I went back something like 25 times. Star Wars was one of those nifty turning points that introduced me to a whole new world: friends of like mind, SF cons, fantasy illustration, real world adventures that sprang out of all that.
That is the point of well told stories. They connect us. They inspire us. They teach us. They say something about our past. Our future. Our choices.
I like James Cameron films. Terminator 2 and Titanic are on my ten best list (although I think that may include several dozen by now). He understands Joseph Campbell's concept of The Hero Journey (see my earlier blog or look it up on Wikipedia). He talks about the relationship between humans and technology; the use and abuse of it. The dangers we face if we blow it. Our relationship with each other and Nature. He's a Leo, born two days after me and one year earlier. He's definitely from the same planet.
And now here's our planet.
I heard about Avatar much the way I heard about Star Wars; after everybody else knew about it. Yeah, I have internet access now. I even check my email once a week or so. I blog or twiddle the website when I can. This week I was running sleddogs, hacking my way through Suckway (unlike my Disney princess namesake, I hate food service), eating fattening PA Dutch food with relatives over Christmas, wrangling my friend's young, enthusiastic Malenois, ducks, free range chickens, horses, goats and other critters while Mona and Joe escaped to the great white north. I watched the great white north melt into mud before Mona could break a sled dog trail around her farm. I hashed out the rest of my Christmas presents ( I don't Mall anymore, mall, that's a verb, a four letter verb).
"I should probably see this." I said. "After all, it's James Cameron, how bad could it be."
I bought a black leather jacket at a yard sale and learned to play the Terminator theme on a Native American flute. I bought the action figures (uh, it's for my nephew). I asked Bob Ballard (the guy who found the Titanic) a more or less intelligent question at a program at the Baltimore Aquarium. I leapt off of several perfectly good floatin' boats in the midst of the Atlantic Ocean (well, we were out of sight of land) to look at the sunken boats. One of my dive buddies did that 'soaring on the bow/king of the world' move on the bow of one of those sunken boats. I went to the Titanic exhibit at the local museum, stood with my nose inches from things that had lain two and a half miles down in 375 atmospheres of pressure (that's how geeky this gets).
Yep, I'm a fan.
I considered that fact that this could be one more of those grand heartless fx extravaganzas. Blow lots of stuff up and nobody will notice there isn't a plot or character development.
Ok, I'll go watch stuff blow up for three hours, at least once.
The James Horner soundtrack hooked me from the beginning. After looking him up on Wikipedia (easier than going through my CD collection or my own memory banks) I realized he's scored a bunch of my favorite films. I love "Echoes" on National Public Radio; that sort of soundtracky, epic stuff with spacey electronics and indigenous instruments and voices. This soundtrack captures that quality; epic, emotion, eerie, otherworldy. Horner's a Leo too, born on the same day and two years earlier.
I could analyze the film for hours; it's a place you can get lost in. "Haven't got lost in the woods?" the badaxx Colonel says to Our Hero. Of course I have, I know those woods.
This is the archetypal Garden. This is the place we all remember (well, some of us do). This is the place Richard Louv talked about in "Last Child in the Woods". In his book he shows how this generation has become plugged into their 'avatars'; Game Boys and cell phones and computers. How they've lost the ability to run soundlessly through the forest, to read the trail, to bond with other living things, to just sit and look and feel and experience. Louv tells us the cure for ADD and a thousand other modern afflictions is to just go outside and play.
He's right. When the SAD felt like a space marine's backpack, I hitched up two dogs and slogged through a foot of snow on half a trail in a sunlit wood. I felt like I might keel over a few times. The dogs hadn't run more than in the dogyard all fall. I had sleazed off the rider and the stationary bike for weeks.
It was good! Ooooraahh!
The plot was described by someone as "trite". No, not trite, not stereotypal, archetypal. The Hero Journey. Sure, I knew how certain scenes, certain situations had to play out. I knew how I'd write them. Same way I know that stuff in a good Disney flick. I know the pattern, I've been over this trail before. But every time you go over the trail, it's different. Different animals have walked there, leaving different signs. Different weather, different seasons, different things blooming, fading, dying, rebirthing.
This is a rebirth of the Hero Journey.
Tolkien gave the old archetypes back their power. Rescued the Elves and Dwarves and Wizards and dark things from the nursery and made them tall and strong; a Force of Nature to be reckoned with. Lucas sent them to the far far away edges of the universe, and showed us that those tales are, well, universal. J.K. Rowling showed kids that they too had power, and must learn how to wield it.
Cameron has shown us the place we come from and that there is still time to change our course. Change our relationship with Nature, with technology, with other living things. Much of the film has already happened in real life: we know that, not from our history books, which always tell the tale from the viewpoint of the winners, but from listening to Native American, African, Australian Aboriginal, Polynesian and other indigenous authors/storytellers/bards/artists/teachers. (The excellent Wes Studi, a Native American actor, is the voice of Neytiri's father). The concept of communicating with animals (on levels beyond verbal) is not new to anyone who's ever worked with them. The concept of trees communicating chemically or electrically is not new to science. The idea of a world organism, the Earth as one big biosphere is not new either. What is new is putting it all into an action-packed, thrilling adventure that twelve year olds will absorb.
And maybe they'll go home and think about it.
Maybe they'll pick up a bow, because Neytiri made it look so cool. Maybe they'll try riding an earth horse. Or flight. Or diving into the clear waters that are still left. Or saving the rest.