Film review: Avatar

posted at 12:48 am on December 20, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

The buzz on the film Avatar was that it would “change the way films are made,” and that it would be as transformative an experience as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Perhaps that advance promotion was unfortunate, because James Cameron has made an entertaining popcorn movie that moves quickly and creates a beautiful vision of a forest world with its stunning CGI.  Unfortunately, it also uses stock characters and a plot that telegraphs every single punch, making it a fun amusement-park ride but not a terribly engaging story.

Let’s start with the best aspects of the film, and the best of its best is the CGI for the scenes on Pandora with the Na’vi, an indigenous race on a planet whose natural resources are coveted by “the Corporation,” an East India Trading Company for the 22nd century or so.  That plot line revolves around an element laughably called “Unobtanium,” but more on that in a moment.  The film was made using similar techniques employed by Lord of the Rings in animating Gollum, and by Beowulf in animating all of the characters.  Beowulf did a poor job of it, badly translating facial expressions and movements by the actors into its animation, making everyone in the film look wooden (except for Angelina Jolie, perhaps).  Avatar accomplishes what LOTR did and Beowulf could not.  The characters come alive, at least physically.

The scenery is lush and seemingly magical.  It is truly a character in its own right, and for a purpose.  The flying scenes with the Na’vi are spectacular … but in the manner of the world’s best video game.  Only in a scene at the climax does it seem realistic at all.  That doesn’t make it less enjoyable, but it’s hard to shake the World of Warcraft feel.  It’s about the same feel as The Mummy, which was also a good popcorn flick, but with far fewer pretensions at being something else.

All of that gets wasted to some degree on a plot that combines Dances with Wolves and Dune, with a dash of Return of the Jedi for a Luddite noble-savages-defeat-technology flavor.  Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) gets to be Paul Atreides in this scenario, the outsider who becomes a messianic figure for the natives after mind-linking to an engineered body of a Na’vi.  The Corporation sends him to learn about the Na’vi so that they can convince the natives to let them rape their land.  Does he succeed, or does he lead a heroic revolt against his own greedy people who have “killed their own mother [Earth]“?  If you can’t answer that from the trailer, then this may be the first movie you’ve ever seen.

Conservatives have more or less primed themselves to hate this film because of the presumed anti-war politics of the movie.  It’s there — in fact, it’s unmistakable — but it’s not as bad as one might presume.  It mostly comes later in the movie, when the commander of a military base attempts to rally the humans in response to what he calls “terrorism,” talks of making a “pre-emptive strike,” and promises a “shock and awe” effort.  All of that happens within about a five-minute burst.  As for the anti-business Corporation plot line, that’s a retread of Aliens, which Cameron wrote and in which Sigourney Weaver also starred.

The real flaw in this film is its predictability.  Except for loud noises and some creative imagining of animal and plant life, nothing is terribly surprising in this movie.  It tells no new tales or offers any lessons that haven’t already come out of Screenwriting 101.  The cast does a very good job with this limited material, which makes it entertaining but hardly a deep intellectual exercise.  The pace was good but the film was too long at 2 1/2 hours.  I enjoyed it, but at best would give it a 7 on a scale of 10.

Addendum: Just to make sure I had a realistic take on the film, I went with the Mathemagician to see it, whose perspective on politics differs from mine.  We both largely concurred that it was entertaining, but very predictable.

Update: Gabriel Malor agrees almost entirely, and mentions one point I’d forgotten.  People have presumed that the film is anti-military, but it’s actually more anti-mercenary.  The soldiers in the film are employees of the Corporation, not a military unit.  That gets explained in the beginning, but not terribly well.  For mercenaries, they certainly have some very expensive machinery.


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JellyToast on December 20, 2009 at 2:21 PM

*tips hat*.

I still occasionally play a game where I watch a movie and then try to politicise it afterwards. How would a Republican/conservative like this movie? How would a Democrat/liberal like it? And, of course, the opposite side of the coin.

Generally I find, especially on the political scene, that if someone likes something they often feel obliged to then justify that opinion with a political viewpoint.

If you like something, yay you. If you don’t, then… yay you.

As for Avatar, I can’t see myself seeing it anyway *shrugs* Maybe if it pops up on Austar or something..

Reaps on December 21, 2009 at 4:24 AM

I can’t begin to fathom why anybody would take the incredibly pretty Zoe Saldana and turn her into some really ugly blue thing. They could have just gotten any ugly hag to play the part.

EPIC FAIL !!

BobUSMC on December 21, 2009 at 6:24 AM

I can’t begin to fathom why anybody would take the incredibly pretty Zoe Saldana and turn her into some really ugly blue thing. They could have just gotten any ugly hag to play the part.

EPIC FAIL !!

BobUSMC on December 21, 2009 at 6:24 AM

I thought her looks came though pretty well.

It was Weaver that they really did a favor for by making her younger, fit and with a figure that none of the other natives had. They were very slim but Weaver was almost showgirl by comparison.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 7:41 AM

For mercenaries, they certainly have some very expensive machinery.

It was a very large scale mining operation with the possibility of a massive return on investment. They were on a hostile planet were they needed a well equipped security force just to protect them from the wildlife. The bigger issue was that it was a six year trip so I expect they would have had to take as much as they could, and be as best equipped as possible. When it takes 12 years to get help you are pretty much on your own.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 7:46 AM

The real trailer for Avatar:

jjrakman on December 21, 2009 at 10:10 AM

The real trailer for Avatar:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/5zfv7z

jjrakman on December 21, 2009 at 10:12 AM

I saw the movie last evening and it was visually stunning, the 3-D was only so-so and the story was badly written (really badly written.) It is nothing more than the “corporations are bad-bad” leftist propaganda movie.

Kids will like it because it’s visually beautiful and the propaganda crappola may go over their heads.

sinsing on December 21, 2009 at 10:31 AM

The good points: The Artwork was outstanding.

The bad points: A tiresome three hour liberal lecture.

The characters and plotline were cliché and sophomoric.

You have the big bad evil military guy that goes off, you have the sleazy corporate guy, every female character is “hard as nails,” and you have the military/corporate/industrial complex killing trees.

The message of the movie?

American Capitalism/colonialism/imperialism = bad

Indigenous tree lovers and their loin cloths = good

How is this not the same movie that Hollywood has been pumping out over and over again for decades? Hollywood really needs get out of the broken record cycle and break new ground, because pretty soon, I’m not going to bother with going to the movies anymore. There hasn’t been anything new from Hollywood in decades, and Avatar is the ultimate expression of that staleness.

jjrakman on December 21, 2009 at 10:39 AM

jjrakman on December 21, 2009 at 10:39 AM

I still don’t think I saw the same movie as everyone else.

you have the big bad evil military guy that goes off

Yup that was pretty much the basis of the whole story. A crazy ex-military head of security with nobody that could stop him. Any help or protection from him was 12 or more years away.

you have the sleazy corporate guy,

How so? He was a corporate guy with the mission to mine a very valuable mineral. He was as much a victim of the rouge security guy as everyone else. He even helped against the wishes of the security guy to give Jake another chance to persuade the natives to move. He also stated that they had tried many different attempts at helping the natives including schools, medicine and other things but the natives ended up not wanting it.

Indigenous tree lovers

Apparently you missed that clearly stated explanation that the entire forest was some sort of giant data network that the natives could plug into and exchange data with.

and their loin cloths

I always expect primitives to be wearing 3 piece suits. I especially like the documentaries on NG that show the Amazon forest people in their tuxes for dinner.

American Capitalism/colonialism/imperialism = bad

I noticed Capitalism but missed the colonialism and imperialism in the movie. I also missed the American aspect. Who said they were American and who said that America even existed in that future. All I saw was a well equipped security force made up of mostly ex-military.

But hey if it makes everyone happy to think of this as an anti-American, anti-capitalistic, pro-environmental liberal hate feast then go for it.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 11:17 AM

The real trailer for Avatar:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/5zfv7z

jjrakman on December 21, 2009 at 10:12 AM

An extreme example of people who need to get a life!

donh525 on December 21, 2009 at 11:22 AM

I liked the movie a lot. After having seen “this” movie so many times, I just tune the political stuff out. Sci-fi movies are all about the writers’ imagination of the setting, the technology, and so on — and Avatar is definitely very creative. Yeah, it’s Dances with Wolves, but wasn’t Star Wars just another interpretation of Lord of the Rings?

joe_doufu on December 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM

Just as long as they have a Jar Jar Blinks equivalent. Me loves Jar Jar.

Mr. Joe on December 21, 2009 at 12:26 PM

Yeah, it’s Dances with Wolves
joe_doufu on December 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM

I still don’t see it and I’m not convinced that Jake joined the side of the natives out of choice. Right up until the time he plugged into one of the animals he was pro-mission. His attitude changed a lot from that point on and when he plugged into the girl she said that they were now bonded for life. Plugging into the dead tree also made him aware of and subject to the network.

I thought of it more as a natural Borg collective then a one with nature, tree hugger type of thing.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 12:28 PM

So I went this weekend and Ed hits the right notes with his review.

The politics of the film are hilariously obvious, but truth be told I’m betting most liberals will find it embarrassing to be pandered to this way.

At the very least the stretched smurfs have an excuse for being tree hugging savages – they’ve got some kind of neural link to the whole freakin’ planet. When bulldozing a grove means you lose all contact with your dead auntie you might become a bit more of a conservationist.

This does not explain why they don’t “need anything we have” or why they have no concept of agriculture or why it seems like dang near every rideable animal has a convenient brain jack.

Speaking of the brain jack thing (which they carry inside those long braids – that ain’t just hair) I was waiting for Jake and the main chief daughter chick to connect braids during the “love scene” a la demolition man, which would have been simultaneously awkward and very funny. A pity. On the other hand, I supposed we’d have to talk about just where that thing’s been so…

Anyway. All that aside, I loved the wildlife and environments. Also power armor. Did I mention the power armor? Gunships were also pretty nice, though one wonders why the weaponry wasn’t a touch more futuristic.

TheUnrepentantGeek on December 21, 2009 at 12:28 PM

I thought of it more as a natural Borg collective then a one with nature, tree hugger type of thing.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 12:28 PM

Given all the highly symmetrical structures near there most holy site, I wonder if perhaps it wasn’t “natural” at all, but rather the invention of a very old technology culture that had invented the brain thing and then de-civilized. Super advanced bio-egineering, essentially.

It would explain a lot about the film.

TheUnrepentantGeek on December 21, 2009 at 12:31 PM

This does not explain why they don’t “need anything we have” or why they have no concept of agriculture or why it seems like dang near every rideable animal has a convenient brain jack.

They didn’t need anything because they didn’t want what was being offered. Jake said as much during one of is log reports. They lived plugged into the world as did all the other plants and animals. This allowed them to control animals and perhaps plants. One thing I think was clear is that though the network they had access or control over the natural word in a way that the humans didn’t understand.

Jake and the girl did plug into each other but it just wasn’t graphic. After, she said they were bonded for life and her chosen for her mate in the village was pretty pissed that she had done it. As I remember he tried to kill Jake.

I think that the epic battle at the end where the “god” answered their prayers was nothing more then Jake plugging in and commanding the animals in a way unknown or not thought of by the natives. Perhaps not being superstitious allowed him access and control of the network that others didn’t.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 12:43 PM

Given all the highly symmetrical structures near there most holy site, I wonder if perhaps it wasn’t “natural” at all, but rather the invention of a very old technology culture that had invented the brain thing and then de-civilized. Super advanced bio-egineering, essentially.

It would explain a lot about the film.

TheUnrepentantGeek on December 21, 2009 at 12:31 PM

An interesting point and perhaps the ultimate in technological networking. They also had that interesting nano-tube covered skeletons which sounds suspiciously very technological. Maybe they were the decedents of a high technology culture perhaps from another world. I don’t know how many noticed but they were on a small moon of a gas giant. Perhaps the decedents of a lost research colony?

What will happen to the remaining humans? Quite a few stayed and some still had operational avatars. It was a 6 year trip so the soonest they could get any help would be in 12 years. I would also expect that because Jake had been sent out and expected to ship out very soon that there were continuous round trips to the mining camp and I wonder what will be in store for the people arriving over the next 6 years.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 12:52 PM

Opinion, sight unseen:

Stupid. Humanoid aliens AGAIN? Sheesh. Oh, and the “Noble Savage” meme is getting kinda shop-worn, guys. Ditto the flying critters that just love to be domesticated and never bite off their rider’s head or anything.

Half a billion? Really? Did they get kissed afterwards?

mojo on December 21, 2009 at 1:57 PM

Opinion, sight unseen:

Stupid. Humanoid aliens AGAIN? Sheesh. Oh, and the “Noble Savage” meme is getting kinda shop-worn, guys. Ditto the flying critters that just love to be domesticated and never bite off their rider’s head or anything.

Half a billion? Really? Did they get kissed afterwards?

mojo on December 21, 2009 at 1:57 PM

They are far from noble and the flying critters were not domesticated and would bite off your head.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 2:37 PM

I have Indian heritage and this is one of the things that I really hate. My ancestors were awesome and fierce warriors and have been turned into nature worshiping pansies by guilty white liberals.

RagTag on December 20, 2009 at 4:55 PM

[stands up, cheers, and applauds RagTag wildly!]

Mary in LA on December 21, 2009 at 2:50 PM

I’ll stick with Zardoz, at least that movie has Sean Connery in a diaper.
WarEagle01 on December 20, 2009 at 4:59 AM

Talk about intellectual failure of the Left! “Yeah, we built a godless Utopia for the Best and Brightest, and we achieved all that humanity can do…all we got left is the performing arts…please give us Death back”

Frank Herbert was a scholar of Arab culture and history. Paul-Muad’dib Atreides is probably modelled on Abd ar-Rahman
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abd-ar-Rahman_I

Chris_Balsz on December 21, 2009 at 3:25 PM

For mercenaries, they certainly have some very expensive machinery.

That’s because they work for one of those Eeil money-grubbing drug companies! In the future, they’ve no doubt taken all their evil obscene corporate profits from doing insidious things like curing cancer and diabetes and have invested it, for some reason, in 70′s-retro-looking tree-hating weaponry! (Because, you know, despite the way they suck up to Obama like gastropods today they’re all really unfeeling Republicans or O’Reilly viewers or something.)

I don’t care if this thing has effects that’d make my eyeballs ejaculate out of my skull. I’m done laundering my money through Hollywood and into Democrat war chests.

Blacklake on December 21, 2009 at 3:27 PM

My thoughts on your review:

1) In Aliens, weren’t the Marines the good guys?

2) From the way it’s been portrayed and described, it seems to me to be more anti-military-industrial-complex and less anti-mercenary.

Ryan Anthony on December 21, 2009 at 5:19 PM

My thoughts on your review:

1) In Aliens, weren’t the Marines the good guys?

2) From the way it’s been portrayed and described, it seems to me to be more anti-military-industrial-complex and less anti-mercenary.

Ryan Anthony on December 21, 2009 at 5:19 PM

1. Yes
2. They were a corporate security force lead by an ex-military guy. Yes they were predominantly ex-military. No there was no indication that they were in fact military. In my opinion calling them military is like calling a security guard with a gun a cop. Yes they hand a lot of hardware but it isn’t clear that it is state of the art for their time.

I’m really at a loss as to why people are saying they were military as they were clearly a company security force sent to protect the miners and assets.

The only thing I can conclude from the comments here is that I apparently saw a different film or at the very least was paying attention rather then looking for anti this or that.

I went to be entertained and not with the goal of seeing it as an allegory for left or right.

I saw a mining company that was at first playing nice and then decided that they had had enough with catering to the primitives.

I saw a security force that was over zealous with driving the natives out of the way. For cripes sake they didn’t even have bombs but rather were throwing skids of mining explosives out the back of a freaking cargo plane. How is that well equipped or high tech?

I saw a bunch of primitive natives that had all the earmarks of primitive cultures except for one very important thing. Their connection to the land, animals and nature was not spiritual but in fact physical.

I saw a guy that was sent to infiltrate the tribe in order to feed information back to the humans. Yes he turned to their side but only after going though a process of physically connecting to their world which may have brainwashed him. We just don’t know because it is unclear even to the very end.

I saw the bulk of the humans driven back to where ever they came from but some stayed and more would be arriving very soon. So it was a battle won by the natives but that was all and they may very well not be able to do it again if the human turned native died as it is unknown if he lived.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 6:10 PM

Honestly, I did not understand the buzz. I saw the preview in theaters and thought it would most likely be a stupid movie. I watched the commericials and thought it was defenitely a stupid movie.

Obviously, the technical aspect of creating great CGI is impressive. But I’m guessing the film is close to 100% percent CGI… who the hell wants to watch that?

Opinionnation on December 21, 2009 at 8:03 PM

I did like how South Park destroyed it, though

Opinionnation on December 21, 2009 at 8:04 PM

I just got dragged to that two-hour-and-forty-one-minute-long crapfest. Man, it was a LOT more ham-fisted than I’d been led to believe.

First of all the good stuff: the red lizard bird was cute. And the CGI technology somehow managed to make Sigourny Weaver look almost human — a technical tour de force worthy of praise regardless of its context.

Which, sadly, brings us to the other two-and-a-half hours of the movie.

The moral of the story: Marines and Corporations are Evil; Trees, People Who Worship Trees, and Scientists who study trees are all Good. (Sorry for the long winded treatise there; I just wanted to make sure I didn’t leave out even the slightest nuance.)

Here is the plot of the movie (in its entirety): A war was fought between one side who want a rock called (and I am NOT making this up) “unobtanium,” and another side that want to (literally) hug a tree that is a computer – or something. The Good Guys (See “moral of the story,” above) won the war.

Now, I know some people hate science fiction more than life itself. So maybe this kick-to-the-groin to all those “nerds” who make more money than you seems fully justified.

But, come on. Even if you’re congenitally incapable of having your INTELLIGENCE insulted by a story like this, why in the Hell can’t your EMOTIONS be insulted?

I mean, come on. The ONLY thing you’re told is that this rock is hideously ugly and equally expensive. So, what? It’s like a really really lame piece of costume jewelry? And the “evil,” smirking and snarling (respectively) corporations and marines are trying to commit genocide over that?

It’s obvious from the music that you’re supposed to be rooting for a specific side in this War Of The Morons, but don’t even the dumbest people in the world need more of a reason than this?

Seriously; that’s not rhetorical. I really do want to know. I don’t hang around with moonbats in the real world. But I know full well there’re at least one or two around here. So somebody throw me a bone; what’s the scoop on this?

logis on December 21, 2009 at 8:20 PM

Obviously, the technical aspect of creating great CGI is impressive. But I’m guessing the film is close to 100% percent CGI… who the hell wants to watch that?

Opinionnation on December 21, 2009 at 8:03 PM

Maybe a CGI artist like me?

Yes it is mostly CGI and very well done CGI at that. The hardware is better then the characters and I wouldn’t be surprised if models were used for the basis of many of the CGI shots. Sometimes an FX company will use physical models as a basis for the CGI models. One movie that comes to mind is the remake of “Lost in Space” were a physical model of the Jupiter 2 was scanned into a computer to create the CGI shots used in the film. Another one was “Serenity” where both physical and CGI models of Serenity were used. I remember the movie “Robots” which was a CGI cartoon. At the time I told my wife that it was loaded with stuff that only somebody that did CGI would notice. I was pretty impressed with things I had to point out because she just didn’t notice.

I admit I wasn’t going to go and see Avatar because of all the negative press it was getting here and elsewhere but I just couldn’t resist the CGI and had to go see it. What I found was a movie that doesn’t really resemble what is being talked about but then maybe I look at it a little differently then most people.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 8:25 PM

Seriously; that’s not rhetorical. I really do want to know. I don’t hang around with moonbats in the real world. But I know full well there’re at least one or two around here. So somebody throw me a bone; what’s the scoop on this?

logis on December 21, 2009 at 8:20 PM

The scoop is that you didn’t watch the movie.
What marines? There were no marines in the movie I saw. Are you talking about the company security force that was made up of ex-military people?

“unobtanium,”

is a joke. I thought it was kind of geek like and clever.

I agree that there was little told about the mineral other then it went for 20mil a kilo. Is that a lot? We have no frame of reference to know but I really don’t think it was important to the story other then they thought it valuable enough to mine it.

another side that want to (literally) hug a tree that is a computer – or something.

Did they? Or were they protecting their home from invaders?
I think the fact that they could physically interface with the world around them took it out of the spiritual realm of tree huggers.

Marines and Corporations are Evil;

There are those fictional marines again. I guess you missed the part about the company trying to work with the natives and the simple fact that if they just wanted to roll over them them why would they have spent all the time and money on the Avatar program? You also missed the part were the crazy native hating head of security pretty much took over and the part were the head of the mining operation tried to help Jake out.

And the CGI technology somehow managed to make Sigourny Weaver look almost human — a technical tour de force worthy of praise regardless of its context.

I have nothing to say about this because you nailed it.

The Good Guys (See “moral of the story,” above) won the war.

Won a battle. You must have missed the part were they talk about more people arriving for the mining operation and you may have missed the context where ships were apparently arriving and departing all the time. Yeah the home base was six years away but that didn’t meant that the only shipped out every six years. Jake was scheduled to leave the night of the major battle.

I think I’ll have to bow out of this whole thread because I saw some different movie and I unlike everyone else don’t look for or expect a movie to be a political allegory for the left just because it comes out of Hollywood.

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 8:48 PM

The scoop is that you didn’t watch the movie.
RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 8:48 PM

THIS is your major revelation? That you’re a self-righteous, arrogant dipwad, who thinks he’s the only person on planet earth who is entitled to have an opion?

Newsflash: that’s just the definition of the word “moonbat,” it doesn’t explain a damned thing.

Or, wait. On second thought, I guess that pretty much explains every liberal opinion about everything.

BTW, What is this, like your fiftieth post about this technicolor train wreck? So you’re sitting there, slobbering like a maniac, frantically banging away at the keyboard and thinking, “Gosh, the world really needs to know a whole lot MORE about my opinion of this movie!”

OK, fine. Whatever. I’ll go ahead and wade through this astoundingly redundant diatribe and see if I can actually learn something new from the only guy on planet earth who knows how to watch a movie the RIGHT way…

There are those fictional marines again.

Thanks, Einstein.

Whatever you do, don’t ever let the fact that everyone thinks you’re a moron deter you from sharing your earth-shatteringly obvious observations – repeatedly – with the rest of the world.

(Just kidding — of course I can see that you’re way ahead of me there.)

But please, please — oh for the love of all that’s holy –please keep us posted if you have additional insights.

Lord knows (‘Cause I’m sure you’ve told Him a thousand times by now) that you’re the ONLY person who’s really seen this movie.

logis on December 21, 2009 at 10:43 PM

Ultimate mashup: Ishtar + Avatar =
Ishatar: Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty are two paraplegic lounge singers down on their luck and dumped by their girls. When they are hired by Sigourney Weaver to play at the Pandora Club they think their spaceship has finally arrived. They’re not even through Na’vi customs before being swept up in a Big Corporation plot to overthrow the Emir of Ishatar. Only Zoe Saldana can save them from the evil Colonel, played by Stephen Lang. Charles Grodin and Carol Kane also star.

nwnelson on December 21, 2009 at 10:56 PM

There hasn’t been anything new from Hollywood in decades, and Avatar is the ultimate expression of that staleness.

jjrakman on December 21, 2009 at 10:39 AM

Try some of the foreign movies, like “Mostly Martha” and “Adams Apples”.

Johan Klaus on December 21, 2009 at 11:18 PM

RagTag on December 21, 2009 at 8:25 PM

Do you know the difference between then and than?

Johan Klaus on December 21, 2009 at 11:26 PM

But please, please — oh for the love of all that’s holy –please keep us posted if you have additional insights.

Lord knows (’Cause I’m sure you’ve told Him a thousand times by now) that you’re the ONLY person who’s really seen this movie.

logis on December 21, 2009 at 10:43 PM

Only that you are a major asshole.

RagTag on December 22, 2009 at 12:06 AM

I concur with a couple of excellent posts I read earlier:

Living4Him5534 on December 20, 2009 at 2:31 AM

and especially

Noocyte on December 20, 2009 at 3:52 AM

In a nutshell, everyone should just put aside their politics and see this movie because it is truly breath-taking. A while back I tried to encourage my friend to take his son to see ‘Polar Express’ in 3D and he said he’ll just buy the DVD…he didn’t get the point that he was missing out on the 3rd dimension, which was the key draw of PE (the story was ok but nothing spectacular).

That’s what I’d like to impress upon the doubters here-obviously it has a formulaic, anti-capitalistic plot full of cliches and leftist propaganda (yes it made me cringe as well-would’ve liked to see the war between Islam and the free world depicted accurately)…but forget all that and just watch it for the gorgeous visual feast that it is.

This is a truly groundbreaking film and I think it’s safe to say that 3D has finally arrived. Going from 2D to 3D is like going from black and white to color-you’ll never want to see another film in 2D again.

But not just that, for the first time in a movie (at least for me) the cg animated characters looked and felt real. The subtle emotional changes were deftly captured in their facial movements. I teared up and nearly cried a few times at some very touching and heart-wrenching moments in the movie. That’s pretty rare for me.

I’d add there’s a bit of ‘Fern Gully’ in this movie also. Anyways, I’d encourage everyone to keep an open mind-don’t dismiss Avatar just because it’s a leftist film. It’d be a shame not to see it in IMAX 3D…your home theater will never be able to replicate the experience. See what $500 million of fantasy creation buys you…Pandora almost seems like a real place, I wish it was.

thinkagain on December 22, 2009 at 12:30 AM

A while back I tried to encourage my friend to take his son to see ‘Polar Express’ in 3D and he said he’ll just buy the DVD…he didn’t get the point that he was missing out on the 3rd dimension, which was the key draw of PE (the story was ok but nothing spectacular).
thinkagain on December 22, 2009 at 12:30 AM

Apparently, the new 3D gives fewer people headaches now that it did in the fifties, but artistically there’s nothing new to see. Some of the stuff just sort of jumps out a little way from the screen.

At one point, I saw a dust mote that I actually thought was inside the theater, but it turned out it wasn’t. So freakin’ what? Aside from that, it was just a novelty.

If they can make holodecks where you can walk around inside the movie, that will be worth going to see, even if the story is moronic. But there’s nothing to see here.

And, speaking of Polar Express, how the heck is the “cartoon that’s almost real” supposed to be cool? There were a few scenes in Avatar that actually looked realistic — but it turned out they were just scenes of actors walking around.

I suppose I could expand credibility into a Universe-encompassing circle and assume that THOSE were the spots they sunk the most money into. Or, I could just observe the patently obvious: those were the scenes where they spent LESS on the digititalization effects. Some of the people in the audience actually “Oohd and Ahhd” at that!

Newsflash: that’s not entertainment; that’s sensory deprivation. That’s why the movie is so damned long. They weren’t going for a conventional emotional effect; they were trying to induce Stockholm Syndrome.

Oh, hey, you know what would be even more realistic than that? A little thing called FILM, maybe you’ve heard of it? Well apparently that’s not part of some director’s little bag of tricks. James Cameron likes to brag that he’s “forgotten more about film-making than some directors will ever know.” Unfortunately though, after decades of heavy drug abuse, it turns out that’s not necessarily a good thing.

The Incredibles was a good cartoon, for two reasons: because it was good, and because it was a cartoon. Avatar fails on both counts.

Superman Returns had a plot at least as stupid as this one. I could have pulled a better screenplay out of my ass. But I got my money’s worth anyway, because I saw 300 million dollars worth of special effects for eight freaking dollars.

And they spent 500 million on this “almost realistic” cartoon. If I had to pick a single aspect of the special effects to criticize, I suppose it would be… Uh, maybe, I don’t know: the fact that THERE WEREN’T ANY!

logis on December 22, 2009 at 9:47 AM

I think I’ll have to bow out of this whole thread because I saw some different movie and I unlike everyone else don’t look for or expect a movie to be a political allegory for the left just because it comes out of Hollywood.

Then you haven’t seen James Cameron on the interview circuit talking about how the movie is a political allegory.

I mean, a dozen military helicopters gun down a giant tree, and the indigenous population weeps over it. How much more of a silly and blatant metaphor do you want?

jjrakman on December 22, 2009 at 10:50 AM

Ragtag - If you’re still following the thread, I’d like to talk with you off-thread about your comments/opinions on Avatar (it seems that we saw pretty much the same movie, at least). I’ve commented at Double Plus Undead [DPUD] here – mine is comment 9 (and off-topic), and that comment includes a link to a comment I made in Gabe’s thread at Ace.

Ostensibly, I’m trying to write an in-depth review from the sci-fi geek perspective, and I wanna crib some of your notes on the movie and mine your observations. Thanks.

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 10:56 AM

I liked the movie a lot. After having seen “this” movie so many times, I just tune the political stuff out.

joe_doufu on December 21, 2009 at 12:07 PM

But how many times can you hear this story before you start believing parts of it?

hawksruleva on December 22, 2009 at 11:20 AM

Home Tree was a sentient being in the movie …in essence the merc’s (they weren’t “the” military: as Ragtag has repeatedly stated in his comments, they were recruited mercenaries and washouts from earth’s militaries – mostly failures in other words, and at best adventurists – and were hired by an earth – NOT United States btw – mining consortium as a security detail) and they murdered an ancient self-aware, immensely intelligent Pandoran native (one whom likely provided a symbiotic environment to the Na’vi).

The aliens – who were the Terrans btw – were unable to communicate with that being: the Na’vi could communicate directly, and probably didn’t understand that the aliens – again, us - couldn’t.

The scientists were just barely beginning to be aware that such a thing might even be possible, and the corporate manager rejected it as flaming lunacy when it was presented to him (in the scene which was the one almost everyone seems to be ignoring, which IS the basis for the movie’s astonishing depth).

Pandora itself was sentient. And everything else in the movie is secondary to that.

The Pandorans were the superior beings and culture in the movie: good lord, we’re talking a planetary neural network that in effect is immortal, even for the independent beings like the Na’vi. What the hell would they possibly need with what a dying earth has to offer? – But what are the possibilities that such a world, such a being, could offer us?

Focus, people!

I think its obvious that most of you non sci-fi people are missing the point entirely.

It ain’t always about the fricking politics!

As for Cameron’s interview: who gives a frack what he thinks he meant. Artists aren’t necessarily the best self-reviewers of their work anyways.

…and he’s created a world that’s bigger, much bigger, and richer than his vision for it. Because he is a skilled and technically talented movie-maker, he’s created a wonderous playground in his creation of Pandora that has implications for hard sci-fi film-making that is a milestone of the imagination.

To name just one possibility: what about a remake of Dune? – Or, holy-of-holies, what does this mean for a Ringworld project?

Gawd, the mind boggles.

Kudos to Cameron. Avatar/Pandora is a wonder.

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 11:30 AM

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 11:30 AM

While I think you make some points, the dialogue of the film has some pretty obvious signals in it. Shock and Awe? Preemptive strike? The list of groaners goes on and on.

The depth you’re seeing is more about who you are than the actual content of the film. We’ve pointed out lots of possibilities here, but those possibilities are made manifest in the film – it’s our own imaginations filling in the gaps of what is, essentially, an entertaining popcorn flick. It’s entirely possible that there was an art director or two in there somewhere with some real imagination but his voice was not the dominant or intended voice.

Although, I’ll bet you a novelization of the film will have more depth.

TheUnrepentantGeek on December 22, 2009 at 1:06 PM

^I totally agree with you on every point actually, T’Un-Geek; I hadn’t really given the “art director with imagination” much thought, but yeah, that would make sense. I kind of like it even. Kudos.

Although, I’ll bet you a novelization of the film will have more depth.

Yes. Oh yes. That’s what I’m seeing, too.

Heh. I’ve been “writing” chapters (well, in my head) since I saw this Sunday morning.

Jeezus, but Pandora’s a fertile “environment” …a potential Pandoran ring-cycle if you will …and the sci-fi input from that hypothetical art director was more than “just enough” to tip this whole thing not merely into a plausible sci-fi, but into a Dune-type saga of depth and detail.

The love story is just an intro.

Keep this in mind: the Pandoran neural “network”/planetary-being now has “stored” in its “memory bank” (I haven’t got a better term for that, yet) one of earth’s leading scientists, and a potential military “genius” of sorts.

…ah, the possibilities.

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 1:27 PM

Avatar in one word: Smurfahontas. Okay, this has spoilers.

My eight year old (a huge fan of Transformers, etc., etc.) said he was “bored” seeing in in IMAX 3d. I was mildly entertained by the “blue” U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball team of female scantilly clad aliens but beyond that felt like I was watching a well made video game. So let me say with a movie with this many special effects, mostly well done, something is missing. I would suggest it is orginal writing and suspense.

Can someone explain the physics of mountains floating in the sky? Oh wait, I digress…

I have no problem with the Dances With Wolves story line when it is well done (and Dances With Wolves was not that well done a film). Jerimah Johnson, Last of the Mohicans, A Man Called Horse, even Outlaw Josie Wales pulled that off, however, to some degree, and those are good films. Guys like Cammeron love The Searchers, as do I, but the reason we do is because that film explores themes of racism and hate fairly from both sides and does not pull any punches. I also do not mind the whole let’s save the planet eco friendly gaia message, provided I am not repeated beaten with it like I am a baby harp seal on the ice. Cammeron has about about as much subtlety with that theme as one of his CGF alien rhino beasts crashing through the underbrush of Pandora.

I am sure it will make money. I dig the attention to detail on the little CGF bugs, ecosystem, etc., but it could have been a lot better if Cammeron just spent some more time writing a better script. The actors, who have some talent, have to dial it in given the lines they are given.

I did catch that comment by Col Quatraine about “betraying your race.” That is obviously a gift to Lefty hacks out there. Of course the protagonist is a white male, who bonds and mates with the blue chick (without any permission from her parents), and then takes over the tribe (because the blue men do not have the…whatever…to get the job done either with their own ladies, the “sky people”, or even riding the giant flying gecko). Perhaps Cammeron is the one who is a wee bit racist?

Well here is another observation: Notice that Cammeron’s world of corporate mercinary villians are all populated by former U.S. Military? There are references to actions in Venezuela and Nigeria. There is not a Russian, Chi-Com, African, Asian, or for that matter European to be seen (I did not see that many African Americans mercs either, what’s with that Jimmy C.?–(NOT cool dude, not cool at all. Okay, you are mostly intending to be “good”, so all is forgiven. xoxo The Left).

So I can take it back on Earth in 2154, the Americans and the USMC won? Uoooogh-Rah!

Please, please do not let Cammercon or some other lefty leaning ar-teast mess up The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. That would be heartbreaking.

Mr. Joe on December 22, 2009 at 1:56 PM

Keep this in mind: the Pandoran neural “network”/planetary-being now has “stored” in its “memory bank” (I haven’t got a better term for that, yet) one of earth’s leading scientists, and a potential military “genius” of sorts.

…ah, the possibilities.

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 1:27 PM

I wonder if Cameron really doesn’t possess the faculties to understand the concepts he’s toying with. It’s like watching a 2 year old playing with the Hope Diamond because it’s “shiny.”

Pandora, it turns out, was a surprisingly apt name for the world. There’s truly ridiculous potential and all sorts of fascinating creative territory to explore.

And about the whole rogue art director thing – I think I see that happening in a number of flawed but enjoyable films. The guy with the most control isn’t necessarily the most talented creator, so you a vision that’s muddled.

Somebody somewhere had an absolutely fantastic sci-fi vision … and then came Mr. Director to chew it into something he felt “the masses” would find palatable. Oh, and while we’re talking to the masses, let’s just make some cheap political points so we can feel righteous.

But yeah, there’s a kernel of awesome there that many (and initially, myself included) missed. It’s easy to do when you’re being bludgeoned by the rhetorical bat wielded in the dialogue, but it’s still there.

TheUnrepentantGeek on December 22, 2009 at 2:06 PM

^…when you’re being bludgeoned by the rhetorical bat wielded in the dialogue, but it’s still there

Yep.

Heh. And so it begins …Pandora in potentia.

…through the creation of Avatar.

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 2:35 PM

davisbr on December 22, 2009 at 11:30 AM

Very well said, glad someone took the time to elucidate what makes Pandora such a treasure. One is left with the sense that we’ve only seen a glimpse of what this amazing world offers. I think in this case, conservatives ought to given Cameron a hail-Mary pass on his infantile-lefty politics.

It is an unfortunate irony that we can only become re-enchanted with our own planet by being enraptured by a make-belief one, best encapsulated I think by Joni Mitchell’s ‘pave a paradise, put up a parking lot’ line. Of course I don’t mean to suggest we go back to a pre-industrial age (I love modernity), but I think we need to find a way to live in much greater harmony with nature.

The destruction of the Navi’s sacred grounds was obscene and tragic and that was Cameron’s main point here. That, as you said (davisbr), as they began to understand the delicate, beautiful and complex world they were visiting, it was brutally raped and destroyed for greed.

I might remind the conservatives here that its not as if this type of thing hasn’t happened in the past-in fact it occurred on a massive scale on the major continents (think Colonialism), so Cameron isn’t exactly a loony leftist for making this point, it still has relevance. Its a warning for us to take better care of our planet or risk losing it through ruination and over-exploitation.

thinkagain on December 22, 2009 at 4:29 PM

T’Un-Geek/Davisbr;

You two are my kind of Speculative Fiction wonks; I’ve very much been enjoying your thoughts on this film, and the magnificent stage it sets for its comparatively quite ordinary story. Well-met.

Even if another film is never made, I would love to see a series of novels (maybe licensed, ‘canonical’ tales like the Man-Kzin Wars, or SW-verse). The ideas you guys have tossed out are really exciting, and barely the tip of the iceberg (dendrite of the ganglion? Nevermind). Kinda like Greg Bear’s Noosphere in Blood Music: all-too briefly introduced, and never again explored. Hope that doesn’t happen here.

Noocyte on December 22, 2009 at 4:38 PM

I LOVED THE MOVIE. Politics were obvious in it but I guess on this one I didn’t care. Loved the story even though predictable. I just wanted to stick up for going to see it.

Norbitz on December 22, 2009 at 10:47 PM

I see that a few people are still reading the thread, at least, so I’ll make what is likely one last update to my comments to a pretty much dead thread.

I’ve been doing a LOT of googling on the subject of Pandora and Avatar (prior to committing to the time necessary to actually writing anything substantial: research can’t hurt, eh).

For you wondering about the science, you might want to check out this thread at Ain’t It Cool.

And in particular, there is a specific comment upon the levitating mountians and the waterfalls (which someone criticized).

(The science in Avatar was reviewed by someone claiming to be an astrophysicist btw …and sorry, but I haven’t dug any deeper into that claim. Who knows? It’s the internet, after all.)

I’ve also discovered a site called Pandorapedia.

And how about a “book” available at Harper Collins titled A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora? I had no idea.

If nothing else …it is apparent that Avatar has had far deeper sci-fi background prep than was readily apparent in the storyline itself.

…very pleasing to discover (tho’ I guess this will come as no surprise to Cameron fan …I’m not btw: I’ve never seen Titanic for one).

davisbr on December 23, 2009 at 3:05 AM

Home Tree was a sentient being in the movie …in essence the merc’s (they weren’t “the” military: as Ragtag has repeatedly stated in his comments, they were recruited mercenaries and washouts from earth’s militaries – mostly failures in other words, and at best adventurists – and were hired by an earth – NOT United States btw – mining consortium as a security detail) and they murdered an ancient self-aware, immensely intelligent Pandoran native (one whom likely provided a symbiotic environment to the Na’vi).

Do understand what allegory and metaphor are?

jjrakman on December 23, 2009 at 1:06 PM

jjrakman Do [you] understand what allegory and metaphor are?

Heh. Not only am I conversant with the various meanings for allegory and metaphor and their diverse usage, I also know what projection is, and its probable applicability to your question.

davisbr on December 23, 2009 at 11:29 PM

This reminds me of a short story that I read decades ago and shows that there is one more scene missing from the end of the movie. It is set on a space station as the real fleet picks up the defeated Earth forces. The dialogue consists of two people discussing what has happened. One says to the other

‘Now that they have kicked us off the planet, they won’t be able to go back to their lotus land. They should be able to develop an actual civilization and eventually meet us as equals in space.’

‘Do you think that they will realize who we are when they meet us?’

‘No, since they think that Earth is dying, their legends will say that all the enemy have died. When they meet us, they won’t connect us with the legendary “war against the demons” that gave them their start. They won’t realize that all the “dead” demons were really avatars and that every dealing with them was conditioned to trigger the war.’

‘At least we can now restore the minds of the people so that they can resume their lives.’

‘Yes, we may have to provide “evidence” that Earth has been destroyed at some point and keep an eye on their development, but I think that in a few centuries we may be able to “discover” the planet and make “first contact”. They do have the potential to join us as equals now that they have been kicked out of their complacency.’

‘We will honor the memory of Jake Sully for having volunteered to give up his memories and become the Na’vi “hero”. At least he will be able to live happily now and the Na’vi will be steered in the right direction, even if he does not know what he is doing.’

sabbahillel on December 29, 2009 at 10:17 AM

I brought my kids (12 & 10) to the film and they made me so proud. They were rooting for the humans! I know I’ve got two upcoming conservatives!

Wine_N_Dine on January 2, 2010 at 11:43 PM

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