Other Worlds

When I was 10 years old I was in love with Peter Pan. But, I don’t mean in the way that young girls have crushes on pop stars today. I was in love with the island of Neverland and Peter, and his adventures with all the creatures there.

Around that time period, Mary Martin’s performance as Peter Pan was shown on TV. While my memories of my childhood experiences are subjective and full of gaps, the Internet helps fill in the holes. According to IMDB, Peter Pan, with Mary Martin, was telecast the first time in 1955 and again in 1956. A videotaped version from 1960 was televised again in 1966 and even in 1973. I’m not certain if I saw the 1955 and 56 versions, I was only 4 and 5 years old at the time, but we had a TV so it was possible. I definitely saw it in 1960 and 1966. I probably also saw the earlier versions since by the time I was 9 in 1960, it seemed to be familiar already to me. I loved it.

A few years earlier, I had gotten as a Chanukah present from my parents, a second-hand copy of The Story of Peter and Wendy by James Barrie. It had black and white photographs in it of a stage performance of the play Peter Pan from the early 19th century. So the book was old even when I got it sometime in the middle 1950s. I loved that book, reading it over and over again and looking at the photographs. The book had many more adventures than were in the TV production but together they created an entire world in my mind with words and images. It was a world I very much wanted to be in.

In the book, Barrie tells how one might see a part of the Neverland, the mermaids lagoon, from our world, “If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colors suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colors become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire. But just before they go on fire you see the lagoon.” My 10 year old self used to lie in bed at night with eyes tightly closed, trying with all my might to see the lagoon. Sometimes I almost convinced myself that I did.

That longing for Neverland has never left me. In 1965 I discovered another world in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I was older and it was a bigger book and a bigger world but I wanted to be there as much as I had wanted to be in Neverland. I continued on to read all my father’s early Science Fiction books, Bradbury and Asimov and Clark. I’ve been reading Science Fiction ever since, looking for new worlds, other worlds.

Yesterday, I discovered a new world, a wondrous world. Yesterday, I went to see Avatar…for the second time.

I opted not to see the 3D version. I’ve never seen a 3D movie that I thought worked really well. I might be wrong on this film but I didn’t feel it was worth the effort. I wanted to see it with my own eyes, unaided. The first time I watched, I was sitting in the 3rd row which was way too close. There was so much action on the screen I was getting seasick trying to follow it. Second time was in the middle of the theater and that was much better. Just watching things happen on that planet was wondrous! After 10 minutes I forgot I was watching CGI blue people and just accepted them as real. I’m not impressed by special effects because great special effects don’t necessarily make a great Sci-Fi film. Just look at the newest Star Wars films – great special effects but terrible science fiction. Bad scripts and bad acting canceled out the computer generated effects. The original Star Trek series had terrible special effects but great scripts that will long be remembered. Our imaginations fill in where the special effects are lacking.

Avatar had fantastic special effects. Maybe special effects is actually the wrong word. Cameron and his team built a world and did it so well it felt real. No special effects – just real. The story line was no big, original idea and even a bit cliché. Boy from the civilized world goes out to meet the natives, falls in love, goes native and joins them in defending their way of life against the bad guys who don’t understand – Dances with Wolves all over again. But when you create such a complex world as Cameron had done you don’t need a complicated story. The world is the story. I’ve been reading Sci-Fi pretty much most of my life and am very critical of Sci-Fi films that are illogical or break/ignore the rules of the planet or society where the story takes place. While the Avatar story was rather simple and clichéd it stayed mostly true to the rules of the planet Pandora. Cameron didn’t take a lot of time to explain his world. He used Dr Grace Augustine to quickly set up how the planet worked by explaining that everything on Pandora had some sort of biological/electrical charge that could pass from one to another at an astonishingly fast rate. You see this when the Na’vi walk in the forest. When they step on something it glows, electrical charges pass from one to the other. Some reviews have said that the movie had a sort of hippie dippy, ecological, Mother Earth/Gaia bent. But they missed the point. It’s not about primitive natives worshiping some sort of earth mother goddess. It’s about beings literally being connected to the planet they live on. Their braids are the electrical wires that can be plugged directly into the animals they ride or the plants they touch. No wonder they can access their ancestors. They are all there, stored on the planetary hard disk. But when humans walk on the ground, nothing lights up – they aren’t connected and can’t understand. It’s about science not fuzzy tree huggers.

On Pandora there is some sort of mineral that floats. We see it in the beginning of the film. It has something to do with magnetism. Later on we see the Na’vi traveling across the floating mountains of Pandora, big chunks of this mineral that have broken free of the ground and float in magnetic currents. This mineral is the reason humans are on this planet. They want this mineral. And this is where the story, in my opinion, violates its internal logic, the rules of the alien planet are not followed and for me this was a big gaff. The reason given for bringing down the Na’vi’s big tree and ousting all the people living there was that the “corporation” wanted this mineral, Unobtainium, which was supposed to be situated in a vast amount just under the tree. If this mineral was something that had some sort of floating/antimagnetic/antigravity characteristics, why should it be found in the ground under a tree and not instead in the floating mountains?? Why not just mine the mountains?

Was this written into the story just so that a conflict between humans and Na’vi could be set up and filmed? It doesn’t abide by the rules of the world of Pandora. I still haven’t heard a good explanation of that and it’s that kind of “making up stuff just for the hell of it” or “because it sounds good” that irritates me in bad Sci Fi films. But I guess everyone is allowed one slip-up. And since that was the only thing that really bothered me I can live with it. The rest was so good I just decided to ignore it and just enjoy.

I want to revisit that place again and again and this time I won’t have to shut my eyes as tight as I can in order to see a fabulous world. I just have to look at the screen.

One Response to “Other Worlds”

  • Joseph Says:

    Thanks for your comment on my blog. I haven’t seen Pandora yet but definitely want to – I’m just glad the budget for my stories is quite a bit lower 🙂

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