Saturday, June 4, 2011

Something borrowed... The World of Pandora

Not Pandora
As a kid, I used to stare at my father's album covers for hours. And back in the 70's/early 80's the era of progressive rock and arena rock was a watershed moment for album cover art. The albums were vinyl then and big! Not shrunken down to CD size. Now, most album covers have been reduced to thumbnails on iTunes, so what really is the point?. In fact, in the age of digital media, there are albums I'm fond of that I've never seen covers for. But those old LP covers, by no means 'high art', were wild and crazy and inspiring as a kid: spaceships, psychedelic planetscapes, and other assorted 'far out' stoner playgrounds of the mind. Master of this style of album art was a rock artist named Roger Dean whose YES and Asia album covers I fell in love with as a kid,

Roger Dean YES album art 
Now, when I watched Avatar like everyone else, there with my IMAX 3D goggles strapped to my head, I was truly blown away by the visuals. But after watching a few James Cameron's "king of the world" interviews, I realized he and his visual team were the undisputed "kings of Pandora". Unfortunately in all those exhausting DVD extra interviews (and maybe I missed it somewhere) there was no obligatory list of "influences" that brought Cameron to create Pandora.

I can get into the whole movie itself, and its whole "Dances with Wolves (in Space)" storyline, but I won't. There's been enough written about that. My beef with Avatar is the lack of credit Cameron bestowed upon the long history of visionary science fiction/fantasy pioneers that came before him. Personally, I enjoy  interviews where writers site their influences. It makes me want to climb up into the attic and dust off the H.P. Lovecrafts and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Because as I see it, nothing creative is truly original, it's always inspired, a gestalt of everything that's come before. I love knowing how somebody arrived at a certain creative point. A lot of times you'll be surprised that THAT came from THAT.

The Avatar Exhibit at Seattle's EMP
You won't find any bigger fan of Cameron. I loved the first two Terminator movies and Aliens is a classic, but to not acknowledge where this all came from leaves me, as a fan, frustrated. So when the EMP/SCI-FI museum opened it's "World of Pandora" exhibit I felt less than inspired to check it out, even though I'm a huge sci-fi fan and the museum's only five minutes away. If Cameron had just said, "oh man, I love those Roger Dean album covers, I was totally inspired." I'd have given him more credit.  Maybe he was worried he'd have to share some of the 2 Billion+ dollars he made off the flick. I enjoy when artists/directors/writers give little windows into the creative process. But having critics answer for you with nonsense about "pure genius" I find much more dull.

Avatar 2?
So, sadly, when I think of Avatar, I don't think about its groundbreaking visual effects (which really are truly astounding), I think of a bunch of Thundercats wandering a Roger Dean album cover acting out Pocahantas. Sometimes knowing where art came from is almost as important as the art itself. Otherwise it just seems borrowed pastiche...

The Navi (the way I see them)

1 comment:

  1. Matt, this is a really interesting post. I was about to say "I don't know who I'd cite as my influences" and that made me feel like I wasn't paying enough attention to my own process as a writer and creator. But then a whole bunch of names and images flew through my head - all the places and people who have sparked an idea or made me love a genre. Ahhhh! I don't know why some people cite their influences and other people don't. Maybe they feel it's so varied from 30-60 years of living that they couldn't pinpoint anything specific. But now you've gotten me thinking about it, and I wonder if that will crystalize those influences for me even more. I look forward to finding out!

    By the way, thanks for including Routines for Writers on your Blog List. We appreciate it! :) And as a little aside, my husband is one of the special effects guys who worked on Avatar. :)