I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Avatar

tn_avatarWhen I came out of AVATAR I had a nice free feeling that I wasn’t even gonna write a review of it. I figured what it excels at is self-evident and what it fails at isn’t really worth dwelling on, and every motherfucker with a computer already wrote way too much about this thing anyway so what’s the point? I wouldn’t have much to say.

Then a couple days later I had written this behemoth. Hopefully there are one or two things here that haven’t been said before.

mp_avatarObvious question first: yes I liked it, was pretty blown away on a technical level but just average in the heart and/or balls. It’s a genuine event movie like there hasn’t been in a little while, something I think everybody should go out and see just for the unprecedented spectacle of it. It’s amazing in the way a fancy bridge is, not in the way your favorite novel is. It’s something in between what would be made by the visionary director of ALIENS and the cornball crowdpleaser of TITANIC. Which averages out to not too shabby.

If I could get political for a second here, it is a shame that Congress so monumentally fucked over our country in trying to stop us from ever getting health insurance. Clearly there are many nerds on the internet who need new glasses judging by this bullshit they were saying about AVATAR looking the same as their video games. I thought they were ridiculous when they were talking about the trailer, but when you see the movie those complaints become hilariously asinine. AVATAR effects naysayers, please report to the conference room for a pep talk by the people who signed the petition against Daniel Craig playing James Bond.

The Onion AV Club review said, “As the film’s technical marvels grow commonplace, it will look like a clunky old theme-park attraction, a Captain EO for our time.” To which I say: you got a fucking problem with CAPTAIN EO? Because I don’t.

The cat-eyed blue giants who are the main characters in AVATAR look absolutely real – you just know they’re digital because how the fuck else would it be done? What’s kind of more astounding to me is that this planet they’re on is digital too. There’s nobody who will watch this movie thinking of it as a cartoon or a SKY CAPTAIN type fakey green screen experiment, and yet long sections of it are 100% digital. And it’s all integrated well – I never noticed any of the usual problems like animated characters not looking like they’re really in the same place as the live action, or those BEOWULF crowd scenes where you can tell it was some cut and pasting going on, not a real crowd of people reacting to the same thing at the same time. For the first time it’s all that but it doesn’t look like a collage, it looks like a world.

But do me a favor, don’t call it “world building.” I’m ready to retire that one and “game-changer.” I don’t know if James Cameron said “game-changer” in one interview a long time ago or if it’s seriously something he’s repeated, but either way I’m skipping the internet-wide debate about AVATAR’s level of game changeability. In fact I don’t even know what the game is or what’s supposed to change about it or why I would be disappointed if the changing of the game did not in fact take place.

Whoever this person is who thought the movie was gonna be projected through angel feathers and feature the resurrection of Jesus in HD as a post-credits bonus… I never fucking met the guy and don’t really care if he really exists on the internet somewhere. Supposedly there were people obsessed with AVATAR before it came out, unfortunately I only experienced the people who were obsessed with the idea that there were allegedly the other people obsessed with AVATAR. And I would’ve preferred to deal with the other group, I think.

Wait a minute, maybe it did change the game, because for me there was some adjusting, some getting used to that had to be done. For a minute the 3-D looked exactly like old school HOUSE OF WAX/Viewmaster 3-D and seemed to shrink the Imax screen to a little diorama floating in front of me, but as my eyes adjusted it became a huge, dimensional world pulling me in and surrounding me. And the blue people looked a little goofy at first. You got Sigourney Weaver with her eyes farther apart – how does this change her facial expressions? When she has sad eyes but the eyes are in a different part of her head does it still look sad? I’m not sure how it works. Also, it’s weird to see an alien wearing a Stanford t-shirt. And I’m surprised that they make them in her size.

Is that what game changing is? Was I in the original game when it seemed weird at first and then when I got into it that means I had moved on to the second, changed game? I’m not sure.

Anyway you get into it and it feels hugely epic without being long and tiring. I never got bored, and I was excited for the inevitable conflicts that must take place when the human military wants the magic mineral that’s beneath the natives’ giant tree. After years of trilogies, back-to-back sequels, comic book sequels and HARRY POTTERs I realized I was bracing myself for a cliffhanger, like it was gonna stop before it really got to the big battle. And then I remembered no, this is gonna be resolved in this movie. A nice feeling.

The story is compelling enough. Sam Worthington controlling a blue person body is sent into the Pandoran jungle as an envoy and spy. He becomes their chosen one, falls in love, switches to their side, leads them in battle. I like that they know he’s human (they call him a “dreamwalker”) so it doesn’t have to be an undercover type of movie. I like that he actually falls in love and gets himself some tail-having tail. But admittedly the love story is pretty routine, it hits the usual notes, it’s not all that convincing. I mean even if it was two humans it would be pretty rushed, but it really could’ve been more interesting if it spent time dealing with how the fuck a human gets past the mental barriers of falling in love with a 9 foot tall glowing blue cat lady. To be fair this does take place in a world where people grew up hearing stories about Pandora, so maybe it’s some exotic thing that’s considered sexy, I don’t know. But it still seems like there’d be challenges.

I guess it deals briefly with the interracial aspect. There’s a really sweet moment where they come face to face with their real bodies. Come to think of it, wouldn’t it be more romantic if they stayed different? At the end of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST they’re both human, end of the new frog cartoon they’re both human, end of the farting ogre movie it’s supposed to be a twist because they’re both ogres. King Kong – well, that one doesn’t end well. I asked around and the only thing anybody could think of that goes the other route is Kermit and Miss Piggy, but personally I think that’s an abusive relationship so I wish we could have other examples. I’m saying maybe becoming a Pandoran isn’t the most romantic way, maybe it should be this Pandoran carrying her little pink human guy around on her back saying yeah, I love him, you pricks got a problem with that? Maybe that would be sweeter.

Although come to think of it there’s probly a fetish for that and Cameron didn’t want to be associated with those freakos for the rest of his life. Fair enough.

The Pandoran religion is a little obvious too. I know it’s in the tradition of old sci-fi stories to make them basically Native Americans, but I do think it would be more interesting if they were more, you know, alien. Their reverance for life and nature reminded me of ol’ Miyazaki over there in Japan, but without the same knack for strangeness. The earthiness is a little to earthlike, I think.

There are some cool ideas though, like the way they organically plug themselves into the animals they ride and share a consciousness. Here he is plugged into a machine controlling a body that’s itself plugged into a giant bird monster. It’s a daisy chain.

The villain is this scar-faced general who’s as one-dimensional as Billy Zane in TITANIC, but I guess it makes more sense for a guy in charge of invading a planet for minerals to be a huge asshole. At least he doesn’t say “This Space-Picasso will never amount to anything – you mark my words!” He’s actually a good macho villain with some badass moves you’d cheer for under different circumstance, like when he runs out into the atmosphere, holding his breath because he doesn’t have his oxygen mask, firing off shots at our fleeing heroes.

I like Sam Worthington, but I think they could’ve given him a little more personality. He gets a couple funny reactions and it’s cool to see how much he enjoys walking again, but he’s not gonna be a character you remember like Ripley or Sarah Connor. Speaking of Ripley, I really liked Sigourney Weaver as Grace, a botanist who seems like a bitch in the lab but when she gets out in her avatar she’s like a really nice, well-meaning missionary lady. Trying to teach them English and walking around in her Earth clothes and everything she seems naive about what she’s doing to their culture, but you know she’s genuinely trying to help them and is learning from them. So I think she has a little more dimension than the other characters.

Also I love that there’s a scene where their human bodies are all running and Grace runs like a sissy. It’s funny because of course Sigourney is Ripley, we know she knows how to run. But she’s an actress, she runs in character, and this is her scientist run.

I didn’t get too much out of the Pandoran love interest, in one viewing at least. Just the standard plot devices – she doesn’t like him at first, she starts to like him, she feels betrayed by him, she forgives him for some reason, etc. To be honest I don’t even remember the character’s name. I’ll call her Princess Avatar.

Thankfully it’s light on TITANIC type groaners. The only one that threw me was the rock they’re trying to get being called “unobtanium.” It didn’t seem like it was a slang term, either. Last week somebody told me he read that was what it was called, and I didn’t believe him. I said no, I think that’s some sci-fi writers shop talk lingo, a storytelling term like “mcmuffin.” But he was right. That was a little silly. Otherwise it’s all fine, nothing embarrassing, it’s just that I enjoy excellence so I would’ve liked some more excelling in the story area.

I feel like some defenders of this movie (and also critics of Cameron) are selling his earlier movies short. Yes, he’s always been a science and technology nerd, always trying to show off with effects and push them to the next level, and yes he’s very good at form so if you want to you can ignore the content and still enjoy it. (Note: there are zero occurrences of disorienting shakycam, quick edits or any of the other stylistical problems you normally have to put up with to watch a modern action movie.)

But that’s not all there is to those movies. We love the characters, we feel the emotions. Ripley’s disgust at The Company and the Colonial Marines for not listening to her and risking so many lives. Or her motherly feelings toward Newt. Sarah Connor’s anger at the world for not understanding what she’s sacrificed in its name. John Connor’s pain of knowing his responsibility to the future but just wanting to be a kid with a stable mom. Bud’s horror at seeing his ex-wife laying there dead and his refusal to let that be the end of it. Even corny Jack Dawson and his instinct to pretend he’s going to survive so that Rose will get off the boat and save herself. Or Rose’s spontaneous decision to get back on the boat because she knows she’ll regret abandoning him. Or in TRUE LIES when he, you know, the part where he’s… isn’t there a part where…? I don’t know man, I got nothing for TRUE LIES. But the rest of those, those are all things that stimulate my humanity glands, it’s not all whiz bang and zap and pow and morph, like people keep claiming. I don’t think AVATAR is completely empty, but for me it didn’t punch me in the emotions like those other ones did.

But I do think there are some interesting things going on here, some things to be interpreted. Why are they putting themselves in someone else’s body, I mean besides that it’s cool? I think it could symbolize a couple different things. First is the way we extend ourselves with technology, for example right here in this national treasure of a websight (SOURCE: Guillermo Del Toro). We all kind of know each other here, and we kind of don’t. We have a persona that’s maybe kind of bullshit, trying to look cool or trying to be funny or mysterious or something. But also we’re writing about things we’re passionate about so it’s our real personalities. In some sense it’s the true version of ourselves. We judge each other on ideas and on how we treat each other. We only imagine each other’s faces. It’s kind of intimate – we talk about our lives, we get mad at each other – but it’s kind of distant, because we could always unplug and do something else. But we usually don’t.

And while this technology is not really natural – it keeps us indoors staring at screens, or outdoors staring at handheld toys – it really has brought together cultures, promoted understanding. I’m not a world traveler, but over the past 10 years I’ve talked with people all over the fucking place. Checking Google Analytics right now I see that people from 118 countries have visited my websight in the past month. That includes 21 visits from Botswana, 2 from Kazakhstan, 3 from Iran, 6 from Iraq, 1 from Mongolia. I mean I can’t be sure how many of these are mistakes, but if somebody in the Congo is checking out my review of NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER then this is a pretty worthwhile technology, in my opinion.

I mean in my day kids had penpals, but this increased communication is a good thing. Studies show that people are more likely to support gay rights if they actually know somebody who’s gay (surprising, I know). Using that same theory I figure that if kids grow up talking to kids in other countries about the stupid bands they like, or they change the time on their Twitter to Tehran time to help the protesters in Iran, then maybe world relations will be a little less fucked up as time goes on.

The Avatars also symbolize that concept: walking in somebody else’s shoes. It could almost be literal, if Pandorans weren’t such hippies they’re always running around the forest barefoot. By physically becoming a Pandoran, literally seeing their world through their eyes, Sully begins to sympathize with them more. And he’s a soldier living in his scientist brother’s body. His warrior body is broken, he can’t fight in it anymore. In the scientist’s body he starts over and forms a whole new persona, combining the warrior’s skills with a new perspective he gets from 9 feet up.

And that’s another theme to look into here… adopting cultures like Steven Seagal. Everybody compares it to DANCES WITH WOLVES, but in that movie did Kevin Costner actually become a Native American? AVATAR goes further than THE LAST SAMURAI or the white ninja movies, because he doesn’t just learn their culture and wear their clothes – he wears their skin. And as the story progresses he’s talking about us, about they want what belongs to us. And he calls the people he came with “the aliens.” Seems a little presumptuous, but kind of sweet also. To him maybe “they” means any greedy assholes who plunder the planets and “us” means anyone who doesn’t want to see that happen. That’s why he can say “us,” because what meaning does race have anyway in a world where you can grow yourself a new body?

I was thinking recently about Michael Jackson, and how some of my liberal friends would be completely accepting of a man having his sex changed because he feels he’s a woman inside, but for some reason they wouldn’t extend that same understanding to what Michael did to himself. I wonder what they would think of Jake becoming a catman? Michael would’ve had it easier with this technology, people would respect his choice. Jake chooses to be a Pandoran, because he must feel more in common with them than with “the aliens.” He’s Pandoran on the inside, and the outside can be fixed.

(Man, I really hope he thought this through though. It could get ugly if he changes his mind later.)

The real Pandorans, the ones born on Pandora, would have every right to resent Jake for his alien privilege, but then he did get chosen by magic seeds to save the planet from humans. He betrayed his people to join the underdogs and lead them to victory, like if the Rebels never showed up on Endor but one of the stormtroopers put on Ewok fur and helped them defeat the Empire. So I’d say he’s earned his tree-cred. You can see why they’d accept him. He’s like Eminem.

What I’m saying is the story of AVATAR is as old as the hills’s grandparents, but maybe under the surface it’s a story of today: a depiction of a time when corporations plunder our precious natural resources, and military powers go into places and kill people they make little effort to understand. But also a time when technology brings people together and bridges cultural gaps for those willing to make the effort. A time when you can be who you want, no matter what body you were born in. That’s what this movie is about.

Or maybe it’s just a corny movie with amazing scenes of big blue creatures flying around on pterodactyls shooting arrows at helicopters and robosuits. Either way I think I’m gonna hafta see this one again.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 at 4:06 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

187 Responses to “Avatar”

  1. Vern , only you are able to link Avatar with the “white ninja” movies . That’s something you can find only here. And , please , every time you feel like talking about politics or world issues at large , please do. I miss the old “Tells It Like It Is” columns ( well , the last one is from June , but I will gladly accept a monthly or weekly schedule). I use Internet to receive news from all around the world , not only about international news , but also to have an external , unfiltered view ( or at least less filtered ) of Italy , since our prime minister is also the owner 3 TV stations , 1 pay per view station and a bunch of newspapers . Now it seems like we will have some new internet restrictions over here , because some moron wrote “kill the prime minister” on Facebook , and the parliament decided it’s finally time to take notice of this “world wide web” thing. Yeah .
    So every opinion , every point of view , counts . And I think all of the above is in some way related to the analysis of technology you made talking about Avatar . I always make a point to write down the Italian title of a movie we’re talking about , it’s not much and maybe it’s annoying to some , but at least is a little exchange between people separated by oceans . I skipped a lot of the review , for spoilers , the movie is not out here , but anyway you made some good points not only related to the action and direction , but also to our culture at large. Well played , and you don’t get this kind of disussion going with the modern “blockbusters” , and this makes me want to see the movie even more.

  2. awesome! Vern finally reviews Avatar!

    anyway I loved this movie, here’s a few bullet points

    1. the special effects are actually impressive (which is getting to be a rarity these days) so much so that at times I felt like I was watching a movie from a few years into the future
    2. it had a fully realized and fleshed out world that’s really cool and interesting, I actually bought the “activist survival guide” from a bookstore which fleshes out the world of Avatar more
    3. it has a story that while maybe the not the most original ever put to film is at least interesting and not drowned out by the special effects
    4. it has characters that are actually cool and likable (I loved Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine)
    5. the action rocks, I was on the edge of my seat during the final battle, this is one of the few modern movies where the action is edited well and doesn’t have that “shakey cam” bullshit
    6. Stephen mother fucking Lang! this guy rocks

  3. man, i really wanna read this, but i better watch the movie first :)

  4. If I remember right, it was Steven Soderbergh who called it “a game changer”, after he saw some footage of it. And technically he was right. This is the biggest 3D movie ever! While most modern 3D movies are shot for 2d theatres and another 3D version is added later, just to earn some extra money, it was the other way with Avatar. Here is the 2D version the one, that was just added to earn some extra money. So if the movie would have bombed (Unless there is a worldwide Lee-Hulk-ish box office drop this weekend, I think we can say that it didn’t), studios would have pulled the plug on 3D movies quicker than Michael Eisner on hand drawn cartoon movies. I don’t think we will ever see the day where EVERY movie is shot in 3D (unless of course the whole medium changes into some kind of Star Trek hologram thingy), but depending on how much more money Avatar will make, we can be sure that 3D won’t stay out of the multiplexes for a while.

    Oh, and I still think that Daniel Craig is a horrible Bond.

  5. Hi, I got too much to say so I think bullet points are a good idea. I go with your lead, 6 is good max. Keeps it readable aye.

    1) Good review there Vernsey. Read everyone’s reviews, even everyone’s comments everywhere. Many Many (many). Nick’s raised my expectations, but Faraci’s helped keep em level. All others (inc Squeaks etc) had no impact. Post-watching, Harry’s usual sloppy – for first time ever, did actually make me think enough raise it half a notch from about a 7 level movie experience. This review made me think a little more too, mebbe half a half notch more. Ta.

    2) (after a while) I did keep noticing the Navi tits and ass and I wanted more titilation from the consummation scene. Also when she holding Sam at the end I wanted there to be a need for them to hang out for a few weeks before the obvious plot/character ‘arc’. Dun had to see ‘it’ happen, imagining that it had happened in that week before metamorphosis/transference/freaky-demonic-voodoo-possession woulda been enough, ta Jim.

    3) Speaking of Jim (this might be cultural irritation to Australians only?), Sam’s many interviews here in Oz where he insists of calling James ‘Jim’ all the way through have made him come across as a grade A dickhead. Anyone and everyone I have talked too brings it up and comments on what a dick he is. We fucking hate tall poppies here. Mebbe ingrained, but fuck, it drops your interest in seeing anything with him in it unfortunately a full notch.

    4) I felt like it was a ‘gamechanger’ when the Cheshire cat came to 1 foot from my face! Fuck, I nearly pissed myself. To be fair I’m not certain Jim’s movie had started yet. I was hammered and smuggled another sixpack into the movie (hardest thing about that is pissing like 9 times through fucking 3 hours of movie. LotR, Braveheart, Watchmen, all nightmares). Rest of the movie was like that moth in insect animation…. SOOOOOOOO BEAUTIFUL>>>

    5) Nick built up fuckign Stephen Lang too much. Normally I’d have liked his performance but that fucking giving him a whole line to himself and saying best macho hardass-badass vet ever. Fuck me, all movie I was thinking – is this even close to Berenger in Platoon – not half, what about Full Metal Jacket, fuck Damon Wayan’s as Major Payne was just as good. I did barrack for Lang at the end though…

    6) But that’s cos Sam’s character was a dick which hurts movie experience when it’s the protagonist. That scene where he dun listen to them and risks wrecking his new avatar. I fucking hate people like that. Reminded me of Darth Vader (young). Couldn’t get no love for him, he was just another one of these infinite dicks who does what they feel like and fuck the consequences regardless of damage or who it might affect. Wait, that’s me too. Arrrgh, mebbe I hate myself, but fuck I hate Sam character more. Sigourney was dull, why bother with all the hardass talk at the start…and the smoking, that was just retarded, I mean really.

    Ta Vern.

  6. To us science-geeks, a common and, as I understand it, more or less official name for a room-temperature superconductor is “unobtanium”. And in my professional experience as a scientist, when something new is discovered, the corporate guys tend to put the science-term up there on their power-points, making it very “hip” and making themselves really “hip”. So I honestly believe Cameron really thought this through, and that he just used the corny name to show how he has seen through the poor ability to actually judge cool in cool guys like Burke and the Giovanni Ribisi character.

  7. Great review Vern as always good thing you went on tangents. I wrote this crap yesterday trying to get my thoughts down so here they are. I liked the movie but….

    In my opinion, the characterization and plot of AVATAR was about on the same level intellectually as a Disney rated G movie. This isn’t necessarily a problem since the movie was rated PG-13, it is obviously more of a fantasy than hard sci-fi and it’s geared more towards kids than for adults. Still, I think the movie could have used a bit more grown-up themes in it. So please note that my complaints here are about a movie I would have liked to have seen. I was hoping for a hard sci-fi movie with complex themes and a bit more bite but instead I got a glorified cartoon. A very good looking cartoon with more violence and some smoking in it, but still… cartoony. I kind of doubt anybody will disagree with me a whole lot on this but just in case…

    My first concern with the movie is the by-the-numbers plot that pulls every cliche out of the book and uses it without apology. Seriously, if you’re going to spend $300M on a movie don’t just recycle DANCES WITH WOLVES note for note. With World of Warcraft night elves instead of Native Americans. Add some Anne McCaffrey, a little Gaia theory, and some William Gibson (plus whatever other influences you can think of offhand) and voila!

    My other problem with the movie is the character of Colonel Quaritch (I had to look up his name). This guy is our main antagonist, so what is his motivation? First let me backtrack and talk about Parker Selfridge, Giovanni Ribisi’s character. He is motivated by greed, his desire to move up in the Corporation (Weylan-Yutani perhaps?), etc, the usual, but he is also given a couple moments where he tears up a little bit or at least looks pensively out the window after discussing hurting the natives. It’s not given any depth or even a single line of dialogue, but you sort of get the idea that this guy is all talk and he’d really rather do things the nice way, but he’s putting on this show of being the tough guy saying “screw the natives” because it’s his job and that’s how he’s going to get ahead in the world. If he doesn’t play the bad guy, the Company will just get somebody else who will, right?

    Okay back to the Colonel. Why is he so intent on blowing up the Na’vi? Because they are in his way? Because it’s his job? Because they are just stupid tree-hugging natives and he wants to prove his superiority? Because he’s a Marine? As a soldier he won’t see any extra money out of it except for combat pay. None of these are really good motivations and the Colonel is pretty much a one-note character. He’s a hard ass and that’s it. It’s a little more understandable when he gets mad at Sully late in the movie, because Sully has betrayed him and “his people”. But the Corporation and the Marines have done some pretty crappy stuff by that point for no other good reason than that they were following orders. I understand “just doing my job” as a motivation to some degree, but that doesn’t mean he has to be happy about it! Give the guy a little humanity here, give him a scene where he tells Sully he’s not thrilled about having to forcefully move the Na’vi but he has orders and he’s not allowed to question them.

    So the Colonel is basically the equivalent of the Wicked Witch of the West. I understand this is a PG-13 movie and its intended audience is kids to some degree, but that’s no reason for the story to stay in pure bad vs. pure good territory (the Na’vi are faultless here, they might as well be Ewoks or Tribbles). Why not have some of the Na’vi be bad, bad, bad? This was hinted at only once in the movie, when Sully first got off the ship and a dump truck rolled by with 5 or 10 arrows stuck in its tires. Obviously some of the natives are fighting back… but we never see this again! The story would have been fleshed out better if there was at least some faction of the Na’vi shown that was fighting back, especially if they were fighting dirty, leading to some moral ambiguity. And while you’re at it, why not add some moral ambiguity to the Colonel’s character? I mean, at the very least you could give him a White Whale or something to motivate him, but more interesting would be some dialogue about Unobtanium – he could say “We need these minerals badly for our war effort on the other side of the galaxy. If we don’t get them, people and Marines will die.” THAT would be a good motivation for our Colonel. The opposition could argue “So you want to start a war here to support your other war there, where does it end?” etc etc etc. But it would still be a pretty tricky issue for both sides, as opposed to the cut and dry storyline that we get. The Colonel was mean, yeah Sully changed sides and betrayed the Marines but they were all jerks so who cares, the end.

    I’m also a little confused about the Na’vi’s acceptance of the Avatars. They seem to know that the Avatars are shells with humans driving them, but the girl falls in love with Sully pretty quick. Would you fall in love with a genetically engineered human / alien hybrid that looks human but has an alien driving it somewhere??? Well, maybe if she was hot like that one in MARS ATTACKS.

    Also, what happens after the little skirmish that ends the movie? There is a line in there that goes something like “If we don’t fight back now and defeat them, they will just send more!” Ummmm, so after one little battle the humans are going to give up and let the Na’vi live on their planet in peace? There’s a line from a better movie: “Nuke it from orbit”. I’m sure the Unobtanium would be pretty easy to pick up after they did that.

    A side note: Cameron has gone into Star Wars territory on naming conventions here too. Selfridge?? Why not name him “Greedo McBadguy”? And “Unobtanium”?? Sigh. Unobtanium is a “real” word that scientists / engineers use sometimes when discussing idealized materials as represented in math problems, so when this name was first used (by Selfridge) I hoped that he was making a little inside joke and this wasn’t the real name. Alas, it was. They should have called it “McGuffinium”.

    So yeah, great effects, totally true. But I think people are giving the movie a pass on plot + characters. When the hype dies down and people start reviewing and watching the MOVIE itself… it’s just not a 4 star movie. But it’s really not bad either, for a paint by numbers affair. Decent job Mr. Cameron, enjoy your special effects Oscars.

  8. The review, not the movie. Though the movie is great stuff, too. Don’t want Mr. Cameron to feel left out.

  9. Vern, once again you prove to be the most reasonable motherfucker on the Internet. I found AVATAR to be the corniest movie in the world to listen to and the most beautiful movie in the world to watch, so it came out far, far ahead for me. I’m not apologizing for the sappy dialogue or the cliched plot (it really didn’t need to be that cheesy–you’re spending all this money, hire a rewriter for a quick polish), but the visuals tell the entire story anyway so it seems like nitpicking to say the script ruined the movie. They always say that film is a visual medium, but I think for a lot of people that’s bullshit. They can look at the most intricate and dazzling visual presentation ever devised by mankind (which AVATAR certainly is) and all they’ll notice is that the one-liners are cheesy. I don’t want to harp on any Internet straw men, but for me, the visuals carry the emotion in this movie, so much so that I kind of wished none of the alien language had been subtitled. A symphony doesn’t need words to get its point across, and neither does AVATAR. I’ll be seeing it again on the BIGGER Imax screen.

  10. Actually, there is one scene that feels true and packs an emotional punch (at least for me) : when he first takes on an avatar body, and just ignores everyone to go out for a run. It’s cliched as hell, and completely predictable – much like, well, every other scene in the movie – but unlike the rest of the movie, it works.
    My main problem is that the movie as a whole felt a bit too manipulative, too cynical in its themes and plotting. And it’s absolutely pedestrian, without a single original thought in its (slightly) bloated running time. It to felt me a lot like Titanic, actually.
    Still, I’d recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the spectacle aspect of it; it manages to look absolutely stunning a lot of the time, and I didn’t actually find it boring at any point, which is some kind of accomplishment given how bad I thought the script was…

  11. After seeing the midnight showing for this in SF I was kind of confused as to how I felt about it. I too was wowed by the visuals but not as much as the guys I had seen the movie with. I did start to get caught up in the movie towards the end but then I’d start to get angry because I couldn’t let go of how much better the movie could have been if anyone had been paying attention to the characters/story and I’d get pulled out again. But now after having a few days to think it over I’m pretty sure I hate it. To me this is easily Cameron’s worst movie. It’s much to late/early for me to give a detailed reasoning for my complaints so I’ll just give the bullet points like others.

    1. Worthington is terrible. Just fucking awful. His accent was actually embarassing to listen to and even if it was perfect he’s just so completely bland and uninteresting that I didn’t care about him or anything he did. I honestly don’t even think he has the ability to emote. Someone could have walked into his room about half way into the movie and smothered him with a pillow and I wouldn’t have felt a damn thing one way or the other. This guy is on a level slightly higher than Channing Tatum(imo) and I really hope Hollywood spits him out soon. The fact that he’s going to ruin the Clash remake in a few months really irks me.

    2. Mediocre recycled James Horner score. Horner’s a guy I usually give a pass to because he’s always gettng called in at the last minute to compose music and is usually given no time so if he has to lift a que here or there so be it. He has no excuse for this though. He had all the time in the world to do the music for this one and what he came out with is not only uninspired and repetitive but completely ripped off from his equally terrible score from Troy. I mean seriously dude if you’re going to rip off your own work you could have at least picked a better choice. I loved Horners score for Aliens and Titanic so maybe I had set my hopes a little too high for this. I don’t know.

    3. Underdeveloped characters. With the exception of Neytiri and Grace every character is either underdeveloped(Worthington) or a one dimensional cartoon(Lang and Ribisi). Outside of Neytiri we don’t really get to know any of them. They come on screen to move the plot along or deliver exposition…and then leave. That’s it. At no point in the movie did I believe/care about a single one of them and my audience actully laughed everytime Lang was on screen and uttered his juvenile macho-bullshit dialogue.

    4. Dialogue. It’s been almost a week since I’ve seen it so I’ve forgotten most of the stuff that made my eyes roll but one thing that I can remember were the awful occasions where Cameron took us into Michael Bay territory by having Jake call a Thanator a “punk-bitch” or having Trudy say “Yeah, I’ve got guns too bitch!!”. I actually thought that maybe I had dreamt those two when I woke up the next morning with my eyes still sore(the part of the hype about fucking eyeballs was no joke).

    Way too exhausted to sum this up. Good night/morning to all of you.

  12. Oops. Translation from broken english: It felt to me a lot like Titanic, actually.
    Thinking about it, maybe that’s why people hate on it so much – it’s an extremely populist movie, and that rubs some people the wrong way… so they decide that it just doesn’t look good to them.
    Dunno. Maybe I came as too negative above, but I did enjoy Avatar, and I really don’t get the backlash against it. To give an example off the top of my head, Hellboy 2 was almost as cliched as this, and most reviewers barely if at all mentioned that – the response was mostly good. Of course, it also had much better design, characters and writing, there is that. Ahem, never mind.

  13. I’m glad you called out the AV Club. I usually enjoy their reviews, but man do I disagree with them this time.

  14. I like the AV Club too (I went to their recent reading in Brooklyn–rarely have I seen such little discrepancy between those onstage and those in the audience) but I never pay them the slightest mind when it comes to movies with special effects in them. Their reviewers just don’t have any sense of wonder in them when it comes to this stuff, so we’re just not on the same page. Yeah, I’d prefer if a movie was both a work of literature and a piece of eye candy, but sometimes one or the other is just fine. Movies are a strange hybrid of theater and circus, but a lot of critics act like the circus part is the bastard child, like being a thrilling spectacle is something a movie should be ashamed of.

  15. Majestyk pretty much stated my thoughts on the reaction to the film.

    People’s enjoyment will vary on how they view cinema. If to them cinema is a visual experience first, then they will most likely get a kick out of it. If cinema to them is an extension of the stage and thus, in a way, is a more verbal experience to them, then they will not enjoy it too much probably. Also if you’re a bitter nerd who hates everything, that guy probably wont like it either…

    -Note I’m not saying either way to view movies are “right”

    That’s why I’m not surprised there is almost no middle ground with the reaction to this film (ignoring the assholes calling it Dances With Thundersmurfs In Fern Gully with the Last Smurf going in -see bitter nerd comment above).

    I’m a cinema is visual first guy so that should tell you what I thought about it.

  16. I got nothin other to say than – LOVED IT – just a good old fashioned fun time at the movies. Super cheesy, but that’s part of the charm.

  17. INT. VERN’S WEBSITE – DAY

    An egg nested in the corner of this dank empty room shakes. Hatches…

    A life form emerges.

    The Simulacrum of Roger Ebert.

  18. Vern,

    Devin Faraci at chud.com, who I regularly read, mentioned something which I was reminded of after reading the final thought of your review. His quote: “It’s like a painting of cyborg dinosaurs equipped with rocket launchers and ridden by beautiful naked women: totally fucking awesome but utterly without any deeper meaning or resonance.”

    Roger

  19. I was bored by the film – at the intermission I considered leaving because I wasn’t sure I could take another 90 minutes of it. I admire that Cameron wanted to make an issue movie, a plot-driven, maybe even character-driven film – but unfortunately he forgot to make a story or characters worth caring about. Instead, he uses all the cliches from all the films where the great white man can save the dumb, black (or Indian) wild folk – and the Na’vi are all played by black actors and actresses (and one Native American).

    I mean, here’s a guy who spends three months with the Na’vi and becomes their predestined savior, the leader of the tribe, he weds the princess and future head shaman, and he even brings a little bit of gender equality. When the Na’vi don’t follow him, they shoot with bows and arrows on metal ships with no effect, but as soon as he leads them, they shoot their arrows at people and bring them down – well, they bring the bad men down after the unsympathetic tribe leader gets killed (so whitey can take his place) and after the deus ex machina, literally.

    Yeah, the film looks good. And that’s pretty much it.

    Oh, and also, if there’s a message it’s the usual Cameron anti-progress luddite stuff: machines are bad, science can’t help us, bla bla.

  20. Did Roger Ebert just post here or did I miss something?

  21. Speaking of the AV Club, another of their writers has a dissenting point of view: http://www.avclub.com/articles/going-navi-why-avatars-politics-are-more-revolutio,36604/

    And yes, the Mr. Majestyk in the comments section is me.

  22. I hope that was the real Roger Ebert and not an AICN-style gimmick poster. Part of what I like about this place is that it’s a gentleman’s club.

    Surprise surprise, Devin Faraci posted another angry screed against Avatar fans over at CHUD.

  23. I heard a story on NPR with one of the many marketing goons for AVATAR. They honestly asked, “So how do you go about selling a movie that isn’t a franchise, a sequel, or an adaptation?” as if this was some kind of revolutionary concept which hd never been attempted before, and the lady goes, “Well, it’s hard. You have to try to make sure the people know who the characters are and what the story is so they’ll know what they’re getting.” And went on to talk about how they tried to introduce the characters and world beforehand through other media.

    And I said,

    Jeeesus Horton Christ, have we really reached this point?

  24. btw. Mr Ebert if that’s really you, I have to say while I liked your review on COLLPASE I was dissapointed that you mostly ignored the movie’s interest in Ruppert the man. Not since CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND have I seen a film which tried so hard to delve into a man’s soul simply by letting him speak his piece without judgement. It’s a riveting film anyway, but I admire Chris Smith for creating something which has substance and heart at two distinct but ultimately inseperable levels. Keep up the good work.

  25. Mr. S, it is perfectly understandable for people to be afraid of anything the slightest bit original. For example, when you first started posting, I was unsure if I wanted to read your thoughts, since your screen name is not based on a preexisting property. How could I really be sure that I would enjoy what you had to say if I didn’t already have some fairly concrete expectations before you said it? However, after some favorable word of mouth made me more aware of your brand, I felt confident enough to give you a chance. It was a real gamble, though. Perhaps you should have released a video game, novelization, or merchandising tie-in first so that you would have had a presence in the marketplace before the big rollout. It made have saved you some opening-weekend jitters.

  26. *might have saved* Sheesh. Nothing kills satire faster than a typo.

    Unless you’re satirizing the kind of people who make typos, I guess.

  27. Mr S, that’s sad. Even without taking into account that after watching the trailer, anybody who has seen a movie before knows exactly how Avatar’s gonna play out. But in a way, you can see from that question what Hollywood blockbuster are supposed to be: sellable property. Not original films or anything.

  28. So what TV show is Avatar based on again? My brain hurts.

    ^^^ Voice of the people.

    Oh, and Vern, it seems like a balanced review (this coming from somebody who hasn’t and probably won’t see the film in the cinema) but you lost me at this:

    “The cat-eyed blue giants who are the main characters in AVATAR look absolutely real – you just know they’re digital because how the fuck else would it be done? What’s kind of more astounding to me is that this planet they’re on is digital too. There’s nobody who will watch this movie thinking of it as a cartoon or a SKY CAPTAIN type fakey green screen experiment, and yet long sections of it are 100% digital.”

    Look, they said that about “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, which I’ve never seen, but I know what you thought of that. They also said it about Ewan McGregor Fucking Lava Surfing (TM), and pretty much everyone here knows what I thought about that. They’ve said it about countless movies and more than a few videogames, and you know what? It’s never been true. And it probably never will be. And if this movie proves me wrong, I will be perfectly willing to watch “Bad Boys 2” (think of it as the anti-Lost-In-Translation, the single worst experience I’ve ever had watching a film that didn’t involve someone pouring snackfood over my head from the balcony above) through a pair of 3D movie-goggles with the sound turned up to 11. Until that moment comes, I’m calling “bullshit” on anybody who says that digital effects can ever create a 100% believable world. When I do see “Avatar”, I might eat those words, but I seriously doubt it.

  29. Paul, don’t knock it till you try it. Check out the scene where blue-furry-Jake jumps off a cliff into a river. He grabs on to a floating log and drags himself out. The rushing water man, the rushing water. Photorealism chieved in my opinion.

  30. Gwai Lo – maybe, but “photorealism” ain’t “realism”.

    The problem with digital composition is that to get the kind of realistic detail and physics you need to produce a “realistic” shot, you need a ridiculously complex array of algorithms. Now, you can’t program in a separate array for every blade of grass (which is complicated enough to simulate itself) so you have to start duplicating, using randomized variables in order to give the illusion that each blade, for example, is acting differently. Trouble is, you can only do so much of this before people start noticing the duplication and going “wait a minute, isn’t that the same as…”

    Hell, look at the old YouTube clips of Disney characters from different movies who act and move in exactly the same way even when they’ve been drawn differently. Different tech, same principle. They didn’t have the time or the manpower to change stuff so they duplicated it in a way that people weren’t likely to notice. Except that eventually they did. Now we’re in the digital age and we won’t be talking about different movies, we’ll be talking about different frames within the same movies, maybe only seconds apart. Do you think nothing’s going to look odd about that?

  31. I’d add that again, I’ve not seen the movie; but there are certain things that I don’t believe in. I don’t believe Santa Claus is fake (although I happen to know that the real one eats children, he doesn’t bring them presents, hence the cover-up); I don’t believe in angels or ghosts; and I don’t believe in 100% realistic digital effects. It won’t ever happen.

  32. Maybe not, but I challenge you to point out the recycled blades of grass in Avatar.

  33. Do you really need it to look 100% realistic? Is it okay if it just looks fucking amazing?

  34. Majestyk – not in the slightest. I’m not claiming that digital is “bad”. Nor am I claiming that unrealistic is “bad”. (One of my favorite films from last year is “Wall-E” and whatever else looked digital, that did.) I just take issue with “realistic”. You can’t have “digital realism”, digital and realism are opposites.

  35. I mean, I don’t know what floating mountains are supposed to look like, but they looked pretty real to me. As for the rest of the environment, I pretty much stopped thinking of it as a special effect and just accepted it as the real world. Which I think is what Cameron was going for.

  36. Agreed with Majestyk. And I’m a guy who can’t shake the feeling that all the characters in the Star Wars prequels are running around in front of green screens. AVATAR is as close as the technology has come to seamless integration.

  37. Every now and again I would remember that every single thing I was seeing was fake, but my brain would immediately reject the notion. It was like, “You ain’t foolin’ me, buddy, I know a fern when I see one.”

  38. Paul, I don’t know what you’re trying to argue with, but it’s not anything I said. All I said is that you think of this as live action while you’re watching it, but actually it’s almost all animated.

  39. Oddly, the one thing my brain simply can’t accept is that these weird glowing blue cats have human haircuts. It looks weird and wrong, like putting a wig on Godzilla. One thing that CG guys haven’t learned yet is that just because you can make something look like its THERE doesn’t mean you can make us believe that such a thing could exist. You can achieve absolute, undetectable photorealism but I still won’t believe that mullet belongs on a blue cat’s head. But then again, I’m seeing it tomorrow so maybe it’ll change my blue alien cat hair game.

  40. Hell, look at the old YouTube clips of Disney characters from different movies who act and move in exactly the same way even when they’ve been drawn differently.

    Do you have a link Paul? It might be that my search terms are asstacular but I couldn’t find anything. Sounds interesting though.

  41. Good review, Vern, as usual. I was especially pleased to read your appreciation of what was good in some earlier Cameron films, and that one has to ignore those things in order to say Avatar matches their quality.

    There’s just two comments I want to make. First: I’ve read a few people around the web saying commenting that Avatar “is, granted, not the most original film ever made” but that it still is pretty good, and anyway you have tp allow for some lack of originality in a film this expensive, and so on.

    I’m sorry, that kind of reaction does not quite capture the scope of the problem here. The problem is that Cameron spent 300 million dollars for a film that is completely devoid of imagination. There is not a single original thought in this film’s story.

    It’s not JUST that the woman Jake fall for is The Daughter of the Chief. It’s that she is also Betrothed to Another, and that this other guy is The Strongest Warrior in the Tribe, and that Jake must, and does, Earn His Respect. Oh my God, if your eyes are not bleeding at this point in the movie — they spent 300 MILLION DOLLARS on this movie, and Cameron could think of nothing better than this, which means he couldn’t think of anything at all — then I don’t know what to tell you. One ought to be OFFENDED.

    Second: Anyone else notice that every single human who drives an Avatar is white? And every single actor in the film who plays a home-born alien is a member of a minority? Check the credits. It’s true. I think there is more than just a little racial cross-dressing going on here, and I think some kind of college professor could write a paper about that aspect of the movie.

  42. I haven’t read much of any of the discussion but I want to add something in here hoping it hasn’t been discussed. I was thinking to myself how the right wing of America hasn’t started calling the film Un-American.

  43. Oh well I didn’t expect to hear somebody call the film racist. Personally? Loved Avatar. Just a fun 3D going movie experience where I felt like I was a part of a world that never existed before. Sure the story is a bit basic but is that really such a bad thing?

  44. The story is very autopilot, but you know the movie because you know why?

    At its best, its pure Edgar Rice Burroughs in spirit. I know my generation doesn’t bother with him, but fuck me this is probably the closest we’ll get to a PRINCESS ON MARS type fucking nutty outer space adventure.

  45. Going off-topic for a bit, has anyone heard of this movie called Carriers? I never heard of it until today. Apparently it got yanked out of theatres pretty quick as the studio that put it out went bankrupt. Anyway Stephen King wrote an article about it and how you should give it a chance which has me interested in seeing it. I get a 28 Days Later vibe from the trailer.

    Trailer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aiKLALlXG4

    King Article. http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20309453,00.html

  46. I just can’t forgive this film for having such a weak and predictable story. Why not spend some of those millions on good writers ?

    Weak story + one dimensional characters = weak film.

    Special Effects are irrelevant. Hollywood needs to learn this.

  47. Dek: totally agree with you.

  48. M. Casey : It’s well known that Disney used to recycle animations in a lot of past movies . It’s obviously not like transferring motion capture work to different model , and motion capture itself IS a performance by an actor , so it is definitely real . Here’s one clip from Disney’s recycle bin :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzyLZYYb2qk

  49. hey i was all happy that finally a movie came out almost at the same time here in japan as everywhere else, so i could actually comment on it in a timely fashion, and i was made even more happy that vern didn’t post a review right away, since the movie just came out today here, and i saw it last night at a preview screening.

    but now i come to the sight and find a) not only are there about 50 comments already, but b) i really have nothing substantive to add to the conversation, and my opinions about the movie have been expressed eloquently by many others already.

    i will say that vern’s review is pretty spot-on to how i feel and a great read, of course.

    one thing i would like to say is i was real happy that vern mentioned its position between ALIENS and TITANIC. not only is the former one of my absolute favorite movies of all time, but it has such a perfectl written script with such flawless structure and awesome quotable dialogue and a total lack of sentimentality (some might disagree regarding the newt stuff, but i think it is all handled as un-cheesily as possible and in the end quite touching), plus it has lots of extra layers going on beneath its surface as a lean action machine (ripley’s maternal instincts being but one example). so, ever since december of 1997, i have been totally baffled as to to how on earth the same human being could have written both that exquisite piece of work AND the screenplay for TITANIC. while i think TITANIC does some things well, pretty much all of its flaws can be traced to the script level. it’s so simplistic morally, juvenile in it’s idea of love, and it contains MANY examples of groan-inducing dialogue (the picasso line always being my favorite example to quote). also, the plot is moved forward sometimes in laughably convenient ways. for example, when jack gets invited to the rich people dinner, molly brown says something like, “now we’re gonna have to find you a tux somehow.” then it literally cuts directly to jack wearing a tux in molly brown’s cabin, and she says something like, “just as i thought! you’re the exact same size as my son!” and then i believe she explains why her son isn’t on the voyage but she has his tux. ANYHOO, this is all to say that when i saw AVATAR last night, i finally understood how the same guy wrote both movies because AVATAR is like a perfect bridge between ALIENS and TITANIC. i thought so much while i was watching it, and felt vindicated to read it in vern’s review.

    there’s tons more i could say about AVATAR, but i’ll leave it at that for now.

  50. You know how so much CGI doesn’t look like it has much weight? Like the CGI character seems to float around too much or hover over the surface of the film like an insect? Anyone care to comment on how they think Cameron responded to that challenge? I haven’t seen the film yet.

  51. Jareth, I really do think he licked that problem. At no point did I get that bouncy CGI feel from the characters, which is really the main reason why I think it tricks the eye so well. In fact, there’s one aspect of the effects work that specifically draws your eyes to their feet as they walk, and it always looks like they make contact.

  52. CGI was completely convincing almost all of the time. He finally got gravity right.

  53. Actually, one of the most impressive special effects shots for me was in the first couple minutes of the film when Sully gets out of suspended animation and there are dozens of people floating around in zero G. Best zero G shot ever by far, it was stunning. Don’t get your hopes up too much though, it was a 30 second shot that had very little flash, it’s just a simple shot that was so well done I was just a little bit astonished. Can you be just a little bit astonished?

  54. Glad to hear that. Thanks guys.

    There were times during Ang Lee’s HULK when I thought that the Hulk was a Macy’s Day balloon that was about to float off across the desert. It’s not a big deal to me, but it’s interesting how persistent the problem has been.

  55. To the people complaining about the story being unoriginal and predictable: Did you have the same complaint about DISTRICT 9, a film with a very similar story? Or the other well-regarded, unoriginal sci-fi movie this year, STAR TREK?

    For me there is only one crime a movie can commit, and it is not unoriginality. It’s the crime of being boring. (Actually, now that I think about it, embarrassingly bad comedy is also pretty unforgivable.) And to me it is a measure of Cameron’s greatness as a filmmaker that he can make a two and a half hour movie containing many plot elements I’ve seen before and never once bore me. There was not one point in the movie where I thought, “I wish this scene would just end so we can get to the more interesting stuff.”

  56. I’m probably not the best guy to respond to your point, Jake, but I would agree with the statement that the scripts to STAR TREK and DISTRICT 9 were unoriginal and predictable. I think the scripts were a large part of why I didn’t fully enjoy either film, though there are plenty of other reasons.

    Of the two, I was more disappointed with DISTRICT 9, simply because I think it had more potential. But I think it’s also the one that I might warm to later, once I’ve made peace with what I feel are its shortcomings. And I think it got some things right, particularly that big ship hanging there in the sky.

    STAR TREK? Well, it was watchable, but I’ll be as likely to revisit it as I will be to sit through HEARTBEEPS again. I think the STAR TREK script works primarily as a statement of purpose: it say more about the team who put the movie together and their attitude toward the franchise than it does science fiction or even coherent storytelling. And, not being a Trekkie, I don’t find that particular discussion all that interesting.

    I try to not use boredom as a critical standard; it’s too unreliable. Something that bores me one day could have me glued to the screen on another day. For me, boredom is influenced by too many variables that have nothing to do with the film. But hey, I’m a bit of a scatterbrain.

  57. Yeah, Jareth, I agree that boredom is, to a large extent, dependent on mood and how focused you are on a film. Which is why I don’t like to completely write off a movie after just one viewing as long as there is at least something worthwhile about it.

    This is something I have long found weird about a lot of film criticism. So many critics (and non-critics) seem to present their initial opinion of a film as the correct interpretation. That always struck me as strange. I can never be sure my future self will agree with my own interpretation of a film. How these people can be so sure of their opinions baffles me. If I’m very tired, or hungry, or just thinking about something else going on in my life, all of these can negatively affect my opinion of a film. So it puzzles me that these people seem to be able to completely objectively view movies without any outside influence at all.

  58. I think the problem is not just originality – it’s that it just doesn’t have anything interesting to say, and a complete lack of imagination which extends to the design (yeah, it’s beautiful, but also kind of pedestrian.) District 9 and a load of other movies (can’t comment on Star Trek – I substitute it here with Hellboy 2 to put an example) had elements which were trite, cliched, formulaic, whatever. But they worked in other respects – they either had something interesting to say, or clever or original bits, or were well written. Avatar’s script can at best be called workmanlike. It’s boring – I’ll take something flawed over mediocrity any day of the week.
    However, while watching the movie, I couldn’t care less. The visuals carried it completely for me. I probably won’t own it, but damn if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s a popcorn flick, a ride movie, and it knows that. It could have been amazing if they had gotten some good scriptwriters to work it over, but you know what? maybe next time – what we got is more than worthwile. Maybe not worth owning (for me, at least) but definitely worth watching.
    I can see how those plotty bits might drag on second viewing, though.

  59. Jake: I’m sure you know that the famous movie critic Pauline Kael didn’t subscribe to the practice of seeing a film more than once. As I understand, she basically felt that film is a largely transient and disposable medium, and that multiple viewings would ruin the magic of a good film*. She must have had way more confidence in her critical abilities than me, because it often takes me two or three viewings to even get the plot of some films, let alone write a good review. I can appreciate Kael’s Zen-like approach, but there are a lot of great films I would have unfairly dismissed if I followed her practice, and a lot of crap that I would have gone to the grave being a champion of.

    rciton: I like to think that I can give a lot of slack to a flawed movie if it does some things really well, but I guess the tipping point is different for each person. For me DISTRICT 9 failed because the tone didn’t sit right with me: it seemed too goofy at times, too slapstick, and it didn’t sit well in my head alongside the more serious themes. I know some guys will go nuts if the soundtrack is wrong, but for me that really isn’t a deal-breaker.

    I don’t know if some elements of a film are more important than others, but for me tone is a big one. THE MATRIX has all sorts of cliche in it, but I tend to ignore that because the tone and the action are so well done.

    *Anyone more familiar with Kael’s work can feel free to correct my paraphrase of her position on this.

  60. I didn’t know Pauline Kael thought that. That’s just crazy. Did she not watch DIE HARD every year at Christmas like all reasonable people?

    Yeah, THE MATRIX was another one I thought of that similar complaints could be leveled at. That kind of standard Hollywood storytelling gets ripped on, but when it is executed well, as I think THE MATRIX and AVATAR are, you still end up with great movies.

  61. Jareth, that’s a perfectly valid point. An I have no problem with someone disliking avatar if they don’t favor the visual side of the equation as much as I do or if they’d like a little more personality in their spectacle. Hell, I was a bit unsure while watching it, before deciding I was for it – and I’d still describe it as a very dumb movie. But outright dismissing how this film looks… that’s where I have a problem with the backlash to it.
    To be honest, I’ve seen that problem more on forums than on reviews, so it could be put more to trollish hyperbole, but still.

    Oh, and Jake – I think most critics don’t intend their reviews to stand frozen in time, hence critical reassessments. Well, with the exception of Pauline Kael, apparently…

  62. I´ve seen Avatar twice. It was better the second time. Cameron is amazing.

  63. Red Scorpion in space? Maybe, but that´s not bad.

  64. Clarification: Kael’s self-imposed rule was to not see a film more than once before writing up her review; she would only see a film more than once in order to check her facts. Once the review was published, Kael maintained that she had little enthusiasm to re-watch a film, but it’s obvious from some of her work that she has sat through some movies multiple times (CITIZEN KANE, for example).

    Kael on film in general: “Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash we have very little reason to be
    interested in them.”

  65. I’d heard that quote about great art before, but I never quite understood it. What films did she actually consider great art? Was CITIZEN KANE just great trash as well, according to her?

  66. Well, if boring’s the crime, convict Cameron. I was bored out of my seat for large stretches of film.

    Star Trek didn’t really hinge on its “story”, but more on characters and fast pacing, two things Cameron has not. Also, it’s a fun movie, but not a masterpiece, and it’s also not 170 minutes long.

    District 9 had a well-known story but had some deviations mostly due to its hero / a character. Wikus is not a hero, but just out to save his own skin, even though he’s placed in a messianic whitey-saves-minority movie. That doesn’t mean D9 is without problems, especially story-wise, but it tried to inject something there. And it’s not 170 minutes long.

  67. I’m not a Kael expert, but I think I’ve read enough of her stuff to say that her tastes are pretty eclectic. In an interview she once criticized critics for having “leatherbound tastes,” by which I think she meant that too many critics adhered to the idea that one genre of film-making has a monopoly on repectability while others can be nothing but escapism. Yet she could be utterly brutal with something that she felt was insulting or manipulative, like much of Speilberg’s stuff. Kael was pretty democratic in her tastes, but not without controversy: she much preferred de Palma to Kubrick, for example.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think that she cared much for the idea of canonization. She liked CITIZEN KANE because she thought it was one of the few films that remained “fresh” years after being made, which I think speaks more to her appreciation of technique than it does some idea of art. She was much more interested in how a particular director advanced film-making in general.

  68. Jake: “This is something I have long found weird about a lot of film criticism. So many critics (and non-critics) seem to present their initial opinion of a film as the correct interpretation.”

    I call bullshit. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a serious film critic (not a junket quote machine) that actually posits his assessment as unchangeable and the (only) correct interpretation. It’s just that writing about film, it’s very, very confusing if the critic sounds insecure. It’s a better read, a better discussion piece, and a better guide for the reader if you sound convinced. That’s why the charge of being close-minded so rarely hits true, it’s just a conceit of the text form.

    Imagine a review like this: “Listen, I kind of liked Avatar, but I’m not sure I will next time. The effects seemed spectacular, but I may be wrong about that. The story was a little thin, but perhaps I missed something and it’s actually good. In the end, I guess I’d recommend it right now. But in a few minutes, maybe I won’t. I don’t know.” Who’d be happy about that?

  69. Patrick: I might have liked STAR TREK if it was 170 minutes. Or at least if it wasn’t in such a hurry. I really think that movies need to slow down a bit. Maybe I’m getting old. STAR TREK just seemed like a rock video to me. Without prior knowledge of the characters from their other incarnations, I doubt any of them would have stuck in my head.

    Like Jackson’s KING KONG: the aicn talkbackers seem to largely support the idea that the first third of the movie is boring and should have been greatly reduced. For me, that’s the only part of the movie that really worked, the only part with mood, tension and characterization.

    But hey, I don’t fault anyone who wants more of a thrill ride than me. I’m a bit of a grump.

  70. Patrick – Yes, obviously no serious critic would ever suggest that their opinion is the only correct one. (Though I suspect many people who post on forums would.) And if asked they would of course say they are presenting their subjective interpretations even though their writing is almost invariably presented as objective. I understand it is a conceit of the form and the way you are “supposed to” write film criticism. I just find it a bit disingenuous. Why not just present it subjectively if everyone is supposed to read it as subjective? It is a tone I have gotten bored with over the years and no longer enjoy reading all that much.

    Thankfully, there are some reviewers who don’t subscribe to that kind of fake objective tone yet still do not employ the wishy-washy style you gave as an example. Like, for instance, the guy who wrote the review at the top. This is one of the reasons Vern is among the few film critics I actually read anymore.

  71. Jake: Not to mention, Vern draws a very clear line in the sand when it comes to shilling. Too many critics these days are nothing more than an extension of a film studio’s PR department. Not only does Vern refuse to play that game, but he’s been a vocal opponent of the practice.

  72. To bitch at the AVATAR script, it had a bad tendency of telling, instead of showing.

    DISTRICT 9, at least that cringe-worthy scenes of the humans outright murdering those baby aliens was…..potent.

  73. It seems strange to me to claim that Avatar has no original elements to it. How about these ideas:

    1. Action movie with a cripple lead.

    2. A story about how humans transmit their minds to genetically manufactured alien bodies.

    3. Aliens that can neurally share a mind with other animals through a biological “USB port”.

    4. An entire planet which is a conscious organism and every creature on the planet can neurally link to the planet organism.

    5. At the end of the film the audience is supposed to cheer when aliens kill nearly all the human characters.

    6. The first Hollywood movie to have alien sex.

    7. The lead chooses prefers to live as an alien instead of being a human.

    …Quite a few major and minor story points that I have never seen anywhere else. I also think that while dialogue is merely adequate and the story and characters are very archetype-driven, a lot of the film is really well written. Very well constructed scenes with good minor story beats inside them, and a lot of very good visual storytelling.

    And just to make it clear: Visual storytelling doesn’t mean pretty pictures. It means how story, character, different actions, etc, are done with visually communicated story beats. All these visual story beats are in the script, and it’s one aspect of screenwriting Cameron has always been good at.

    I also appreciated the fact that Avatar is a *real* scifi movie. Which means that it’s all about speculative scientific ideas, and it works as a mirror to our own world.

    Script-wise, the worst aspect of the movie were the unnecessary voiceovers, which were simply repeating stuff we could already *see* .

    Anyway, I liked it, didn’t love it. The 3D was more distracting and headache-inducing than anything else, I would have probably liked it more on 2D.

    7/10

  74. Jake: the guys from filmfreakcentral also admit to changing their minds on movies, or being wrong on some of them. Walter Chaw just started posting his revised top 10 of each year from 2000 onward, and even though he tore into “Unbreakable” when it came out, now it’s his number 4 choice.

    Jareth: I think the problem with Star Trek was that even in an already fast-paced film, they felt they had to include an action scene every five minutes, and so Kirk gets banished on some planet to be chased by monsters and Scotty is stuck in a water tube. Ugh.

  75. Tuukka: I think that’s where the debating starts, because with most of your points, I’d just argue they are minor details changed from well-trod film elements. But on the other hand, you might say my categories are too broad. Let’s just say I disagree with your points in that I don’t think they’re original nor important enough in the film. You might just as well say, “flowers that light up when you walk across them like in a videogame”.

    Just to your first point, though, how would this story have been different if Jake hadn’t been in a wheelchair? Give me one scene where it would have been different aside from the marines offering him new legs instead of honor, glory, a medal, a trip home, cosmetic surgery, a visit from his wife, …

  76. Roger Ebert also ammended his first impression of Lynch’s BLUE VELVET years later. Without actually retracting his earlier, hysterical tirade against the film, he did admit that there is a lot going on in Lynch and that maybe he just doesn’t have the temperment to review a film like BLUE VELVET properly.

    Films in particular are often very tied to the moment in time when they are made; critical re-assessment is inevitable.

  77. Well put Tuukka. Apparently the idea of a paraplegic projecting their consciousness into an alien body has done in books before (causing nerds to accuse Cameron of plagiarism without agreeing which one he is plagiarizing) but I never heard of it before and it sure isn’t in a movie.

    I also agree with you about the narration, which I meant to mention in the review. ALIENS may have recordings for the log but mostly it just plunges you into the world without explanation, and to me that’s a much better way to tell a story.

    And to answer Patrick’s question, the scene where he lovingly stares at his toes and then joyfully runs around Pandora, feeling what it’s like to walk again – that would’ve been meaningless if he wasn’t paralyzed. I think it also feeds into the politics of the movie, he’s this discarded veteran who would be able to walk again if the economy was better. So maybe it doesn’t add much to the plot but it adds to both the emotions and the politics, so I’d say that’s two good reasons.

  78. Vern – not arguing as such, I’m just pointing out that the realism charge has been levelled at digital movies before many, many times over, and it’s always been wrong as far as I can see. So when such charges are made today, it kinda sends my bullshit detector into overdrive. I don’t think it’s ever been achieved, and frankly I don’t see how it can be – as the technology increases, so does the expertise needed to operate it. Am I being too cynical here? I hope not, given what I bet in my last post… but when I watch the film I’ll make my mind up.

  79. It should be noted that Pauline Kael began writing in the early 50s (she was born in 1919 ) and so for most of her adult life and career movies were by design much more transient and less self-conscious about their ability to endure and last for the ages. The medium was simply experienced in a very different way during almost her entire career, and likely influenced the way she thought about how movies were meant to be received and considered. These days, I doubt many serious critics would share her philosophy, since home viewing and film ownership is now almost the rule, rather than the exception.

  80. Vern: Really, the scene would have been pointless? I mean, it was a guy trying on an Avatar Suit for the first time, feeling the feline athleticism, and entirely new way of walking… Okay, this moment was stronger emotionally for the disability, but you wouldn’t have had to change anything if Jake hadn’t been in a wheelchair. And I mean, Cameron could have used an actor who actually *is* in a wheelchair, could he not? And then have the Avatar’s walk be scanned in by someone else?

    And the idea of “a paraplegic projecting thoughts into an alien” is what I mean by too detailed. People projecting themselves into different bodies has been done before, and even if not that’s just the start of the story; the film has avatars in them, but it’s not really about avatars. Ah, anyway, let’s not belabor the point.

  81. Mr. Subtlety: No doubt about it, Pauline Kael thought that literature was a “higher” artform than film, which isn’t surprising, given the centrality classical literature would have had in her education. At the same time, she remarked once that she enjoyed watching artforms mutate and jostle for prominence.

    Ironically, the “disposable” films from her early adult life hold up as art way better than so many self-consciously arty films of today.

    I think Kael was describing the shift from pulp to art in the 1960s/70s that you describe when she wrote: ““Trash has given us an appetite for art.” Which is not to suggest that she was hard on trash. I think she was one of the first American critics to treat trash and genre seriously, her early article on Peckinpah being a good example.

    And her refusal to take Kubrick as seriously as Kubrick took himself is always good for a chuckle.

  82. Man I wanted to hop in and contribute a bunch of times up there but you guys are doing a pretty good job so I’ll just respond to Patrick.

    I think that running scene is one of the main crux points of the story. I think it’s very significant to the design of the movie that the main character starts out crippled from military service, only eligible for surgery on his legs if he does MORE shit for the government. It says a lot about where the civilization that enlisted him is at, without adding much weight to the voiceover/expository dialogue scenes. This guy has been exploited by the same culture that would carelessly destroy a planet to get at its energy supply.

    But that has little to do with the real emotional meat of the scene. If you know anyone in a wheelchair, ask them what they thought about the scene where Jake takes off running in his new body. It’s not just mildly stronger emotionally because he was disabled, this guy was a marine so you can bet that he’d like to use his legs rightnowplease. If Jake hadn’t been in a wheelchair, he probably would have calmly waited until the scientists told him it was OK to go outside and chill with the other Avatars. But that’s speculative. And it’s not even getting into all the cheesy symbolism and themes: as a human he’s a cripple, as a Na’vi he is a hero! It’s like how John Dunbar starts off in Dances With Wolves a seemingly fatally wounded man, but then developed into a hero when he saw the gentle ways of the Sioux.

    Also I do think the movie is about avatars, that they aren’t just a plot device. Sitting down in a dark theater and putting weird glasses on to watch something in the third dimension doesn’t feel too far removed from climbing in one of them techno-coffins and flying through the color hole. Also, there’s the use of the mechs that amplify physical movements, ideas concerning spiritual transference and interspecies connections, Jake starts off the film stepping into the role of his brother, Quaritch uses him for his own purposes, etc. I’d say the movie has enough “experience by proxy” in it to be “about avatars”.

  83. about the voiceover narration, i too thought there was too much of it and it was often overly-expository and guilty, as someone pointed out above, of *telling* rather than *showing*. for example, there is the part where after jake’s been chilling with the na’vi (nav’i?) for a short while, they cut back to him in the avatar lab, and his voiceover says something like, “this has become the dream. that is the reality.” i was like, “REALLY??? fuck, i wish they had showed some of that happen, would’ve been cool.” it honestly felt like he had just been hanging out with them for a bit. similarly, as vern alluded to in his review, you didn’t really see how ney’tiri and jake fell for each other, it was just taken as a given.

    as for the movie being boring, i honestly didn’t find it to be so as i watched it. i felt engaged and interested. BUT, and this is painful for me to admit, i did actually nod off for a couple minutes, during the climactic battle of all places! it was surprising to me precisely because i didn’t feel bored by the movie, unlike when i recently fell asleep for a few minutes during PUBLIC ENEMIES. but it may have had more to do with my age and physical state at the time. it used to be unimaginable for me to fall asleep during a movie, any movie, even for a second. but ever since i entered my 30’s, it has started to happen every now and then, especially when compounded by other factors. in this case, i had had very little sleep recently and i had a cold. however, i’m not sure i would have nodded off if i was fully engrossed in and riveted by what i was watching. for example, i didn’t fall aspleep for even a second when i watched the marathon 11-hour screening of all 3 THE LORD OF THE RINGS movies the week before the official premiere of THE RETURN OF THE KING, and that time i hadn’t slept for literally about 40 hours straight before the screening (long story). but of course i was in my 20’s then.

    (sigh)

  84. Haven’t seen Avatar, but this discussion is making me think of the wheelchair kid in Nightmare 3: Dream Warriors.

  85. You know, I wonder if this film could have even been made before the internet, where people are really exploring the idea of a whole concept of living and communicating through another medium for the first time in history.

    As Vern points out, having an avatar is part of our everyday lives. Would people even a decade or so ago be able to swallow the idea that Jake happily gives up his body and trades it in for a new life and identity? I would suggest our generation is the first to really be this comfortable with the idea of a fluid identity which can legitimately take many different forms, values, and extremes, depending on the means through which we project the identity.

    But wait a second — does that mean it’s right and we’re the enlightened ones, or are we kidding ourselves? How different is Jake’s experience on Pandora from Neo’s Matrix avatar, which seems fundamentally intolerable and abhorrent (at least, to the first movie’s point of view. Interestingly, by REVOLUTIONS, no one is that concerned about the concept of people being in the matrix, they seem to have accepted that its inevitable). Interestingly, the first MATRIX takes a very strong pro-reality stand, while the later ones become far more ambivalent about it. By AVATAR, not only is this a great step for our hero but it helps him find out who he “really” is in a hero’s quest sort of way — his physical “reality” is irrelevant and actually holds him back from finding his true purpose. I wonder if the days of taking the red pill are over, at least for the time being. Existentialism is the new metaphysics. Who cares what you really are in some kind of Platonic sense? The important thing is how you shape yourself in whatever world you want to create. Or would that be the opposite of existentialism? Does Sartre only apply to the real real world? If you’re finding “yourself” through a virtual fantasy world, are you defined by your actions in that world or your inaction in the real world? And, um, did any of this occur to Cameron at all, or are we just trying to find something interesting here to talk about. I distinctly remember him confiding in a reporter, “it’s all just an excuse to do helicopters vs pteradactyls.” which may be a philosophical statement in its own right.

  86. I liked how you mentioned “and it’s cool to see how much he enjoys walking again”.
    http://hubpages.com/hub/Avatar-Movie-Review

  87. PATRICK:

    ” I think that’s where the debating starts, because with most of your points, I’d just argue they are minor details changed from well-trod film elements. But on the other hand, you might say my categories are too broad.”

    RE:

    I think they are definitely too broad. Can you compare original ideas of Avatar to ideas from some other movie, which are *vaguely* similar? Sure. You can do that with *anything*. Ideas are not born in a vacuum, because we as humans don’t live in a vacuum. Some link or reference to earlier ideas done by other people will always exist. But make no mistake: Avatar has a lot more original ideas than your typical big budget Hollywood movie.

    “Let’s just say I disagree with your points in that I don’t think they’re original nor important enough in the film. You might just as well say, “flowers that light up when you walk across them like in a videogame”.”

    RE:

    Not important enough? I was talking about the PREMISE, CLIMAX and ENDING. The entire film hangs on those original ideas.

    As for flowers that light up, that was another (minor) original idea that I forgot to include in my list. Never seen that anywhere. I would also add that it was a very original idea to take real-world deep sea flora and use it as alien vegetation, with self-illuminating qualities and all. Very clever I think, and I’ve never seen that before.

    “Just to your first point, though, how would this story have been different if Jake hadn’t been in a wheelchair? Give me one scene where it would have been different aside from the marines offering him new legs instead of honor, glory, a medal, a trip home, cosmetic surgery, a visit from his wife”

    RE:

    1. Jake starts working as a spy, because he was promised new legs. If wouldn’t have been a spy, he wouldn’t have given the army information on how to blow up the tree (He gave very detailed information what spots to hit). Jake wouldn’t have betrayed the Navi, he wouldn’t have been thrown out of the tribe, he wouldn’t have had the need to prove himself by riding the big red dragon, and eventually he would have never become “Toruk Makto”. He wouldn’t been able to bring together the tribes, and he wouldn’t gave been able to lead the Navi’s to war.

    2. Being able to use his legs in Avatar form is the major reason why Jake loves being an Avatar. His preference of his avatar body as opposed to his human body makes him want to spend more and more in that form, spending more time with Navi’s, eventually falling in love with Neytiri, becoming a member of the tribe, turning against humans, and eventually becoming a “real” Navi himself.

    …As you can see, Jake being a cripple is always his main motivation in the film. It’s what drives him both to good and bad things, and the story wouldn’t exist if he were just some ordinary soldier who A) Is not alienated from his human body and has no special love for his avatar body, and B) Has no motivation to work as a spy for the army.

  88. I would also add that Jake being a paraplegic is representative of the environmentalist/native theme of the film:

    1. In the human, industrial world Jake is a paraplegic, and he has lost his legs as a direct result of the violent tendencies of humans.

    2. In the native/environmentalist, peaceful world of the Navi’s Jake has a full, working body.

    …So Jake missing his legs is symbolical to the state of human society. He is physically (and somewhat mentally) crippled, just like the human world he lives in – We are given a lot of hints that earth has become a shithole.

    Mind you, the film would have gained a lot power by adding just 5 minutes in the beginning, actually SHOWING the earth and Jake getting into a spaceship. A missed opportunity in there, for sure. Also it might have been more interesting to make Jake a big of a depressed cynic in the beginning, and then showing him become more vital and positive over the course of the film. But I never claimed Avatar has a great script – Just a solid one, with some good, original ideas.

  89. I still disagree with pretty much everything Tuukka wrote up there, but that’s okay. Where I don’t disagree so much is where Tuukka and Gwai Lo say similar things, because Gwai Lo’s post made me think. Maybe I *did* overlook things. I’ll reconsider my points there. Thanks.

  90. “I still disagree with pretty much everything Tuukka wrote up there, but that’s okay.”

    RE:

    Actually that’s not really “okay”, per se. I argued my point of view in a very logical and detailed manner, showing major faults in the logic of your perceptions. If you can’t refute what I wrote, then it means you were wrong, and you have now admitted to it. That’s the nature of any debate, and you actively took part in this debate, even instigated it.

    There’s no such thing as a matter of opinion. There’s only the ability, or the lack of, to logically argument one’s opinion.

  91. Tukka – your point about his disability being an important plot point in relation to his actions is good and as you said, logical. But I think you’re stretching a bit with the disability aspect representing a broken earth and therefore connecting to the environmental aspect.

    “…So Jake missing his legs is symbolical to the state of human society. He is physically (and somewhat mentally) crippled, just like the human world he lives in – We are given a lot of hints that earth has become a shithole.”

    Well, yes and no. There are a few mentionings of bad things about earth, but they’re very specific and not subtle. They mention “Earth has no green left” and “Health Care is shit, I can’t afford new legs”.

    They’re bad things (though we don’t know how much he’s exagerating with the “no green”), but they’re not representative of a ‘broken earth’, they’re very specific and I don’t think always follow through thematically with the disability as you do. The health care point is a bizarre one because it feels like a dig at the current US health care system (which would also limit the issue to just US rather than the Earth as a whole as being broken) in an attempt to make some comment on our current time, whilst we’re also obviously meant to see that everything is better on Pandora because Jake can walk. Therefore the peaceful/treehugging way of life is better etc.

    But it’s not Pandora or environmentalism or peace that enables him to walk. It’s humans, it’s the bad guys. There technology and work. The best the Na’vi can offer is uploading your memory to a tree.

    Perhaps I’m looking into the specifics too much, but it does feel like one of the things that makes Pandora better than Earth, this thematic idea of him gaining freedom on the planet (mental,physical etc) is something created by humans with advanced technology. Not the Na’vi. It’s something I’m not sure Jake ever seems to realise or think about. And perhaps Cameron never did?

    I think there is some more complex and interesting stuff going on with the aspect of the avatars and that in relation to Jake’s character etc (Whilst he’s ‘free’ it’s not until the end that the Na’vi put him in the Avatar body permenently and he’s truly ‘free’) But I’m not sure it’s anything that Cameron ever intendted, he’s more a broad strokes kinda guy. But then I guess that’s the fun of film analysis, directorial intention does not matter.

    I enjoyed the film, but I have some massive problems with the basic story premise of “white man going native” that really made me cringe, which I’ll post about after christmas time.

    Merry Christmas to Vern and all the posters.

  92. PS: Sorry last sentence of first paragraph should be –

    But I think you’re stretching a bit with the disability aspect representing a broken earth and therefore connecting to the environmental aspect because the film doesn’t always support such a clear through line of thematic elements due to certain plot points.

  93. “But it’s not Pandora or environmentalism or peace that enables him to walk. It’s humans, it’s the bad guys. There technology and work. The best the Na’vi can offer is uploading your memory to a tree.”

    Good point, and it does contradict a theme I thought I had found, or at least it makes the theme work less consistently.

    BTW, I agree that Cameron is a broad-strokes kind of guy, but I think he also likes to play with symbolism a little bit. For example Aliens tells of a mother who adopts a new daughter to replace the daughter who died, even if this is never actually explicitly said. The climax of the film is about two mothers of two different species, both of whom want to kill each other because they are trying to protect their children. The symbolism in those story points is too heavy to be coincidence, IMHO.

    You can find similar symbolism in Abyss and T2 as well, both of which are rather message-driven films.

    The crippled guy / crippled society seemed kind of obvious symbolism to me, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was intentional, but perhaps Cameron didn’t consider it from all angles properly enough.

  94. Mr. Subtlety: You’ve pretty much pinpointed the aspect of AVATAR (and THE MATRIX, for that matter) that I personally find most interesting: identity.

    One aspect of Sartre’s concept of identity that might be relevant to AVATAR is that individuality is something that is forged or earned; essential to this process is the recognition that the subject (in this case Worthington’s character) must comprehend death, particularly as it pertains to the cessation of his activities on earth. To poorly paraphrase Sartre, the awareness of mortality is sort of like being scared straight into individuality. According to Sartre, knowledge isn’t nearly as important.

    So this scene where the protagonist first tries out his new blue body seems like an apt depiction of this aspect of Sartre’s thinking. And I don’t think he would have objected to the enactment of these ideas in a work of fiction, though his own fiction was decidedly more historical/realistic.

    I can’t think of an instance in which he addressed anything that will be explicitly useful to a discussion of virtual reality; I’d guess that he was familiar enough with Marxism to be skeptical of potentially a false reality or false consciousness. Contronted with the internet, Sartre would probably ask: “what are you actually doing?” You’d have to put up a good fight to convince him that you were doing something more productive than just sitting in front of a screen typing. And the idea of death in the virtual world is sufficiently vague to have probably put him off the whole enterprise.

    And I agre with you that there has been a shift in how identity is perceived in film; fluid identities in the past are synonymous with insanity, instability, evil … almost always depicted negatively. It’s only lately that the idea of freedom or renewal through a fractured identity has been proposed (though in literature it’s a more common idea going back to the 1800s).

    Having said that, films like IDENTITY and THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT still peddle the old theme of the need for a coherent, reality-based identity in order to be a productive citizen.

  95. Jareth Cutestory – I think Cronenberg shares the same philosophy.

  96. RRA: Sadly, Sartre never got around to casting Marilyn Chambers in one of his plays. That would’ve been cool.

  97. I just find it really hard to believe how hard many of you are being on this highly entertaining picture. Not only was the acting genuinely good considering most of it is motion captured. I would agree that Zoe Saldana deserves at least some attention when it comes to putting her up for Best Actress. But that the notion that there are people here who are saying Avatar isn’t a good movie and then I get argued against that Matrix sequels are these great movies blows my mind.

  98. As I watched this, it dawned on me that this kind of actually is a game changer – not because it redefines how films will be made, but it changes the idiom of filmatism. Now filmatists are going to have think about the geography of shots not just in 2D but in terms of 3D positioning.

    Previously we’ve had the mixed bag of Friday the 13th 3D, My bloody Valentine 3D, the godawful Jaws 3D, and the absolutely pointless Final Nightmare, all of which had the usual “shit flying or pointing out at you” thing.

    But now we’ve seen how organic and immersive the experience can be with actual 3D experience – it very rarely kicked you in the ass and said “hey look – I’m 3D” – it’s just that every scene was positioned and shot to take advantage of it. Can you imagine the debacle we’d see if Paul Greengrass shot Bourne in 3D? Not only would we have trouble tracking the action, but there’s a good chance the motion would induce nausea.

    What I’m REALLY interested to see is how current filmatists adapt to make the most out of the new protocol. What will Scorsese be able to do with it? I’m pretty sure the Wachowskis and McTeague will adjust, but how about John Woo? Guys who have gotten used to articulating shots to the idiom of two dimensions over thirty, forty year careers, now have a third to articulate.

    And frankly I’m shocked that no-one has seen the potential for Under Siege 3D. Hell I’d pay to see what the Seagal man boobs and belly look like in glorious 3D. “Nobody beats me to the donuts. Nobody.”

  99. Tuukka

    Actually there were apparently a bunch of scenes taking place on Earth but Cameron took them out/condensed them in the final cut.

    -I think he filmed them though so we may get an extended edition sometime down the line

  100. Re: Pauline Kael

    I can’t stand Pauline Kael; not because I disagree with her – although sometimes I do (if you break down what she’s actually saying in “Trash, Art and the Movies” it’s completely wrong and, even worse, cynical) – but because I hate her writing style. To me, the experience of reading her is like listening to a fundamentally pompous person trying to sound “with it” and “cool”. Or, to use two really dated references, it’s like Margaret Dumont trying to imitate Dorothy Parker.

    It’s some of the worst writing on film since…I don’t know, the AICN talkbacks? (Ok, not that bad) Harlan Ellison’s Watching? (Ok, not THAT bad)…but, pretty bad.

  101. Darth Irritable – I’m not sure the Old Guard, guys like Scorsese, aren’t really feeling the pressure to adapt to 3D. I’m much more curious to see what the current and upcoming generation of filmmakers (of which I am a member) will do with this technology. There has to be a whole generation of kids that just got their eyes blasted out the backs of their skulls, similar to how kids must have felt watching Star Wars in the seventies.

  102. I read a book called “Fiasco” by Stanislaw Lem recently and it crossed my mind more than once while watching Avatar. It’s not really the most cinematic narrative, large tracts of it are basically just a committee of scientists debating made-up science and theory, but it has some awesome sci-fi setpieces in it. The basic plot concerns a group of humans in the far future that use “sidereal engineering” to visit a planet that is in the narrow development window where they are advanced enough for interspecies communication but not advanced enough to have left their home planet and/or destroyed themselves. Well of course we misinterpret their nature and actions and pretty soon we’re blowing up their moon as a “show of strength” and lasering a giant ice-ring orbiting the planet (which sends it crashing down to the planet below) when they show the slightest signs of aggression/defense. You may have correctly guessed by this point that Lem makes the best and brightest of humanity look like a bunch of ignorant, genocidal blowhards, and not unfairly. Anyway it’s impossible to explain the depth of the story right now (I’m at work) but I am salivating for the days when we can realize sci-fi that is this large in the eyeball-fucking-glory of AVATAR. If I gotta be the filmmaker to make it happen then so be it.

  103. I haven’t seen it yet, but Vern’s observation of how the film forces a character to not only live like one of the aliens, but actually to essentially become one, and to experience life as they live it (to walk around in their skin) is quite fundamentally different to how these situations have been approached in previous stories presented to a mass audience, and really very provocative, if you forgive the apparently predictable progress of the story.

    Hmm. Love Aliens, Terminator (not T2 so much) and The Abyss. Even like Titanic, not so much as a story, but it was a *massive* shared experience at the cinema. Really very emotional for many people in the packed audience I saw it with, which is something. Everyone I know couldn’t stop talking about it (film lovers or not), but not from a spectacle point of view but of the real human story (and tragedy) lurking underneath. I don’t know why (I can only say it is Cameron’s skill) but I still think the moment when the passengers are trying to get off the ship and the sound fades out with only music to accompany the scene is one of the most unforgettable and compelling things I’ve ever seen in movies since the opening of Star Wars. And scenes like that are what movies are really about and why I watch them.

  104. Except Eminem is a better actor than Sam Worthington.

    Spooky.

  105. “What I’m REALLY interested to see is how current filmatists adapt to make the most out of the new protocol.”

    I can see it now: VIEWMASTER: THE MOVIE directed by Brett Ratner.

    Glad Cameron got in early to set the standard against which the inevitable flood of crap will be measured.

  106. OK… so recently we’ve had “The Abyss” and “Titanic”, the two (in my opinion) inferior big-budget sea-bound epics. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy “Titanic”, because I did. I seem to be the only person on this entire site who thought “The Abyss” was (and probably still is) Cameron’s worst movie, so we’ll skip that.

    But what I’d like to see – and Vern, this is a request – is reviews of the two really, really, really good ocean-bound extravaganza movies, “The Poseidon Adventure” (I’m talking the original here obviously) and particularly “Juggernaut”.

    “The Poseidon Adventure” with Gene Hackman and Shelley Winters (I have not and will never see the remake) and “Juggernaut” with Anthony Hopkins and Richard Harris have one thing in common: they have a magnificent cast of characters, any of whom could die at any time. I’m not kidding here. In both films, characters who you’ve grown to love are mercilessly slaughtered in quick succession, and nobody is safe.

    That’s not to understate the emotional impact that “Poseidon” has though: I think the three final deaths in that movie, one after the other, is one of the most emotionally-affecting sequences of any movie you’ll see. I’m not going to (and I would urge others not to) spoil who dies or how, but in terms of story, character, atmosphere, hell just about everything, I think “The Poseidon Adventure” beats the heck out of the likes of “Earthquake” and “Towering Inferno” and its ilk.

    Well if “Poseidon” is the ultimate disaster movie, I’d say that “Juggernaut” comes pretty damn close to being the ultimate thriller. The premise is simple: there are seven bombs on a cruise ship. If enough of them explode, the ship goes down. The bomber wants a big chunk of ransom money that the authorities aren’t prepared to pay, so a crack team of bomb disposal experts are parachuted onto the ship to try and stop him before his deadline expires and everything blows up. It’s sort of “Speed on a cruise ship”. Well, a lot better example than “Speed 2” was.

    What sets “Juggernaut” well above “Speed” (which is a preposterous and wholly enjoyable movie in its own right IMO) is that it’s made clear from the start that there are seven bombs, and that one – or more – could go off without causing the ship to go down. In “Speed”, of course there’s never any question of the bomb on the bus actually being detonated because, well, that’d be it, wouldn’t it? The bad guy wins. But in “Juggernaut” the madman’s bombs can – and do – go off at any time. So the duel between the disposal experts and the bomber is incredibly tense from the very start until the end. Along the way you get Anthony Hopkins as a beleagured bureaucrat trying to deal with the politics (if the movie has a weak point, this is probably it) and an excellent cast of boat passengers and crew who are trying to deal with the situation (and occasionally unwittingly contributing to it). Finally you have the soft-voiced Juggernaut himself, who is offered a chance of redemption at the very end and whose response to it is as effective an ending to a movie as I’ve ever seen.

    So Vern, there’s a recommendation for ya. I’d like to see you do “The Poseidon Adventure” if only for posterity’s sake, but “Juggernaut” deserves to be far far more widely known than it is. Any chance you could get your hands on a copy?

  107. Oh, and also, Richard Harris’ character perfectly embodies the “badass juxtaposition” rule. In fact most of the bomb disposal team involved are, in your own words, “stoic as a motherfucker”. Although not averse to blowing off some steam when the shit gets real. (Damn, I never thought I’d be writing what a badass film “Juggernaut” is!)

  108. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, Vern. In a recent interview Cameron was discussing the movie’s technology, how digital effects can stand in for actors etc. As an example, he said something like “Just imagine if Clint Eastwood wanted to do another DIRTY HARRY movie, one where he was the same age as when he did the first film. We could create a young Clint Eastwood that would be 100% indistinguishable from the real thing. Don’t you think people would want to see that?”

    Personally, I’m not sure I WOULD want to see that. If an actor could conceivably be made either younger or older via a CG representation, wouldn’t an actor (maybe not Clint, but some of the less iconic action stars) always opt for the BENJAMIN BUTTON treatment of having their own computer-created “avatar?” Would UNFORGIVEN or IN THE LINE OF THE FIRE or any other “gracefully aged iconic action star” roles even exist anymore if the gracefully aged action star could look the same as he did 40 years ago? It seems like a threat to authenticity. My feelings on Cameron’s movie aside, his aggressive pushing of this new, improved technology that according to him can easily eliminate actual actors turned me off. Like we don’t even need Clint anymore. Conceivably 100 years from now they’ll still be making DIRTY HARRY movies, because why would they need Clint at all?

    “They look so real, it’s like actors in makeup!” So why not just have actors in makeup?

    Anyway, I’d be curious whether you’d like to see a CG-generated young Clint starring as DIRTY HARRY. Your thoughts?

  109. I don’t think we ever get rid of actors. Because at the end of the day, audiences like to know that there is a human on the other side of the screen. Humans are more relatable than computers.

    Right now computer-generated characters are fascinating to audiences, but the novelty wears off at some point. CGI characters will stay, of course, because there are many ways to use them in the service of the story, and you can do things with them you couldn’t do with actors. But they are not going to replace actors. Why would they? It’s always going to be lot easier to just film an actor, than to create a complex recreation of an actor, who you still need to program to act.

    Also, even now you can program a computer to sing, but people still prefer to listen a human sing. Because it’s nice knowing there is a human on the other side. Humans are social creatures, almost everything we do is motivated by the need to connect with other people. This is true also when it comes to our interest in movies.

    Also star-culture doesn’t work with computer-created stars. You can’t idolize a computer creation. It’s hard to dream of sex with a computer creation. It’s hard to think “I want to be like him” when the other person is a computer creation.

  110. BTW, I would also add that we are closing to a point where SFX is just not going to wow us anymore. Give it 10-20 more years. After that, we have seen pretty much everything.

    There comes a point when you can’t sell a movie with amazing SFX anymore. CGI will become so inflated, that it just won’t impress audiences. After that, its back to basics again: Story, character, emotion.

  111. I’ll jump back a few posts because I just read that Tuukka called me out. :)

    Sorry, but as I said, my point is mainly: you’re too detailed – and your point is mainly that I’m too broad in my analysis. I do not think this is an argument that can be won from either side. Your points remind me of writing students who copy, say, the plot of Romeo and Juliet to a T, only they turn Juliet in Julio and leave everything else the same. That’s not original.

    So nobody’s used underwater plants as alien jungle before? Wow! And we’ve never had a hero named Jake who served under a scientist named Grace, either – original!

    What Cameron does in his film, what you call original, is window dressing. After Gwai Lo’s post, I think maybe you can analyze this film productively if you focus on disability or questions of personality and embodiment – but I still contend that if Jake had not been in a wheelchair, you would not have had to change a single frame of the film, only change a few words in the screenplay to offer him something else for being a spy. Avatar is filled with scenes and plot devices and characters you have seen many times before, just because they wear different uniforms (or skin color) does not make it original.

    That doesn’t mean it can’t be an entertaining film. Jackson’s King Kong, for example, was not original at all, but it was still entertaining as hell. There can also be comfort in a lack of originality. The visuals – yeah, I agree, they were original. The story? Not at all. And I don’t mean in a “there are only five stories anyway” sense, but in a “see the trailer, know exactly what’s going to happen” kind of way.

    I’m sure you’ll tell me now that we’ve never seen aliens play basketball before – damn, I just remember we have! – or that there never was a movie with four-winged flying lizards that get tamed as an initiation rite before or something equally “original”.

    Also, sometimes people leave discussions not because they can’t refute a point, but because they can’t be bothered. Just like I don’t argue with my students over everything, or like I have left creationists crying about how if I didn’t address their points, I’d admit to losing.

  112. PATRICK, the problem is I’m talking about the major building blocks of the plot. You think this is equal to changing a character’s name in Romeo And Juliet. That’s a very, very silly comparison.

    Also about Jake being a paraplegic, and the influence of this characteristic being important in the story: You can’t just say…

    “if Jake had not been in a wheelchair, you would not have had to change a single frame of the film, only change a few words in the screenplay to offer him something else for being a spy.”

    …Unless you give exact detailed example of how this could have been achieved. If you want to debate, you have to do the work. And if you want to give weight to your opinion, feel free to quote me and please give detailed counter-arguments. Making sweeping, vague generalizations is not going cut it.

  113. Here is my argument against Patrick. Entertaining is in the eye of the beholder. I found Avatar entertaining as hell while I’ve found King Kong almost unbearable to watch. I just don’t like the veritol that some of the readers of this board are using against the film as if they’re defending some existential film crisis that Avatar is the decline of motion pictures because it’s not as good as Aliens or T2.

  114. There aren’t five stories, there are only two. A hero goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

  115. Gwai Lo – Which is why Bad Day At Black Rock is so great – It’s both.

  116. I suppose Avatar is as well, in a sense.

  117. Great review, my old friend. This one even made me dip my toes into the pond o’criticism again.

  118. Hey, that’s Jill, who wrote the introduction to 5 On the Outside. Good to hear from you, Jill.

  119. Solongyoubastard – to answer your question from a few days ago, no, I wouldn’t want to see Clint doing a motion capture “young Dirty Harry” movie. And I don’t think the technology is quite there yet, because as real as blueskinned Jakesully looks I don’t think mo-cap Sam Worthington would be quite as convincing. What I do think it will work really well for when they get to that point is for flashback scenes, like the way they digitally smoothed out Pat Stewart and I. MacKellan’s skin in the flashback in X-Men part 3. I’m sure soon enough some movie will have an impressive flashback scene with the character mo-capped to be 20 or 30 years younger.

    Or what would be really funny is let’s say Van Damme has a son during the happy ending of a movie, they should make him look exactly like his father.

    Several years ago the Bruce Lee estate was talking about doing a CGI Bruce Lee movie, just like a new martial arts movie with his likeness playing a character. I would watch that out of curiosity but I think it’s a bad idea in that case since it’s the fighting that made him special and animating or imitating that is not the same thing.

  120. devin faraci at chud has an in-depth analysis of cameron’s detailed original scriptment for AVATAR (called PROJECT 880), written right after TITANIC, if you haven’t seen it. it’s a good read. it seems the original version, while way too long and detailed to film as written, answers a lot of the questions and concerns raised by the eventual film version. of the many key concerns (or “plot-holes,” if you will) that it addresses is one specific one that really bothered me as i watched the film, namely what happens if your avatar gets killed while you are in it. the fact that this issue was not explored in any way in the film really was to its detriment. i felt like there were no real stakes (other than money) when jake’s avatar was being chased by various beasties in the jungle and whatnot. i was really hoping there would be something to show the negative (possibly even fatal) consequences on the human if the avatar was killed. turns out the scriptment goes into extended detail on this issue. there is even an extra character who was a controller in the past, but he fell in love with a na’vi girl who was subsequently killed by the human army, so he committed avatar suiced by getting his avatar to be eaten alive by some wild animal. the shock of experiencing his own deat, in a way, coupled with heartbreak i guess and maybe grief for losing his avatar, turned him into a burnt-out vegetable at the time of the story. would have been a really valuable addition to the movie version. i realize that the movie is already long and jam-packed, but i feel like there were parts of the movie that were not as intriguing that were bloated or expanded, and some of these other scenes, characters, and story elements couple have been preserved in their place. but what do i know?

  121. It just occurred to me, but in fact Cameron (or Cameron’s legacy, to be more precise), _has_ already made the equivalent of a Dirty Harry movie with a young Clint Eastwood CGI’d into place.

    Namely, the final fight of _Terminator: Salvation_. That really did look like Young Arnold fighting for a while.

    Of course, it helped that they didn’t have to have “Arnold” there to act, because he was playing a robot (and wasn’t that good of an actor at the time anyway). So in a way, it was actually _more_ authentic to what Arnold (and Cameron) were trying to do with that film.

  122. Also, Angelina Jolie in _Beowulf_ might count in some ways as Young Angelina (though then again, maybe not! She looked about the right current age.) She was certainly the most successful of the CGI characters in that film. Possibly due to extra-amounts of loving detail by the artists. (ahem. {g})

    But also possibly because, unlike everyone else in that film (except her sons), Grendal’s mom is kind of an alien being. So if her eyes don’t look human, or look like they’re dead (though I didn’t think they did, compared to the other characters), that actually _fits_.

    And, frankly, I think that’s a major way how Cameron managed to vault the uncanny valley. We’ve really seen it done before dozens of times by now; because the Na’vi aren’t supposed to be human. Personal, yes, but not human. (Compare with Kong, or any number of personal-but-not-human CGI characters.)

    When he CGI’s a real human with real acting, _then_ he’ll have vaulted the valley. Not before.

  123. To comment on the idea of a CG Clint (hey, check out my posts in the CHRISTMAS CAROL forum to see that I hypothetically posed the very situation Cameron describes!) I simply have to say that I don’t think you’ll ever be able to replace human actors with digital versions. There are tons of reasons why, a few of the great ones already addressed above (for instance, the power which comes from knowing its an actual human like Bruce Lee doing these moves, or the long-term relationship audiences have with real human beings). But I also think that’s is simply not feasible to recreate the complexity of a human performance by tracking points on a map. It’s like attempting to create human intellgence with a computer. Sure, we can make things which mimic it, and can do some things pretty convincingly, but we’re still really far away from being able to recreate what it does. You can make some pretty real-looking people but I don’t think we’re anywhere close to being able to make a convincing human performance of any depth. On the other hand, it might be interesting to see what the future may hold for action spectacles like BEOWULF. Its still firmly uncanny valley territory ight now, but in a few years they may be able to start whipping up B-movies which are essentially very realistic looking cartoons. If its a little stylized, I doubt people will mind, and hey, they don’t see that shit for the acting anyway. The downside of course would be the end to the occasional great performances by someone in a little-seen B-movie, perhaps unintentionally making them far shallower and more disposable than we’ve thought about it in the past.

  124. I’m really worried that this idea of CGI actors might ruin acting in the same way that CGI stunts have ruined action movies. CGI stunts make anything possible, which ironically makes everything unimpressive. There’s no sense of accomplishment to a CGI stunt, no matter how cool the idea behind the stunt is. Really, who gives a shit that somebody was able to draw a good explosion? And what if that same sense of empty accomplishment came to be the norm in acting?
    I thought the digital performances in Avatar were amazing. A really incredible accomplishment. At the same time I was never unaware that they were digital and it was never not distracting on some level. And this is in the hands of a master filmmaker. I’m concerned that once this technology trickles down into the hands of the hacks that cinema may be fucked forever. I think Cameron may have opened (I’m really, truly sorry guys) Pandora’s box. Again. Just as I love T2, but hate the lazy CGI shit that came in its wake, I liked Avatar quite a bit, but if I see Humphrey Bogart playing a wisecracking cop opposite Richard Pryor in the new Brett Ratner movie I really don’t think my heart could take the strain.
    This might sound like some pretentious dogma 95 bullshit, but I’d be very much in favor of a ratings system that tells you how much CGI bullshit is in every movie you are about to watch, with zero CGI at the top of the scale and the full Robert Zemeckis 2.0 at the bottom. That way you could maybe actually be impressed again when a guy jumps through a plate glass window or sets himself on fire. Because it would mean something.
    Whatever. No one who makes these decisions is listening or gives a shit.
    Great review Vern. I liked Avatar already but you made me like it more. Cheers.

  125. I’m late to this party but I had a busy couple of weeks leading up until X-mas and just couldn’t get to a theater before yesterday.

    Anyway, Holy Shit that movie was ridiculously gorgeous. Someone early on in the talkback kept going on and on about how they’d never seen realistic CGI and therefore it couldn’t possibly ever happen, because of grass blades you see, they are all like rebellious and unpredictable. Well imo they should stop saying stuff like that before seeing Avatar, the rest of us are laughing at your antiquated point of view.

    I will admit it took me about 20 minutes for my eyes to really adjust to the 3D an for it to feel somewhat natural to look at it but once it did the world Cameron creates just surrounds you. The scene where Jake wakes up in space in zero-G was really the first where I thought that I was seeing some major new jump in 3D technology and maybe some of the hype was real.

    I will agree though that the story was very predictable.But I really didn’t give a fuck. It had enough original touches that I was never bored. I actually had to piss extremely bad almost the entire running time but didn’t want to miss a second.

    At some point toward the end the geeky dude from Hatchet had a line of dialogue that was so bad I looked at my wife and said “Holy shit that’s corny”, that’s my one critique I guess.

    And I’m sure I’m not the only gamer on this site so I’ll ask this. Did anyone feel like the first 10-15 minutes REALLY felt like the opening sequence to a video game? In terms of storytelling it was identical to how most games drop you into a crazy scenario and explain EVERYTHING you need to know in 5-10 minutes of dialogue that you wouldn’t need unless , lets say, you had amnesia, or had been frozen for an extended period of time, or like you had a twin brother who was part of some military experiment but he’s dead now so here’s the scoop…..

    For my 10 bucks and change Cameron delivered though.

  126. First Imax in a LOOONG time and first 3D film at a theater. Satisfied Customer.

    P.S. I think UP should win everything come Oscar time.

  127. Do marines really yell stuff like “Bring the pain,” and “Get some!” when dropped into sudden combat?

    Because they shouldn’t.

    Because that is silly.

    (They should yell, “WHOA, NELLY!” because that is what Jimmy Stewart would have yelled and is in fact slightly less silly.)

  128. Finally asw it. I was prepared to be be disappointed so the rather hackneyed storyline was no surprise and it was as corny as hell. Something about Sully’s avatar reminded me of Disney’s Aladdin, too. Didn’t give a damn. Loved every second. Haven’t been so gobsmacked by a movie in decades. I don’t know if it was game changing, but I don’t know that it wasn’t – the merging of the real with the unreal was so impossibly good. I suspect George Lucas had to have a wee sit down after seeing it.

  129. Maybe this comparison doesn’t even have any merit, but I watched District 9 just a couple days after I watched Avatar, and the differences between the two movies about human and alien cultures colliding seemed to shed some light on the issues I had with Avatar. First off, I know it’s kind of juvenile to go right to the 12 year old let’s-play-doctor stuff but I really feel like, kidding or not, Vern had a point when he talked about the..uhh..curiosity…of a human man falling head over heals in love with a 12 foot tall blue alien cat lady. I’d like to feel as enlightened as the next gal. I mean, Harold and Maude is my favorite movie so it’s not like I have a problem with unconventional love, it’s just that I feel like in Avatar they were trying so hard to make a point of cross-cultural love, in some ways I felt like it ended up more cartoonish than Pocahontas. Maybe white men just can’t find love amongst indigenous women without it coming back to the O.C. original colonist John Smith, but it’s such an old story it conjures up too many associations along with it that detract from the movie. Shit maybe that didn’t make any sense, but anyway the point is the alien-ness of the love interest alien lady felt like Cameron trying to make something inherently familiar seem alien.
    Compare that to District 9, where you have creatures that are genuinely strange and from a human perspective, genuinely repulsive, yet are still made to feel human against all the odds…well to me that feels like more of a story-telling coup. I don’t want to take away from what Cameron did with the magic of his 3d cameras, but good old fashioned story will still draw me in more than fancy Pandoran plant life any day of the week. I think that’s why I enjoyed District 9 at home on my modest tv screen more than I enjoyed Avatar on the astoundingly large imax 3d theater.

  130. Hmm… forcing the point of cross-cultural love…

    Whatever. Sigourney’s gangly, nerdy avatar totally does it for me.

    No need to press the point.

    Always loved the tall women. Color, tails and stuff, ain’t an issue.

    ‘Course, all things accounted for, I’d rather hang out with Christopher Johnson.

    Seems like a good guy, is all.

  131. Holy shit. Did you guys see this?

    http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/11/avatar.movie.blues/index.html

    I mean, I liked AVATAR, but these guys need to get out more. Or at least watch that awesome Planet Earth series and get obsessed with a real planet. You can even get a version where Sigourney Weaver narrates.

    Actually, to be honest, cool as Pandora is the real thing presented in that series is far more amazing. I kind of wish the AVATAR sequel would just do away with the story an be a Planet Pandora nature doc series.

  132. I am the last person on earth to see this movie, but I finally did today and I really enjoyed it. The visuals are spectacular and even if the story is old and boring it’s a lot of fun to see the militaristic fuckheads take some arrows to the chest. I’m surprised that Cameron stuck as much politics in the film as he did… and I’m surprised that none of the usual suspects are “offended” like they were with WALL-E.

    Also by the time the colonel’s mech fought Natiri’s dinosaur looking creature I couldn’t help but smile. For this kind of movie, what more could you want?

  133. M. Casey – Well alot of the “usual suspects” like Weekly Standard did bitch about the movie being “Anti-American pornography.” Except if most Americans have seen it, and apparently seen it repeatedly…does that make the majority of America anti-American?

    That said, I thought David Brooks in his NYT column was right about the plot being the white liberal guilt fantasy…but he was being analytical and reasonable, not bitchy like the Standard. A good read, I recommend it.

    Of course the funny irony is that Cameron is a pretty right wing guy. OK maybe a bleeding-heart right winger because he isn’t a fan of nuclear war and well AVATAR being a topical comparison (or not) of two military endeavors currently going on.

    But come on, he’s real buddies with the Schwarzenegger. The guy is infamous for love to fly on helicopters, ride tanks, and blow shit up for kicks. Probably also owns a kickass giant gun collection that would make John Milius orgasm.

    I do agree with you that sense of like many of those action scenes were a 11 year old boy’s ultimate fantasy: Spaceships fighting dinosaurs. What’s better? OK some Nazis thrown in too. Maybe Batman as well.

  134. Just saw this today.

    Not really much to add to that review, except that any movie where a mech pulls a knife gets a nominal thumbs-up from me.

  135. Jam – I want to see a TRANSFORMERS movie where a mech gets shived in the robot prison yard by a fellow mech inmate.

  136. If that actually happened, I might actually go see a TRANSFORMERS movie. As such, I live in the blissful ignorance of never seeing either one!

  137. In case anyone really cares about the same old hoary debates about AVATAR, here’s something I read in the paper today, comparing it unfavourably with the WIZARD OF OZ. As you do.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/weekend/2010/0123/1224262897751.html

    There’s also a decent Lalo Schifrin interview nearby.

  138. it’s amazing that we live in a time where arguments about a movie that came out literally a month ago can be described – and somehow accurately – as “hoary old debates.” the internets is crazy, y’all.

    on a tangentially related subject, i have often thought about the fact that the internet has to some degree ruined my ability to enjoy movies. i mean, i know it’s all my fault for not being able to help myself from reading about every movie that i’m interested in before it comes out, but because i tend to know everything about all movies before i see them, the experience is of watching them is often underwhelming. the most enjoyable movie-going experiences i have these days usually happen with movies that for whatever reason i knew little to nothing about before watching them. but that is a rare experience indeed. i was just talking to a friend today about our mutual love for michael mann’s LAST OF THE MOHICANS when i remembered that the first i was ever aware of that film was when i went to go see another movie and they played the trailer for it beforehand. that’s how i used to find out about the majority of movies, and i usually had very little to go on between seeing the trailer and watching the movie. it was great! that’s probably more or less how the average human finds out about movies now, but i, as a movie nerd, can’t stop myself from reading everything about every movie i am interested, many of which are written about to a spoileriffic degree on the ol’ web-o-nets. i have tried in recent times to avoid clips and spoiler reviews and sometimes even trailers, but to mixed success. the fact that i knew most of the character names in AVATAR, let alone the general plot, probably a year or more before the movie came out is problematic at best i think.

  139. Linked to that, the sheer volume of people talking in, of and about AVATAR made me feel like it was something that had happened in the distant past, which is odd considering I only saw it on Wednesday. Even odder was realising that I first read Cameron’s early treatment for it over ten years ago. Wait a minute… Older, not odder.

    You could view the internet as a weird, intense lab experiment in growth acceleration. Trends sprout, grow and die in weeks rather than months. Your best bet is probably skimming the headlines of film news websites rather than reading the articles, at least until you’ve seen the film. If it’s something you have an interest in seeing, at any rate. And trailers, don’t get me started on trailers… (hoary old rant about trailers giving away too much of the story ensues)

  140. Virgin Gary: sorry, I forgot to put some context there. The particular paper I linked to is not known for staying at the cutting edge of the cultural bell-curve, if you will. And that particular columnist is not a film critic, and is better known for his political commentary. So perhaps that setting was what made it feel hoary to me, rather than the film in question…

  141. ha ha, i actually didn’t even read the article yet, sorry. anyway, with the film in question, i think i would have had major problems with it even if i didn’t know much about it going in (though i’m sure certain aspects would have been more amazing maybe).

    i forgot to mention how exciting it was when i was a teenager and i went to go see some other movie and the trailer for LAST OF THE MOHICANS came on, and my friends and i were like, “woah, what is THAT?!? it looks amazing!” then we were like, “holy shit! THAT’S daniel day lewis?? the fucking dude from MY LEFT FOOT???” and that was the last we heard anything about it until a few months later when we went to the same theater and watched the movie, and enjoyed the hell out of it.

    that’s just one example, it was pretty much the same pattern for all movies.

    like i said, i avoid all spoler-tagged reviews, but a lot of reviews that claim to not have spoilers – and vern has often ranted eloquently and amusingly about this problem as well – have such ridiculously obvious hints that if you have ever watched movies before you can predict everything that happens. and yeah trailers have gotten out of control. i have been trying to avoid trailers for movies i am interested in but i often give in to temptation. comedies i find are especially risky because they often give away some of the best gags in the trailers. i avoided watching the red band trailer for HOT TUB TIME MACHINE that just came out a couple days ago cause i’ve already seen two other trailers for it that already contained lots of jokes and gags.

    man, i could go on forever, but i will just stop here for now.

  142. p.s. vern is one of the very few reviewers i have seen who is unfailingly good at marking all parts of reviews that might be even remotely spoilery, while at the same time being able to discuss the film as much as he possibly can without giving anything away.

  143. Not to beat a dead horse or anything but this is kind of funny:

    http://failblog.org/2010/01/10/avatar-plot-fail/

  144. Ah c’mon now, James Cameron… MODERN GUILT was pretty good.

  145. if you have a lot of articles or content on Hubpages, you can really get lots of traffic and in turn you can make lots of money from it.`-,

  146. Finally watched it yesterday and I approve. There are not many filmmakers these days who can make a 2 1/2 hours long movie with such an old and predictable story without making it feel boring for one minute.

  147. I should add: “But James Cameron can.”

  148. to me Avatar proves that too many people these days are too cynical and just can’t SHUT THE FUCK UP and just enjoy movies anymore, everyone has to over-analyze things to death

    God I hated seeing every asshole say “hurrr why can’t they just nuke the blue smurf people? hurr hurrr”, just shut the fuck up already

  149. To me, CARS 1 & 2 were the definite proof of today’s cynicism. No offense to Vern and his funny CARS review, but I just can’t get over the fact that a simple cartoon premise like “a world full of living cars” was such a dealbreaker for many and over analyzed to death. Seriously, if Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny were created today, audiences would just be like: “Why are those animals walking upright and are able to talk? Are they mutants or something? The Bunny even has super strength! Did you see how he tied a knot into the gun barrel?”

  150. I think it’s because audiences are so used to having movies spell every little thing out to them that when a movie does not spell out every little thing they instantly cry “plot hole”

  151. Yeah, in fact in 2007 I developed the theory that not the movies are getting dumber, but the audiences. (Based on the huge love that 300 and DIE HARD 4.0* got, paired with the hate for Spidey 3 and the inability to see the true meaning of the dance scene and emo haircut, plus lots of people wondering what happened to the kraken in POTC 3. even though there was a long scene where we saw it lying dead on a beach, and Davy Jones even explaining what he did!)

    *I was mostly disturbed by how many people declared it to be the best of the series. If they like it, so what, it has some cool ation scenes, but everythign else is blasphemy!

  152. CJ – I would chalk up that blasphemy to people just being used to more recent action filmatics. I’m sure they find DIE HARD the original greatest action movie ever to be boring or too slow.

    I think you might be onto something CJ. I hear people bitch about movies getting worse, yet are they really? Movies are just as good more or less as they ever are (and just as bad more or less as they ever are), unless it’s a specific filmatic module you desire that might be out of fashion with Hollywood* or the masses. Really I mean some of the locals were raped by AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, but I just don’t get the sheer visceral hatred of it that I read out there like it’s GREEN LANTERN or something. I mean sure that Harlem Globetrotter scene was dumb and I can see it being merely OK and average, disposable. I would understand that reaction. (Personally I agree with what Cassidy said in the forums.) I would also add that some of the trivial shit used against ASM were either ignored with the Raimi movies, or dismissed at the time because hey it’s a comic book movie fuck you.

    Anyway I liked CARS, at least I quit being an asshole over the whole cars-universe once I saw it for what it was, sorta like those Uncle Scrooge comics. CJ you might’ve enjoyed them in Europe, but those damn things have a weird duck/animal universe with endless duck/bird-related puns all over the place, almost up there with HOWARD THE DUCK. But yeah in retrospect, CARS get a bad undeserving rep. On the other hand CARS 2 turned me off, and I just blame that on Larry the Cable Guy. Some people are good with small careful dosses. (But I’ll be honest, I did enjoy that scene where Michael Caine the car does a Mission: Impossible type rope crawl over the bad guys and it’s pretty fucking ridiculous since it’s a CAR TIP-TOEING around. But that’s part of the joke that I liked.)

    *=And sometimes Hollywood in it’s self-enclosed Bubble can get it’s head up its ass about trivial shit the rest of the masses don’t care about. I think of BRAVE and many people openly speculating (and “”many people” I mean self-proclaimed industry insider bloggers) about whether a female-leading Pixar movie would draw in the kids because it’s a girlie. Some liberals even bitched that it wasn’t feminist enough (whatever that means), which baffles a lib like me. But regardless, without drama BRAVE has done more or less business expected of a Pixar release. Not TOY STORY 3 business, but nobody is losing their shirts at Disney/Pixar because of a vagina. The masses don’t mind following women in popcorn movies, its just Hollywood has to make them, and make good ones. (Shit look at THE HUNGER GAMES.)

  153. For any reason I really didn’t care for CARS 1, but enjoyed CAR2 to my own surprise. It doesn’t have a high re-watch value, but it didn’t annoy me like part 1 did. That’s all.

  154. AVATAR was the movie that ruined online film communities save for this one

    there was something about it that just drove the nerds totally insane, I guess cuz they hated it so much and yet it was so damn successful? but it fucking RUINED 4chan’s /tv/ board, so much that I had to bail on it for good and not too long after I bailed on AICN too

    it’s ironic then that almost 4 years later it seems strangely forgotten, it’s now just that “weird blue cat people movie”, it hasn’t stuck around in the public’s consciousness very well, I wonder if AVATAR 2 will be a surprising flop?

  155. Now that you mention it, I really saw less and less Avatar cosplay within the last few nerd events that I visited. Although I doubt that the sequels will bomb.

  156. I dunno, considering how inevitably bloated the budget will be and the fact that AVATAR is not something mass audiences hold near and dear to their hearts (unlike say, STAR WARS) and have for the most part already forgotten, I think there’s a chance it could flop

  157. Do not misjudge the internet for the audience at large. The mainstream might not be yammering about AVATAR every day. They might not even think about it. But when the second one comes out, they will all say, “Oh yeah, I saw that” and line up in droves.

  158. *sigh* once again the drooling masses have to ruin it for us

  159. I agree totally with Mr. Majestyk. True its not Marvel or STAR WARS or whatever nerdom which people think 24/7 about (just look at some of the people online pissed off recently about a casting for a movie not out until 2 years later). But we’re still talking about THE HIGHEST GROSSING FILM IN HISTORY here. (Sorry for the caps.)

  160. Griff – “ruin it for us”

    Speak for yourself. I have seen the last 4 James Cameron movies and like the previous 3 I also enjoyed AVATAR. Sure I only watched it once in IMAX 3D 4 years ago but it was such a visceral experience I still remember most of that movie pretty clearly.

    I think that’s the sign of an effective movie. People say Cameron’s movies will flop all the time before they come out especially when he made the most expensive movies of their eras back to back against all odds and he always ends up styling on them. I don’t think AVATAR 2 will be any different. Like Majestyk said general audiences don’t function like geek audiences, thank god.

  161. *seen the last 4 James Cameron movies at the cinema.

  162. I liked AVATAR well enough too, but the world does not need AVATAR 2, AVATAR 3 and holy shit AVATAR 4, I mean that’s just ridiculous

    I think it would work better as a standalone movie and I wish James Cameron would make something new, not 3 AVATAR sequels, I get a headache just thinking about it

  163. I do think AVATAR 3 and AVATAR 4 is kind of pushing it. I mean I welcome another trip to that world but I would love to see Cameron finally make BATTLE ANGEL ALITA a reality as well. Also since he gets the Terminator rights again in 6 years it would be cool to see him dabble in that world again and give it some definitive closure if he really is interested in making more sequels to some of his properties anyway.

  164. Is AVATAR worth watching on TV at home? I’ve still never seen the thing and have kept putting it off due to some rumoured special-edition second run at the cinemas that never materialised. I guess it’s time to bite the bullet. I’ve got a 3D-capable TV but I don’t like using the 3D because it’s an older model that’s flickery and uses chunky, uncomfortable glasses.

  165. Crustacean, I just watched it on regular-D blu-ray a couple weeks ago (I had previously seen it twice in 3D Imax) and I still think it’s a great fuckin movie.

  166. Also remember, the way AVATAR became the biggest movie of all time was the marketing juggernaut Cameron himself created. The sequel won’t be just doing another movie, it will be reinventing the media juggernaut too.

  167. And I agree with Vern, it doesn’t suck. :)

  168. As a more of a visual spectacle than an engaging story, it is certainly a movie that demands a proper screen. I don´t think i would want to watch it on an iPad.

  169. But a 2D DVD on a TV of an average size should be okay.

  170. I think the line in the review: “It’s amazing in the way a fancy bridge is, not in the way your favorite novel is.” is utterly apt. I enjoyed that movie, but I’d be struggling to pick out a particularly memorable sequence or character.

  171. I’ve seen it twice on regular DVD now, making for four times total. It’s still a really good movie. The story isn’t original (as opposed to all those mammoth fancy-pants blockbusters we love that are completely fresh and don’t resort to formula at all) but it’s fully fleshed out and executed with conviction. It holds up.

  172. I have always wondered about the haters who criticize the “noble savage” story/DANCES WITH WOLVES parallels. Is there complaint that he shouldn’t have told a story about nature and natives at all? Because if you’d just rather James Cameron told a story about something else, that’s not fair. And if the complaint is that that story is too cliched, well I certainly don’t remember a lot of native tribal stories being told in the last 20 years. I mean, there could be plenty of things not to like about AVATAR but I don’t quite get that one.

  173. I think one thing that pissed people off about AVATAR was the fact that it had such an obvious environmental/political message and people don’t like that kind of stuff anymore, they don’t like to feel they’re being preached too, they just want movies to be mindless entertainment without any point

  174. Are you saying you don’t see the problem with “noble savage” idealisations in general, or that you don’t see how it applies to AVATAR?

  175. or at the very least people just hate environmental messages, remember how angry everyone got at Al Gore when he made his global warming documentary?

    and to a degree I can understand because when it comes to environmental messages it’s easy to be obnoxiously sanctimonious with it (think shit like CAPTAIN PLANET) and it also probably makes people feel guilty because there’s nothing the average person can really do about it and that’s not something people want to think about at the movies

  176. Well, realizing “noble savage” is a condescending description, is it really a critique of the genre or a statement that nature/tribal culture stories shouldn’t be told at all?

  177. It’s so weird that anybody would have a problem with the “environmental message” in AVATAR. What happens in the story is such a basic part of reality that it’s hard to even think of it as a message. What, do these people DISAGREE that corporations often destroy nature for more profitable endeavors? They didn’t find it realistic?

    It gets tiring having to treat people like that as if their arguments are equally valid to the arguments of reasonable non-idiot adults. It’s like if every time somebody from NASA was on TV we had to give equal time to the people who think the moon landing was faked or that the earth is flat.

  178. Fred: Well yeah, the fact that the “noble savage” is condescending is kind of the whole problem. It’s not that you shouldn’t tell nature/tribal culture stories, but they should be a layered, textured representation and take care not to exoticise the “other”. Of course I haven’t seen AVATAR yet (it’s on my list guys, you convinced me) so I don’t know how much it applies. I think the opening scenes of APOCALYPTO, although a very different type of film, do a great job of realistically representing a tribal culture while still making them seem like relatable dudes. Who of us hasn’t tricked a friend into eating raw testicles?

    Vern: Granted I haven’t seen AVATAR yet, but I think most peoples problem isn’t with the message, it’s that it’s presented in such a reductive and simplistic way. It’s like the love story in TITANIC; it’s hard to get invested or take things seriously when everything’s so black-and-white and the villain is such a cartoon character.

  179. Latino Review is claiming that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be playing the bad guy in AVATAR 2.

    http://latino-review.com/2013/09/exclusive-guess-who-is-gonna-play-the-bad-guy-in-avatar-2/

    If this pans out, obviously first time he and Cameron have worked together since TRUE LIES. Also first time he’s played the villain in a Cameron movie since the first TERMINATOR.

  180. That was a rumor a long time ago. I’d go for it. Quarritch is alot to live up to, maybe you gotta go big. And maybe Cameron could get the best out of Schwarzenegger.

  181. I can’t believe it took me a month & change to pick up on this, but I’m 100% in favor of it:

    http://www.manlymovie.net/2013/10/stephen-lang-returning-for-three-more.html

    When the sequels were announced, I opined to several friends that Cameron would be hard-pressed to find an antagonist as compelling as Lang’s Colonel Quaritch. When the first movie was wreaking box office havoc, I read online a great many comments dismissing Quaritch as a one-dimensional villain, but I didn’t see it that way. There are a great many subtleties and nuances that Lang brought to the role, and I truly believe it would’ve been a much lesser movie had anyone else been cast as Quaritch.

    So, how to foment his return? He was killed off in the first movie, a very big part of the deux ex machina that polluted Avatar’s third act. Having him come back as an identical twin would seem particularly hinky, since Cameron already played that card with Jake Sully. A Quaritch clone seems more likely, and in keeping with what mid-22nd Century biotechnology would probably be capable of.

    I was kind of skittish about the notion of any Avatar sequels, but now I’m onboard. Still, Cameron’s nothing if not shrewd about stepping things up for a sequel (three, in this case), so….. yeah, we can expect Arnold to show up, probably as Lang’s henchman. Don’t count on him being a front & center character. As evidenced by Escape Plan (and I doubt this was lost on Cameron), these days a little Arnold can go a long way.

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