Sunday, February 28, 2010

Following up: The feathers in "Avatar" 

I saw "Avatar" again on Friday night, more than two months after I had seen it the first time, but this go round on IMAX 3D. Visually, it made a huge difference; I finally "get it" from that point of view. Unfortunately, the script, direction, and costuming remained the same.

I did verify a point I made in the early review: That for some reason the natives in this fantastically original and diverse ecosystem use feathers to true arrows and decorate their hair, yet there are no feathered fauna anywhere in the movie (and we see a lot of fauna). Where do these feathers come from, and why did Cameron not insist that the ecosystem design team put some in somewhere so that we in the audience would not think "Oh, I get it, the Na'vi are a cross between Africans and Native Americans, right down to the cornrows, the arrows, and the head gear"? In other words, "when will white people stop making movies like Avatar?" I suppose when a certain subspecies -- homo sapiens Hollywoodus -- no longer feels that there is money to be made expiating racial guilt.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Feb 28, 09:40:00 AM:

You think James Cameron made Avatar because there was "money to be made expiating racial guilt"? Seriously.  

By Blogger JPMcT, at Sun Feb 28, 09:52:00 AM:

Well...it got us our current president, did it not??!!  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Feb 28, 10:54:00 AM:

No, Anon 9:40, I don't think he made the movie for that reason per se. He was obviously pushing the technological edge in creating a fantastical world, and as a big fan of science fiction and fantasy I loved it from that point of view. But the plot and culture of the Na'Vi were very Earth bound and politically correct, no doubt about it. A wasted opportunity, from one point of view, to show human interaction with a truly alien culture, as has been depicted many times in the best "first contact" novels. Problem is, the market is a lot bigger for a "Pocohontas" story. Real originality in that alien culture and more complex moral ambiguity -- such as by depicting the humans, including the business people and the soldiers, as more conflicted -- would not have been "safe" from a financial point of view.  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Feb 28, 12:07:00 PM:

They probably got the feathers at Dollar Tree.  

By Blogger Kinuachdrach, at Mon Mar 01, 12:02:00 AM:

The author of the article says she is "white". But let me put into words the issue everyone in Ireland is thinking -- So what if you're "white", whatever that means? Get to the real stuff, are you Protestant or Catholic?  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue Mar 02, 09:39:00 AM:

Of course, the reason we do not see animals with feathers on Pandora is the Navi hunted them to extinction for get feathers for their arrows.


By Anonymous Dr. Mercury, at Fri Mar 05, 01:02:00 PM:

Tige -

I have solved this perhaps greatest of all mysteries.

Being a veritable computer god, I already have 'Avatar' on DVD. That is, I know the secret spot where someone had posted the 'screener' DVD that the movie studios send around to the critics. Although rendered in the now-archaic "2-D" format, it is, nonetheless, of superb quality.

Upon reading your plaintive plea the other day, I decided to watch it again and this time try to solve what many refer to as "the greatest of modern-day cinematic posers."

Now, before we get to the meat of the matter, I must quibble with you on a few points.

To wit:

- Back when I was a kid, I used to watch lots of movies of cowboys vs. indians and native Africans vs. white safari expeditions. I don't remember any of the natives wearing cornrows.

- I thought the script was fine, the direction deserved all the accolades its received, and, for the life of me, I can't figure out what your grievance with the costuming is. Given that it was a warm environment, what they wore was really more for adornment and tribal recognition. What's the beef?

- As exemplified here:

"no longer feels that there is money to be made expiating racial guilt."

The way you Righties have read into that "racial guilt" meme is laughable, to say the least. They're aliens, guys. Saying 'Avatar' had overtones of 'racial guilt' is like saying 'Star Wars' had racial overtones because The Empire killed all those sweet, innocent Ewoks. Truth be told, this is more a case of anthropomorphics than anything else.

Okay, on to the main event.

There is actually a very simple, straightforward answer to why the Na'vi use feathers in their arrows and hair, yet there are no birds to be seen:

They're not feathers.

Remember that scene near the beginning when the female blue monkey was-, pardon me!, when the hauntingly lithe and sexy Neytiri was about ready to put a sharp one between our hero's shoulder blades? There's a fairly clear shot of the arrow and it appears the 'feathers' are made up of some kind of thin papery material, possibly the peelings from some tree's bark.

You'll also note that (1) virtually none of the natives have anything in their hair except bands and clips, and (2) the aforementioned hottie has what looks like feathers at first glance, but upon freeze-frame and magnified analysis are actually colored leaves. You can see the slight twist the leaves' branches make, unlike the straight or slightly curved line of a feather.

Now, as to spotting any flying critters in the background, there are actually a number of wide-open shots where you can see flocks of something flying in the far distance, but a freeze-frame analysis of the closest of these reveals the diamond-shaped wings of the pterodactyl thingies. Therefore we have to conclude that the flocks in the distance are of the same ilk, and thus your initial observation about the lack of birds was correct.

Glad to be of service,

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Mar 07, 04:46:00 PM:

I think Avatar is a wonderful film. I have seen all the posts form the liberal arts majors who missd the point. This is beakaway art. The technology involved is a leap rom waht pixar has been very sucessful. The stories tend to be shallow but that main reason is so that it can attract a broader audience and therefore post record earnings to forward the art.
Trust me the art will follow.  

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