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Posted February 26, 2010

The Avatar blues

3-D paradise of blockbuster film spawns a longing for idyllic life

By Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist, February 26, 2010

The Avatar blues
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Some moviegoers leave Avatar depressed, feeling that Earth should be more like Pandora, the Utopian planet of James Cameron's imagination
Photograph Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

When you stop and think about it, post-Avatar depression isn't as bizarre a phenomenon as it seems.

If news reports and postings on fansites such as Naviblue and Avatar Forums are to be believed, many filmgoers are feeling as blue as those tall, peace-loving Na'vi aliens after watching James Cameron's stunning 3-D sci-fi epic.

Some have even said they felt suicidal after removing their 3-D goggles when the closing credits rolled on the blockbuster that, with a $2.5-billion box-office take, has dethroned Titanic as the world's top-grossing film.

Such dark thoughts have spawned online forum threads with titles like Ways to Cope With the Depression of the Dream of Pandora Being Intangible.

"I have a depression. It makes me want to go to Pandora and stay there," wrote a user named loverofnature, referring to the idyllic planet where gentle blue-skinned natives who live in harmony with nature are threatened by Earthmen.

In an apparent metaphor for the way European settlers wiped out native Americans, the glowing planet is being exploited by a corporation strip-mining a rare mineral, since the human race has depleted Earth's natural resources.

When some twentysomething moviegoers left a screening of Avatar at Silver City the other day complaining they felt "bummed-out" that Earth wasn't more like Pandora, I felt like snapping: "Get a grip! It's only a movie."

It wasn't until I took a closer look at some online forums for fans and like-minded victims of Avatar-induced melancholia that I realized it isn't just the usual web wingnuts sounding off. Reassuringly, thoughtful concerns are also being aired.

Many viewers recognize that Avatar -- apart from its exotic, computer-generated and Oscar-worthy beauty -- is a cautionary environmental parable that shrewdly blurs the line between fact and fiction.

While it's bizarre some avid Avatar fans don't seem to get that Pandora, with its wondrous alien ecosystem and weird wildlife, is a Utopian fantasy world, their sudden sorrow is understandable.

The pristine planet is a reminder of how beautiful our own blue planet was before we messed with it.

(One idealistic poster named Jorba has even pledged to start his own Na'vi tribe on Earth. OK.)

"Are there other people out there who think humanity is going south?" asks another, LifeOnATree.

She laments how she and so many others feel compelled to buy things that aren't necessary.

"I need them to 'bear' the world around me," LifeOnATree writes.

Avatar is just one of many tales of doom and gloom out there. From such apocalyptic fantasies as I Am Legend, The Road and The Book of Eli to chilling real-world exposés of humanity's self-destruction like An Inconvenient Truth and Collapse, it appears "feel-bad" movies have become fashionable.

"When we have these movies that talk about the end of the world or life as we know it, or an unstoppable force, it can put us into a sense of helplessness or dread or fear," Victoria registered clinical counsellor Lisa Mortimore explains. "Psychophysiologically our bodies can go into immobility in response to that shutdown, and that can translate into depression."

While Avatar might spark a so-called depression, I see it as more of a rude awakening with an upside. Such films can inspire a shift in consciousness and an appreciation for what we've too long taken for granted.

Ken Wu, co-founder of Victoria-based Ancient Forest Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of B.C.'s old-growth forests, says it irks him so many people are unaware we have "the real Pandora" on our doorstep.

"It struck me as being an incredible analogy of what's happening on earth," says the five-time Avatar viewer. "We have giant moss and fern-draped ancient trees almost as large as Home Tree, spectacular creatures like bears, wolves, mountain lions, wolverine and elk in our forests, and giant blue whales, killer whales, elephant seals and huge stellar sea lions along our wild coast. People just need to be more aware."

Wu advises those stricken with depression to take a stand.

His group has even come up with a three-step "cure", starting with helping to protect disappearing ancient trees such as Avatar Grove, the film-inspired nickname for a 10-hectare stand on Crown land near Port Renfrew designated for logging.

"Get out and experience nature, take action to defend nature and get others to do the same," Wu says. "You have to learn to appreciate this beautiful planet."


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