You haven’t seen this before


Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi.
Directed by James Cameron.

Most — if not all — fields of human endeavor have experienced technical advances of some sort save one: film criticism. Grousing or glorifying movies for their purported flaws or greatnesses has seemingly been insulated from such “progress.” The terminology and technique is always the same — “thumbs up,” “thumbs down,” “see it,” “rent it,” “skip it,” “hated it,” “loved it,” “best of the year,” “worst of the year,” “the end of civilization as we know it,” “it sucks,” etc.

However, all of that is about to change with the invention of the Critic Channeling Chair, or CCC, or “see cubed,” for short.

Reposing in this elaborate, comfy seat, a critic simply lowers a futuristic-looking headset and is transported into the “minds” of other films and the “current” of real world events so that the critic can draw upon this source of information to evaluate a recent release. It’s revolutionary, or — more accurately ­­— “devolutionary.”

Without any training, I tested the “see cubed” device after having seen the 3D Avatar. Like the humans in Avatar who plug into machines that magically transport their consciousness into 10-foot blue aliens on a distant planet being mined for a rare ore, I was whisked into a 3D world where I became projected into films and events that can be used to describe the experience of watching Avatar. As I am still a little wobbly after only one use, here’s my best attempt to describe the experience:

My first recollection is being surrounded by stampeding buffaloes. As I frantically tried to find some safe haven and avoid getting trampled, I saw, above the herd, what looked like Kevin Costner on a horse. Then I realized — I was in Dances with Wolves! That realization helped me to see Avatar. A lone white warrior is injured in a battle among his kind and decides to leave his people to go to a faraway land to live among nature-loving “primitives.” Once there, he learns their ways, battles with other macho members of the foreign “tribe” and becomes enamored with a female “tribal” member. He then becomes one of them and even fights with his old tribal people in order to save his new “clan.”

Then, in an instant, I was transported into another location — only this time, I found my arms tied and my head resting on a chopping block with some Native American about to detach it. I was rescued by a fair young female member of this Tribe. That’s when it hits me (no, not the blade on neck). I was now in Pocahontas or The New World. I couldn’t tell which.

And the Avatar connection became clear: A hero finds himself on a “new world” as an explorer/invader. He tries to survive in this mysterious new land and comes upon an indigenous Tribe. He is befriended and smitten by a female member of this Tribe and he develops a relationship with her. She teaches him the wonders of her world, is ridiculed and chastised for taking a liking to him, and later saves him when the Tribe clashes with members of his invading clan.

Before I can get too much farther into this vicarious relationship, I am shot through a bright tunnel and emerge seated in a large, thundering, walking forklift-like machine. I am now in the movie Aliens! And it occurs to me — just as in Avatar, I have traveled a long distance through space in some kind of stasis to reach a mysterious planet that has resources that are needed and mined. I am facing an alien menace that seeks to kill me and all humans; militaristic marines create conflicts and desire to mine the aliens as a resource; exciting and intense battles ensue between us human marines and the hordes of aliens; and, just when you think that a foe is dispatched, it amazingly escapes destruction and keeps on coming and coming and coming and...

…the battle is interrupted by my being zipped through another bright tunnel only to find myself emerging — with a stream of falling green symbols — at the other end of a cell phone. I guess I am now in the world of The Matrix. The similarities to Avatar become obvious: Humans are plugged into machines and find themselves reawakening in an alternative — yet real — universe; one human among them is imbued with special powers that allow him to bridge the two worlds and yet master the alternative world; he falls in love with a female while in this other world, and, together, they vanquish the evil masters of the alternative universe.

Then, as in The Matrix, the ground vanishes beneath me and I plunge into a watery abyss… Yes, you guessed it! I am now in The Abyss! An “ocean” of parallels with Avatar; people living and working in a non-oxygen, alien environment, thus needing masks to breathe; doing industrial work (mining) while also conducting scientific experiments; one human seemingly “drowns” and yet comes back to life; macho military men force a confrontation. In the end, the humans are rescued by magical aliens…

…who morph into Jabba the Hut! OK, so now I am in the world of Star Wars. Similarities, there are many: the existence of some mysterious, surrounding life force that can be marshaled to do human bidding; a menacing “death star” from the sky that destroys the idyllic home of peace-loving people; the universe of humanoids is divided into good and evil “tribes;” alien life forms abound with so much detail and color that it invokes an entire universe; one person is imbued with some special powers or qualities that help stave off the evil forces and save everyone.

I am dispatched by a light saber to emerge wrapped around the finger of some weird, gray-skinned, drooling, fish-eating, scrawny little person. Uh, I gather I am now in Lord of the Rings and I have become the ring on Gollum’s gnarly digit! Such power! This recalls the fact that, as in LOTR, the creatures in Avatar are rendered real using innovative computer graphics and motion-rendering devices, that a whole unique universe is created with alien creatures, that an evil menace is confronted and vanquished in a pitched battle between two forces, and that the winning side invokes a magical deus ex machina

…and that machina transforms into a machine — an enormous thundering machine that is used to scrape off mountain tops and bore into the earth like a drill. I am now digging for coal in Appalachia and drilling for oil in Iraq. I understand. As in Avatar, humans seem to relish plundering a less technologically advanced area for resources without regard to the consequences, are willing to go to war to get a rare and precious commodity that runs their economy, and also are willing to destroy the environment and sacred ground to get it. The dragline machine dumps a giant bucket of earth and creates an enormous cloud of dust. As I cough, it starts to clear and I can see that I am now…

…at ground zero on September 11, 2001! As in Avatar, a tall, important, imposing structure is toppled by evildoers with flying machines, and when it collapses it covers the surroundings in ash, falling debris and smoke. I stagger around and hear a thunderous creaking noise. Thinking that it might be the next tower collapsing, I look up and see…

…the bow of a giant ship being sliced open by an iceberg. I am now standing on that berg looking at Titanic! Again, we are talking about a large, important and imposing structure that is toppled while two young people from different worlds fall in love and struggle against mighty forces and conflicts with others in their respective clan/class. I find myself on a lifeboat adrift among the cries of others. When all seems hopeless, a passing seal pushes my boat to shore to impart to me the message of all James Cameron films — from Terminator, to Aliens and Titanic: All things natural are more powerful than all things technological. Once ashore, I find myself on the banks of the Potomac River and I am whisked to…

…the U.S. Capitol, where I witness a heated debate about how Hollywood makes films that are anti-capitalistic, paganistic and full of racist depictions of minorities and indigenous peoples. As I am about to go to the floor to make a speech about how Avatar could be seen as promoting new, environmentally sensitive forms of capitalism, that it speaks to a Christian ethic of stewardship for nature, and that the “natives” teach the “white man” a thing or two, I am filibustered…

…and am rushed back into myself sitting in my CCC. I struggle to absorb those last bits of naturalistic wisdom as the technicians detach the headset with its blinking lights, whirring gizmos, spaghetti wires, delicate sensors and decelerating gauges and controls. I tell the scientists it was a kick-ass ride! I’m anxious to go again…just please, not concerning the film Old Dogs.

Doug Young is The Statesman’s award-winning film critic. He also works for Sen. Mark Udall as an environmental policy adviser.