarette while it sits in the ashtray or smoker's hand... the smoke you are breathing without even the benefit of a filter like the one the actual smoker is getting most of their smoke through. And even if you are getting one-millionth of a chance, an almost null statistic opportunity, to contract cancer... it is still an unpleasant, irritating, pollutant potentially exacerbating asthma or other pulmonary issues.

It is correct that non-smokers can choose to be somewhere else. It is also correct that it costs a lot of money to refit an establishment to allow smokers to have a place of their own either through subenclosures or ventilation upgrades. I'm not sure heavy-handed 'complete' bans are the right answer. I really bristle at that. Not just because I want a place to smoke a cigar, but I just don't like police-state-appearance bullshit. Who does really? Rabid anti-smokers will of course say this level of government involvement/interference is in the interest of public health, and they are right... BUT I still feel there needs to be some autonomy. Shouldn't restaurants, and particularly bars and casinoes be allowed to decide their policy on smoking? I know non-enclosed smoking areas don't really work (proven more or less), but there's always that nagging patron's choice aspect to consider. But what about the employee's choice? Is it just as simple to say THEY can just work somewhere else? The staff at these places are probably the real reason I'm weaker about this topic than other freedom-of-choice issues. A non-smoking bartender or server is continually breathing this stuff, so much more than a typical patron who stops in once or twice a week for a couple of hours.

I dunno. I'm conflicted about the issue now. I go back and forth in my opinion, mirroring the preceding paragraphs. I feel a little persecuted too, though. I just want to smoke the occasional cigar. I can't smoke them in my home, and the climate here doesn't allow outdoor smoking much of the year. Like the cigar companies themselves I feel kinda lumped in with the evil cigarette smokers/companies. I know that cigar smoke isn't better for you than cigarette smoke, but cigars are also such a tiny fraction of the problem. Why should I be paying the price for cigarette smokers' habit? Cigar companies are trying various legal means to get themselves excepted from some of this legislation. They can't get out of the bans, but they are having some success dodging increased taxes, so yay my cigar's prices aren't going up as much as cigarettes.

Other parts of the issue quickly: Smoking bans do have a positive effect on community medical services. Smoking bans do not appear to harm business in restaurants and bars as much as many had feared. This may be owing to non-smoker patronage now frequenting establishments they previously avoided, replacing the now-absent smoking customers. Obviously any business directly tied to the tobacco industry has been negatively impacted... though upscale tobacconists and the cigar and non-cigarette businesses have felt this minimally compared to so-called Big Tobacco.

I currently stand at a sort of middling-grey area, which I hate. I don't mind not having an opinion about an issue. I can back-burner even important issues if I feel I don't have enough information to decide. BUT in this instance, I have enough facts, I just can't come down firmly on one side or the other. To me, the answer is still not to have a federal solution. I think the states need to decide this one individually, and I'd prefer it to be something along lines that allow individual businesses to compromise. But I also dislike bureaucracy. Any solution short of a total ban is going to be complicated and more difficult to enforce. I am not in favor of creating more ways to commit a crime than we already have as it is... it'll really muddle things as people in each community try to figure out just what their law is and how to comply (or defy). And more bureaucracy means more money needed to run it.

I'm on some mailing list for a cigar advocacy group. Its kind of a weird conscience thing, like going to a church whose dogma you don't believe in. Especially when these advocates use some of Big Tobacco's propaganda. Cigar smokers are obviously in a different place than cigarette smokers when it comes to day-to-day realities, but they will get lumped in any smoking ban, understandably. The things generate smoke! But I think they should distance themselves from cigarette companies in EVERY way possible. It is still dismaying to read the cigar guys using discredited or biased old 'studies' that Big Tobacco used to further their claims. Ugh.

I'm just hoping to still be able to buy my stogies and find a decent place to fire 'em up. But I'm not finding it so easy to justify it as my RIGHT. I prefer the easier to figure out, non-debatable topics... like abortion.

Friday, January 15, 2010

GOTY 2009

I think ‘best of’ lists are a mixed bag.

I find the sort of those lists that are voted on by consumers or readers interesting to look over. They don’t shape my own interests really, but it is usually interesting or informative to have examine a barometer of public opinion. Like when I look at reader’s choice awards in a music magazine. It is interesting to see how close or how far off my own choices are from the mainstream, though I’m too old and weary now to get much satisfaction from being as far from the common view as possible. Lists compiled by magazine editors or other supposed professionals are frequently a waste of time though. I feel like they can only be useful if genre is taken into account. Mixed genre ‘best of’ lists are without context even if the writer tries to preface it with some bullshit.

A list from a reviewer that had his best example from each (or several genres), labled as such and no specific priority for them could be useful, and just as importantly, credible. When you just make up a list of say ‘my top 10 albums of the year’ or ‘my 25 favorite games’ with no regard for genre or style… well, what’s the point? If you’re tastes are not at all like those of your reader, then you’ve wasted their time. You also confuse the issue of whether a game was left off your list because it sucks or just because you suck at it (or it belongs to a genre you don’t care for). Lists like that are more an indicator of the writer’s taste NOT the quality of the items listed. Yeah, its all opinion anyway, but if you don’t distinguish genre (or style or some sort of context) you’re adding another layer of bias, conscious or not.

A ‘thing’ of the year is a little different. I think it possible to single out a favorite and still remain credible, because that is a distillation that makes sense and can be quantified simply. Irrespective of genre, fads, flaws, prevailing opinion and all that, what’s the one entry that was just flat-out the most enjoyable?

I said it is possible, but myself I’d probably have a really hard time with choosing a favorite film of the year. Or book. Or a favorite album. Those likes depend too much on my mood of the moment. I mean I will always list Rammstein’s Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da as a favorite album of 2009. At some point during that year, when it was new and I was really getting into it, I’m sure it was THE favorite. But with all the interest and exposure I have to music I don’t think I could call it or any album of that year ‘the best’, objectively.

Most years I’d probably say the same thing about video games. So many, so different… and in 2009 there were some really good games. Releases last year included Mushihimesama Futari, Deathsmiles, Brutal Legend, and lots of others just in the genres near and dear to me personally. Most of the games I played over the last year weren’t actually released in 2009, but were older. Games I hadn’t gotten to yet. Do I include those? I’m not working for a magazine with its stringent regard for release dates. No matter what I played, what I missed… regardless of genre… and regardless of my usual inability to settle on an absolute favorite, in 2009 one game rose right up to the top. Noting this is my pathetic attempt to add one more voice to the chorus chanting its greatness, though that chorus is probably restricted to the critics and the so-called hardcore… and get more people to buy a copy of this game:

Muramasa: The Demon Blade for the Nintendo wii.

Earlier in the year, I played through Odin Sphere. That game that had an awful lot going for it, but was marred by some glaring problems. I still enjoyed playing, but wanted a game from the same creative wellspring that somehow avoided all of Odin Sphere’s issues. Muramasa does exactly that. With the same unbelievable production values as Odin Sphere, a similarly complicated (though less Wagnerian) plot, Muramasa eliminates the repetition, load times, drawn out storylines, grinding for items and weird combat timing that were part of the earlier game.

In Muramasa you will play through two story lines (instead of Odin Sphere’s five). Like that earlier release the game will dovetail the two stories into a sort of crossover finale, but it isn’t particularly grueling to get there. You can play the two characters, Princess Momohime or Ninja Kisuke in any order, even jumping back and forth whenever you feel the need for a change. After selecting your character, you choose your ‘mode’, either Muso, which has an enhanced RPG aspect that allows you to keep gaining levels to help overcome more difficult parts of the game, or Shura which diminishes the leveling aspect (and your hit points) to make the game more skill and reflex-based… though both modes are far more quick action oriented than any Vanillaware game prior. You then proceed through the game areas fighting, gathering items, and talking with various in-game personalities but delivered to the player in a way unlike just about any other game out there.

Movement through the game reminds me of the old NES and arcade game Legend of Kage. In that game the hero ran along the ground or jumped through the trees, and a lot of the combat took place in the air. Muramasa is like a very polished, very elaborate version of THAT. The protagonists jump through the trees, or over rooftops slashing the enemies with their swords or deflecting back their foes’ projectiles. The wii controller, which is not my favorite means of input, took some getting used to, but after a while becomes really easy and I can’t really imagine using anything else for the game now. None of the motion control aspects come into play. Since there is really only one main attack button (the other two buttons are for versions of super attacks that you don’t get to use all the time) it would appear you can just mash your way through all the combat. It’s true there aren’t a lot of input commands like a fighting game, but the seeming-simplicity is deceptive. The combat here is all about timing and discernment. You need to keep track of how your swords are holding up (they can be broken). You need to pick out the strongest foes, and modify your attacks based on what works against who. Certain swords and their powers will work better in certain situations. The game doesn’t really want all fights to be brutally challenging to the player… you can button mash your way through a lot of them. But if anything doing that in the minor fights just brings satisfaction because they are over so quick. You start working on fighting and ending the fights in style. With panache. Everything in the game is quick. The running. Accessing menus. Even the game saves happen so fast it is almost ridiculous. Everything about the game is optimized to go as quickly as possible, from the game engine, to the convenience of getting from one place to another. Even the dialogue, which is wonderfully voiced and subtitled, can be fast-forwarded through. After I’d gained the ability to warp from one town to the next, I frequently didn’t bother because a) I wanted the experience points from the battles during travel and b) you move so quickly anyway it really isn’t boring. The number of scenery changes helps too. Not every area or screen is unique, but there is a lot of variety.

The game’s narrative is linear, but the world itself is pretty open once you’ve gotten a ways into the game. This allows for grinding if you wish, but its never forced on you. It is almost impossible to get lost or lose track of your next goal. Once you’ve beaten several bosses and removed some of the games barriers (designed to keep you on track) you basically have a world map where you can run around wherever you want, but can always figure out where to go to ‘progress’ the plot. The mapping mechanism is genius. You can select between a transparent full-screen area map, a top-of-the-screen immediate area map, or no map… all on the fly. Super-quick. Getting to the overall world map, or any of your inventory and item options is also super-quick and convenient. You can set your favorite items, healing or sword protective, to be quickly accessed at any time right during movement or fights. In previous Vanillaware games (and most other action games, really) you have to open a menu pausing the action to switch weapons or access healing and magic items. That’s bullshit to Muramasa. You CAN pause the game to pop an item, but mostly its done without pausing, that second, with no drop in pace.

All this work towards speed and action, and the game still has decent play time on its bones. I clocked just under 25 hours to get through both storylines and epilogues and most of the optional ‘lair’ areas, though I wasn’t trying to go through it hell bent for leather as fast as possible. I was trying to enjoy what there was to see.

And there is so much to see. Heaping shitloads of praise have been written about this game. I though Dave Halverson at play was going to jizz in his pants. But he’s not wrong. The game is a throwback in one sense to the artistic sensibilities in the heyday of 2d gaming. But the old games rarely had production values like this. As I raved about in my entry on Odin Sphere, this game makes most other titles 2d, 3d, whatever all look drab and pathetic by comparison. Of recent games I’ve played, only Bayonetta (a future blog entry to be sure) shows as much love of the characters and game world as Muramasa. Of particular note are the boss fights. Games love to have huge or elaborate bosses. Its one of the draws of video gaming. You’re David and that thing is Goliath. Muramasa has awesome (frequently huge) bosses. Only the aforementioned Bayonetta and perhaps Shadow of the Colossus made me flip out the way Muramasa did during boss fights. The art style hearkens back to traditional forms of Japanese painting, but with a modern use of color. Even eating food is an elaborately detailed, lovingly-animated experience. The whole thing’s a little like going to see Disney’s Fantasia when what you’re used to is a steady diet of Phineas & Ferb.

There’s pretty much no aspect of Muramasa: The Demon Blade that isn’t a total class act. That this thing runs so much faster and more conveniently than Odin Sphere is amazing and a testament to Vanillaware’s ability to learn and adapt. The only gripe I’d probably put on the game is that compared to Odin Sphere the whole game runs through a slightly foggy filter. All the graphics in the former game were really sharp and brilliant. Muramasa is ever-so-slightly faded and softened, but you’d almost have to have played the two side-by-side to notice… which is what I did actually. It might be partly an issue with the wii’s video output and whatever mode Muramasa runs in. I don’t know enough about the technical specs, but I have other 2d games on the console and only Samurai Shodown Anthology seems to have the same problem. It could even be a conscious decision on Vanillaware’s part to give the game a dreamlike veneer.

Anyway. The game is practically worth buying a wii to play. Nintendo’s console gets a lot of flak for catering so much to casual gamers, but this title does much to fight that stigma, along with Super Smash Bros. Melee and the upcoming Sin and Punishment 2. I spend more time on other consoles than I do the wii, sure. But I’ve rarely had such a concentrated must-keep-playing experience as this game gave me, and it is a Nintendo wii exclusive. Do what you must to play this game.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Big Deal

I finally managed to get around to see James Cameron's Avatar. In 3d no less. Here's my take on all aspects of this film and the various buzzes around it, film itself first:

Positive points- the visuals and production values. Obviously this is the aspect everyone is raving about and that even the most vehement critics have to concede. While I don't necessarily think this stuff is a total game-changer for all films that follow it does set some kind of new standard. Cameron spent a ton of money, used a lot of new technology (the virtual set camera, etc), and was a complete asshole being so meticulous... but it shows. Every dollar is pretty much right up there on the screen. CG effects are the overwhelming norm now, but most of the time, after all these years of use, I STILL get drawn out of the watching experience by obvious CG effects. There are well-done characters or creatures here and there... we all thought Gollum was the nads at the time, and the Hellboy movies are mostly seamless. But Avatar may be the first film I've seen where, at no time, did the CG effects ever knock me out of the immersion or require some time for me to get used to before I got immersed. They are really REALLY well done. In fact, my only visual-based complaint was for a zero-g effect right at the beginning of the film. And that might've been caused by this being the 3d version.

The 3d experience was really good too. There were a lot of 'right there in the cinema with you' moments, but there didn't seem to be anything that pandered to that effect. It was just part of the scene.

I also thought everyone was well cast and did a reasonable job with their roles. I've read some criticism of the acting and the fact that Cameron isn't an actor's director. Maybe I'm just oblivious to bad acting (Shatner fan, moi) but I didn't cringe at the performances any more than I did at the CG. I am probably a lot more critical of CG. Years of sucking up an endless stream of cult, genre, and B-movies has probably inured me to bad acting.

The movie is even fairly family friendly. I was a little surprised at this. There is some cussin'. And a love scene that happens off-camera. But most of the violence, though intense, is not graphic. Some of the past Cameron films have been key to 'mainstreaming' graphic violence or violent characters. We think nothing of letting our kids watch Aliens or the Terminator movies (well I don't let mine watch 'em, but you know what I mean), and even sell toys of them. There was a certain level of shoot-that-dude-in-the-face that we DID NOT let the kids see before these films were released (Die Hard is probably a player too). Avatar does not contain any of that. And now that I've seen the film, I can surmise that the decision was made because a) the story and film don't require that level of violence (or profanity or sex), and b) when you spend that much money you need to make sure as many people can go see it as possible! All this consideration and the movie is still generating shitloads of controversy.

Negative points- its Dances with Wolves (or the Last Samurai) in the future. It isn't just that it is LIKE those movies, it is those movies... story-wise. There is no point in this movie you cannot see from a mile away if you have any movie-watching experience at all... and particularly if you reference The Last Samurai. Now this doesn't hurt how well the film tells that story, which is fine. I just found myself watching it without feeling any suspense. None. I was carried by wanting to see what the next wondrous thing was... not because I wanted to know what was going to happen to the characters. I already knew exactly what was going to happen.

Also the conflict in the film is generated by a villainous 'corporation' and its key representatives, 'a suit' representing the company's desire to please shareholders, and a 'marine colonel' representing the willingness (even eagerness) of the company to use any means to achieve its ends. All the humans in this film are employees of this company. Even the 'military' ones are not actually part of a literal army, they are hired by this corporation. Yet the only dissent from using military might comes from the scientist cadre. The film isn't set very far in the future, as shown by the dates on the videologs and most of the tech that is really close to our own (and Sigourney smokes, they haven't wiped that out yet!). So I have a hard time believing in this, our real day and age of information overload, conscientious objectors, inserted journalists, and corporate whistleblowers, that things will change all that much by the time Avatar becomes contemporary.

So how did the corporation in the film get such unanimous support for wiping out the natives? I realise there may have been a lot 'not shown' for simplicity's sake... but at least some nod to other viewpoints (apart from the hero and the scientists) would've been nice. NONE of the paramilitary or corporate drones are shown as having a shred of conscience... and drawn from a seemingly-American source as the humans in the film are... we are the most multiple-viewpont-everyone-must-have-a-say-disagree-with-each-other nation on the planet. Its like European or Middle Eastern countries who think all Americans agree with our foreign policy. The entire corporation in Avatar is staffed by Dick Cheney. The film mentions twice (almost as an afterthought) that humans have burnt out the Earth. So this has made them greedy and desperate for 'what Pandora has'. But all the film shows Pandora has is a means to making money. No constructive worth is given for the material mined by the corporation. That may be intentional, to show the pointlessness behind USA-style military aggression, but it also tars humanity in a way that is unrealistic, and really cynical. Without more background I just couldn't believe the majority of humanity (or even just America) would approve what went on with Pandora. In reality, you'd have so many people backing out of their contract to work there it isn't even funny. And a lot of those people would spread the word on how horrible the corporation was when they got back. The film ignores an awful lot of realities about how people (and the world) really are in order to further its narrative. If this was set a thousand years in the future, okay. But since the whole rest of the world is so diligently grounded in near-future possibilities this was a very noticeable negative... mostly after the film viewing, I'll grant you.

About the so-called blockbusters or popcorn flicks, I've seen it argued a hundred times: 'Of course the plot was simplistic. Of course it didn't make sense. Of course no man/vehicle/creature could do that. Its a POPCORN FLICK.'. Hey, I'm willing to let lots of stuff go by in the interest of entertaiment, but with all the time and effort put into getting the visuals just right it seems lazy to then have the good guys and bad guys be so black and white, and unsubtle. Jake seems to have no problem killing humans left and right once he's decided to go native. And that's supposed to be understandable because they are threatening his newfound way of life (though the film doesn't show him wrestling much with making the change)... and because the humans are all EVIL. Its that 'all evil' part that seems retarded and lazy.

The controversial stuff- this movie is getting a lot of flak from various groups, and a lot it is attributable no doubt to how high-profile the film is. I'll address some of the controversies, starting with the easiest:

People killing themselves because our Earth isn't as beautiful as Pandora. I've read that some online club or forum has several hundred to almost one thousand members actually putting some thought (some serious, some not) towards the idea of suicide, either in pessimism over our planet never being able to measure up to this new glory they've been shown OR with the hope of being reincarnated into a Pandora-like new place.

Wow. This is kind of like people throwing themselves off a cliff in the Middle Ages if they saw an Eclipse. What incredibly ignorant, uncreative jackasses.

I have an artistic inclination and I watched much of Avatar with real wonder at the planet's (let's face it, fictional) beauty. I consider much of my best quality time spent in escapist pursuits. But you have to be an absolute tit to let Avatar, much less any film affect a life decison in you (apart from perhaps inspiring your occupation). No film, tv show, book, or game should convince you what to believe, where to live, how to live, or whether you live at all. Pandora was beautiful, yeah... and it contained wonders you really can't see here, but you'd have to be an idiot to think that stuff can't be matched by beauty here on Earth. There are corners of the world, incredible constructions, tricks of light, and natural tracts on our planet that no film screen could ever contain. We don't have glow-in-the-dark jungles or floating islands. But Pandora doesn't have the Painted Desert, Angel Falls, the Redwood Forest, or the Great Wall of China. All of which really have to be seen to be believed.

And if you COULD be reincarnated, why would the great wheel put you in Pandora or some place like it? You could wind up a cockroach in the Bronx, especially for offing yourself on purpose. Idiot-holes.

Sigourney smokes. This is the one that kind of hits a nerve with me. I'm a casual cigar smoker, whose venues for lighting up are diminishing rapidly owing to the current anti-smoking hysteria in the USA. I'll post a separate blog entry at some point detailing my take on this, but suffice to say, parts of the anti-smoking movement jumped all over the fact that Sigourney Weaver sucks on a fag during the film. The anti-smokers are already pushing hard for the abolition of all smoking depictions on film or television, but they're really being strident owing to the prominent standing of Avatar.

They're cocks, and making much ado about nothing. I'm not sure I even noticed it when I viewed the film. But that's because I'm a cigar-chomping, lung-hating, cancer-causing bastard I guess. In reality, my antagonism towards the anti-smoking movement (and its restaurant/bar restrictions and tax increases) stems mostly from hating government meddling in personal lives not because I don't recognise danger in smoking.

The anti-military/anti-imperialist stance. Whether you consider the view of the film to be anti-military or anti-imperialist might depend on where you are on the political spectrum. Or it might depend on how much of a pundit-driven tool you are.

The film is definitely anti-imperialist, in that it speaks directly about the white aggression against Native Americans in the 19th century. Lots of people are also blathering on about how it speaks so baldly against current American 'nation-building' in the Middle East. I would agree with that... except that the argument made in the movie is retarded. About as retarded as the aforementioned tarring all humans as evil. The motivation for conquering Pandora is to get unobtainium, a valuable (for unexplained reasons) material. That's it. No idealogical differences. No real or imagined threat the Pandorans represent to human safety. None. The real corollary to our Middle East would be if going to Iraq and Afghanistan really was just about getting the oil. But that argument is simplistic, stupid, and pretty thoroughly debunked. Oil can be seen as a somewhat long range goal that regimes favorable to the USA can allow our indirect control of part of the mideast oilfields, but Avatar has no concern with longterm goals or being indirect. It is arguing, like some pot-smoking sociology professor from 2002, that the reasoning behind the War On Terror is to go after oil. And that the USA shouldn't do that.

Well now duh. I can't imagine that Cameron actually still believes that Iraq and Afghanistan were just about oil. So I'm left feeling like he used the film's greed for unobtainium to actually give at least a little distance from real-world Middle East aggression. Like he's saying 'yeah, yeah, the reason's different but it amounts to the same thing'. But to me, putting that little distance in there resulted in my viewing the film as 'about' a completely different sort of 'government' than ours. A business-government. It kinda stopped being about the America's federal government and its military. If I actually had to fish for a real-world counterpart that I was considering, it would probably be Blackwater.

So while I get that all these people are looking for something to bristle at from 'that liberal jerkface James Cameron', the preachiness kinda went past me. It didn't make me re-question just what humans (and the USA in particular) go to war for... because this felt more like Blackwater carrying out a vicious mandate required by their customer... and in this case their customer was Exxon or something rather than the Fed. The motivations were so crudely drawn and so unlike how we think and operate AS A PEOPLE, that I couldn't be arsed to be offended one way or the other. As to the directly referenced Indian Wars. They were before my time, and perpetrated by an America that is quite different from the one we live in now. I'm not saying we can't learn from history, but...

Uh, we don't have slaves now either, people.

Those pagan aliens. Representatives of the catholic church in Rome have seen fit to come out and praise the visuals but deplore the depiction of nature worship. Okay fine. I guess they think some weak-minded individuals will use this movie as a springboard into Wicca. Or move to a reservation and work on breaking down the resistance of Native American grandfathers to teaching the old ways.

There are so many dumb aspects to this I don't even know where to begin. I don't even have the energy. These guys don't realise that lambasting a movie just increases interest? That the only people to take their criticisms seriously are the people who wouldn't go to the film in the first place? Any balanced individual who goes to see the film can definitely spot the tree-hugging, moss-humping, nature-loving aspect to it. But interestingly, I didn't catch in any of the catholic fear-mongering that the Navi are actually MONOTHEISTIC. Which they are. They are in tune with nature, but the film also shows how they plug into it in a very real sense. They don't just believe a lot of spirit stuff because they can't explain things. They literally 'jack in' to their planet which is shown to be a huge biological network. And they still have one single god that they pray to. Some aspects of Navi spiritual thinking resemble Native American beliefs, but the Navi can't just be slotted in to some earthly analogue. They are alien. And imaginary. And that's the biggest reason for slagging off the religious criticism. They aren't real. There are no Navi to inspire kids today to try to jack into trees and rocks. Yeah sure, there may be a coupla dozen people who become witches after this movie. Maybe even leaving the catholic church to do so. But they were going to do that anyway, Avatar or not. Unless they are so weak-minded one film can sway them out of their religion. Then I'd think the church was better off without them anyway.

Overall I enjoyed the movie A LOT. Most of my negatives are the kind of thing you think of after the movie is over. It was probably the best realisation of an alien world EVAR. I hear it will be up for a lot of Oscars. It should probably sweep the various technical awards. If it wins (or even gets nominated) for story, screenplay, or any of that... I may kill myself.

And hope, of course, that I get reincarnated on Pandora.