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James Cameron's epic sci-fi fantasy film released in 2009.

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Avatar: A Stand-in for an SF movie

  • Feb 27, 2011
I finally managed to get in to see it today, a week and two days after opening.

Karen went with me and we opted for the non-Imax 3D version.

I don't know what Roger Ebert was thinking - maybe invites to some nice parties or something - but I certainly did not leave the theater "feeling the same way I did after seeing Star Wars".

No comparison, in fact. Star Wars blew me away. True, I was much younger then, but.

I was even younger when I left the theater after watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and that blew me away too.

Both of those films did something that Avatar did not and can not do. They presented things we'd never seen before on the big screen. (Kubrick's zero-grav scenes had special effects folks scratching their heads for months. Star Wars did the same.)

Avatar does not show us things we've never seen before - it shows us a better version of things we've already seen.

(I think it will take the introduction of the first immersive 3D/holographic 360 surround film to show us "something new".)

On the other hand, better was gorgeous!

The Na'vi are most certainly not attenuated smurfs, the mechs are mechs, the airships impressive if not aerodynamic and Pandora is truly a lush Eden with eye candy stretching off to the horizon in every direction.

I strongly suspect that each and every one of the plants we're shown in all of their phosphorescent glory are either real plants or ones that existed on our planet at one time (on land or beneath the sea). If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but if not, it was a neat trick to show them as alien botany and point an accusatory finger right back at every (ignorant) member of the audience.

Story? Holes galore, ranging from the mildly stunning (arrows that bounce off bullet proof plastic one time and penetrate to deadly effect when they need to the next) to Yet More Stupid Military Tactics (realism sacrificed to visual impact) to show-stopping fact that if it weren't for bad writing, there'd be no story at all.

In some respects this doesn't matter. Cameron goes for heart-string tugging and plucks them quite effectively. You're meant to care about the Na'vi and their world and to hate (most of) the humans, and you do.

You're given time to experience the wonder of Pandora (even if some of it is physically impossible but then again, who doesn't want to see real floating mountains? Take that Sir Hillary!) and a lot of it made me want to go there and walk through that jungle, even if I'd be too stupid to live and would fall prey to indigenous life forms within the first couple of minutes.

(Peggy: the biology makes NO sense, unless you can believe that hexapedal, quadrapedal and bipedal creatures would evolve side-by-side within the same ecosystem and so far as flying creatures being used as mounts for 12 foot tall blue elfs, well, we won't even go there...)

The film was peppered with homages to other Cameron offerings and numerous, numerous SF flicks:  I'd have to have a DVD version of the flick I could study for quite some hours to even begin to catalog them, but they are most assuredly there.

So far as ripping off SF stories - absolutely.  Cameron has obviously learned his lesson since some prior missteps in this regard (I can just imagine one of the money men saying "no lawsuits this time, John"), so where borrowed, the concepts and plots are surrounded by so much other stuff that while it is clear to an aficionado where this, that or the other thing came from, it would be impossible to prove derivation or to find a smoking gun.  Off the top of my head I'd add Slan and the Pern stories to the mix of stories that have already been identified.

(My problem with this issue is that yes, SF writers borrow from each other all the time, or answer one high concept with another riff that plays off the same idea, but they're all contributing to the collective pool.  Film takes these things, adds nothing to the pool and fixes, forevermore, a particular image that becomes associated with the trope(s).  I'd have been more than mollified if Cameron had stuck in an acknowledgment to the entire genre at the end of the flick - not one admitting influence by any particular author or work but something along the lines of "if not for the nearly 100 years of SF literature that precedes me and the works I've enjoyed since childhood, there would have been no Avatar.  Thanks for all the great stories"; at least it would give some a thing or two to think about.  Though that's probably too much to expect, especially from director types who are supposedly all about their egos being tied up with their 'creativity'.)

I also have to mention that about two years ago I noted here that I was waiting for the first true multi-media event to take place, one in which the movie is released at the same time as the book, as the game, as the animated tv show, as the plush toys, audio book & etc., etc., and I'm fairly pleased with my own prognostication that the marketing of Avatar has seen the realization of a good portion of that concept (yes, I'll take credit.  Directors are not the only ones who's egos are tied up with their creativity).

I doubt that doing so was part of the "plan" - much more likely that it was done out of necessity to recoup the investment, but there it is nonetheless.  If Avatar makes a profit (huge as it looks to be), the opportunity to release other properties in a multi-medium fashion can only be enhanced.

Avatar is well worth seeing and is pretty much going to become one of those cultural touchstones (like 2001 & Star Wars):  you can't call yourself a 'fan' unless you've seen it, legions of new fans will be born/created by the experience.  Unfortunately - sigh - I think it is also the movie that has put the final nail in the coffin of the argument between story over visual experience, with 'the experience' having won.

How long do you think it's going to be before we start seeing "films" that are nothing more than travelogues of interesting and fantastical worlds?  Not long if Avatar has the influence I think it is going to.

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February 27, 2011
I think that Cameron's brazen theft of concepts and his utterly over the top reliance on CGI justifies the -5. The movie never should have been made and has doomed all of us to SF films of the future where the emphasis is on big explosions and CGI scenes over any substance whatsoever. And the WORST thing about it, the legions of people who will spend the rest of their lives believing that Cameron is this wonderfully creative guy responsible for bringing these great visions into the world; they'll never be exposed to the authors who originally created them and even if they are, they'll continue to believe that the original is the copy. I wish I could sue Cameron for the price of my tickets
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Avatar is a 2009 American science fiction epic film written and directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang. The film is set in the year 2154, when humans are mining a precious mineral called unobtanium on Pandora, a lush moon of a gas giant in the Alpha Centauri star system. The expansion of the mining colony threatens the continued existence of a local tribe of Na'vi—a sentient humanoid species indigenous to Pandora. The film's title refers to the genetically engineered Na'vi and human hybrid bodies used by several human characters to interact with the natives of Pandora.

Development on Avatar began in 1994, when Cameron wrote an 80-page scriptment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999, but according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film. Work on the language for the film's extraterrestrial beings began in summer 2005, and Cameron began developing the screenplay and fictional universe in early 2006.

Avatar was officially budgeted at US$237 million. Other estimates put the cost between $280 million and $310 million for production, and at $150 million for promotion. The film was released for traditional two-dimensional projectors, as well as in 3-D, using the RealD 3D, Dolby 3D, XpanD 3D and IMAX 3D formats, and also in ...

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Director: James Cameron
Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama, Fantasy, Sci-Fi
Release Date: December 18, 2009
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: James Cameron
Runtime: 162 minutes
Studio: 20th Century Fox
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