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Avatar

Given all the buzz about Avatar, I really wanted to see this in the theater. Of course, thanks to that same buzz, I had a pretty good idea what to expect: beautiful effects coupled with a relatively unoriginal story.

There’s been a lot of criticism about this one.  Over at i09, Annalee Newitz  criticizes it as a white man’s guilt movie. Others describe it as a mutant love child of Ferngully, Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, and the Smurfs.

Valid points, but they miss one very important question: All those mind-blowing special effects, and your subtitles are in Papyrus font?  Really?

Moving on to more serious (and spoilery) thoughts, in no particular order…

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Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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( 116 comments — Leave a comment )
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cuddlycthulhu
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
I thought Pocahontas was better. *grin*

I kid, I kid. I think that the movie, visually, was awesome, but the cliche nature of the plot left very much to be desired IMO.
malsperanza
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:30 pm (UTC)
I hated this movie with a pure and righteous wrath, but I've ranted enough about it in my own LJ. So just 2 thoughts:

1) If an inside joke like "Unobtanium" makes the rounds of the Internet within 24 hours so that everyone has the joke explained and can henceforth consider him- or herself an insider, then the movie has won the game, and the stupidity of the joke is negated. This is one more bit of marketing gimmickry: Avatar is a perfect example of a movie that has learned how to harness the word of mouth thing. I'm only surprised that there weren't *more* Easter eggs and shout-outs to insiders for purposes of ramping up the Interbuzz.

2) The shifting of the "terrorist" label from the Indigenes to the USians was fascinating, because it was done in such a slippery way. The goal, I think, was to acknowledge that the USians were the greater evil, while completely divorcing us--the viewers--from any connection to the USians. Which is remarkable, when you consider that the main audience for the movie is, um, USians. There wasn't a single 10-foot-tall blue cat in the audience the night I saw the film; just a whole theater full of Americans, many of whom no doubt work for large corporations (or have our retirement savings invested in their stock). American storytelling has a great capacity to embrace the goodguy perspective and totally ally ourselves with it, while still actually carrying out the role of the badguy. As long as we don't *feel* like badguys, we're ok with the whole thing.

A more honest movie (pardon me while I fall over laughing) might have said a bit more about the Utterly Evul Corporation. What did it want Unobtainium for? Maybe it's a component in cell phones? Or SUVs? Or cancer-detecting equipment? Maybe it's the thing that makes food back on Planet Earth cheap to grow?
beccastareyes
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:23 pm (UTC)
Most of the physics type people I've seen assume unobtainium is a room-temperature (possibly metallic) superconductor*. Which, if it were so, would have uses in practically anything electronic since it wouldn't waste energy by having some of it end up as heat -- hence, less power needs to be produced for the same end-user usage. Superconductors already have uses in MRIs, but you have to cool them down to nearly absolute zero, and the ones that need less cooling are also more expensive. That and the higher-temperature ones aren't metals, so things like wire are hard to make.

But, yeah. A science geek might infer that, but in-text, it's just a MacGuffin.

* Since 'hovering in magnetic fields' is a superconductor trick.
(no subject) - malsperanza - Jan. 11th, 2010 05:39 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - beccastareyes - Jan. 11th, 2010 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - barbarienne - Jan. 11th, 2010 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - asakiyume - Jan. 11th, 2010 05:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
lonfiction
Jan. 11th, 2010 04:55 pm (UTC)
Terrorists?
I took that as a parallel to and resonant of the way many small groups have been relabeled in the name of making them look like they're up to something worse than "trying to save our homeland from bullies". When we (USA) bilked the Philippines out of their independence in the early 1900s, we quickly changed from calling them "revolutionaries" to "insurgents". And so it goes...
(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:15 pm (UTC)
Re: Terrorists?
Yes, this is what I got from it. The terrorist label gets thrown out so everyone feels better about wiping out this civilization. The fact that the Nav'i were shooting poisoned arrows and blowing things up, does not make them terrorists. That's called self-defense, or "get the hell off my planet, dude."

Based on our current use of the word, we'd have to admit that the American revolutionary army were 'terrorists.'



Re: Terrorists? - mardott - Jan. 11th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: Terrorists? - acetachyon - Jan. 12th, 2010 01:50 am (UTC) - Expand
spaceoperadiva
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:07 pm (UTC)
I just saw Avatar this weekend, and I'm still grieving. It shook me up and was a huge trigger on a number of personal issues. Why am I grieving?

My dad's people didn't throw off the better-armed intruders who wanted their land for the mineral wealth underneath. This was despite having a bunch of Sullys willing to fight alongside the people who adopted them.

As a mixed race person (Irish American mom, First Nations dad)with a Sully in my dad's family history, my view of Sully or Dances With Wolves is very different from the "white savior" trope that various people who have a race to be put on it. I think it's too marginalized a view to be useful in discussion, so I won't drone on.

My dad's people, in their original lifestyle, didn't believe in agriculture. "We do not cut the breast of the Mother." I mostly like agriculture, but strip mining, either real or fictional, looks like rape to me.

I think I can say, without a long rant escaping my fingers, that I think most people are really confused about this movie. It's Hero's journey, IMO. Everything else is just decoration, even the stuff that triggers my personal baggage.
(Deleted comment)
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I hadn't thought of it that way, but if you swap us in as the aliens, I can definitely see it. Interesting...

Yeah, I didn't get how this one defeat was supposed to mean the humans would leave them in peace forever. Jake has *met* humans before!
theguindo
Jan. 11th, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
But the idea that in 3-4 months, he goes from clueless human to the Awesomest Na’vi Savior?

This was actually not that weird to me. Considering how much you have to learn in a short span of time in any sort of military training, I thought it made sense that he learned most of their ways so fast. He was a marine, after all. He knows how to absorb information and demonstrate it for an instructor.

(Maybe it didn't make as much sense that he became TOTALLY SUPER AWESOME but I think that was more Jake's refuse-to-quit go-getter personality than anything else.)

Also I thought the Unobtainium thing was a joke until he used it again in a more serious scene, then I was like =Ta

Overall, I agree with you. There were so many side stories that could have been told, but they were all sort of thrown aside for this unoriginal "technology is evil, nature is keen" storyline.
roseaponi
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:12 pm (UTC)
In my honest (and conservative) opinion...
I'm just glad somebody heard the line of dialogue that I must have missed, where they said these guys were ex-Marines. I was seriously disturbed by that aspect of the movie while I thought that the military guys were supposed to be actual Marines. I _thought_ they smelled like mercenaries.

And I would have loved a bit more complexity on the part of the bad guys. Sure, just about every atrocity has its root in simple greed, but to get so many people on board with it requires either an actual or plausible emergency.

I don't know what most people who identify themselves as "conservative" politically are saying about it, but as far as I'm concerned, "conservative" means that I like the free market and I don't want my government to limit my options or to force me to pay for freeloaders and their mistakes. "Avatar" isn't pinging on any of my political issues - I don't think we should be dependent on foreign oil or some other planet's (snerk) "unobtainium." Why can't we stay home and use the resources we have in a smarter way?
jimhines
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)
Re: In my honest (and conservative) opinion...
It was part of Jake's narration near the beginning, when he's arriving on base. I don't remember the word-for-word, but the gist was that these were ex-soldiers turned mercenary.

Some complexity would have been most welcome, yes!
gothicsparrow
Jan. 11th, 2010 10:03 pm (UTC)
I'm not even sure you can call the unobtanium thing a joke- it wasn't funny. And it didn't make a smidgeon of sense in context, either. If they were jokingly referring to it as unobtanium, that would have been more amusing.

Sexism- I found it bewildering that women were allowed to do exactly the same things that men are- if anything were off limits to a woman, warriorship would be it- and then they wail when others get killed while the men remained stiff-upper-lipped. It just seems really strange that they share similar social roles but react so differently.
bookishdragon
Jan. 11th, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC)
Maybe it was the women's job to mourn the dead? After all even in an equal society there can be some role differentiation. And in this one women handled the spirit world in the first place.
(no subject) - gothicsparrow - Jan. 19th, 2010 07:27 am (UTC) - Expand
gelsey
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
At least I wasn't the only one who noticed the Papyrus font... ;)
gryfndor_godess
Jan. 12th, 2010 12:58 am (UTC)
I agree with most of your comments, but according to Cameron, "unobtainium" is a term that has been used in the scientific community for years to refer to rare or unattainable or fictional materials. That might be the inside joke you're referring to, but Cameron didn't make up unobtainium. I thought it was actually a clever use of a word already in existence.

Here's a wikipedia article about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium#References_and_footnotes
jimhines
Jan. 12th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
I actually saw the movie with an engineer friend, who was very familiar with Unobtanium. So he didn't make it up ... however, it's a fairly obscure reference for most people, who are just going to think of it as a bad, clumsy insertion by lazy writers.

In other words, while it might work for those who get it, I think it also kicks a lot of people out of the story, and for that reason I think it was a bad choice. (My opinion only, of course.)
barb27
Jan. 12th, 2010 01:12 am (UTC)
Not Marines; maybe archtypes?
I did not confuse the Terran mercenaries on Pandora with any branch of the Armed Forces--if anything, I thought "Hmm, Blackwater." And spaceoperadiva makes a lovely point about Jake's accomplishments as part of the Hero's Journey. Methinks a Jungian could have a field day on this planet.
jimhines
Jan. 12th, 2010 01:23 am (UTC)
Re: Not Marines; maybe archtypes?
I'm pretty sure the film explicitly describes Jake et al. as ex-Marines, but I'd have to rewatch to be certain.
Re: Not Marines; maybe archtypes? - barb27 - Jan. 12th, 2010 01:44 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Not Marines; maybe archtypes? - jimhines - Jan. 12th, 2010 01:45 am (UTC) - Expand
harper_knight
Jan. 12th, 2010 01:20 am (UTC)
I don't really see him as the savior-type anyway! He didn't save the Na'vi.. Grace did. What he DID do was cleverly (well.. not that cleverly, but it it was CLEVER it wouldn't have been in character, hehe) manipulate the culture's existing legendary archetype of the great war-leader to motivate them. It wouldn't have worked.. it was failing. Spectacularly, but it was in fact failing before the planet rose up.

It was, however, a decent plan, and within his knowledge and ability, even as a newcomer to the culture. I've heard people saying that the bit at the end where he becomes the warleader is proof that the movie doesn't need a the Jake Sully character, that a 'real' Na'vi would have been *better* in that warleader role, and that I entirely disagree with! It was Jake's newcomer-ness, his outside perspective, that allowed him to take the step of ursurping an archetype for his own purposes.
bodlon
Jan. 12th, 2010 04:40 am (UTC)
I am beginning to think that every review I see of Avatar makes me want to see it less and less. Which is sort of a pity because I really am curious about the technology they used.

But...but fail! So much fail!
snapes_angel
Jan. 12th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
My daughter showed me a review of it on YouTube by this one fellow who reviews things and the reviews themselves are often funny. Sadly, I can't find it right now, but the reviewer adopts two of three different personae for reviewing. For this one, he did a street-type person, started out with a reference to the animated series, and then went on to review James C.'s review. He said something about Smurfcats (which, naturally, made me think of LoLCats).

His review made the movie sound so humorous, that I may risk a rental when it comes out on DVD.
damhan_alluidh
Jan. 14th, 2010 11:09 am (UTC)
As an animator
Alright. Some comments from an animation point of view:
Wooo. Someone finally got to the other side of the uncanny vally. Makeing them human but not completely human so you don;t notice that last little bit of 'otherness' that can unnerve people was a good idea from an animation point of view.
They wanted to show off the soft tissue sim and the sub surface scattering fx for the skin and all. It worked. Really nicely.
But: ARgh. It bugged me a heck of a lot that they used big blue humans. Didn't fit in with Pandora's other life at all.
But from an animation point of view, what they accomplished was nothing short of incredible.

From the point of view of the colonized (Native Canadian): Suck it white boy!
I didn't really catch the whole 'white saviour' thing. His plan, more or less, failed, and the planet stepped up.
Maybe projecting a bit on my part, but the comments on the mixed genetics on the avatar's made me think of them as metis.

jimhines
Jan. 14th, 2010 12:40 pm (UTC)
Re: As an animator
Definitely agree with you on the animation. And on the big blue human piece, for that matter. (Everything else on this planet has six limbs, but not the Na'vi?)

Possibly a dumb question, but "metis"?
Re: As an animator - damhan_alluidh - Jan. 14th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
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