29 December 2009


Subtitle: Shut up io9

(A review of the movie and a review of what people think the movie represents socially)

I find it impossible to separate Avatar from the hype surrounding it. I blame the promo monkeys who promised me the world would never be the same again. As such, while I found the movie entertaining on many levels, I can't honestly say whether it was a good movie or not. I was entertained, so let's just go with that for the moment.

Curse you internets!

Basic plot is as such: there is a beautiful planet discovered (actually a moon, but I'm not gonna quibble here) which has a source of very valuable energy known as unobtanium*. Mining of macguffinium is going swell until indigenous peoples (the Na'vi) begin to interfere - what with their living and playing and being generally intrusive into the places the humans want to strip mine. As a way to communicate with the indigenous people, the humans create Na'vi avatars that their scientists can download into and do their best to convince the Na'vi to leave a home that they have populated for thousands if not millions of years.

*It is my honest belief that a screenwriter used unobtanium as a placeholder. As in 'The humans are mining for unobtanium (be sure to replace with something better!)' and a studio exec refused to let them change it once the project was greenlit.

Our hero is an avatar driver who takes the place of his dead identical twin brother. After meeting the Na'vi he becomes a warrior complete with dragon-birdie as his steed. He falls for the chief's daughter and leads the attack when, to no one's surprise, the humans get gun-happy and start destroying ancient homeland in their quest for nocanhazium. An epic battle between humans and Na'vi ensues with our hero on the greatest dragon-birdie of them all while his girlfriend/wife gets to ride a velocikitty.

Notice that at no point did I feel the need to include the fact that our hero's human form is wheelchair-bound since, other than providing an initial reason for him to enjoy being in his avatar, it is completely extraneous to the plot. So why is this presented as a plot point? I don't know, I'll wait for the deleted scenes before passing judgment.

(Also, I don't know how much of Neytiri's vocalization was Zoe Saldana and how much was sound editing, but she really shouldered the burden on making the Na'vi a truly alien race not just in appearance but in movement and sound as well. So props to her for that.)

Pandora (the monet/planoon in question) is visually stunning. If you are one of the seven people who have yet to go, do see it in 3D, you will not get the full effect otherwise. Soaring canopies and beautiful flowers create a backdrop that at times I found myself focusing on more than the actors. The animals are exotic enough to be alien, but recognizable as being a believable lifeform. The blacklighting/glowing seemed a little overboard, but then again I don't live somewhere where native wildlfie lights up the night (lightningbugs, glowing algae and whatnot). If I did, I think I would have been less distracted by the glow-in-the-dark forest.

As for the CGI, it beat every other computer animated movie for a hundred miles with a failstick. It is completely seamless and I found myself wondering if some of the human scenes were CGI as they were identical to the Na'vi scenes. I'm kinda bummed that this movie came out this year as it will likely sweep the technical awards at the oscars and I feel a little sad for Star Trek which had some amazing graphics, but not in the same league as Avatar.

Overall, a visually amazing film with more focus on CGI than plot - but if you've enjoy a summer blockbuster or two in your time, you'll enjoy Avatar.

Now, on to the second half for those who are interested in message and theme and what-not. There has been a lot of noise on the internets about racism and race implication in Avatar and io9 (normally so good) ran an article by Annalee Newitz titled "When will white people quit making movies like "Avatar"?" and at it's basic level, wonders why us white folk continue to make movies where we save aboriginals from things they are apparently too dumb to save themselves. It cited such movies as Dancing with Wolves and The Last Samurai as examples of the white hero going native so that he can become chief and save the people he was sent to kill/convert/whatever.

I went into Avatar with this article in mind, also Geek Girl Diva's piece "Racism in Avatar? My response to io9" which is worth a read and sees the movie as being made from a standpoint of technology vs the little guy. Here's where I jump in, although I tend more to lean towards Geek Girl's Diva interpretation of Avatar, I can look at it from Newitz's point of view and still say you're full of wrong.

Yes, these movies have a common theme, but look at them together. In Dances with Wolves John Dunbar turns his back on his culture to be assimilated by the Natives and eventually use his knowledge of his people to fight against them. In The Last Samurai Nathan Algren is assimilated into Japanese samurai culture where he then uses his experiences as an army captain to fight against his own people. Avatar... I ain't singin' this tune again.

The 'white fantasy' as Newitz calls it, isn't that at all. The common theme here isn't that a white person will instantly become the most awesome member of the group (although that is often the case in these movies) it's a reimagining where, had someone been willing to level the playing field, maybe things would have turned out different. And that's what Dunbar, Algren, and indeed our blue-skinned hero are. They are anti-histories, what would have happened if - and do so while trying to live withing established history (I'm looking at you Inglorious Basterds). I feel I should note that in the two cited cases, it is clearly stated that the culture our white folks are hoping to save was ultimately destroyed. One can assume that the same will eventually happen to the Na'vi as the are blitzed from the air by future mining expeditions.

What we can take away is this: Us white folk like to make movies about level playing fields. If the indigenous people we've treated so poorly in the past had had access to the tactical knowledge and/or weapons that we had, would we still have won? We like an underdog, and we want them to win. So we re-write history so they do. It's not meant to pander to our guilt, but to allow us to hope for the future, when perhaps we will be the ones in danger from above.

In conclusion: shut up io9.Link

25 December 2009

Not so Secret Santa

I accidentally got involved in the #notsosecretsanta on Twitter. What happened was, @geekgirldiva tweeted that she wanted to do a secret Santa. In my experience, a secret Santa is like a gift exchange, only you don't know who is getting your present.

So I tweeted back that I'd love to join and offered up a DVD as my gift.

The thing is, #notsosecretsanta was more of a #we'reofferingfreegifts. Which is cool and all, but not what I thought. Once I realized this, is was too late to be all "Not what it thought I was getting into..." And anyway, I really enjoy giving people things they might enjoy.

So I got the DVD in question, which was Fern Gully and added in The Lorax since I saw it there next to it.

It was an interesting experience. I got several new followers and a lot of replies (a lot for me anyway, the other #notsosecretsanta gifts were a Taun-Taun sleeping bag, a Boba Fet poster and Rock Band so I was definitely the least awesome of the gifts).

Picking the winner was easy... I made slips of paper (I photographed with my phone which I couldn't hold still as the dog was investigating)...

And into the Cyclops Santa stocking the slips went...

And someone named @uberdorkgirlie won! Go to Twitter and send her congrats if you get a chance...

All in all, giving things away on Twitter was interesting. No one who had been following me previously replied so there was no chance to cheat and play favorites even if I wanted to. (I totally would have too.) I'd do it again, and think I will, but under my own steam next time.

09 December 2009


Okay, I just want to vent for a moment. If you don't want to read religious related ranting, don't go further.

I have a real problem with people who call themselves Agnostic and try to justify it by saying that they are somehow being more logical than Atheists. The best example of this is a quote from a self-professed agnostic,

"My personal stance is the doctrine of Agnosticism. Because one can neither prove nor disprove the existence of a higher power, I don’t ascribe to Atheism, the belief that there is no God. Nobody knows with certainty, and as a skeptic I feel it’s silly to profess an unsubstantiated belief either way."
-Alpha Dominance
in what otherwise was an interesting article

Are you f'in kidding me?

If you believe that there are fundamental truths about the universe that can never be known, fine. Life, love, happiness, you get down with your bad self. But the existence of a deity is no different than the existence of unicorns. And if someone told you that since we can never know for sure whether unicorns exist and are therefore unicorn-agnostic you would laugh in their face.

Atheists are not going out on a limb here. With absolutely no evidence in support of a deity, we can state with a reasonable amount of certainty that there is no deity. This is not an unsubstantiated belief. Lack of evidence for something is still evidence, just for the opposite claim. If you cannot substantiate your belief in god, then I can use the lack of evidence as evidence that there is no god.

There is no evidence for the existence of unicorns; I do not believe in unicorns.
There is no evidence for the existence of Santa Claus; I do not believe in Santa Claus.
There is no evidence for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster; I do not believe in the Loch Ness Monster.
There is no evidence for the existence of God; I do not believe in God.
Do you see what I did there?

I do not feel any need to qualify any of those statements with a disclaimer about how we can never know for sure one way or the other, so in fact I am a unicorn/ Santa Claus/ Loch Ness Monster/ God agnostic.

Honestly, I think you're silly for calling yourself an agnostic just because you think that belief in god is held to a different standard than belief in anything else. If you call yourself an agnostic in relation to god, then I don't ever want to hear you say that you do not believe in something. From this day forward you are faery agnostic, bigfoot agnostic, and vampire agnostic.

It's all or nothing.

(Of course, if you call yourself unicorn/ Santa Claus/ Loch Ness Monster agnostic then more power to you. I'm cool with that.)

Fail Whale

Look what I got!

It's a USB hub! I have like a million and nine USB gadgets and while Lovelace has three ports of her own, there was definite room for expansion. So I got this little guy. He has four ports and is adorable. Of course I had to get the white whale, but I really struggled not to name him the Fail Whale. I mean, that's like naming your kid Gertrude or Eugene, you're dooming the kid to a life of trouble from the start.

But-but... it's the Fail Whale!

An evil Fail Whale. Wow, that's creepy. Are the glowing red eyes really necessary?

ACK! From hell's heart it has stabbed at me! *is ded*

01 December 2009

I have the heart and stomach of a king - Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth's speech to the troops at Tilbury. It is the bit in the middle where I start really choking up, and it has its merits not only in its function but in brevity: 313 words passed down through history. Like Ain't I a Woman?, I am posting this speech in its entirety.

I have the heart and stomach of a king...

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

- Queen Elizabeth, 9/19 August 1588