Union Station's Got the Avatar Blues
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Union Station’s Got the Avatar Blues

In case you haven’t heard, there’s this little thing called Avatar. Apparently, it’s some kind of motion picture by some dude named Jim Cameron, where cigar-chomping robots from the future smack around 3-D blue cat people on some alien planet, and in the end we all learn a lesson about the environment or colonialism or 9/11 or something. Rumour has it that this Avatar thing made something like a zillion dollars when it premiered in theatres last year, making it easily the highest-grossing film of all time. It’s become some kind of cultural behemoth, so much so that some people who have seen it report a weird form of post-partum depression. And what’s more, this Avatar thingamajig comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray this month, as anyone who has stepped inside Union Station in the past two days can tell you.

If you’ve been inside Union’s GO Train concourse in the past twenty-four hours, and have eyes that work, you’ve seen that the place has been bombarded with ads publicizing the home video release of Avatar (a.k.a. James Cameron’s Avatar) on April 22. Commissioned by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, this isn’t just the typical subway-size wall banner: it’s a full-scale invasion. Small vinyl posters plaster the doors leading from the Union TTC terminal to the GO concourse; cerulean-skinned Na’vi cling to columns; cutouts of flying space dinosaurs hang in front of posters, presenting the barely passable illusion of something like 3-D; and the two hundred thousand–or-so commuters who pass through Union Station daily traipse over ads covering the tiled floor, scuffing up the faces of Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana’s CGI stand-in. You can’t comfortably traverse the concourse without seeing, stepping on, or bumping into some kind of blue-hued Avatar signage. It’s enough to make the food court McDonald’s seem like a mom-and-pop hamburger shop.
But the centrepiece of the massive media buy is a fifteen-foot-tall polystyrene tree designed by Jamie Osborne and his team at IMA Outdoor, made to resemble the massive florae of the planet Pandora where Avatar lays its scene. “The idea was to encapsulate a pillar with tree bark,” Osborne told Torontoist. “And then have an Avatar-like tree growing into the mezzanine…I saw the film before I did the project, so I got a pretty good feeling for what it looks like.”
So how’s this for a mixed message? Avatar, if it’s about anything besides 3-D robots stabbing at you with their bad guy–issue bowie knives, is ostensibly about a near-future where Earth has been ravaged by corporate avarice to a point where the planet’s resources are exhausted, leaving us with no other option but to exhaust the resources of some other, lusher planet not so far, far away. So of course it naturally follows to aggressively market the film’s limp, airy-fairy planet-in-crisis allegory by steamrolling a major central rail hub and local landmark with dozens of inescapable posters, billboards, and prop recreations, effectively bringing the film’s optimistic (if unsophisticated) message back within the corporate fold. It’s a bit like in Cameron’s The Terminator when Michael Biehn went back in time to impregnate Linda Hamilton and father humanity’s post-apocalyptic messiah, blowing open all kinds of woozy time-travel paradoxes.
Oh, and guess what else? As these scores of ads make abundantly clear, Avatar hits home-video retailers on April 22—Earth Day! Surely there’s no finer way to commemorate the planet we’re bound to devastate than by hobbling in droves to our local Best Buy, Future Shop, HMV, etc., and plunking down twenty-five-or-so dollars to rip the plastic shrink-wrap off the plastic casing of our Avatar DVD and pop that little plastic disc into the player, sink into the sofa, and remind ourselves that, hey, we should really do something about saving the planet, man.
There’s got to be some handy word to describe this incongruity between what this movie pretends to be about and how it’s being presented, marketed, and consumed as a product. Don’t ya think?
Photos by Nick Kozak/Torontoist.