Avatar - Rant #1



Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Yesquire » Sat Jan 16, 2010 7:56 pm

There are not too many "cultural events" these days. One side-effect of the internet is that everyone seems to seek out their own personal interests and focus on them exclusively. YesTalk is one example of this. But Avatar has been such a huge box-office success that hopefully there would be other folks here that have seen it and would like to share their thoughts about it, just like in the good old days when entertainment events, like the release of a new Beatles single, were events shared and talked about by everyone.

Personally, I have a rant careening around inside my brain that I just have to let out through my fingertips. It has to do with how Avatar seems to have rendered moviegoers brainless with its visual beauty to the extent that nobody seems to listen to the actual dialog in the movie or appreciate the real depth of the storyline.

There will of necessity be ****spoilers***** galore in here, if you still haven't seen the movie and still intend on doing so.

So, here it goes.....

First, the story is as simple as you are. If you are a just a pretty basic, normal sort of person, you will appreciate that there is a love story to follow, plus a simple "good vs. evil" battle at the end. If you are more cerebral, there is much more to appreciate.

Above all, the movie is the story of Pandora/Eywa. "Eywa" is the name the Na'vi have given to the planet-wide brain that controls all life on Pandora, including the Na'vi, who have never been allowed to develop their social structure beyond a simple hunter/gatherer tribal society. Eywa has seen to this in several readily apparent ways. Eywa has provided the Na'vi with air and ground transportation, so their has never been any need for the invention of even the most rudimentary transportation technology. Eywa has not allowed any insects to evolve to plague the Na'vi. Pandora has no "mosquitoes". I also never saw any sick Na'vi in the film, and I suspect Ewya has given the Na'vi immunity from microbial or viral disease. I also suspect that Pandora has some very nasty flora, but none is apparent in the vicinity of the Na'vi home tree or hunting grounds.

Like most folks whose needs are fully provided for by somebody else, the Na'vi have many innocent, child-like characteristics, which helps to make them very endearing. They appear to live in a paradise.

Would you really want to be one of them? Do you understand that you would be surrendering much of your free will by doing so? That you would be stuck in a static society which would never be permitted to evolve in any way if it would possibly endanger the status quo "balance of nature" on Pandora? Remember, the Na'vi rejected the schools the corporation set up for them. The humans had "nothing of value" to offer them, and that included any art, science, or education above and beyond what the Na'vi needed for their "ecologically balanced" hunter/gatherer way of life.

(If the humans had offered them Yes music and a good hi-fi system, maybe things would have turned out better for the corporate folks.)


Or to look at essentially the same issue from another angle, is technological advancement into a rich, varied and complex society worth the cost of disrupting the ecological balance of your planet.

The storyline clearly reflects Eywa's efforts to manipulate both Jake and the Na'vi into serving as the doomed shock troops to man the front lines of the battle against the humans. Jake's avatar should have been skewered like a shisk kabob at the start of his Pandoran adventure, but Eywa, through the usage of one of those oddly mobile seeds, gives a sign to Neytiri to spare him. Eywa wanted Jake to be adopted by the Na'vi. Also, Jake eventually becomes their leader by riding that huge predatory flying lizard. We don't see how he does so, but I would bet it was easier than anticipated.

It is not only the humans who act through avatars in this movie. Eywa does, also. Eywa (he? she? it?) is enourmously powerful, but not very mobile. He/she/it must act through the planet's flora and fauna, which he/she/it controls absolutely.

Admittedly, the Na'vi, being sentient and intelligent in their own right, must be manipulated into carrying out Eywa's will. They even think they are joining battle with the humans of their own free will, which is perhaps the best evidence of skillful manipulation.

Science fiction can be difficult to bring to the screen. Apart from the pure escaptist fantasy portion of the genre, sci-fi books tend to try and grapple with huge issues in a print formal which allows the reader time to ponder such weighty matters as they unfold. Avatar speeds by your mind at a pace which apparently has made it impossible for most viewers to even realize the bigger philosophical issues being presented. Those who describe the movie as "Dances with Smurfs" and the storyline as trite and simple are really revealing more of what is lacking in their own intellect than what was actually being presented onscreen in the movie.

Having said that, I think somewhere along the production way a conscious decision was made to bring the love story up front to attract non sci-fi geeks to the event. But the exposition about the "planet brain" is definitely there for all to see. I am most baffled by the many people, both pumpers and bashers of the movie, who talk about the "spiritual connection" between the Na'vi and Eywa or the paganism of the movie. Sorry folks. The connections are physical, not spiritual. To the extent the Na'vi seem to worship Eywa, they are just being smart, not religious. Eywa had probably kicked their asses many times in the past and has thereby earned a mighty respect. I can easily see some Na'vi genius inventing agriculture, and then mysteriously being devoured in his little patch of veggies by some fearsome Pandoran hit-beast. Eywa cares not for any one person, only for the balance.

An interesting corollary to all this is that the underdogs in the final battle are the human security forces, Light years from home, with limited equipment and personnel, and no chance of being reinforced or resupplied, they make a gallant attmept to save themselves, one which was clearly doomed from the start. Eywa was always the overwhelming favorite. It took he/she/it awhile to muster her forces for battle, but he/she/it could not further abide the brain damage he/she/it was receiving from the corporate mining and road and base building operations.

The idea of a planet-brain or planet consciousness is not particularly original in sci-fi history, but it does make the Avatar story a lot deeper and considerably different from the Dances with Wolves, Pocohontas or Ferngully storylines, and it has gotten under my skin that a lot of folks too simple minded or unobservant to actually understand the story seem so adamant in imposing their ignorance on others by complaining about the trite and unoriginal story.

Whew! There I feel better now.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby tardistraveler » Wed Jan 20, 2010 10:31 pm

Well, you've brought a perspective to the thing that I didn't consider - thinking of Eywa as a manipulative entity in its own right. Guess I saw it more as a manifestation of the laws of nature - with no particular self-interest. Using that viewpoint, it does become a deeper story, with everyone pawns in Eywa's game. Thanks for posting.

It still would appear to me that the humans were in the wrong at the end - they needed something that the natives (including Eywa) weren't willing to give, and the humans were in the wrong to try and take it by force, IMO.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Yesquire » Thu Jan 21, 2010 3:04 pm

It is hard to say exactly how Ewya functions from the limited clues given in the movie. All of those animals didn't just appear at the end of the movie by chance to turn the tide of battle. If she can pull the strings of the beasties, she at least has the potential to pull the strings of the Na'vi.

I was particularly intrigued by the way that predator beastie invited Neytiri to ride him like a steed in the final confrontation with Quaritch. To me that implied that the animal was on that occassion inhabited by something more than its native intelligence.

Given the exposition of the scientists about the synaptic connections between the trees of the forest, what the humans were doing with their strip mining and road building amounted to nothing less than brain damage from Eywa's perspective. She would be expected to defend herself, just as you or I would if somebody were destroying bits of our brains.

One other small annoyance I have with a lot of the discussion about the movie are comments that humans were "despoiling the planet". From the movie dialog, it doesn't appear that human operations were occurring for much more than a radius of about 200 kilometers from base camp. The fact that the human footprint would have been barely visible from space on a planet the size of Earth doesn't make it right, especially in view of the damage being suffered by the Eywa entity, but to say that the humans were destroying the planet before they got kicked offworld is a gross misstatement of fact. They had only barely just begun doing so.

Of course, if the indian tribes in America had banded together and drove the earliest colonialists into the Atlantic, our history would be quite different today.

We would probably all be on our knees praising the glory of the first born son of Adolf Hitler and Ewa Braun.

In a "scripment" penned by James Cameron in the early stages of development, Ewya played a much more prominent role in the story, but I think once production started these veteran moviemakers could see that there was no way to make an audience identify with an entity too big to show on camera and too strange for many to comprehend. Also, to view the Na'vi as "manipulated" into fighting the humans diminishes their valor and detracts from the emotion of the battle. So the focus of the movie was changed to the love story and Jake's journey as an avatar.

The implications of an entity like Eywa ruling Pandora still remain in the movie for those willing to consider them, hence my position that the entire story is not as "simple" and "derivative" as a lot of detractors of the movie try to argue.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby tardistraveler » Thu Jan 21, 2010 7:07 pm

It's a bummer they dumbed down the story . . . I think I would have enjoyed it more if they had played up Eywa as a sentient being.

And yes, I'd say the humans weren't "despoiling" the planet, certainly not at first - they just had their camp which didn't seem to be bothering anyone much. Unfortunately the "unobtanium" (couldn't they have come up with a better name than THAT?) was located in a place where the taking of it would have been tantamount to murder, or "brain damage", as you stated above.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby thehallway » Thu Jan 21, 2010 9:02 pm

The location of the unobtanium was convinient for both its name and the plot lol. It's hard to pick holes in a film when the 3D is so amazing though. And the Dean references certainly are causing a stir. It's being talked about more on here than what Yes are currently doing! :D
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Yesquire » Thu Jan 21, 2010 10:38 pm

Naming the precious mineral 'Unobtanium" was jarring to me, too. I couldn't accept that they would choose such a stupid name, so I googled it.

It turns out that "unobtainium" is an actual word, used by engineering and scientist types to describe the material they need to make their elegant but useless design work in the real world. For example, I could design a stairway to the moon, but there is no material strong enough to withstand the rotational and gravitational forces. I could just facetiously suggest that it be built with unobtainium, which is a geeky way of saying the design is no good in the real world as we know it.

So I suppose something really rare and wonderful might deserve to be named unobtainium when discovered. It still is jarring to hear the name in the movie, but it does make at least a little sense.

By the way, the scriptment suggested that unobtainium makes those mountains float. Something about how it reacts to a strong magnetic field. The flux zone apparently is a location on Pandora where the gas giant's magnetic field interacts with Pandora's to make the mountains float. The Na'vi had forbidden the humans from mining in their sacred mountains.

Maybe they should have called in rogerdeanium
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby topographic_drama1980 » Wed Jan 27, 2010 10:39 am

I still have yet to see this movie. I've heard lots of good things about it, but I haven't had much interest in seeing it at all. Maybe I'll rent it when it comes out on DVD. It just seems to cost an arm and a leg anymore to go to the movies. I just recently heard that the movie just became the highest-grossing film in history, surpassing Titanic, also directed by James Cameron. Good for him.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby tardistraveler » Wed Jan 27, 2010 9:32 pm

topographic_drama1980 wrote:I still have yet to see this movie. I've heard lots of good things about it, but I haven't had much interest in seeing it at all. Maybe I'll rent it when it comes out on DVD. It just seems to cost an arm and a leg anymore to go to the movies. I just recently heard that the movie just became the highest-grossing film in history, surpassing Titanic, also directed by James Cameron. Good for him.



If you're going to go see it, you really should go for the big screen - do the IMAX 3-D if that's an option for you, but definitely see if on the big screen. The effects will get lost on the small screen.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Yesquire » Thu Jan 28, 2010 4:12 pm

We are (not surprisingly) sounding a lot like our parents, who were appalled at the cost of things when compared to what they cost in their youth.

I think it is clear that Cameron went to so much expense and trouble to make this film because in general the movie industry is in the midst of a huge crisis similar to that experienced by the music industry.

You can download a bootleg copy of just about any movie you want to download a day after it is released. More powerful computers, high-speed internet, and better movie playing software has made this readily feasible.

So the movie industry absolutely needs to make the experience in the movie theatre clearly superior to watching the movie at home on your laptop or desktop monitor.

With Avatar, I think Cameron has succeeded in making a work of art that needs to be seen in a theatre to be fully appreciated. If you can't find IMAX, or don't want to pay for IMAX, try to find Avatar 3d at one of your local theatres. It's worth the extra $2.00, although some people grouse that 3d gives them a headache. Most professional movie critics have agreed that the way Cameron used 3d in this movie is revolutionary. It is an improved version, shot with new cameras invented by Cameron's crew, and it's goal is to create an immersive experience rather than to shock you by having a spear thrown at you in 3d.

I, too, think movies are too expensive. I went to the matinee starting before noon at my local cinemaplex, and the cost was $6.00. I also smuggled in a large bag of munchies to avoid paying the tariff for a bin of buttered popcorn. It is hard to get past that aroma in the lobby.

If you do go, try to enjoy the flick. Most people who report being disappointed by it either: (1) Mistakenly think that the corporate security forces are the American army, and hate seeing "American soldiers" being killed in battle; (2) Mistakenly think the movie promotes paganism (See my original rant at the beginning of the thread); (3) Somewhat oddly see the movie as nothing more than a highly critical allegory for the U.S. invasion of Iraq; or (4) Have a highly negative opinion of "tree huggers" and hate seeing the tree huggers prevail over the mining company.

So, go see it in 3d, and report back to us what you think.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby thehallway » Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:02 pm

With regards to tree-huggers, I am on their side.

I really hate it when people purposefully express how uninterested they are in global warming. They think its "down to our kids" which is an irresponsible thing for an adult to say.

Whats worse is those who claim that it isn't even happening: "Oh its just part of a long temperature cycle", "Ice cubes melting don't affect water level" etc etc. I hardly think these know-it-alls are going to be correct considering the number of scientists and politicians who are studying/attempting to resolve climate change. There wouldn't be this much hype if it wasn't true.

In particular, people like Jeremy Clarkson, who disregards global warming on television just to get laughs. His attitude influences a whole bunch of viewers to share his opinion, and consequently go around driving their 4X4s for no apparent reason. Some people worship this man! It's terrible.

Sorry, that was quite an angry post! I'l stop before I get too pssionate.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby tardistraveler » Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:07 pm

Regarding the cost of attending movies - they really have escalated over the years. Not sure how inflation or cost-of-living applies here, but in my lifetime . . .

1960's - Suburban theaters were 35 cents - downtown theaters were 50 cents at all times

1970's - Dollar matinees (before 5:00) were routine. Nighttime prices were higher, but I never WENT at night since the matinees were so cheap. Downtown theaters went by the wayside and the multiplex was born.

1990's - Matinees crept up to about 5-6 dollars - nighttime was around 8 dollars. Second-run theaters came into existence offering the films for $1.50

Now - Matinees are $6.50, and only before 3:00. Other times are 8-9 dollars. IMAX is 12-15 dollars, depending on the movie. Few second-run theaters - most died out . . . :(


So, what happened to escalate prices from fifty cents to $9???

And I rarely buy the concessions - either smuggle something in, or just go without and get something to eat AFTER the show. They're WAY too expensive - five bucks for popcorn??? Ridiculous!
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Greenglade's Frog » Mon Feb 08, 2010 10:45 pm

f--que., I just download old out of print public domain movies, have been for past 4 years, why go to Blockbastard and pay $5 for some movie u could get from library?
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby tardistraveler » Tue Feb 09, 2010 10:10 pm

I only go to the theater to see something that's really WORTH seeing on a big screen. Avatar qualified - the IMAX 3-D was something to see, for sure.

Most movies I just see on cable when they finally show up there. If it's something I like enough to watch more than once, I'll just buy the thing - usually used - we've got quite a few stores here that sell used videos.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby tardistraveler » Wed Mar 03, 2010 7:55 pm

Found this review today on MSN . . . interesting back-and-forth between 2 critics about Avatar.

And Yes/Roger Dean get a mention . . . ;)

http://movies.msn.com/oscars/avatar-point-counterpoint/?GT1=28101
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby thehallway » Thu Mar 04, 2010 6:11 pm

mmmm its always interesting to hear the opinions of people who have seen almost every film in existance. And I myself wasn't BLOWN AWAY by it, I just thought it was okay, and nice to look at!

Not neccesarily worth the decade of planning/making though
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Chris2210 » Fri Mar 05, 2010 12:33 am

I watched it the other night and I did so in cognisance of this thread.

It was pleasant to look at - not especially groundbreaking in that regard, but certainly it was a good example of what is achievable with CGI these days.

FX are and always should be an instrument for conveying a story rather than an end in itself. Insofar as it made the events on screen believable from a physical viewpoint it was successful.

However, any film regardless of it being fantasy/science fiction first and foremost needs to make itself believable in terms of characterisation and cohesive and convincing drama.

Unfortunately Cameron's films have never been particularly successful in these regards and this particular film was no better than previous efforts might lead one to expect. None of the characters had any particular psychological depth. The villains as usual were of the pantomime variety and the emotional outpourings were trite, stilted and uninvolving.

As for the 'world mind', again although it was gossamer-veiled in mystery, rather than a genuine attempt to convey a truly alien consciousness it had as much character as any of the protagonists. Solaris which was rather overlooked by critics was far more compelling - whether we're talking about Sohdeburg's effort [which I rather liked], Tarkovsky's [which I found a little self-indulgent], or Lem's source novel. Similarly Wyndham's various takes on exo-intelligences are genuinely thought-provoking.

Eywa on the other hand seems rather like a childish view of a mother nature persona that is highly anthropomorphised. A little bit like a half-stoned hippy's idea of Native American's connection with 'ecology'. I say this as someone who believes all things are at a fundamental level indivisible. Yet something like this actually cheapens the idea - it takes a concept which is profoundly important and uses it as a naive plot device and does so seemingly for mere convenience, and at that incredibly inconsistently.

Take for example the 'scary raptor', which the gigantic bar- jawed creatures were so afraid of near the beginning of the film. It rather boggles the mind to wonder why they would so fear a creature which was ripped apart by the 'exo-skeletal tank' when they seemed to be making such light work of the same. [Same one he used in aliens for Ripley to vanquish the Alien hive-queen, now I come to think of it]. This is only one of a large number of similarly sloppy flaws which even pure escapism should avoid to hold onto any internal credibility.

On the whole not nearly as awful as the truly woeful Titanic - but certainly something best to leave one's brain in park for the duration of.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby thehallway » Fri Mar 05, 2010 7:28 pm

I thought Titanic was ok, didn't like any of the actors though, or the simplistic plot... come to think of it I only really liked the ending: and that WAS very impressive, even more so in 1997 I'm sure.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby Chris2210 » Thu Mar 18, 2010 4:21 pm

The actors in Titanic have shown themselves to be very able performers in other films, even if they're not amongst my personal favourites. Just about any actor can be made to look pretty lame by an awful script and whereas there are those [Jack Nicholson and Anthony Hopkins come to mind] who can turn in enjoyable performances by making it obvious they don't take their script seriously - Winslet and DiCaprio played it with the sort of earnestness which hammered home how pitifully awful their lines were.

It was Harrison Ford that said in relation to Star Wars "George, you can type this shit, but you sure as hell can't say it." As for the FX in Titanic, I actually have the opposite opinion to you. In science fiction there are two advantages: firstly you are dealing with things that are projections of possibility and therefore there isn't the direct comparison with mundane reality; and secondly you have already entered into a sort of contract that says you're suspending large chunks of disbelief in any case. With Titanic you are talking about real-life situations and a historical incident. In that case not only the drama, but the physical environment should be 'invisible'.

One of the earliest scenes of the film showed the ship steaming out of port and the waves breaking on the bows did not look real. A very poor start. The pyrotechnics of the actual sinking of the ship whilst very good were rather too prominent - the spectacle was all and it detracted from the human element, which didn't need much aid in looking inadequate in the first place. Avatar is a relatively poor film in a genre that unfortunately is not notable for its triumphs [although I do think there have been some very good science fiction films]. Titanic is a stinker of a mainstream film on just about every level. It deserved an Oscar for making money, but they gave it another ten for making lots of money. Looks like they learned their lesson this year, at least to some degree.
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Re: Avatar - Rant #1

Postby thehallway » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:20 pm

I suppose there will always be a struggle, no matter how advanced CGI becomes, in trying to replicate things which exist in real life (i.e. a ship); because it's never going to be perfect like the actual thing. So whilst those scenes in Titanic may have been poorly executed in places, they were daring, and I'm sure a lot of effort was put in. Whereas you can take any visual aspect of Avatar and it will be better (partly due to the 13 extra years of technology) because it's fantasy. But I think that's sort of 'playing it safe', because like you said, the quality is irrelevant if theres nothing in reality to compare it to. So based on the fact that Cameron didn't have the genre advantages in Titanic and was dealing with a Historical event, it makes the special effects more of an achievement, even if they aren't as good as Avatar's.

And the way they made the sinking of the ship itself the main spectacle of the ending, momentarily removing the human element, is what draws the less 'romantic' viewers to the film. It's a break from the acting. And I guess it was showing off a bit, but what Cameron film doesn't do that?
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