Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blogging, Olympics, and Avatar 3D

Five months
Has it really been five months since my last post? I can't imagine! And honestly, it could be five more months after this, I just don't know. I reached a point last year where I just didn't know why I was blogging anymore - a few core friends were reading my posts, but besides that I felt I was working hard to express my ideas and opinions, and they were just echoing in a void.

Well, be that as it may, I have been thinking of late of returning to this forum, but of doing so in a less specialized manner. I will keep commenting on movies, as they remain a passion, but will also try to include more ideas, opinions, and anecdotes on other topics. No promises, mind you, but let's see if I can get back in the groove.

And, of course, given current events, the first topic has got to be the seemingly all-consuming Vancouver Olympics. Now in terms of "fete of the century" or "fiasco," I have nothing to add. However, watching Mike Robertson go from sure-fire gold to silver in the men's snowboard cross the other night got me thinking about our competitors to the south and their seemingly superhuman ability to dominate international sporting events.

Now I am not begrudging Seth Wescott his Gold medal - anyone who can come from that far behind, that low on the course, deserves to wear the laurels. However, watching Lindsay Vonn and Julia Mancuso beat the world's top alpine skiers by almost a full second (an eternity in these events), I got to wondering about the bigger picture. I have three theories:

1) Food Supply Doping: Think about the American food supply system as revealed in documentaries such as Food, Inc. and Fast Food Nation: a concoction of ground GM corn, meat raised on steroids and growth hormone, and a raft of other chemical additives. Is it possible that the amount of such additives consumed by Americans in a standard meat, potatoes, and apple pie diet "pumps them up" in such a way as to give them an advantage over athletes from nations with stricter food additive codes?

2) Funding: It's hard to argue the obviousness of the fact that American athletes benefit from significantly higher financial resources than those from most nations. This is not necessarily due to higher government spending (I would have to research this), but due to higher corporate sponsorship - think about the largest, richest companies in the world, and think about what nation they call home and which athletes they are more likely to support. That's what I am talking about.

3) The Cold War: Yes, Dr. Strangelove has a hand in this also. I was talking with some friends the other night, and it hit me: The USA's current sport training system and mentality is a direct offshoot of the intense rivalry that existed between the Americans and the Soviets during the second half of the twentieth century.

Think about it: in addition to stockpiling bombs and expanding "spheres of influence," the cold war was fought viciously on the ski slopes, skating ovals, velodromes, and sprinting tracks of the summer and winter Olympic games. Sport was one of the many proxies for armed combat used by the American and Soviet governments to prove their superiority over each other - and this mindset shaped the sporting mentalities of many of the coaches, in particular, and some of the athletes competing in Vancouver. Winning is everything.

Now I am not disparaging the American athletes - as I said, Wescott showed amazing skill and stamina and deserves his gold - I just want to illuminate some of the context of what we are seeing happen on the slopes and in the rinks. American athletes are the product of a system that has murky roots, but in the present enables them to truly be the very best that they can be.

Own the Podium
And I guess that this is where a lot of the concern about the Canadian "Own the Podium" campaign arises from. The Cold War tainted sports with politics (e.g. the 1980 and 1984 Olympic game boycotts), warping the spirit of the games by taking the emphasis away from performance and personal achievement, and some fear that the Own the Podium Campaign amounts to the same thing and could be a pretty murky foundation to build on in and of itself.

Overall, I hope that governments around the world continue to fund sports and the arts so that the skiers, bikers, swimmers, painters, singers, and poets of our nations can continue to inspire the dreams of young people and build the rich tapestry of our global culture (a round of Kumbaya anyone?).

Avatar (James Cameron, 2010) (Bayers Lake Imax) To switch gears a little bit, I just want to add my two cents about Avatar 3D, which I saw a few weeks ago in the local Imax. I will skip preliminaries and get right to the hyperbole: by about two-thirds of the way through I consciously thought "I am glad that I am alive to witness this achievement in technology."

The new form of 3D filming that Avatar relies on is achieved by filming two offset images that are simultaneously projected onto a specially coated screen. The viewer dons special glasses in which the two lenses are polarized at perpendicular angles to each other, meaning that each eye views one of the offset images independent of the other (with none of the image "cross talk" that typified the old red and blue glasses 3D). The brain is essentially "confused" by the two images, and resolves its confusion by interpolating the images in a clean, crisp, three-dimensional picture.

This is a stunningly powerful colour to add to the palette that filmmakers use to compose their masterpieces. It sucks the viewer deeply into the film, creating a world entirely separate from that outside the theater walls - and this is essentially what I feel that a great film should do.

But this is not to say that Avatar is a great film - a great moment in technological evolution certainly, a great experience without doubt, but a great film in no way. The proof of this pudding is under the crust: if you watched Avatar in 2D, I am sure that it would lose more than a little of its shine, revealing all the more baldly the predictability of the story, the sometimes painful dialog, and the cringe-inducing acting of some of its key characters - things that jarred me even in 3D, but were forgiven in the name of the overall experience.

And the Oscar Goes to...
Sure, Avatar will likely win best picture, but hopefully this will clear the way for the best director Oscar to go to a more deserving director like Kathryn Bigelow, who's Hurt Locker would have been stunning in 3D, but managed to suck me into the world she created on screen solely based on a compelling scenario, taut writing, subtle acting, and sublime cinematography.

1 comment:

Colleen said...

Excellent stuff all around. I think your theories about American athletic dominance make brilliant and disturbing sense. Sounds like the basis for some investigative journalism to me!

Avatar: Not surprised by anything you say (though I haven't seen it), including the dire prediction that it'll win best picture.