ESPN Explains Why I Have No Interest In Sitting Through Avatar


“Outer-Space Cartoon Says Americans Are the Bad Guys: “Millions for defense, not a sixpence for tribute,” Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, once a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, said in 1796. “Millions for special effects, not a Starbucks gift card for writing,” might be the motto of modern Hollywood, at least if “Avatar” is the exemplar. “Avatar” should have been marketed as a cartoon and best animated feature of 2009. The special effects were great — though yours truly increasingly finds computer-drawn special effects boring, since they are so obviously fake. The script was as dull and predictable as the special effects were flashy. Maybe the dialogue sounded better in Na’vi.

Hardly anything was explained — so let’s start with why the whole plot was set in motion in the first place. Sinister humans are bent on removing peace-loving blue aliens from a point on Pandora above some minerals the sinister humans want to strip-mine; the peace-loving natives won’t move because the place is sacred ground. Reader Bryan Law of Independence, Ohio, notes: “Even today, horizontal drilling means you don’t have to destroy the surface above a resource to obtain it. So why wasn’t the problem on Pandora solved by horizontal drilling? Don’t tell me that 150 years from now, humanity has become capable of interstellar travel, yet forgotten a basic mining technique.”

The mineral is an anti-gravity substance that floats. Midway through the movie, we learn there are entire mountains of it floating above Pandora. So why not mine the floating mountains, where no Pandorans live, rather than go to war with the natives? The clichéd super-heartless corporation that wants the mineral is depicted as obsessed by profit. War is a lot more expensive than mining! If profit is what motivates the corporation, war is the last thing it would want.

Because hardly anything in the movie is explained, we never find out what nation or organization has built a huge base on Pandora, then brought along an armada of combat aircraft. The Earth characters all look, act and talk like Americans — in fact, slang hasn’t changed in 150 years! But does this project have some kind of government approval, or is it an interplanetary criminal enterprise? It’s hard to believe that 150 years from now, humanity’s first interaction with another sentient species would be conducted without any public officials present, but that’s what is depicted.

And who are the gun-toting fatigue-clad personnel commanded by the ultra-evil Colonel Quaritch — are they regular military, mercenaries, private security contractors? Audiences never find out. They’re just a bunch of trigger-happy killers who want to slaughter intelligent beings, and all of them but one do exactly what Colonel Quaritch says, even once it’s clear Quaritch is insane. The colonel must work for somebody — for the Pentagon, some government agency, for the corporation. So why isn’t he subject to supervision? No organization would entrust a project costing trillions of dollars — a town-sized facility has been built five light-years away — to a single individual with unchecked power. You’d worry that the single individual would commit some huge blunder that wiped out your trillion-dollar investment, which ends up being exactly what happens. I found the colonel with absolute authority a lot more unrealistic than the floating mountains.

Then there’s director James Cameron’s view of military personnel. If I were a military man or woman, I would find “Avatar” insulting. With one exception, the helicopter pilot played by Michelle Rodriguez — her character is twice referred to as a Marine, suggesting the military personnel are regular military, not mercenaries — all the people in fatigues are brainless sadists. They want to kill, kill, kill the innocent. They can’t wait to begin the next atrocity. It’s true that the U.S. military has conducted atrocities, in Vietnam and during the Plains Indians wars. But slaughter of the innocent is rare in U.S. military annals. In “Avatar,” it’s the norm. The bloodthirsty military personnel readily comply with the colonel’s orders to gun down natives. No one questions him — though in martial law, a soldier not only may but must refuse an illegal order. Plus the military personnel are depicted as such utter morons — not a brain in any of their heads — that none notice the TOTALLY OBVIOUS detail that Pandora’s unusual biology will be worth more than its minerals. Yes, movies traffic in absurd super-simplifications. But we’re supposed to accept that of the deployment of several hundred, every soldier save one is a low-IQ cold-blooded murderer.

What does “Avatar” build up to? Watching the invading soldiers — most of whom happen to be former American military personnel — die is the big cathartic ending of the flick. Extended sequences show Americans being graphically slaughtered in the natives’ counterattack. The deaths of aliens are depicted as heartbreaking tragedies, while the deaths of American security forces are depicted as a whooping good time. In Cameron’s “Aliens,” “The Abyss” and his television show “Dark Angel,” U.S. military personnel are either the bad guys or complete idiots, often shown graphically slaughtered. Cameron is hardly the only commercial-film director to present watching evil U.S. soldiers slaughtered as popcorn-chomping suburban shopping mall fun: in the second “X-Men” flick, U.S. soldiers are the bad guys and graphically killed off. Films that criticize the military for its faults are one thing: When did watching depictions of U.S. soldiers dying become a form of fun?”

Well said, Mr. Easterbrook. Well said.

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My Favorite Quotes From Christmas Programs – With Video Links!

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

In no particular order:

I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. A snow that made the happy happier, and the giddy even giddier. A snow that’d make a homecoming homier, and natural enemies, friends. For it was the first snow of the season. And as any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic that comes with the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow… Well, something wonderful is bound to happen.”

I have since heard of people under extreme duress speaking in strange tongues. I became conscious that a steady torrent of obscenities and swearing of all kinds was pouring out of me as I screamed.

Santa Claus: Don’t cry, Karen, Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. It sometimes goes away for almost a year at a time and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again.
Karen: Yes, but… He was my friend.
Santa Claus: Just watch.

” ‘And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

[Props man tries to attach antlers to a mouse]
Props man: I can’t get the antlers glued to this little guy. We tried Crazy Glue, but it don’t work.
Frank Cross: Did you try staples?

Jacob Marley: In life, my spirit never rose beyond the limits of our money-changing hole! Now I am doomed to wander without rest or peace, incessant torture and remorse!
Ebenezer: But it was only that you were a good man of business, Jacob!
Jacob Marley: BUSINESS? Mankind was my business! Their common welfare was my business! And it is at this time of the rolling year that I suffer most!

“…there are only three jobs available to an elf. The first is making shoes at night while the old cobbler sleeps. You can bake cookies in a tree. As you can imagine, it’s dangerous having an oven in an oak tree during the dry season. But the third job, some call it “the show” or “the big dance,” it’s the profession that every elf aspires to. And that is to build toys in Santa’s workshop.”

“Every Who Down In Who-Ville Like Christmas a lot… But The Grinch, Who lived just North of Who-ville, Did NOT! The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season! Now, please don’t ask why. No one quite knows the reason. It could be that his head wasn’t screwed on quite right. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. But I think that the most likely reason of all May have been that his heart was two sizes too small. But, Whatever the reason, His heart or his shoes, He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos, Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown At the warm lighted windows below in their town. For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath Was busy now, hanging a mistleoe wreath. “And they’re hanging their stockings!” he snarled with a sneer. “Tomorrow is Christmas! It’s practically here!” Then he growled, with his grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find a way to keep Christmas from coming!””

“Just a minute – just a minute. Now, hold on, Mr. Potter. You’re right when you say my father was no businessman. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap, penny-ante Building and Loan, I’ll never know. But neither you nor anyone else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was – why, in the twenty-five years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself. Isn’t that right, Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me. But he did help a few people get out of your slums, Mr. Potter, and what’s wrong with that? Why – here, you’re all businessmen here. Doesn’t it make them better citizens? Doesn’t it make them better customers? You – you said – what’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they… Do you know how long it takes a working man to save five thousand dollars? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about… they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn’t think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they’re cattle. Well, in my book he died a much richer man than you’ll ever be.”

“Scrooge was better than his word… and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Top Ten Not-To-Be-Missed Christmas Shows

There are plenty of Christmas television specials and movies out there; how do you decide which ones to watch? Well, here are the ones I stay home for:

10. Elf – One of the few Will Ferrell movies I can sit all the way through. It’s cute, it’s funny, and Bob Newhart plays Papa Elf. Fortunately, I don’t have to make time for this movie, because it’s on sixteen separate cable channels every day during the month of December.

9. Scrooged – I detest remakes of A Christmas Carol that repeat what’s already been done better. I’m fine with versions that update the story or take it places where it hasn’t been. In this version, Bill Murray is a cynical, vicious television executive who gets the Dickens scared out of him by an excellent supporting cast, which includes John Forsythe and David Johansen (below with Murray).

8. It’s A Wonderful Life – The 1946 Frank Capra classic. Yes, it’s a sappy story, but it reminds us of all the good we can do, and maybe already are doing, for the people around us every day. At this point it’s passed from being a film to being a Christmas tradition, which makes it immune to cinematic criticism.

7. Saturday Night Live Christmas – SNL has done a lot of really funny stuff over lo these many Christmases – none funnier than Steve Martin’s Christmas Wish.

6. A Christmas Story – I’ve never seen a film become iconic quite as quickly as did the story of Ralphie’s quest for the elusive Red Ryder Ranger Model Air Rifle. A huge bonus is the acting of Darren McGavin, who also played Carl Kolchak in the Night Stalker series. If you like this movie, you can see it for 24 hours straight on TBS.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – Debuting Christmas 1964, this is the claymation classic that started it all. As much as I enjoy Rudolph, every year Santa seems to become more and more of an insensitive jerk. If this were remade today, Rudolph wouldn’t run away, he’d sue Santa under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

4. Frosty the Snowman – A little song becomes an indelible part of our lives with the help of great voiceover performances from Jackie Vernon (Frosty), Billy De Wolfe (Professor Hinkle) and Jimmy Durante.

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – Dr. Suess’ Christmas staple first appeared in December of 1966, complete with narration by Boris Karloff and singing by Thurl Ravenscroft, who was also the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Directed by Chuck Jones, of Tom and Jerry fame.

2. Scrooge (1951) – The definitive version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a brilliant cast headed by Alastair Sim set the bar so high that all other Scrooge films seem like disasters by comparison. The original was in black and white, but the colorized version really brings out the feel of London in the early 19th century. Another bonus is how close this version stays to Dickens’ text.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas – For me, Christmas is in full swing when I hear Linus say, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Released in 1965, when people weren’t afraid to quote the Gospel of Luke and some actually had aluminum Christmas trees illuminated by rotating color wheels, the message is about rejecting the commercialization of Christmas. If Rudolph created claymation holiday specials, Charlie Brown did the same for animation. [Irony Central: Let me say here how disappointed I am with ABC for cutting a full five minutes from A Charlie Brown Christmas last night so that they could squeeze in more commercials. Being the network that gets to broadcast “ACBC” is a sacred trust, which ABC violated for the sake of commercialism. Shame on you, ABC.]

Honorable Mentions:

The Year Without a Santa Claus

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

The Little Drummer Boy

Miracle on 34th Street

Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town

Woman Goes to Jail For Movie Piracy After Taping “Twilight: New Moon” at Sister’s Birthday Party

Samantha Tumpach, pirate

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, a 22-year-old Chicago woman spent two nights in jail after taping three minutes of “Twilight: New Moon” while at her sister’s birthday party. Samantha Tumpach brought her new digital camera to the Muvico Theater in Rosemont, Illinois in suburban Chicago, where the party was being hosted. According to Tumpach, ushers said nothing as she snapped photos and recorded partygoers singing “Happy Birthday,” but rushed to report her to management when they noticed her camera pointed at the movie screen.

Police were called, and theater management demanded that Samantha be arrested. Because it was a Saturday, she could not be arraigned until Monday – after having spent two nights in a Rosemont jail. The police who handcuffed the young woman and led her away seemed very sympathetic, according to Tumpach, but since the theater manager insisted on pressing charges, they had no choice but to haul her off to a cell. Charged with felony criminal use of a motion picture exhibition, she was released Monday morning on her personal recognizance. If convicted, Samantha faces up to three years in prison.

As far as I know, however, her legal troubles are unrelated to her decision to host a birthday party at a showing of “Twilight: New Moon.”