Avatar: In space no-one can see you smoke
|FEATURES - MOVIES|
Looks like the rush to ban the evil weed is going to be reversed in Cameron's SF epic...
I saw Avatar tonight at a multimedia screening in central London, and having had two and a half hours of my life taken from me on a no-refund basis by a director that I once found exciting and essential, I don't know yet if I can summon enough energy up to review it. Perhaps my will to live will return in the morning.
In the meantime I note a couple of atavistic touches in the movie that stand out. In one scene we see a regular printed book, same kind of book that you could buy at Amazon, which is called 'The Na'avi' and is some kind of anthropological treatise on the blue-skinned tribal culture the movie deals with. I ask, in a future culture that boasts 180Â° holographic screens, would this form of print still be viable? At another point in the movie Sam Worthington tells a tree-god that there are no trees left on Earth (shades of Silent Running) - if so, this would presumably place paper at a premium. Even now, the Kindle is a viable paper substitute and we seem within only a few years of zero-consumption e-paper. Yet the heavy and hard-to-transport paperback endures in Avatar.
To a certain extent we can blame directors Nicholas Meyer and Ridley Scott for this. When Meyer introduced antique artifacts in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, it seemed like the coolest thing ever for a TV and movie genre that had always presumed the future would be newly-minted. In Khan,Â Doctor McCoy gave Kirk a pair of vintage spectacles because the captain was allergic to the 23rd century's vision-resolving drugs; and Spock gave his captain a vintage copy of A Tale Of Two Cities. The same year, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner presented a 'retrofitted' future where the old buildings of Los Angeles were augmented with futuristic ducts rather than scrapped and rebuilt. If Scott had had the money, chances are he would have built Blade Runner's hellish cityscape city anew, but this innovation was borne of the need to re-use a much-filmed studio backlot set, and other budgetary constraints.
Thereafter we were served up many a future scenario in SF movies and TV that contained objects not only from the present but from antiquity. The rationale seems to be that what's 'old' now will be 'old' then, and that's not unreasonable. However, this device sure does save a few bob on fabricating costly SF technology.
The likes of Star Trek:TOS had always taken advantage of atavistic set-pieces and props from other productions, but had needed 'God-monster' scenarios and other odd plot-devices to make that budgetary saving. And Doctor Who was founded on the BBC's desire to get more value from its historical drama sets and props in the early 1960s.
But what creates the biggest stink in Avatar is the fact that Sigourney Weaver's character smokes. The very first thing we see Weaver do in the movie is come out of hypersleep and demand a cigarette from her lab-lackeys. She smokes liberally in the movie (much as she does in real life, which is no-one's business but her own).
Let me declare outright that I am a smoker. I smoke plenty, and I live in a country (Great Britain) in which the relentless drive to marginalise and ultimately cease the habit of tobacco consumption brings a new and major impediment to us nicotine-lovers on a yearly basis. If you smoke, this is getting to be a very hard country in which to indulge your filthy habit.
That doesn't mean I want anybody else to smoke, and most particularly it doesn't mean that I want smoking represented at all in a teen-oriented movie whose SF scenario makes it not only unnecessary but almost certainly unrealistic. If nothing else, Avatar treats of a futuristic environment where air supply is manufactured in controlled envoronments in an ecosphere that's deadly to humans. I can't recall any SF TV output that has been shortsighted enough to put smoking into space-scenarios since the rugged denizens of UFO used to light up regularly on Moonbase, or any pressurised smoking in SF movies since Alien and Outland.
And I can therefore only come to the conclusion that Hollywood's powerful keep-smoking-in-movies lobbyists have won a major Christmas bonus in getting this unlikely practise into Cameron's vision of the 22nd century.