Friday, January 15, 2010

Smurfs on Steroids

Sitting in theaters watching 3D movies has always given me migraines. It is not the 3D process itself, which is enjoyable with or without an attached storyline. No, the migraine problem is rooted in my inability to keep my hands off the 3D glasses. I spend most of the screen time moving them up and down the bridge of my nose or taking them off completely just to see the contrast between 3D and blur. I have four eyes going into the screenings. Adding two more eyes becomes too weighty for me to bear.

These actions drive what few dates I have crazy -- especially my patented three-hand balancing act of glasses, barrels of popcorn, and several soft drinks in and around my lap. If I had had a fourth hand, I might spend some time actually holding my date’s hand, for my father told me that’s what is required of a good gentleman during a movie. I think the last movie my dad saw was the original "All Quiet on the Western Front." I told him times had changed.

A date once asked me why I couldn’t simply watch the movie without all the vertical hand gestures to my face. I didn’t have an answer for her. Luckily we stopped seeing each other during a "House of Wax" retrospective when I spilled a tall order of Coke down her left leg.

I hate going to movies by myself, so I don’t, if at all possible. That’s why I always carry singles in my wallet. Going to things alone reminds me too much of my teen years in Madison when I did everything as a gang of one, both legal and otherwise (and if truth be told, doing “otherwise” was even more strenuous).

Back then I couldn’t find a date even amongst the homeless. I spent most Saturday nights with a deck of cards, a pea, a card table, and three thimbles. The State Historical Society has pictures of me running for my life down State Street being chased by Madison’s finest and a few angry roughnecks from Black Earth and Portage.

I decided to see "Avatar" with a woman who fidgets in her seat even more than I do. I’ve known Adele for decades and it was she who coined this line after our first blind date:
"Not if you were the last guy on Earth and there were no German shepherds around."
Nor was I immune to her Dorothy Parkeresque insults even when I was with someone else:
"If breasts were brains, your cheap looking friend would be running MIT."
I still think about the psychologically damaged children the two of us could have produced. They might also have looked like police dogs. But I digress.

Adele is a member of one of the fast-growing subspecies in the world of web journalism: an online movie critic. She gets paid nothing for her reviews, but they show up all over the Internet. Since she uses big words and quotes Eric Rohmer in French and knows the difference between Heinrich von Kleist and Otto Von Bismarck, her remarks are taken earnestly by the literati.

Adele had already seen "Avatar" once in IMAX 3D, so she had no difficulty in allowing me the opportunity to pay the king’s ransom admission so she could see the movie a second time. She needed to continue to compile her "Avatar" cliché list for her column and one viewing was not sufficient. Since she hates sitting next to me during a screening, as it could construed a date with someone who was not a vegan, I bought her a ticket several rows below me and to my far left. The person sitting next to me was a little girl accompanied by her parents who became fascinated with my ability to juggle my glasses, soft drinks, and popcorn. Her mother kept muttering something to her about not imitating the strange man next to her.

This particular IMAX screening was packed with repeat viewers. I know this because half the audience kept whispering to the other half, “Wait till you see what happens next.” Crowds like this drive me nuts. Homeland Security should worry less about gun toters on airplanes and more about gun toters in theaters.

While I settled down to play with my glasses, Adele was fast at work jotting down notes. She can write in the dark without use of any illumination. She picked up that trick, she told me, from years of undressing in the dark with her dates. I never understood the correlation, and she always walked away from me without explaining. She had already counted as many story clichés within Cameron’s movie as the number of dollars it took to make the film, excluding the cost of prints and advertising during her first viewing. She decided to go a second time to check her math.

During the fifth or sixth or seventh flying sequence, my mind began to wander further than the hills of Pandora. This film had everything: the Cherokee Trail of Tears, Polynesian unison swaying, pidgin English, pantheism, and animism. It was anti-military, possibly anti-American, certainly anti-imperialist, pro-environment, and, I decided after witnessing the interaction with all the animal life, creationist to the core. Here was a place in the universe that obviously did have an Intelligent Designer: Humanoids flying around on cool looking pterodactyls while Venus flytraps waved at them from below

And the Tree of Souls. Who else but an Intelligent Designer would come up with a world where you blow up a big tree and everyone comes out of the woodwork to seek revenge?

I expected to engage in a spirited debate with Adele after the screening, perhaps at some vegan hot spot. So I began making a mental list of the questions I thought should have been answered somewhere within the movie:

Why didn’t the Tree of Souls do a smackdown at the first sign of environmental trouble?

How did the scientists obtain the Na’vi DNA in the first place? Was Gitmo still open 150 years in the future?

Why are the Na’vi blue and ten feet tall rather than red and the size of a Munchkin? Forget that question since this is a science fiction movie and not a fantasy.

How did a humanoid species evolve in an atmosphere heavy with carbon dioxide?

Why are the Na’vi wearing African tribal jewelry?

Why don’t the Na’vi immediately recognize the avatars in their midst, since they speak the language like Berlitz dropouts? Why didn’t they just kill them and turn a 160 minute movie into a six minute short?

Do the Na’vi walk around naked or are they wearing blue jump suits over their natural blue skin?

Why is it always the Marines who have to do the dirty work?

How did the Na’vi evolve when so many odd looking gigantasaurs could swallow them whole and use their spines as ten foot long blue toothpicks?

Why is their religious ceremony a cross between a Polynesian singalong and a Chautauqua revival?

Where did they get their culture and why wasn’t anyone smart enough to invent gunpowder?

Why just ride buzzards? Why didn’t they domesticate the hounds from Hell or any of the other wild life?

Why didn’t the white colonists simply drop fancy looking bows and arrows laden with small pox bacilli down on them to clear out the indigenous population? Who would know the difference?

Why hasn’t colonialist weaponry advanced in the 25 years since "Aliens?"

Am I the only one who sees a similar look between the Na’vi and some of the blue characters of "ThunderCats?"

Why does every pro-environmental film end with half of the environment destroyed or up in smoke?

Why does the unnamed transnational company give up so quickly? Why weren’t more soldiers sent in? It’s not like the Na’vi have lobbyists in Congress.
I never had that conversation with Adele. She met some guy coming out of the theater, waved goodbye to me and left. I threw my list of questions away, looked at the clock, and sneaked into “Daybreakers.” I also kept the 3D glasses.