An Old Avatar

By Henry P. Raleigh
ART TIMES May/ June 2010

Avatar drawing by Henry P. Raleigh

“Avatar” is the latest hi-tech sensation in 3-D and motion capture CGI. I say this easily as if I knew what this technology is all about. Look, its only recently that I learned CGI stood for ‘computer generated imagery’ and not a social disease as I once thought. It took me long enough to straighten out the difference between ‘montage’ and ‘mise-en-scene’ and while doing so I failed to heed George Lucas’ prediction that computer graphics was the cinema of the future. Up to now I’ve had but a vague acquaintance was avatars, something to do with game playing, bored youth, small potatoes for a film scholar once schooled in mind-boggling stuff like ‘hyper-reality’ and ‘reification of opticality’, I can tell you.

Well sir, while I was apparently out to lunch, along comes the film of the future, James Cameron’s science fiction epic, “Avatar” and at a cost of $300 million. I have fond memories of several of Mr. Cameron’s films. My last born pretty much grew up with “The Terminator” and “Aliens”. “Titanic” didn’t please me, though and that’s not Mr. Cameron’s fault really, it's Mr. DiCaprio’s—he looks too much like a fellow in my fifth grade class who I disliked intensely because he competed with me for the attention of Nancy Truelove. Some of the special effects weren’t so hot either.

All I’ve seen so far of “Avatar” are the trailers and that’s probably as far as I’ll get. It takes place on a moon called Pandora so you know this means bad news. Pandora is inhabited by a leftover cast of extras from the Star War saga. The Na’vi, as they are called, resemble cats and seem to suffer chronic hypothermia. They live in a big tree and have an unsettling habit of communicating with the animals on their planet by wiring them up to their pony tails. Possibly my opticality wasn’t sufficiently reified back in the 80s yet everything in “Avatar” looks like it was made of nicely detailed Silly Putty. Mr. Cameron has said that if he wished to put as much electronic effort as he did in creating the Na’vi he could make a realistic Avatar of any actor of the past. I for one wouldn’t wish this to happen to Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn. Perhaps he could make one of me—I figure I’ve already begun looking like one.