My thoughts on Avatar

Copied from my personal blog (because WordPress is more searchable):

Here it is then, as promised. I’m not really going to do a review, since it would be very short:

I freaking loved the movie.

I’d just like to comment on some aspects of people’s discussions about it, and try to extrapolate about what messages there could possibly be for fiction, or for SF.

Some caveats:

1. For me, first contact stories are the equivalent of hot chips in fiction: you can wake me up for them. Any book that has some form of alien-human contact I simply *have* to read. I love that stuff.

2. I am a dreamer

3. I am not a Trekkie, and apologise in advance for some stuff I may say below.

So yeah, let’s not repeat all that’s already been said about the wonderful worldbuilding. I just love that stuff. This aspect actually reminded me of Dinotopia, a movie with a non-existent plot that goes on forever, but that’s so incredibly pretty you just have to keep watching. Avatar was clearly made to be pretty. Other movies with that secondary aim come to mind. Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa and Australia.

The plot. Yeah, yeah, enough with the bellyaching about the standard plot. The plot worked, and that is important for something pitched at a large audience. You cannot take undue risks. I think they took a bit of a risk with the overt environmental message, but probably judged the time was right for it.

I dunno. Have you ever watched a movie where halfway through, the plot went in a way where you would have just stood up and walked out? I remember one. I watched this movie called A Japanese Story. The beginning was a lovely, and rather edgy, tale of a Japanese middle manager pretending to be on a business trip to NW Australia (he wasn’t; he’d been sacked). His guide (Toni Colette) drives him around and gradually peels away the truth. It turns into a sightseeing holiday (lovely scenery). And then the dude drowns (I presume it was suicide, but it didn’t think that was adequately supported by the preceding scenes). And I was going WTF WTF WTF WTF?? No resolution, no nothing. Just lengthy grief scenes from his wife and the guide. Total crap for my level of movie enjoyment.

The ‘best’ (most provocative, most emotional, whatever) movie I saw this year was Gran Torino. It, too, ends sadly. I took my daughters, who also had a bit of a WTF reaction to the ending. I thought it was bitterweet, but it’s not a movie which leaves you happy, or, for that matter, satisfied. I thought it was very good, but didn’t enjoy it as much.

Avatar was never intended to be an edgy drama. The plot was risk-free. People said it resembles Dances with Wolves, and that there was a large amount of native American resemblance. I dunno about that. I saw Fern Gully and a large part of the plot had Rio Tinto (a mining company which is screwing people in the highlands of PNG) all over it. It doesn’t matter. This stuff has happened before. This stuff is still happening. This stuff has been the subject of many plots. It was done well enough that: 1. the story worked, 2. the story left a large majority of the audience to walk away so happy that days later, they are still talking about it.

To me, fiction, of any sort, is about immersing the reader and making the reader feel happy. The best books are those where you have an insane wish to dive in and BE one of the characters. For a large percentage of the audience, this movie does just that. I wrote about that here two days ago.

This plot speaks to a lot of people on a very basic human level. It’s chockers with messages, but to most people, the messages are either justified or not noticeable enough to be annoying. Humans rape and pillage. Good on the ones who stand up and put an end to some of it. Show it at Christmas time, and people will love it. Stroke of genius, really. All that was missing, I think, was a donation box outside the cinema with ‘Save the Rainforest’. They would have made thousands.

Anyway, some of the gaffes (which were not many, and not as important as I thought they would be).

The dead brother switcheroo. What is it with film makers that they insist on putting insufficiently educated characters in important roles without any justification? (James Kirk anyone? Oh man! As if the military would allow that sort of cock-arsery). There was no need for the dead brother, plot-wise. I cannot believe that any scientist would accept a non-trained person with an attitude problem in a vitally important project. The solution would have been as easy as enforcing an equal-opportunity law that says that disabled people should make up a percentage of any workforce. The dude’s been injured, can’t be in the regular forces, so he gets a steam course in science and gets slotted into a program three months after it’s started when someone decides to have himself killed. Easy.

Unobtainium. Yeah. The editor who let that placeholder name through deserves to be shot. That said, the element that shall not be named was mentioned only twice in the entire movie, and wasn’t half as cringe-worthy as Star Trek’s red matter (for crying out loud dudes, read the definition of BLACK HOLE before you come up with something as stupidly insane – and store it in a freaking glass cylinder).

The sex. Oh, you say, what sex? Yeah – well, that’s just the problem. It isn’t as if this is a kiddie movie. It’s rated M for crying out loud. If these two blue aliens were mated for life, and you show some scenes that suggest they’re having sex, for crying out loud, show them having sex. Unless, of course, the nerds who programmed this animation don’t know where the bits go. Come on, ya prudes! It was a scene lasting a few seconds. Long enough, because the point was made, but make the freaking point properly.

What I thought was very elegant, plot-wise, was the fact that the military are rent-a-guns. It was the weaselly guy named Parker, with the fat tie, who made the final decision. Now he’s going to have to justify heavy losses to the shareholders, he’ll be sacked, the military will move elsewhere, and the company will lick its wounds. They won’t be back in a hurry, or at least not in that form. Yeah, I loved that, in terms of a lasting solution.

Then again, I’m a dreamer. I love happy endings. And I wish I had a tail.

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2 comments on “My thoughts on Avatar

  1. I didn’t mind the asexual sex scene. It’s hard not to think of this as a kiddie flick. I would have liked it better if there was an alien sex scene, I admit that, but showing humans is one thing, showing aliens doing it gets kinda creepy. Besides, they show the tail thing, and in alien cultures that’s considered the X-rated part.

    As far as the message, I’m a new-ager, loving spiritual stuff, so it was over the moon for me on that front. Those giant dandilion seeds gave me the shivers. And the “sharing fronds” or whatever you call them, that come out of the tail, were very cool and fairly original, if that’s even possible in our super-story-saturated culture.

    I like the movie as a counterpoint to Hasbro-type productions, with militarized heroes. The military is not composed of action figures, and might does not always make right. It was messagey, but what comes from Hollywood that isn’t? At least it wasn’t the dreaded artistic message.

    I think the dead brother thing worked. Went along with the switching premise and kind of worked up to it, so it was justified as story premise and not something tacked on — give ‘er the ol’ brotherinski routine, what the hey.

    I like your take on the “rent-a-guns”. I was trying to figure out a way that more humans don’t come back for notabletogetanyium.

    But have to say again how beautiful I thought it was. The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, including the most glorious sunsets of all. It was mind-boggling how gorgeous it looked.

    Are people really whining a lot about the plot? Have they seen any movies lately? And this a actually not a knock-off or remake. For drama and explosions and love interest and feasability, this is an A+ Hollywood production. Plus who cares what they say?

    Thanks!

    • It’s not a kiddie movie, and it’s not rated as such either. I think it’s sad that people consider anything that doesn’t contain blood and gore to be suitable for kids. There is a huge difference between kids being upset by a movie and kids being able to understand the plot and the themes. This, IMO, has nothing to do with blood and gore or sex, but with the society-related issues and at what age kids can process this material enough to understand.

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