Monday, December 28, 2009

Movie Review
    — Avatar

We saw Avatar yesterday at the huge-screen Cinerama theater in Seattle.  Unfortunately, not in 3D; I missed that MovieFone lists the 3D version as a separate film, so I wasn’t aware that I was only looking at 2D entries.  (And in fact, one of the theaters showing it in 3D is apparently also showing it in 2D!  Talk about confusing!)


As everyone else in the world has said, the effects are fantastic.  I noticed one of the “helicopter” shots early in the film where I could tell it was CGI rather than real, but the rest of the film was pretty darn flawless in that regard (and I really tend to notice these things).  Some of the Na’vi characters were a bit stiff in their movements, but that was (a) mostly the avatars and (b) an alien race, so it falls easily in the realm of “Willing Suspension of Disbelief”.

I’m not sure whether I missed the 3D.  Since I wear glasses as it is, any additional eyewear is a bit troublesome anyway, and tends to fail at the peripheral vision edges.  As I recall from seeing Coraline last year, some aspects of the 3D process were more bothersome for me than useful as a result.  In particular, I had a couple nauseau bits with the overhead and falling camera shots seeing it just in 2D, which I think might have been worse in 3D.  But I could also tell that some of the “depth of field” shots — the landing helicopters, the Hallelujah Mountains, the flying dragons — probably would have been that much more “wow” with 3D.  I’ll probably have to see it again, in 3D, just to be sure.

The story?  Eh, yeah, you’ve heard the complaints.  It’s not that the story is weak, just that it’s standard, by the book: human (or white man) is assigned to research/spy on aliens (or natives), human falls in love with their lifestyle and the chief’s daughter, human fights back against his own kind’s intent to destroy the natives.  The first step on that plot trail leads inexorably to the last step.  With two possible endings: pure heart of the natives beats back the humans/white men, or technological superiority destroys the natives.  (The first is what happens in fictional stories, the second is what happens in historical dramas.)  But in the middle of watching the movie, you really don’t notice that too much.

Now that the Hometree is destroyed, the Na’vi clan will have to move elsewhere (although still close to the Tree of Souls).  Despite shipping the humans back offworld (which really means just back into orbit), there is absolutely nothing that’s going to prevent them from coming back down to mine the unobtanium.  It might take a while to get the needed confirmation from Corporate on whether to nuke it from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure) in revenge or to just go in again, but the odds of the Company just writing this whole thing off as a loss is remote.  Best option will be for Jake to work to broker a mining deal, but even then, we know those agreements are made to be broken, and other lesser deposits will be found and exploited, and there’s basically no way for the Na’vi to win this and not end up on reservations or outright exterminated.  As noted, the humans have nothing the Na’vi want, so there’s nothing that will prompt diplomacy and nothing to stop the eradication of the People.  (And the Company may want to exact specific revenge on their employee, Jake, for destroying Company equipment and absconding with Company property, his Avatar body.)

Speaking of dragons… I thought this after the travesty of Eragon and I really think this now: someone needs to be producing Anne McCaffrey’s “Dragonriders of Pern” novels now!  The dragon effects are so ready for this.  It’s a two- or three-picture deal just waiting to be made, with the option of additional films out the back (the Harper Hall trilogy, Moreta’s Ride, Dragonsdawn,…).  I want to see Thread!  (Mind you, they absolutely have to use Michael Whelan’s dragon designs!  Those whirling eyes!)

Odd thoughts:
  • The wolf-niche creatures reminded me a lot of the alleged chupacabras which have been filmed or killed recently.
  • The idea that the Company in this is the same one as in the Alien films (especially Aliens, since that was also directed by James Cameron) gives rise to questioning whether Sigourney Weaver’s character here is related to the one in Alien.  It could work easily enough if you apply the cloning concept from the Heartbreakers comics — where one base person is cloned with genetic tweaks to create scientist clones, warrior clones, and so on.  (I recall that was even a continuity burp between the 3rd and 4th Aliens films which this could explain, something with Weaver’s character dying in one and being back in the next.  Never saw them myself.)
  • The idea that the Hometree is so huge precisely because it is on top of the unobtanium deposit is never broached.
  • A book?  They still print stuff on paper-like materials?  The amount of fuel required to transport that weight of paper is cost prohibitive.
  • After making The Bond with the horse and the dragon and the tree, why didn’t we see those fiber-optic tentacles making the bond between Jake and his Na’vi princess?  Surely that would be the most intense intimacy possible.  (Oh god, I’ve just opened the door for gay Na’vi fanfic stories!)
  • Wasn't Norman in the portable link station when the colonel started smashing it up to disconnect Jake?  He had forcibly come out of the link when his Avatar body was shot, but then what happened to him?  (I think we saw in in-Avatar again when the Company folks were being escorted off planet.)
  • When Jake first got in his body and ran out of the medical bay, there were a dozen other Avatars with people linked into them.  What happened to them?  All loyal to the company?  All killed by the colonel?  All just conveniently forgotten?

Updated on December 29, 2009

Updated on February 26, 2010
After having seen a bunch of other movies on my February 2010 trip to New Zealand, I came back to thinking about Avatar’s story, combined with the Best Picture nomination the film has received.

Avatar does not deserve the Best Picture award.  While technically brilliant, the simplistic plot is a fatal flaw.  15 minutes into the film, you know exactly how the story will resolve: damaged man joins native tribe, man falls in love with native girl, man becomes the best native ever, man fights his own people to save the natives, natives win.  There is no particular subtlety and no notable deviation from the standard plotline.  The movie is on a bobsled track: unless it jumps the track (which then kills everyone involved — like nuking the entire planet), it&rsquos going to go right to the end, with the only question being how fast.  (I figured a luge reference there would be tacky.  Oops.)

In comparison, the other heavily animated film nominated for Best Picture — Up, pretty much designed for kids — has more layers to the plot and several possible endings, each with their own poignant value.  Avatar is a big FAIL in comparison.

No comments:

Post a Comment