Wow, I think I’ve just seen the most retarded first hour of a movie ever. Hmm, so they’ve built avatars to infiltrate the big blue alien race… Right. But then the human avatars wander around the planet in combat fatigues, hanging out of helicopters flown by humans, with “AVTR” on their backpacks. And after all of this - including shipping out some guy who’s brother should have been running the show simply because these avatar infiltration things are so important and expensive - it turns out that the blue chaps know that they are bloody avatars and not real fellow blue chaps anyway. (Most likely because they spent their time wandering around in combat fatigues and hanging out of human helicopters.) Uh, so what was the point again?
Oh, and the floating mountains… Why is no one asking what’s up with them? There’s the Sigourney Weaver scientist character looking at the tree and saying something like, “Wow, there’s something biological happening with the something vortex in those trees” (I’m reminded of how in Star Trek the writer’s used to write, “There’s something wrong with the tech tech” and let the scientific advisors fill in the blanks). Okay, so there’s something biological going on with the tree… Right, I get it, you’re a scientist, that’s interesting. But have you seen the F***ING FLOATING MOUNTAINS? Look! Your lab is actually on top of one! It seems the laws of gravity don’t hold for this part of the world… Someone please give me a pseudo-scientific explanation so that I can sit through the rest of the film without worrying about those bloody floating mountains coming crashing down. All you have to do is tell me that they are full of Antigravitonium and hey, I’ll be happy - after all, you’ve already explained to me (in that scene between Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi in which they told each other lots of stuff they already knew for the benefit of the audience) that the MacGuffin is called Unobtainium. (Unobtanium! Brilliant! I’ve spent all these years worrying about how everything I write is crap and makes no sense, and it turns out it doesn’t matter! I can just write a story in which my character chases after Scarconium and Makesyouhappium.) So just explain the bloomin’ floating mountains already!
I can only assume that the 3D was amazing, as I am watching this on 2D DVD. The 3D must have blown people’s minds, because this is the sort of claptrap that gives sf a bad name. Right, better go watch the ending. Hope he doesn’t die… Oh wait, it doesn’t matter - he’s an avatar!
I like the movie in spite of the stupidity of it. Not to defend it, but some things that the kids and I discovered/theorized:
- The Avatars have 5 fingers, the Navi have 4.
- The Avatars have an “oder” that is different than the Navi.
- The floating mountains exist nearest center of the “vortex”, no where else. The vortex must make them float.
- The movie is supposed to be mindless fun. Otherwise it is a complete failure.
The son came up with the last one. Too many plot holes, too many inconsistencies.
Wow, the ending… Didn’t see that coming. They should have sign-posted it much more clearly. Y’know, by coming around to my house and hitting me over the head while shouting it in my ears.
I see you… Baby, shakin’ that ass. I really was waiting for them to break out into that song.
It just goes to show that a big budget tends to destroy imagination rather than bring it to the screen. The lead character was acted by the rather generic Sam Worthington (who looked alarmingly like Apollo from the re-imagined - but let’s not go there because of the crap ending - BSG), who also appeared in the dreadful Terminator: Salvation. Of all the Terminator films - and in all fairness, Cameron did the first one - only the first one was even half-decent (the second is fun because of the action, but has none of the imagination or cleverness of the first), and it was a B-move. The best recent SF has all been fairly low-budget - Moon being one of the best SF movies of the past ten years. But look at Primer, or even Donnie Darko or District 9, which had decent budgets but not giant ones. (In all fairness, some great SF movies have cost a fortune, but they all stared with an idea and then went over-budget rather than the idea of spectacle to being with.)
Oh well, rant over. I was entertained by the big action sequence, but frankly if I’m going to leave my brain at the door and watch a big action sequence, I want Bruce Willis or Jason Statham present.
Big action scenes that are composed nearly in 100% computer animation always strike me as feeling pointless—unless of course the film is something like Pixar where the animation is part of the medium. I’ll admit that some of the big battle scenes in Lord of the Rings took my breath away the first time I saw them, but now years later it’s not those scenes that I remember, it’s the more subtle aspects.
I saw this when it came out in 3D, and yes that definitely was, if not entirely, a major part of the appeal. I imagine that if I ever watched it on a normal screen I’d be fairly bored with it. That’s bad enough, but 3d itself is a waste. There is a reason it keeps dying off, decade after decade, and it isn’t because it wasn’t “cool enough” the last time around—that’s just the marketers talking. It dies because it isn’t an experience that captures your mind, it’s too sensational to let the story breathe. The last film I saw in theatre was The White Ribbon, black and white film about a small village in Germany prior to WWI. Absolutely on the edge of the my seat the entire time—and that’s even with the subtitles—I forgot who and where I was. Avatar? Even if the flaccid and pathetic story managed to drag me in momentarily some sudden burst of dust or fingers would suddenly fold out of the screen and then I’d be pulled out of the story and thinking “ooo pretty sparkles”. It’s the medium equivalent of shock horror.
Yes, I was totally astounded by the ending as well. That was the best plot twist since The Passion of Christ. I was floored.
Here’s my review of Avatar
Jeff Overstreet’s assertion that the special effects tend to short-circuit the logic centers pretty much explains the success of the movie, I think.
I love mindless sci fi. Love laughing at stupid decisions about the science that the Hollywood writers make. Computers that make sounds. The one-digit-at-a-time password decryptors. Stars sweeping past portholes, sounds in space. I expect the writers to get that stuff wrong.
But the worst thing about Avatar, for me, was that the story was almost right. Somewhere along the way I’d hope that writers could craft an effective story.
The failure of the hero’s journey in Avatar led to the biggest plot hole of all… Um, most expensive material in the universe. Think we might send along some more warriors to pick it up?
You just referenced one of my favourite science fiction novels.
The other thing that really bothered me (again, I liked the “mindless entertainment” of the movie) was the brutal, no compromise, not even close to realistic stereo types. The portrayal of the scientists as hyper liberal tree huggers, the business side as unable to see past the profit, and the military (mercenaries) as only focused laying down death and destruction would get you sued for libel in the real world*. Why in the name of all that is sane couldn’t we see a conflict of conscience in all sides?
As a non-tree hugger but environmentally conscious individual it is movies like this that alienate folks from the conservationist movement. Especially when we next hear about Cameron and Weaver campaigning for Amazon conservation. They must just be nuts. And this from a guy who thinks we should fight to restore much of what has been lost in nature.
- An exaggeration to make a point.
That bothered me, too. The Giovanni Ribisi character was straight out of Aliens - a carbon copy of the businessman who tried to get Ripley impregnated. There was a moment when I thought he was showing a inkling of remorse, second thoughts when the soldiers were getting sent in, but that was just a plot device to allow Weaver and Worthington back into the avatars and was promptly forgotten again. The colonel guy was straight out of Starship Troopers - except that Starship Troopers knew what it was and just had a lot of fun with the overblown military aspects and very knowingly used stereotypes; that was a great mindless sf action movie.
The other thing that got me… The giant robot things that have a driver. These were straight out of Aliens too, of course (as were all the space ships) - the superb finale of Aliens sees Ripley battling the queen mano-a-mano using the “loader”. Which is fine, they’ve been used everywhere since, including in the excellent District 9 last year. But did anyone else wonder that these gigantic military monsters had to pick up and carry giant rifles? What? Why didn’t they just build the guns into the arms? But you have to hand it to Cameron, he always takes things to the next level: just when I was gaping and exclaiming over how ridiculously stupid it was that these giant military robots had to use gigantic rifles, the colonel’s robot had its rifle knocked out of its gigantic robot hands and pulled a knife. I suppose it was a first - a robot vehicle pulling a knife - but bloody hell.
Still, a new phrase has entered my geek-vocabulary. Just as, thanks to the dire BSG finale, I can now refer to a show that blows everything in its last few episodes as having “chased the pigeon”, I now have an alternative to that age-old saying “the elephant in the room”. From now on, if me and my missus have beef with each other that we refuse to acknowledge, we have decided to refer to the problem as “the floating mountains on the planet”. Has a ring to it, don’t you think?
Magnetism. It’s explained in the Avatar game.
Was I the only member of the audience to like the floating mountains?
Having been trained in science, I’ve reached a point with almost all Hollywood sci-fi where I suspend belief and enjoy (or not). I mean, even in District 9 which I enjoyed until near the end when as KB hints it turned into several other similar movies - what kept the giant space ship up there?
Although… “unobtainium”? Isn’t that the imaginary material every engineer asks for when told to do an impossible task? Surely Cameron could have come up with something slightly less parodic? Like, say, “dilithium”, or “tillium”…?
Don’t mention the tillium! Bloomin’ BSG…
It’s not that I didn’t like the floating mountains - they looked mighty cool. It’s just that the way they were introduced - Norm saying, “You’ve never heard of the legendary floating mountains!” Now, fair enough if the protagonist had heard of them and knew what kept them up, even though I’d still have been peeved; but he hadn’t. I know he wasn’t a scientist and just a “dumb grunt”, but you don’t have to be a scientist to ask how the floating mountains stay up. Even if you’re not generally interested in such things, I would think it would cross your mind if you’re being asked to head to a base perched on top of one.
Hollywood science is fine by me. Noise in space, fully conscious robots, faster-than-light travel - no problem. In fact, the whole Geoff Ryman “mundane sf” movement, which tries to restrict itself only to what is possible and likely, doesn’t really interest me at all because it seems somewhat pointless. I’ll willingly suspend disbelief if the impossible elements are necessary to the backdrop and fit with the rest of the story, allowing either stupidly good fun (like last year’s Star Trek film) or using most-likely-impossible technology to explore ideas (e.g. Blade Runner’s replicants). But in Avatar it wasn’t just that the technology was dumb, but that it was introduced to create a plot that didn’t make sense anyway. There was absolutely no purpose to the avatars - which was the whole setup of the story - since the blue things already knew about them. And all I ask is that someone at least comments on how strange it is to have floating mountains.
But it’s okay, it was to do with magnetism (they just forgot to mention it in the film) - sorted.
All the best,
One question concerning the floating mountains: How can it be that none of you have heard of 'Upsidaysium?! :mrgreen:
When chickens get guns.
Or this one, where the concept of shielding the operator is completely forgotten—and not only that, the operator is thrust out on a platform like a berry on a twig.
But it’s only kind of fun when you put a human into it.
When you want extremely überridiculisium power…
You load a Godzilla into one.
Uberridiculisium? Slated for inclusion in Iron Man 3…
Hey, don’t diss the chickens with guns!
Maybe the floating mountains are filled with upsidaisium.
And you notice this just now? Yes, I occasionally find myself asking "How come they have a $200 million budget, literally thousands of people in the credits and they didn’t consider hiring a writer? Then I remember: because writers mess things up, they waste incredibly expensive screentime on explaining why the cool mountains float or having aliens that are ummm… alien. Its much better to put something in purely because it looks cool or follows the almighty story arc and to recostume the aliens from “Planet of the Hollywood B-Movie actors”. And if you want a good script – i.e. one that will generate huge sales worldwide – you don’t go to a writer, you go to the professionals: the marketing dept., the bean counters. Cause that small portion of the potential audience that thinks your movie’s stupid will buy the tickets anyways. Whereas hiring a writer risks making that huge part of the audience that doesn’t care feel stupid, confused or bored for a nanosecond. Writer crap. And that’s just unprofessional.
Otherwise loved your post Keith, made me laugh…shiny!
Just to play devil’s advocate…
I have long ago left behind the idea that SF movies will ever be anything like SF novels. They are the most distant of cousins and you have to use nuclear DNA testing to even prove it.
Case in point: Dune.
Both treatments of this most beloved of SF novels have been the kind of failure that makes me have that ookie feeling of shame/embarrassment that grabs you right in the diaphragm.
You know the feeling.
Kinda’ like getting caught masturbating.
By your mum.
Yeah, that feeling.
I don’t think it will ever be well translated to the screen because the screen belongs to a different epistemology than the printed page.
You can’t measure God with a ruler. The Bible will not help you through your trig class. Neither will explain the beauty of a Jackson Pollock. The Kwizats Haderach cannot be portrayed on screen.
Back to playing devil’s advocate for Avatar.
No, wait. First I would like to say that I have tattooed Cameron’s name on the back of my right hand so that should I ever actually meet him I can show it to him and then bitch slap him with it for having taken the name that belongs to a different franchise which I happen to love.
Avatar is a cute little monk with nifty blue tattoos who is charged with bringing balance to the four elements, not giant blue monkey/kitty people with sex/communication pony tails…which they link to other animals in a way that again induces that ookie feeling I mentioned earlier.
Ok, now actually back to me playing devil’s advocate with Avatar.
No, I think it’s not actually going to work out.
I recuse myself with all due respect.
Good science fiction is writing about ideas, while sci fi movies are usually just action films that take place in space. That’s not to say you can’t have a good sci fi action film – the last good one I saw was Serenity. The last good science fiction film of ideas I saw was Contact, only slightly ruined by the presence of Matthew McConaughey.
I am, however, looking forward to John Carter of Mars, the film version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fun Barsoom saga. I think it is due out next year.
Have you seen Primer?
Idea may not be all that new, but execution (on minuscule budget) is pretty good - if mind-boggling at times.
Currently wading my way (in wife-friendly chunks) Tarkovsky’s Stalker which is both beautiful, sci-fi, deeply odd (to these Western eyes 40 years after it was made) and um, long.
I really, really REALLY want someone to have a crack at the Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy - which is just begging to be made into an epic TV series. Some fairly big ideas in that one…