Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dissecting Avatar

Okay, chances are you've seen the movie Avatar by now. If you haven't, chances are you will if yo like Sci Fi movies, or just see all the summer blockbusters.  There's a lot going on here, including some awesome special affects, so the movie is worth seeing.  My question is: could it have been better?

First off there are a lot of premises we must dismiss, if you , like me, like to analyze things too much.  As a writer and creator, I haven't had the opportunity to work on anything this large, with so many people involved.  We all know that when Studio heads and money people get involved, they all like to give their opinions on how 'their' movies should be made.  Having no creative or artistic sense does not stop them from calling the shots.  With that in mind, I will not blame James Cameron for any of the movies shortcomings.

Any SciFi Geek is going to have similar initial concerns with this film.  First off, we travel a few solar systems away (not too many because the journey only takes 6 years!) and what do we find? Humanoids that are next generation aliens from the original Star Trek series!  Yes, 2 eyes, a nose, the whole bilateral symmetry thing.  Just blue skin and a tail.... so Star Trek, huh?  Now here is where a problem comes in.  I only saw the film once, but it sure looked like every other creature on Pandora has 4 arms, two legs, and 4 eyes!!  Why are the Pandorans so different, and so much like us?  Well, Jean Luc Picard may suggest that once upon a time an alien race spread genetic seeds across the galaxy, or maybe some other outside force stepped in to change the evolution of the Pandorans.

Fine.  You don't need to worry about genetics and evolution to enjoy this film, but these things give me pause.  Next!  On this planet we find an impossible element that we absolutely must have because it is very expensive!  Okay, that's baby talk for what they should have pointed out instead, which is that this is a rock that obviously defies gravity!  Now, it probably can never exist, but lets move beyond that as well.  A rock like that would revolutionize the entire transport industry, including space travel.  So yeah, it's special. Unfortunately, the largest deposit of it just happens to be beneath the home of our friendly indiginous species.

Okay, so if you've watched a handful of movies in the last 50 years, you've already seen this plot half a dozen times.   Nice Aliens live on land rich in resources, so bad military types come and push them off said land using excessive force.  Now, the first 50 times we saw this plot we cheered the Writers for being so brave to show parallels with the conquest of the United States, and how, even after we pushed the natives onto reservations, we pushed them again when those reservations were found to have oil or anything else we wanted.  As important as it is to remember History to avoid repeating it, well.... we've seen it before.  And how do military types feel being portrayed as the bad guys in a film like this?

Okay, so let's move beyond the premise, plot, and background and go to the love story.  Again, I honestly think they babied things too much, or left to much for us to assume.  Like the floating rock, I think there should have been more emphasis on the fact that Jake has been in a wheel chair for a long time, and now, in his Avatar, can run, skip, and jump again. Yes, we do see this for 2 minutes in the film, but here we go again... young man meets young alien girl and falls in love.... not just with her but with her culture, people, and planet.  These things happen, but would he really give up cheeseburgers and video games to live in the woods and talk to trees?  Honestly?  I think there should have been more emphasis on the time he spent with the tribe, getting to know them.  There is a hint that he's met several other girls in the village, and it is said that he spent several months with these people, but we don't see this, and therefor don't understand just how much he's seen and heard and experienced.  Sure, it must be cool as heck to ride flying reptiles and stuff, but there has to be more to it than that.

At the end, we get the hint that some humans will remain on Pandora, and so maybe Jake will still have a place to go when culture shock sets in and he really needs some earthing up, which will happen eventually.  Heck, my third trip to India gave me moments of basket casing, where I needed 'normal' settings to just sit in and catch my breath... and I love India.  Culture shock happens.

All right, so let's cut this short.  As a Fairy Tale this works pretty well....a morality play thinly disguised as an alien world.  There's enough familiar here that the audience gets what's going on without being overwhelmed by the alienness of it all.  The special affects are incredibly awesome, and the night scenes of the forest alone are worth the price of admission.  Truly this is state of the art, and I wish I had seen it on the big screen, instead of dvd.  The dvd, by the way, has no extras.  Long story...

This is a movie worth seeing just for the fun of a blockbuster film.   As a writer, yes, I would have done things differently.  I would have aimed for a smarter film, but that's just me.  Overall it was well acted, and beautifully done.  Except for the bad guy.  Couldn't we have had some back story, so we could understand why he's such a jackass?  I mean, c'mon.  Really?  Why can't bad guys have more depth?

Cheers,    JOHN :0)


Brian Hughes said...

"My question is: could it have been better?"

My question is: Could it have been any worse?

I thought it was awful from start to finish. Cliched, predictable, way too long, and the computer graphics were, in my opinion, third rate. (I much prefered the cut-away scenes in the Final Fantasy games.)

I admit I didn't see it in 3D, which might have given it a bit of novelty value I suppose, but take away those multi-coloured specs and what's left is one of the most over-hyped, over-rated strips of celluloid slurry to have disgraced our screens in more than a generation.

Ahem...sorry...I think the whiskey's kicking in.

John said...

Thanks for the honest opinion, Brian... no need to apologise for that. :0)

I think I was disappointed myself with how much of the movie was old news. I think the graphics were pretty cool, and sorry that they were wasted on a film with a generic bad guy, and 50 year old plot.

I did enjoy it on some level, and will watch it again. It was all just too familiar, and not enough new.

See? I'm trying not to be too negative, but you dragged it out of me. :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)