Saturday, January 23, 2010

Avatar: Dances With Wolves in Another World - Part 1

I saw the movie Avatar last weekend.
Where to begin?

  • Avatar – the most expensive film ever made, with a budget in the neighborhood of $300 million.
  • Avatar – the film with (perhaps) the most pre-release hype ever.
  • Avatar – the film that reached $500 million in U.S. box office receipts faster than any other film.
  • Avatar – with a world-wide box-office over $1.6 billion

There are LOTS of worldview issues to discuss – probably too many for a single blog post. But first, I want to start with some reviews and general comments about the film – especially for anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

In the last couple of weeks, before I ever saw Avatar, I asked two people about it whose opinions about film I respect.

One conversation went something like this:
Friend 1: AMAZING effects. . . [long awkward pause]
Me: And that's about all?
Friend 1: Yea. Weak plot and characters. Too predictable.

The second conversation went something like this:
Friend 2: AMAZING technology. . . [long awkward pause]
Me: And that's about all?
Friend 2: Yea. Weak plot and characters. WAY too formulaic.

It seems that even some professional film reviewers agree. Of course, some were so awed by the special effects – to the point where their rational faculties were impaired – that they couldn't say anything bad about the film. A few others were able to see beyond the hype and the computer-generated world to actually write a balanced review:

  • The narrative would be ho-hum without the spectacle. But what spectacle! Avatar is dizzying, enveloping. . .
    David Edelstein (New York Magazine)
  • For all the grandeur and technical virtuosity of the mythical 3-D universe director Cameron labored for years to perfect, his characters are one-dimensional, rarely saying anything unexpected.
    Claudia Puig (USA Today)
  • Along with the eye-popping visuals in writer-director James Cameron's sci-fi epic, there's also a lot of eye-rollingly silly stuff.
    Joe Neumaier (NY Daily News)
  • If only Cameron, who also wrote the script, had spent as much time on the story as he did the effects he uses to tell it.
    Bill Goodykoontz (AZ Republic)
  • The muscular, coming-atcha visuals trump the movie's camp dialogue and corny conception, but only up to a point.
    J. Hoberman (Village Voice)
  • As visual spectacle, Avatar is indelible, but as a movie it all but evaporates as you watch it.
    Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly)
    [Above reviews excerpted from ]
  • The film has "powerful" visual accomplishments but "flat dialogue" and "obvious characterization."
    Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)

(If you've seen the film, feel free to skip past this next part. I want to provide a little context for anyone who hasn't yet seen the film.)

So what's it all about? Without giving too much away, here's a fairly short synopsis of a very long movie (162 minutes – that's 2 hours, 42 minutes!).

Warning! This synopsis may contain plot spoilers.

Synopsis: In the 22nd century, Earth is a dying planet due to the damages caused by (guess who?) humans. Six light-years away is a small moon of the planet Polyphemus in the Alpha Centauri star system. The moon's name is Pandora.

People have traveled to Pandora and set up mining facilities and "to get their hands on a substance called (no kidding) Unobtanium" (Keneth Turan, LA Times). Unobtanium is believed to be the cure-all for Earth's ecological problems.

Seriously? Unobtainium? With a budget of $300 million, they couldn't hire writers with any more creativity than that?

The world of Pandora is populated with a race of primitive indigenous human-like creatures called Na'vi, and the natural world is a beautiful rainforest-like environment filled with exotic flora and fauna.

A paralyzed war veteran (Jake) volunteers to take part in the Avatar program on Pandora. At the heart of the Avatar program are two elements:

  • genetically-engineered Avatars, which are hybrids of human and Na'vi DNA.
  • a pod system (similar to the 1999 film The Matrix) where humans are hooked to machines and their minds/personalities/souls are united to the Avatars. The humans remotely control the Avatar hybrids; they are basically human minds in Na'vi bodies. Their human bodies are never in danger, but they are able to safely navigate the planet and interact with the Na'vi.

Jake is (grudgingly) received by the Na'vi leaders. The clan's chief assigns his daughter, Neytiri, the task of training Jake to become one of them. Before very long (Jake's time on Pandora only lasts a little over three months) the two have fallen for each other, even though Neytiri is already spoken for.

"As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people" © 20th Century Fox.

(Now maybe the title of this post makes sense - assuming you saw Dances With Wolves).

"In their race to mine for Pandora's resources, the humans clash with the Na'vi, leading to casualties on both sides"

Long story short: The humans choose to attack in order to obtain the Unobtainium. Jake, Neytiri, and the rest of the Na'vi fight to save their homeland, their culture, and their traditional way of life. And in the end, the good guys win.

OK - enough for now. . . Next post, I'll try to cover the plethora of competing worldview issues.
(I hope I haven't opened a Pandora's box!)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is an old Bulwinkle cartoon that has the Moose and Squirrel involved in a search for a rare mineral called "Upsidasium" which makes things float in the air. Maybe that is where Cameron got the idea? -Grez