Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Can't Live Up to the Hype

It can be embarrassing being behind the curve. Not that this is new to me. I not only don’t have an I-Phone, I don’t have a cell phone. No HD TV in our house. Our cars don’t have GPS. And as late as the beginning of March, I hadn’t seen Avatar.
The film that has now made more money than any other film in history hadn’t got any of my dollars. The film that was on all kinds of Best of 2009 lists wasn’t on my list of films I’d seen. Which, since I’m the semi-official film commentator of The Communicator, just didn’t seem right.
My daughter Jill was also feeling some pressure to see the film. Several of her friends had seen Avatar multiple times and were telling her it was a must.
Many of the things I read about the film made it sound like a must. I read that it had conquered technological barriers. The theory known as the “Uncanny Valley” holds that we have no problem seeing cartoons of people. However, the closer those depictions get to reality – while still being just a little bit off -- our senses rebel. Reviewers argued that the director of the film, James Cameron, had overcome “The Uncanny Valley” not only with his creation of humanoid figures (a blue alien race called the Navi) but also with computer generated humans in the film that passed for the real thing.
I’ve loved many of James Cameron’s films, especially the Terminator films, The Abyss and even Titanic , which all had pioneering special effects. Critics proclaimed this to be the best presentation yet, utilizing 3-D technology. (The real raves came from those who saw it in 3-D and IMAX.)
I also followed with interest political, environmental and religious arguments about the film. I read that dialogue in the film mirrored the war on terror. Christian magazines and websites discussed the pantheism and ancestor worship in the film. And Cameron took up a phrase from a right wing review of the film, calling it the equivalent of “Death Wish for environmentalists.”
I read articles about people who left the theater depressed to leave the world of the film (Pandora) and come back to Earth. Pandora was a world full of amazing, beautiful, intelligent flora and fauna that included creatures like dinosaurs and dragons. People came out of the film saying “I want to go to there.”
So expectations were raised high by personal testimonials and the media.
Jill and I agreed that this was a film we should experience in the theater, at least with 3-D if not IMAX, rather than wait for DVD. And the Thursday before the Academy Awards was the last chance to see it before Avatar surrendered its 3-D screens to Alice in Wonderland.
And as often happens when expectations were raised high…they came tumbling down. The theater was about half full, with a chiefly older crowd for the matinee. Yeah, the film looked cool, but a not terribly original plot was made less so by conversations we had heard that spoiled any possible surprises.
About halfway through the film, I went to the rest room. When I returned, Jill said, “You missed several stupid things while you were gone.”
It’s a long film, nearly 3 hours, and we both were getting fidgety 2/3rd of the way through.
We left saying, “Well, we can say we saw it.”
I can’t help but wonder what our reaction would be if we saw it opening night with a theater full of enthusiastic viewers. Would we, too, have wanted to join the world of Pandora, rather than be rather happy to get in the car to get home for dinner?
Hype can boomerang that way. Something gets built up to such a degree that expectations just can’t be met.
It happens in the church, of course. We are told that a book by a Christian author will change your life. We hear that so and so preaches a sermon that will make you a new person. That this Bible study or retreat or seminar is all you need to make your marriage or prayer life or attitude all it should be.
And we’re disappointed. We’re individuals, and different things will appeal to different people. “One size fits all” is almost always a lie.
But it is good to know that God can always meet and exceed the hype. He knows what we desire and more importantly, He knows what we need. And if we trust Him, He will in due time meet our needs and give much, much more.
What Isaiah wrote may sound like hype:
“For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.”
(You can look it up in Isaiah chapter 64.)
But it’s not just hype and hope will come through.
(Avatar is rated PG-13 for language, violence and sensuality.)

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