So I finally watched Avatar…

The first thing to understand about this movie, is that it is the longest movie ever made. I’m pretty sure this film is twice as long as every movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life combined. While watching this movie I had time to grow a big white old man beard.

The other thing to understand about this movie, is that you’ve seen it before. Fish-out-of-water must become part of a culture he doesn’t understand, then make a difficult choice between the world he’s from and the world he’s become a part of.

Within the first thirty minutes of this movie, you can make a checklist of the scenes you are guaranteed to see:

  • Hero bumbles into a new, alien culture where he is almost killed repeatedly.
  • One of the things that tries to kill the hero is some violent native animal.
  • Hero is begrudgingly befriended by a native of the opposite sex.
  • Hero is quasi-accepted by this new culture, and his friend is either tasked with or chooses to show him the ropes.
  • Hero successfully accomplishes a series of rites of passage, earning the respect of everyone except one particular rival.
  • Hero is sucked back into his old world where it becomes clear he will have to choose sides.
  • The culture casts the Hero out when they learn his horrible secret.
  • Through some vast display of courage or strength, Hero wins back the trust of his “real” people, earns the respect of his rival (who must then die), and leads them to victory.

This formula has been used in so many stories I literally cannot list them all, which makes Avatar‘s 17-hour running time a little boring. The reason to watch this movie, so I’ve been told, is the sheer spectacle of the thing. And it is a spectacle, and the spectacle is entertaining.

But I don’t know. It ain’t enough. The movie never did a thing to surprise me.

I think that’s where the movie really falls flat: it has the perfect opportunity to break up the chain of events. There are a lot of cool plot elements in play here. Yes, it’s your basic technology vs. nature schtick — but the spiritual elements are portrayed as having some scientific backing to them. It’s all hand-waving, sure, but it should have been developed. The human scientists in this film are starting to gain an understanding of how the spiritual elements of the world work… an understanding that the na’vi could benefit from drastically.

But nope! We need to have an epic battle. There have to be explosions, god dammit!

Both sides of the conflict in this movie, humanity and na’vi, are utterly ridiculous. Both sides see war as a foregone conclusion. Diplomacy is never even tried. “You have one hour to talk them into leaving their ancestral homeland forever, or we blow it up!” Why? What happens in one hour? Why not one year? Ten years? What the hell is the big hurry?

Nowhere, not once, does anyone think to tell the na’vi what, exactly, the human invaders want. As far as I could tell their spirit-tentacle things only linked with trees and animals. Did anyone think to check whether or not the fucking rocks even had any value to them? That’s what Big Bad Evil Mankind was there for, wasn’t it?

Never mind the rocks — the na’vi have what amount to a giant planet-sized biological computer. This is incredibly awesome stuff, here, far more valuable to a spacefaring race than any mere mineral. What a cool idea for a science fiction story! Oop–no, it’s mentioned in one scene and then never again.

The na’vi are equally hopeless. “We don’t have anything they want.” Yeah, bullshit. They’re in desperate need of education, for starters. They know that their world works, but not why, and the why should be important. The na’vi have no science, no technology, no link to any culture outside their own. Why is this a good thing? Why do I have to buy their strange, mystical world as the end-all and be-all? As the pinnacle of life and happiness? Why isn’t human history and culture ever good enough in these fish-out-of-water stories?

Two cultures with a wealth to share with one another, and all they can think to do is trade blows. Gotta have those explosions, god dammit!

And I never got over how silly the giant blue cat people looked.

So no, I don’t think I really enjoyed the movie. The bloodthirsty military bad guy made me roll my eyes. The evil corporate shill who traveled five years in a space ship, but has no apparent interest in science, made me want to throw up a little. I think I could watch it again, if it were 90 minutes long instead of 90 days. Good grief.

Oh well, rant over. Anyone got a good movie I can watch?

9 comments to So I finally watched Avatar…

  • Elfir

    Pretty much sums it up for me too. Except one last cliche: Whenever there’s three characters in a movie like this (the three main avatar-users), one lives, one dies, and one takes the “third option” that isn’t initially mentioned. EVERY TIME.

    I assume you lucked out of the pain-inducing 3D at least. And could pause to pee. This shit is why I don’t like going to movie theaters. x_x

  • Merus

    And the best bit is that the entire movie could have been invalidated if the humans had built a traditional mine. Sink a shaft down, then dig straight forward. It’s robots mining, anyway, so there really is no risk here. The Na’vi get to stay in their ancestral home, the humans get the unobtanium, everybody’s happy.

    Honestly, it’d probably be less expensive than the Avatar program in the first place. The whole reason they strip-mine is because it’s cheap.

  • dtsund

    I actually just saw Super Ferngully HD Remix* myself a couple of days ago, and I remember thinking along these same lines myself. Still enjoyed the spectacle, though.

    Have you seen District 9 yet?

    *That is, Avatar

  • Lys

    I saw *two* excellent science-fiction movies last weekend, and I recommend both of them: DISTRICT 9 and MOON. I was more entertained by each of them than by AVATAR, which is especially sad considering that D9 tackles the same sort of theme but in a much more interesting way, and that MOON seems to have been made on, like, a $10 budget.

  • Zef

    I watched it again this weekend, and it amazes me how violent the “enlightened savages” really are. Their whole culture is based around physical power and domination, and their first instinct upon disagreement is usually a punch, a hiss, and a snarl (quickly followed by stab-stab-stab.) And of course, they only respect the new guy when he shows up riding a beast of DEATH –no wonder Earth’s attempts at diplomacy and trade failed.

    If it really took Cameron over a decade to write, I’ll be very interested in seeing how the sequels turn out. Especially the one with Smurfs. In. SPAAAAAACE!

    • Brickroad

      Yes but see they have bows and arrows, while we have guns. Bows and arrows = GOOD and guns = EVIL. This should have all been covered in your “how to make an allegory for American imperialism” handbook.

  • DragonShadow

    Hell, I liked avatar quite a bit. Explosions! 3D! Taming and riding dragons!! Giant military mechs!! It isn’t meant to be analyzed, just turn off your brain and let the pretty things entertain you.

    MOON was pretty cool though. Sam Rockwell is an awesome actor.

  • Merus

    A lot of my problems with Avatar, frankly, stem from hype backlash. It’s shameful, I really shouldn’t be letting an advertising campaign influence how I feel.

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