Saturday, October 30, 2010

Avatar

Lana and I watched Avatar finally last night. She brought home a copy from the library. I hear all the time people telling me that you have to see “X” on the big screen. Well, I figure Avatar would definitely have been better on the big screen. It seemed made for it.

As for the movie, here are my thoughts. First, outstanding digital effects. I expected that. Second, the story was good, although certainly not original. I finally gave up counting the number of crystal clear influences that I could see, but some include the “Pern” novels by Anne McCaffrey, and the Horseclans stories of Robert Adams, Lynn Abbey’s work, and very strongly, the Janus novels by Andre Norton, including Judgment on Janus and Victory on Janus. There were also heaping helpings of Heinlein and Clarke.

In addition, the story is embedded in lots of human myths and/or misunderstandings. There’s the noble savage idea, the concept of the chosen warrior (used also in The Matrix, of course), the Gaia concept of the living earth, the conflict between nature as good and civilization as evil. I was a little disappointed in how blatant these were, and a bit disappointed that the Navi were so closely based on a kind of mythic idea of the Native Americans. This made the story very predictable.

I know everyone borrows and I’m not troubled particularly by that, although I might have liked the borrowing to have been transformed a bit more. Obviously the story resonated with a lot of folks, and that’s quite likely because it touched on so many myths and feelings that we modern folks hold. I was telling Lana last night that one thing I hoped people watching it wouldn’t do would be to assume that this material is all new and original. The ideas and themes in Avatar are much, much older, and in many cases were barely altered from their roots.

None of that means I didn’t enjoy the movie and that it didn’t hold my interest. I’m glad I finally saw it.
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36 comments:

SQT said...

I couldn't get into it. Tried, but.. I think it was the mish-mash of ideas that killed it for me. It has been noticed that it isn't terribly original. Almost everyone I know who likes the movie says it's the visuals that were the draw.

Travis Erwin said...

You nailed my take exactly.

Deka Black said...

I don't have watched yet the movie. so... i can't say nothng about it.

Cloudia said...

When is an "influence" an "homage" or merely a classic theme emerging?




Aloha from Honolulu

Comfort Spiral

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Ron Scheer said...

Would be interested now in your take on the "rapture effect" of the film that was in the news at the time.

David J. West said...

I really didn't care for it. Yes, the effects were good, but it seemed like so much such prepackaged, pre-meditated goods.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I don't think Cameron really had a great original story to tell so much as how can I take all of these things that will resonate with people and make a lot of money.

I can't fault him as a filmmaker/businessman, but I do fault him as an artist.

Heh, I waited to see it courtesy of the library too.

laughingwolf said...

first, i have a strong dislike for fellow canuck, cameron... as a human being... and that rubs off on what he does, lately... means, i won't be watching this any time soon

but that's me... to each their own

david: most 'directors' think they can tell a better story than that given them by a writer... some can... cameron is one of the former who can't

i've had it up-to-here with sad ass auteurs!

Scott said...

Charles,

I haven't seen 'Avatar' yet, but a friend of mine said that instead of using aircraft and robots against the blue guys that they just should have given them blankets with smallpox instead.

Charles Gramlich said...

SQT, definitely the visuals, although even those were very predictable. The "horses" were about the most interesting creature. The dragons were cool.

Travis Erwin, indeed.

Deka, it was worth seeing, I thought. See it on a big screen if you can.

Cloudia, good question. I don't think it's really possible to establish a "line." Maybe it's a fine line.

Ron, I might attribute it to "youth," perhaps. I didn't feel it myself.

Charles Gramlich said...

David J. West, I agree. I don't think the movie was at all "artistic." Definitely a repackaging. One might have said that for "Star Wars," but Star Wars did a better job of reimagining, I thought.

laughingwolf, I guess I'm pretty neutral about him. He seems better as a businessman than a filmmaker. But they say you never lose by underestimating your audience.

Scott, the "Indian" aspect was pretty much beat you over the head stuff. Even down the the Indian yells the Navi gave when going into battle. The language certainly sounded native american as well.

ArtSparker said...

I probably won't see it - too much hype, it's too BIG. It just sounds very calculated to enlist a feeling of satisfied virtue in the viewer without asking any tough questions, while pretending to be ...you know...DEEP.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's not an original movie by any stretch! Since he's preparing to shoot two sequels soon, hopefully Cameron inserts more originality. However, it was a complete package with effects rivaled by no other movie and the 3D used to its fullest potential.
Sad to hear people refuse to see it because of the hype, though. It's a fun movie - just enjoy.

ivan said...

Well, he said he was going to come down from Canada, "go to Hollywood and kick ass."

I am oddly inspired.

Randy Johnson said...

I saw the film on pay-per-view and enjoyed it. Nothing original about it as you noted. Once was enough. Not one of those films I will look at every now and then. I save those for something I consider special.

Charles Gramlich said...

ArtSparker, yes, I do. And I think some will take it as deep even though the overall storyline is not very.

Alex J. Cavanaugh, I also suspect that in gambling on a movie of this type, Cameron might have found it desirable not to gamble much on the story itself while he gambled on the special effects.

ivan, he's definitely made some money.

Randy Johnson, I agree. I won't need to see it again. I noticed there's no novelization of it. I wonder why.

Rick said...

I just plain got bored with it, Charles. Too many stereotypes.

JR's Thumbprints said...

"Avatar" set a new standard for how 3D movies should be, but yeah, not an original story. Still, I don't think "The Hurt Locker" was the best picture of the year.

Charles Gramlich said...

Rick the preditability definitely was a drawback.

JR., I didn't see "The Hurt Locker." Seemed to me a lot of the hype about that was just some kind of PC stuff.

James Reasoner said...

Here's the answer to why there's no novelization, from an interview with Cameron:

He continued, “I never had a chance to get the novel done while we were making the movie, and I always intended to. I didn’t want to do a cheesy novelization, where some hack comes in and kind of makes s–t up. I wanted to do something that was a legitimate novel that was inside the characters’ heads and didn’t have the wrong culture stuff, the wrong language stuff, all that.”

It's like everything else, he's the only one talented enough to do it.

Ty Johnston said...

And here I was thinking my wife and I were the last humans on the planet who had not seen this moving.

And really, I don't have any interest to. Nothing about the story or characters sound appealing to me, mostly because it sounds like a rehash of better material I've already read or watched. And CGI doesn't do it for me. I'm sorry, but even the best CGI effects I've seen so far still look slightly cartoonish to me.

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of those movies that seemed brilliant to me at first (haven't read any of these books it uses) but rather hollow down the road. I did like the use of a man who couldn't walk as its center but hated its cliched depiction of Indians or native life.
I agree that Cameron hasn't the vision necessary to be more than a technician.

the walking man said...

Maybe next year I'll see it but from what you say it hardly seems to make a point that hasn't been made a hundred thousand time already.

The Golden Eagle said...

I thought it rather unoriginal, too. I didn't hate it or anything, but I still think that the best part was the visual effects.

BernardL said...

I could not have stated it any better.

Clare2e said...

Charles, I saw it in the theater in 3D, and my feeling was still MEH. I love visuals and they can carry a film for me, but these were so...I don't know, 1970s flocked, glow in the dark head-shop poster?... and the characters so impossibly poster flat, too, that I never lost myself. Too easy, too simple. Cameron's a heck of a technician, but his devotion to storytelling's intermittent.

However, last night I began re-watching Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Now that holds up pretty well!

jodi said...

Charles, I didn't see it, but my son did and thought it was overrated. He said the characters features and overall looks lacked imagination and originality. Oh, well..

Steve Malley said...

Thing I always try to remind myself is, somewhere out there is a ten or twelve year old kid whose tastes aren't sophisticated yet. All this stuff is new for her, and it's set her head on fire...

Charles Gramlich said...

James Reasoner, ahh, that would explain it. I agree with his points here but I’m sure someone else might do a better job than he would.

Ty Johnston, There was definitely an animated feel to it, but I still enjoyed the CGI. I’m sure it’ll only get better. Apparently it’s still really expensive.


pattinase (abbott), Yeah, the fake Native American characteristics really kind of left a bad taste.


the walking man, that it certainly doesn’t.


The Golden Eagle, those were enjoyable, the CGI, and I didn’t hate it either. I didn’t feel like I’d really wasted my time, but there were a few disappointments.

BernardL, I guess I can get an “amen” then. :)

Clare2e, the head-shop poster comparison is apt. I was troubled by how their feet “lit” up the ground as they walked. Seemed too much. Yeah, Terminator 2 is excellent, even better than 1 I thought.

jodi, definitely, the animals were so clearly derived from earth animals. The plants seemed minutely more imaginative.

Steve Malley, that’s true, and I’m glad for that child. As I said in my post, I hope that they don’t come away believing it is the height of originality, though. I hope someone will take the time to point out all the great stories that came before and that are well worth exploring.

Vesper said...

I agree with your review, Charles. I liked the movie but felt it was too predictable. And, you know, I haven't even finished it yet - maybe I will, someday, but I can probably guess the ending. I couldn't see why so many people were suicidal after watching it... (maybe for having wasted their time? :-) :-) )

jennifer said...

I haven't watched Avatar so I can't weigh in on it. Usually I don't mind movies that are predictable as long as they are entertaining.

Have a great week!

Charles Gramlich said...

Vesper, well think of Beatlemania or things like that. SOme folks are just excitable that way it seems.

Jennifer, it depends on how predictable. Totally predictable and I'll usually give up.

BStearns said...

It was a very un-original story wasn't it? The first time I watched it I was blown away. I walked out superbly amazed. But upon reflection, I realized that was because of the effects, not the story. There was no twist to it, and yes, clearly a mish-mash of ideas. For me, Avatar only exists on the big screen, because the only reason to watch it is to see the effects.

Erik Donald France said...

Excellent "take" -- though I still haven't seen it, for some of the reasons you delineate here . . . some day . . .

Charles Gramlich said...

Bryan, I think, yes, it's so visually stunning that that can temporarily throw you out of an evaluative mood.

Erik, one reason I didn't worry too much about rushing out to see it when it was first available.

Lana Gramlich said...

I felt much the same. I'm sure it would've been more impressive in 3D in the theater, but it wasn't bad (especially since it was free. *L*)

Charles Gramlich said...

Lana, thanks to you it was. My little librarian.