Sunday, 24 January 2010

Avatar and Babylon 5

Friday January 22nd 2010 became supreme fantasy day with a visit to see Avator and the lines drawn in Babylon 5. I was well prepared for the film and managed to get to the first showing of the day at 12.40 Cineworld Bolden where my seat voucher was accepted plus £1.80 for the 3D and 80p for the special glasses which one can keep. On my first visit to contemporary 3D after decades passing since the use of hand held cardboard with a red and green lenses I had paid the additional fees at the Dome Odeon in London and the glasses had to be handed back. There was also a significant improvement in the process as the screen size did not altar and the depth of viewing and the proximity to projectiles was significantly better. I was therefore greatly impressed with the 3D process.

The film was also publicised as the new benchmark for creating lifelike colourful and movement animation. The film lives up to expectation and is worth the ticket money for the combined experience. But what of Avatar as a film? Lasting two and half hour you are projected into a different world, actually onto a different planet and a conventional story of anti US militarism, colonialism and international corporation capitalism versus environmentalism and nature. Only the bankers were absent although greedy shareholders were not.

The concept was brilliant. A government supported with the latest weaponry mining corporation was moving over a planet stealing essential minerals by force of arms and exterminating the natives if they proved unwilling to get out of the way, but like the USA did to native Americans, the Brits to Africa and Asia, Australians to the aborigines, the Spanish to middle and Latin America, the Romans to Europe and the Middle East, China is doing now. The Russians and Germans were more ideological wanting totalitarian domination as well as economic wealth, as were the Catholics and the Muslims. And as with all conquering and exploiting races you begin with offering colourful beads and education. The brilliant part was create a creature with the same physical characteristics as the natives, a blue skinned lithe humanoid with a mane and tail and of great agility in terms of climbing and crossing the narrowest of pathways suspended at fantastical heights, but controlled by a human being who experienced everything that happened while encased in a communications pod within the breathable confines of the space station. The atmosphere on the planet is such that without breathing apparatus you not survive within a few minutes.

Sigourney Weaver is the Chief Scientist heading the contact project who before the film story commences had failed in an attempt to persuade the people to cooperate with the exploitation and semi destruction of their planet by through her own Avatar making contact and living with one of the tribes and learning each other’s languages. The tribes are primitive in wearing the briefest of clothing for functional purposes and film audiences, and use bows and arrow for hunting and protection from hostile creatures with whom they share the planet. However they are sophisticated in their understanding of nature and its interconnectivity. They have a unique ability to bond with creatures, such as a form of horses and a prehistoric type of bird. They are also able to connect with each other and their ancestors through a special kind of tree and they have respect for all life so that when they kill a creature for food or in self defence they and give thanks and mourn the passing. I was reminded by the work of James Burke and his book Connections.

The enterprise is run by a weak chief executive which is unlikely, and the worst kind of redneck general which is again unlikely, and the weaponry which includes large robotic vehicles for individuals and the helicopters and gun craft are all heavy metalled and cumbersome which is again unlikely. The story line is laboured and predictable and the script is basic. Some of the action sequences were self indulgent attempts to show what the latest film technological advances can do.

Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is a loyal American serviceman who has lost the use of his legs in a campaign and comes out to the planet to replace his twin brother who had been trained to use the Avatar already in preparation. He has no difficulty in accepting the request to keep the General constantly updated with intelligence about the tribe to which he becomes attached and he also quickly gains the confidence of the science director. His first trip into the new world nearly ends quickly in disaster but he is rescued by the daughter of the head of the tribe after he appears to have a special connection with the environment and about which she is anxious to report to her parents. Her brother and the man she is expected to mate are hostile to the new arrival especially when the mother who is a kind of spiritual mentor assigns her daughter to educate the Jake Avator in their ways. He provides the kind of entree which the science director and the military have been seeking and both give him considerable leeway during a three month period to persuade the tribe to move to a different area as the corporation wants to mine the minerals which happen to be located under their homeland a giant tree within which they live. In order not to be under the daily control of the military and the corporation executives Sigourney moves the control centre for herself and Jake onto one of the floating mountains which is another of cinematic tricks in the film. Understandably working on daily basis in such proximity with the daughter of the tribal leader they become attracted and as is often the position of those who work undercover with a group or cult for any length of time the begins to identify with their comrades vales and objectives rather than retaining those of their employers or their own culture.

The situation comes to a head when the corporation starts to move onto the tribes immediate homeland without notice when their plea to be allowed to persuade the tribe to move is agreed but quickly fails, the General moves in to destroy the tree and then when the tribe supported by others resists, the General gets permission to bomb them and their home land especially the sacred tree of their ancestors. There is then a dramatic encounter between the highly organised and equipped military forces and the guerrilla forces led by the Avator who has admitted his original purpose and been ostracised until he manages to bond and harness the greatest bird in the sky as a symbol that he has the will and the ability to help them combat the corporation. There is then a battle of skill and wits in which the tribe are supported by creatures previously their enemies. When Sigourney is fatally wounded there is an attempt to transfer her psyche into the Avatar to make it an independent functioning member of the society but she is too weak although her being is incorporated into the tree. After they have successfully beaten the earth force in battle and driven back to their dying planet Jake successfully transmute from his disabled body in a fully functioning member of the tribe as the consort of the leader’s daughter.

The film has been long in the making with an initial script outline in 1994 and planning for production in 1999 but held back when the Director James Cameron of Titanic realised the technology was not yet available to realise the project as conceived, The film having reputedly cost half a billion dollars to produce and already raised a one billion presently running second to his previous epic Titanic. Two sequels are already planned with the usual spin offs of books, toys, including computer games DVD’s special Director’s editions and so on. Others will also seek ways to use the new technology and Sky has announced it is bringing 3D to TV.

Babylon 5 reached the point in the whole series when the two demarcations lines are drawn: Dust to Dust. Exogenesis, Message from Earth, Point of No Return, and Severed Dreams are episodes 6 to 10 of the third season. Dust to dust is a divertissement with a purpose. The Dust in question is similar to manufactured Promicin of the 4400, in this instance to create telepathic powers. The head Psi Corps investigator comes to Babylon aware that a large quantity of the drug is being traded and requires the help of the Commander. Sheridan who agrees but enlists the help of Minbari telepaths to bloc the agent‘s use of his power during the investigation. What is not discovered is that the shipment has been ordered by G’Kar and he uses a sample on Londo to establish his role in the recent war. He also has a revelation about the future following the intervention of Ambassador Kosh. Finding about Londo’s role leads him to physically assault the Narn Ambassador which leads to his confinement for two months. With the help of Security Chief Garibaldi Psi Corps are able to stop the transaction and recover the Dust and where outside the main action the audience learns Psi Corp had developed as part of its bid to gain power within the Earth Alliance. This is not the first time that audience is provided with information which the Babylon management team is yet to learn.

A second divertissement is Exogenesis in which the main story concerns an ancient civilization of beings, the Vindrizi whose primary functions is become personal recordings of all the information that has gone before. Their physical form is small so they inhabit willing hosts to travel the universe and on Babylon have offered a future to members of the underclass, and as in the 4400 not everyone is a suitable host.

In order to assess the suitability of someone appointed to the senior command, Ivanova, invites him to her quarters for a get to know you session suitability to become a member of the Conspiracy of Light. He is unsure of the nature of the invitation and brings some flowers which he pretends he found. Ivanova decides that he should not be invited into the Conspiracy and that the flowers were bought by Marcus who has been trying to date her.

In Messages from Earth, Marcus who has become the senior Ranger brings a member for the former Interplanetary Expeditions to explain that when working on Mars a space craft was uncovered which was of a construction that had not been seen before. From her description it is evident this was a Shadows Craft and that a few days later another arrived and both ships disappeared. She and the tam were ordered by Earth to keep what happened secret and since then the other members of the team has met their deaths and she was under constant threat. Now another vessel has been uncovered and earth force plans for a human to merge into the craft and then use it. Sheridan takes the Whitestar, the Minbari donated craft, to try and prevent Earth from making use of the Shadow Craft. Unfortunately they arrived just as the Earth pilot attempts to gain control but he is has not been adequately prepared and loses control of the craft which becomes unstable but still ale to destroy the base where it was located and to pursue the Whitestar. It is only a clever manoeuvre which prevents their destruction and which causes the destruction of the Shadow enemy. However before they can escape they encounter an earth ship which orders them to surrender and they have to make another speculative manoeuvre to get back to the Space Station. The episode includes a scene which marks growing intimacy in the relationship between Delenn and Sheridan. He speak of his childhood and as a young man studying who found rain on the roof as a way of getting to sleep when he was tense and before one important examination his father had got a hose to create the effect of rain on the roof.

Back on the space station the Nightwatch are being prepared for developments ahead and members asked to report anything suspicious about anyone whatever their position on the station. The absence of Sheridan from the station for several days is noted.

In Point of No Return the Earth Government announces a state of emergency and that Nightwatch is to take control of the security on Babylon 5 and that only vetted members of Nightwatch can become Members, thus posing a challenge for Garibaldi and some of the others although the majority sign on despite Garibaldi’s pleas and he is deposed and his deputy placed in charge. When Sheridan is ordered to comply, his superior puts it in terms which enables the Commander to work out that as the Order came via the political office, it was unconstitutional and with the help of G’Kar and his Narns they capture the Nightwatch Security, disarm and hold them in custody, knowing that they only have a matter of days before those on Earth regularise the position and give Sheridan a legitimate order and raise further issues about his loyalty to the new order.

General Hague announces his opposition and has commenced a counter coup with some support of other Earth space ships. The Senators barricade themselves after being abolished calling in the population to act as a human shield As a second story London who is tormented by his dreams has invited a wife of the former head of the Centauri on a visit to the station and she immediately wants to know his real purpose. He admit that he wants her to use her special powers to foresee his future. She agrees to do this at the end of the visit. She pleases Londo by saying that she does foresee him becoming the head of state, but she then shocks him and his former assistant Vir, even more so, by adding that he too will also become head of state with one following the other after the first has died. Prior to this Vir had returned to Babylon 5 on a visit from his special posting to Minbari. He is seeking Londo’s advice on his factually accurate report on the cultural and educations standards of the Minbari. The moral of the people and there general state. London wants Vir to fundamentally change the report because it is not what the new leadership would want to hear. After the news of Vir’s future he becomes suspicious and hostile towards his former assistant and friend. Vir is bemused by the prediction that he will become the Emperor

In the last episode of the week, there is open revolt against the new Earth Dictatorship among the colonial outposts and by General Hague and a small contingent of space fighting craft. After a battle between the forces, the General’s ship comes to Babylon for repairs, announcing that the General has died in the battle. The Earth Force has began to bomb Mars who are refusing to accept the orders of the new regime.

Coinciding with the developing crisis Delenn is informed that the Shadows are on the move and enlisting support from non aligned races and returns to the Minbar to speak to the ruling Grey Council of which she was a member for over a decade. They refuse to give her a hearing so she insists. Meanwhile Earth has sent a force to apprehend the General’s ship and take command of the Space Station. Sheridan debates what to do and consults his father back on Earth who tells him to follow his conscience and while not starting any conflict to make sure he is the one to finish. The station with the help of the General’s ship and its defence force repels the attack, but just when they breathe a sigh of relief, a further Earth battle group arrives and as Sheridan realises they have failed and will have to surrender, Delenn arrives with four Minbari fighting ships advises the Earth force to withdraw, reminding them that only one Commander managed to defeat a Minbari ship in the war, and that he was Commander Sheridan. They wisely withdraw.
The Commander announces that the station has become Independent of Earth and will allows anyone who wishes to leave to do so, including Nightwatch supporters. The Commander explains why the action ahs been taken and thus the battle lines for the future have been drawn

On earth in the reality of today, the Home Office has announced the second highest rate of alertness, which means a Terrorist attack is likely. The highest level is when an attack is known to be imminent. Fact frequently follows fantasy.

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