Avatar Review

One word: Impressive.

More than one word: Well, when Avatar was being discussed over at MetaFilter last week, in advance of seeing the film, this is what I said:

Cameron has enough of a track record that even without seeing this film I pretty much know how it will be: Amazing visually and technically, with a story that ranges from barely passable to moderately intriguing, with the weaknesses of the story compensated for by a better than average cast of actors and very well integrated action sequences. That’s pretty much a given at this point.

And that’s how it was.

But I think it really bears mentioning just how visually impressive this film is. Two major points here:

1. This is the first time I’ve watched a 3D movie and didn’t get a headache, which is especially impressive when you realize the film is two hours, forty minutes long;

2. I spent almost no time at all thinking about the fact that most of my time was spent looking at computer animation. The Na’vi (I hope I got the apostrophe right, there) exist on the other side of the CGI uncanny valley; between the actors and their animators, these are real performances. Also, note to James Cameron: The extra time spent animating eyeballs paid off.

To be sure, in this regard Cameron benefited not only from the advance of technology but also from the fact that audiences are now trained to accept computer animated characters as actual characters, not just walking special effects; Cameron owes a debt to Peter Jackson in particular for that, since what he’s essentially done is take Gollum, stretched him out ten feet tall, turned him blue, and made a couple hundred of him. Be that as it may, Cameron’s own innovations here work marvelously.

As do his other visual innovations as well. Cameron’s legendary for being a tyrant with his crews, but at the very least it’s for a purpose, because he’s also absolutely committed to making sure you’re seeing something on screen you haven’t seen before. He’s pulled it off — there are things in Avatar you really have never seen on screen before. It’s a film I want to see a second time not for the story but just to walk the world and to pay attention to everything on screen that I didn’t have time to pay attention to the first time. I very strongly suspect I won’t be the only person doing that. Also, the action sequences are just fantastic; Cameron’s not lost a single step there.

To go back to the 3D thing one more time, the smart thing Cameron does that I wish other directors would figure out is that he doesn’t use the 3D to poke at you, he uses the 3D to let you look through a window into a world. He’s also pretty smart about not messing with your focal length any more than he has to, which is why my eyes don’t currently feel like they’ve been run over a cheese grater. Basically, Cameron’s graduated 3D from stunt work to being a viable cinematic grammar. He didn’t do it 100% perfectly (there were a couple of things that didn’t work for me), but he does it will enough that this film really should be seen as the textbook on how to do that process right.

I won’t get into the story except to say I found it serviceable, if predictable, and while I don’t really feel the same sort of moral outrage other people have about the “noble savage” stereotype as it applies to this film, it certainly does leave itself wide open for criticism along that line. But as you can tell from the pullout quote above, I go into Cameron films assuming I’ll need to compensate for storytelling anyway. That said, unlike, say, George Lucas, Cameron actually does attempt to tell a story and to give his actors something else to do except stand there. The story was serviceable, and serviceable, lest we forget, is actually a positive.

On a personal note, everyone who looked at the previews wondering if Avatar wasn’t in some way a little bit of a ripoff of Old Man’s War, I’ve noted before that any similarities are coincidence, but now having seen the movie I can say that no only are those similarities coincidence, they are fundamentally trivial coincidences at that. The stories and action really are nothing like each other. Which is of course perfectly fine with me, since should they ever make a movie with the OMW series, I wouldn’t want people to say it’s just an Avatar ripoff. They won’t.

Whether Avatar is the best science fiction film of the year depends I suppose on whether you like your SF films epic or intimate; if the latter, Moon is going to get your vote. But it’s visually the most impressive film of the year, period, and I can see every movie director with an SF property in their pocket going to the film and saying, “Oh, crap, now I have to compete with that.” It’s a challenge, like Star Wars was and like The Matrix was, for everyone else to step up their visual game. It’ll be interesting to see if they do.

Update: Spoilers are beginning to creep into the comment thread. You’ve been warned.

175 Comments on “Avatar Review”

  1. I’ve heard it described as “Dances With Smurfs”, which is pretty accurate (and way, waaaaay better than “Battlefield Smurf”, which was what I feared it was going to be).

    I think I agree with you: Cameron still sucks at the things at which he sucked, rocks at the things at which he rocked in the past, and one of those things at which he absolutely rocks is spending money and making pretty, pretty pictures.

    The noble savage thing is sad, but Cameron just isn’t the guy who can deal with that sort of nuance. He does give us strong female characters (some of color), so we have to give the guy some credit (and, lest we forget, there was a serious lack of dark skinned good guys in LotR).

  2. As far as that article you mentioned:

    I thought that was a pretty dumb, huge inference for the author of it to make. To think that the film was especially intended as some sort of anti-guilt aspirin for whites is not only to assume that that was Cameron’s purpose from start to finish, but also that that issue even exists in white people’s minds. That idea was as remote from my mind as it could have been when I saw the movie last night (which is to say, not on my mind at all), and I don’t know why the author of that article would stab at it unless s/he was looking for an excuse to. As far as I’m concerned, the film was not intended to have any allegory whatsoever–and something like that is a minor fallacy anyway. I don’t feel any guilt for what the English colonizers did some four hundred years ago, because I didn’t do it; I would have stopped it if I was in a position to, but my genetic material was about six or eight generations away from existence.

  3. I think Wil Wheaton put it best on twitter…

    “The best thing about Avatar is that it imagines a world where a program to breed Thundercats with Smurfs has been successful. SCIENCE!”

    Loved the movie. Plan on seeing it at the IMAX in a few weeks when it’s hopefully possible to get tickets. I also plan on pre-ordering the Blue Ray disk.

    Are there issues with the movie? I can’t think of one that doesn’t have SOME issue. Well done, Cameron. Well done.

  4. >>Scalzi:

    Agreed. Didn’t have the balls. But, with a mid/high-range-popularity author supporting me, off I go. Thanks!

  5. Exactly right on the 3D. I have a good friend who is blind in one eye. He very gamely lets us drag him to 3D movies anyway. His perspective is really interesting because even in 2D he can usually tell what was supposed to be 3D and what effect it was supposed to have — that “poking” thing.

    At the end of “Avatar,” he had to ask: “How was the 3D?” I said, “It was really unobtrusive.” He agreed — because he didn’t get any of that 2D “poking” that he usually does.

  6. I agree with your review, definitely.

    And while it’s not a subtle movie, its strong go-green/anti-corporation message left me quite depressed. Not because it’s a bad message (not at all), but I got out of the theatre and wanted to plant a tree right away, and then got home and heard about the clusterfuck that was the Copenhagen summit. You know, what with everyone laughing about the climate and all.

    Eh. Unfortunate timing, perhaps. I wonder what would’ve happened if Avatar was released a few months earlier. :p

  7. Absolutely visually arresting. Like nothing I’ve ever seen–totally stunning.

    The story lacked, I got bored & nearly snoozed. This movie isn’t just about “The Noble Savage” it’s also about White Guilt/Privilege. Peep the Gawker article, When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like “Avatar”?
    Think of it this way. Avatar is a fantasy about ceasing to be white, giving up the old human meatsack to join the blue people, but never losing white privilege. Jake never really knows what it’s like to be a Na’vi because he always has the option to switch back into human mode. Interestingly, Wikus in District 9 learns a very different lesson. He’s becoming alien and he can’t go back. He has no other choice but to live in the slums and eat catfood. And guess what? He really hates it. He helps his alien buddy to escape Earth solely because he’s hoping the guy will come back in a few years with a “cure” for his alienness. When whites fantasize about becoming other races, it’s only fun if they can blithely ignore the fundamental experience of being an oppressed racial group. Which is that you are oppressed, and nobody will let you be a leader of anything

    I really can’t disagree.

    I would’ve been much more interested & engrossed by a story that much more Na’vi heavy. Heck, even Na’vi only. The ONLY thing I can think of that the Na’vi really needed Jake for was to know how to best the human tech. That could’ve been obtained by making Jake a POW, maybe.

  8. I won’t get into the story except to say I found it serviceable, if predictable, and while I don’t really feel the same sort of moral outrage other people have about the “noble savage” stereotype as it applies to this film, it certainly does leave itself wide open for criticism along that line.

    You don’t have to get outraged about it, but I’m sure Zoe Saldana has more options in her career than playing house maids, crack whores and welfare mothers thanks to someone getting outraged about sexism and racism in the movie industry.

    OTOH, anyone who goes to a James Cameron flick looking for a nuanced and complex storytelling is on a hiding to nothing.

  9. czottmannon@7:
    And while it’s not a subtle movie, its strong go-green/anti-corporation message left me quite depressed.

    Oh, I just had to laugh at the in-your-face irony of the anti-consumerist, anti-corporate message being a triumph of globalized high technology entirely financed by a gargantuan multinational corporation. Oh, frak it — you’ve just got to laugh or you’d cry all the time.

  10. Roger Ebert said Avatar was the best sf movie in a generation, a landmark film like Star Wars. That’s some high praise.

  11. I work for a VFX studio. We all went to see the movie on Friday — big screen, 3D. When you have veteran VFX professionals utterly blown away, you know you’ve done something right.

    (And we were quite happy too, because more VFX movies mean more work for us!)

  12. @11/Craig:

    Yes, I agree, it’s a bit ridiculous if you think about it. ;) But that’s something I can live with, actually.

  13. “Avatar” is the very first movie I see in 3D (and IMAX, for that matter), and for me it sets the standard for the kind of 3D I would pay to see in a theatre. I’ve seen it myself on Saturday – in IMAX 3D, because someone’s review made me believe it was worth it. It definitely was.

    And you know what’s amazing? People feel the need to share what they experienced in that cinema. Since Saturday four different reviews from four different kinds of blogs have shown up in my RSS reader. That’s one hell of a buzz.

    I remember walking out of that theatre with a huge grin on my face. Then I realised I felt this… this glee only once before – when I was six and I saw “The Empire Strikes Back”. That was the very first movie I ever saw in a theatre.

  14. As far as Cameron’s storytelling goes, I keep going back to something like “Aliens,” which has a rather large ensemble cast — and yet each character is distinct and well drawn enough that within five minutes you know them all, remember them all, and root for them all. That’s a really hard trick. I can’t think of too many films — esp. ensemble military flicks — that manage it.

    He’s capable of moments of brilliance. The moment I’ll give him in “Avatar” is the relationship between Sully and the science team, who start out hating his guts but by the end they’re a family supporting each other.

  15. Did anyone else get the feeling of parts being shortened or left out for the theatrical release?

    (For example, there were one or two scenes where the second Avatar pilot was getting annoyed of Sully for not having a clue, but then a few minutes later Sully mentioned everything was good again.)

    I’m really looking forward to the Extended Edition/Director’s Cut… 160 minutes just isn’t enough.

  16. You guys may think this is review of Avatar, but it’s really a meditation on how JOHN SCALZI WAS RIGHT!


  17. Christopher Turkel@12:

    Roger Ebert needs to get out of the house more, to be honest. And I’ve got to wonder how many of the critics who’ve written “the story is kinda shit, but love the effects” reviews of Avatar would give a similar pass to a ‘mainstream’ movie with a pretty dire script, serviceable performances, but the production design and costumes were fabulous? (Judging from the lukewarm early reviews I’ve seen of Rob Marshall’s film version of Nine — not many.)

  18. The “uncanny valley” doesn’t apply to aliens as the very fact that they are “different” gets past the brain filters trained to look for details in other humans. That’s also why there’s little “uncanny valley” effect with animals.

    This is not to detract from the CGI…from the trailers it looks amazing. But there’s a reason why people avoid CGI closeups of humans. (Fine for Gollum but not for Gandalf.)

  19. I didn’t say I agreed with Ebert, just posted what he said. I haven’t seen it yet so i reserve judgement.

  20. Steve Burnap:

    “The ‘uncanny valley’ doesn’t apply to aliens as the very fact that they are ‘different’ gets past the brain filters trained to look for details in other humans.”

    There are some reasons why they may apply to these particular aliens, which I will leave to you to discover when you watch the movie.

  21. Haven’t seen it yet.
    So he does great visuals on so so story.
    There are SO many great SF stories out there with authors that would love more money for work they have already done.
    Come on Hollywood. Cash in.
    Sequel, prequel, remake and repeat.

  22. Just got back from seeing it. Saw it in the local theater, so no 3D, which was fine. It’s visually amazing. I saw it with my 2 sons, 11 and 16, and they loved it (the 16-year-old more than the 11-year-old).

    My take is almost identical to yours. Visually? Absolutely stunning. I’ve never really seen anything like it (except maybe in some animation), the action works, the CGI is almost perfectly integrated, the actors pull it off.

    The story? Wellllllll…. okay, my kids haven’t SEEN Dances With Wolves or any of the other stories similar, and maybe the story itself is fairly archetypal, so OK. I commented to my wife (who stayed home & wrapped gifts) that it had a fair number of Cameronisms: somewhat cliche’d military behavior, really cool interactive robot gizmos. On the flipside, as a novelist, and looking back over Cameron’s body of work (with the possible exception of The Abyss, which I liked but doesn’t really apply to this statement), Cameron has a rock-solid grip on how to pace a film and that was on display here. Would I see it again? Yup. ’cause I want to SEE it. Not for the story, per se.

  23. Just saw it.

    Will see it again for the visuals. Saw one possible problem with a visual but I am being anal.

    Good movie, very predictable though.

    My first 3d movie and I did get a headache but not until it was over.

    I will be dragging my wife to it even though she doesn’t like SF just for the visuals.

  24. @#25 – The problem is finding a combination of a maniacal dictatorial director with a track record of doing epic perfection, who is ALSO willing to bow to the whim/necessities of a great script.

    Cameron wants to do his own stories, and I can only think of only two others who might pull it off: Rodriguez and Scott. Mann could but he is going to want to do a crime story (Stainless Steel Rat adaptation?) I think that Scott is done with Sci Fi, and Rodriguez is booked.

    I’m sure I am leaving a host of talented folks out (Proyas comes to mind), but this is a narrow pool to try to pull from.

  25. As I recently mentioned in the thread on Joe Haldeman, Ridley Scott is currently attached to a movie adaptation of THE FOREVER WAR. Unfortunately, according go IMDb, he is also currently attached to fourteen other projects, including a prequel to ALIEN, so it may never see the light of day.

  26. I just got back from seeing it as well. It was my first 3-D movie too. I was blown away, especially on the close-ups of Saldana and Worthington’s characters. I could not distinguish between what was real or fake. I think some scenes were rendered further than others.

  27. >>24 (Scalzi):

    That’s totally true. Remember (**spoilers, duh**) at the very beginning, when the CGI soldiers were getting the troopers off of Sully’s ship–the ones who were poking fun at him? It took me all of four milliseconds to decide that they were CGI, but since the Na’vi are pretty much a clean mental slate, it’s easy to take them as real, no matter how they look.

  28. I haven’t enjoyed a blockbuster this much since The Matrix. And I suspect that Jim Cameron (the person) is delighted that people have so much intelligent critique of what Jim Cameron (the money making machine) produces.

  29. After having gone to see it not expecting much, my one sentence review is “machine gun battles while flying on the back of a colorful pterodactyl makes up for a lot of liberal PC BS”.

    Of course, I had to go home and chop up and grind into venison sausage bits of Bambi’s mom just to feel clean again afterwards, but that isn’t a bad sacrifice.

  30. Avatar is why they make movies, a completely original planet, a gorgeous, immersive, adventure. This had that space opera sensawunda in spades.

    This is the first 3D film I’ve seen where the tech didn’t draw attention to itself. Instead, it drew attention to the film. I was skeptical, but it worked for me.

    Agreed that Pandora is worth revisiting for the planet’s sake. Agreed that the story’s pacing is impeccable. Agreed that the story has been seen before, but not the planet. Pandora is the star of this film.

  31. In an FB conversation with my brother he said, “I kind of wish Cameron had found a different paradigm than Vietnam in space.”

    I can definitely see that. And I could definitely see Stephen Lang saying, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning. It’s the smell of vic-tor-y.”

  32. [This comment has spoilers — JS]

    I saw it in 2D Friday night, and it was visually stunning. The story was good, but not great. I thought Aliens was much better as far as camaraderie and dialogue went, and there were several scenes in this movie that seemed to be either direct rip-offs of ones in Aliens, or the ‘response’ to scenes in Aliens. Creature vs Human in Armor comes to mind in the latter case, where this time the creature wins against the human in armor. Keep in mind that ‘Ripley’ (Sigourney Weaver) is on the other side this time, so that seems inevitable. This is, in some ways, the true sequel to Aliens, with Aliens coming out WAY on top for me in most ways. If this had been made 20 years ago, then we could’ve had Michael Biehn as Sully. How awesome would THAT have been?

    Anyway, I liked the story enough that I’ll risk seeing it in 3D IMAX in a few weeks when the madness dies down. I am one of those who gets headaches from 3D movies, as my brain isn’t always fooled, and thus tries to refocus a lot. Most people who have this same problem say it’s much better or even not a problem with this one, so I definitely want to give it a shot.

    Ebert saying this is the SF movie of the generation seems only valid to me if you consider Matrix from the prevous generation. Effects-wise, yeah, I can see it, but not from any other point of view.

    Also, the transport technology seems strangely low-tech compared to other things they can do, and the year of 2154 (as do the clothes). But whatever.

    My main thought on leaving the theater was, “I want an avatar!” :)

  33. Oh, almost forgot – speaking of Cameron and Jackson (and I thought John’s comment about owing something to Jackson was kind of ridiculous – Jackson didn’t do anything others hadn’t done before him, he just did them on a bigger scale, and got bonus points for using beloved source material in a respectful way), there’s a great article with those two, and several other directors (including Tarantino) to be found here:


    Three ‘pages’ long, so don’t miss the other two. Some great quotes by Cameron in there.

  34. The thing that I found interesting about the story is that even though it was predictable and not terribly original (see any of thousands of other reviews), Cameron executed it extremely well.

    There was more than one moment where an important plot detail was communicated quickly and simply without a lot of need to hammer on exposition over and over.

    He was trusting his audience to put the pieces together without too much shoving our face in it, which is always something I appreciate.

    Maybe I’m not as sophisticated as a lot of other moviegoers, but despite seeing where the story was headed the majority of the time, I just enjoyed the hell out of it regardless.

  35. I saw it and loved it, and while as has been pointed out before, the story didn’t set me on fire (thanfully!) I’ll probably see it again (hopefully in Imax) because it was lots of fun and really, really pretty. Seriously, I want a scientist to make gentically alter grass so that it lights up when you step on it. I Want!
    And on a side note, the most 3D thing I noticed was when the cinema’s logo came on, which was amusing, and then that was it.

  36. John, take this as you will, sir, but this is the first time I’ve read one of your blog entries where I completely, unequivocally agree with you. The plot is predictable, which I think adds to the experience: not being distracted by plot twists leaves one to fully appreciate what is the strength of the movie — the special effects are mind-blowing. I saw it in 3D and like a previous commenter usually cannot abide the visual gimmick, but it was unobtrusive mostly and where it was noticeable added to the experience. However, I will say that due to that last point, you will not miss much seeing it in a “regular” venue.

    I do not see movies often in the theater, but this one was worth every penny.

  37. This is my first 3-D movie in years. I have avoided them because of the headache and vertigo/nausea problems I can experience with them. I had neither of those problems with Avatar in 3-D. It was visually stunning. I was really pleased that there were no 3-D ‘gimmicks’. I did have a short experience of vertigo at the opening scene when they are still in space (great depiction of weightlessness there) but he cut the bit short enough that I never went to the nausea stage. And that was when I went, “WOW!” It looked like you could reach out and touch the landscape! There were a lot of things that he did right in this film with 3-D that I can forgive him the story (Dances with Smurf Thundercats in Ferngully) and the few other nitpicks –really Unobtainium?????

  38. I just got back from seeing Avitar and enjoyed it a lot. Story was good and the effects were great fun. The best CG characters I’ve ever seen.

    Now about the stereoscopic 3D.

    The Good (mostly):
    Avatar was, for the most part, rendered with a low stereo camera separation. This means that although the illusion of depth is generated it’s not as “deep” as the real world. This is probably why many people who usually complain about 3D headaches are not complaining about this movie. This is also friendly for small children as their eyes are not as far apart as adults, so full 2.5″ separation can be quite painful to children.

    The central event of most scenes was also generally kept at screen depth making for a comfortable viewing experience as the viewer doesn’t constantly need to change their eye’s convergence.

    The bad:
    Inconsistent depth: Several of the scenes in the military buildings were rendered with a greater separation than some of the outdoor scenes that should have had a much greater depth than that of the military buildings.

    Frame violations: Think of a stereoscopic screen as a window. When an object is on the other side of the window you can only see what parts of it are within the field of view generated by the distance from you to the window. I.E. an object that moves far enough to either side will disappear as is moves out of frame. This however doesn’t apply to an object in front of the screen. That object will simply block the wall that the window is in. With a stereoscopic screen however you can only make objects appear in the window. If an object is in front of the screen (popping out) and going off of the screen at the same time you have a frame violation. Your brain now has a problem because it’s getting conflicting information. The object is behind the screen because it’s stopping at the edge of the screen. However the object is in front of the screen because the convergence depth the left eye and right eye images are set at. Your brain will usually try to keep most of the object at its convergence depth (out) with the object warping as it get’s to the edge and bending behind the screen.

    Avatar is full of frame violations. Based on memory of my one viewing I think over 50% of the movie contains at least one frame violation. The low separation discussed before helps mitigate this at the expense of depth. Frame violations in my experience cause a lot of people to dropout of the stereo.

    As much as I like the movie I think that as a stereoscopic film it is quite lacking. My vote for best textbook stereoscopic film is Up by Pixar. No frame violations that I can remember. Whenever there was a cut the object that was the center of attention of the previous cut was at the same depth as the new center of attention and then they moved the camera in scene to whatever framing depth that they wanted. Everything was rendered at a constant camera separation unlike avatar and the camera separation was large enough to give good depth without being too large for kid’s small heads.

    On another note, I saw the stereoscopic trailer for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. That looks like a movie to stay away from in stereoscopic 3D. Very high stereo-camera separation (not good for kids), and worse frame violations. With Avatar the violations were usually small objects (Tree branches, logs, ect). With Alice the ground covered the entire bottom of the screen with a frame violation. That trailer did give me a headache.

    Disclaimer: I work with stereoscopic 3D both professionally and as a hobby but am in no way related to the entertainment industry.

  39. It was stunning visually, but the script and story were predictable and basically useless, though I did enjoy to see how an Earth led by mega-corps would behave if they discovered an alien civilization.

    I felt that this is exactly what would happen if we still have a capitalist economy by the time we venture out of the solar system.

    The Navi were stunning and yes, the noble savage, Indian/Columbus similarities were annoying. It was a typecast story with one-dimensional characters.

    By no way will this ever be “This Generation’s Star Wars”. The story is too bad for this too happen.

    I did think about the similarities between this script and OMW. You can’t deny them, but once again, these are prevalent in other stories as well.

    I think that James Cameron should have brought on people who could write to do the script and story. Then, there wouldn’t have been any unobtainium and the other problems I noticed.

  40. adelheid @42 – I think the character was being sarcastic when he called it Unobtanium; I don’t think it was really named that. I thought it was a good term for something that cost that much. He’s basically a sarcastic version of Burke from Aliens. Michelle Rodriguez’s character was a more sympathetic version of Vasquez, Sully was Hicks, Sigourney Weaver’s character was … a scientist version of Ripley, etc.

    No Hudson this trip out. Too bad. “Game over, man, game over!”

    Ship design-wise, the flying ‘helicopter’ things were reworked versions of the dropships from the Sulaco, only not as cool. I suspect the exact same designer did them, or else they were done to a Steve Jobs’ level of micromanaging by Cameron.

    Wow, now I’m _really_ in the mood to rewatch Aliens. :)

    I would _really_ not at all mind seeing the fully uncut version of that re-released to the big screen. It’s a perfect movie.

  41. Never seen Dances with Wolves so Avatar is going to seem original and exciting to me. I tend to focus more on sfx than story the first time I see a movie anyways. Can’t wait to see it!

  42. [spoilers spoilers spoilers]

    Great movie. I watched it in 3D on an Imax screen. Towards the beginning, there was a shot of a guy putting a ball into a cup, the guy was in the background, the cup was floating way out in front fo the audience like “Hey, look at me! I’m a 3D thingy!” and I was extremely concerned they were going to go for 3D sight gags throughout the movie. But after that one, it seemed to settle into a fairly good perspective.

    Plot-wise, pretty good, except for the ending. Does anyone know latin out there? I need the latin phrase for “victory from god” which should hopefully have a similar ring to it as “deus ex machina”. Maybe vicci ex deus? Dunno. The problem was that the story takes place in an empathic universe, or an empathic planet. Literally, empathic planet. OK. Fine, the planet is empathic. Our plucky hero decides to round up the natives and take on the big machine. OK. Fine. But then our plucky hero fails to make any sort of a plan that didn’t basically come down to mass suicide. One of the characters even says exactly that sentiment, and then ends up dying. So, our plucky hero and his plucky tribes of natives take on the big machine and they’re getting slaughtered as would be expected when weapons with a range of a kilometer and a rate of fire measured in hundreds of rounds per minute take on spear-chucking horseriding unarmored aliens. And when all looks to be lost, guess what? the empathic planet sends in the fucking cavalry. Literally, it’s the fucking cavalry. the beasts of the planet rise up, en masse, and throw themselves at the big bad machine. And even though it’s still a war of attrition, one gets through now and then to inflict some damage.

    By all rights, our plucky hero and his rag-tag team of warriors should all be dead. Wiped out. Massacred. It was genocide. And out of nowhere, the cavalry shows up to save the hero in the end. Like a cheesy western movie. Oh, sure, our plucky hero asks the empathic planet to help, and the number-two spiritual leader of the tribe explains that the empathic planet doesn’t take sides, but apparently she does. But to have our plucky hero ask the empathic planet for help, and then go into combat with absolutely no plan, get nearly annhilated, only to be saved by the empathic planet, was, well, a deus ex machina ending, and it kind of cheesed me off.

    And it would be no less deus ex machina if a western had the plucky hero send word to the cavalry for help, only to be turned down, go into battle on a suicide mission, only to have the cavalry show up.

    Our plucky hero basically went to war with absolutely no strategy for victory, and no tactics to overcome the superior range and rate of the weapons he and his warriors would be going up against. And I’m getting a little tired of people going to war, undergunned, and undermanned, with no planning whatsoever, and the underlying assumption that the fight was worth fighting even if everyone died but our cause is just so God, or the empathic universe, or in this case empathic planet, would deliver us a victory.

    All they had to do to remove the deus ex machina was ask the empathic planet for help, and the planet say yes, but then that would have removed from the audience the fear of annhilation because of the massive numbers of animals all showing up to fight for the planet would pretty much mean victory would be whoever had the most bodies to throw in the grinder.

    Instead, they ask for help, the spirit leader says the planet doesn’t take sides, the plucky hero and his tiny band get nearly wiped out, building audience suspense, and then empathic planet sends every animal on the planet into the fight.


    Right now, I think I’d give it an A-, or on my scale, it’s worth the full-evening-price of admission. (the “minus” would mean don’t buy the popcorn) It would have been A+ if they’d written the deus ex machina out of the ending, but everything else was so good, it didn’t take it down to a B.

    The CGI was phenomenal. I saw something about it on TV the other day. The actors wore helmets that held a tiny camera in front of their face while they did their lines, and the software converted their video feeds into their CGI character counterparts. If they looked sad, their CGI character looked sad. And the emotional range of the CGI characters was phenomenal. Way past the uncanny valley and into the “wow, this feels real” sensation.

  43. Definitely not going to be this generation’s Star Wars. Much closer to this generations Phantom Menace 2.0.

    Still, the eye candy was nice even if the story was your basic PC liberal BS where corporations and the military are evil, and the noble savages are good.

  44. Carlo@17: Did anyone else get the feeling of parts being shortened or left out for the theatrical release?

    Somewhere near the beginning of the movie, one of the guys tells Sully, “you’ve got three months”. So, some trimming would have to be done somewhere.

  45. I just got back from the movie so I haven’t read all of the comments. I agree with Scalzi 100%.

    As to the “Noble Savage” stuff. Jeez, I hated the “evil” human and the “nobleness” of the local population. Although the “evil” corporation guy was nice. I enjoyed hating him. Yeah, it needed work. My undergrad was Anthropology. Life is more nuanced than Cameron could imagine. Oh well.

    That being said, I haven’t had this much fun at a movie in a very long time. Hell, the only other movies I’ve had so much fun when I first saw them were Star Wars, The Terminator and the 1st Matrix.

    Good job Cameron.

  46. Skip: even if the story was your basic PC liberal BS where corporations and the military are evil, and the noble savages are good.

    You’ve got a lot of Native Americans running the country where you live do you? Weird.

    For all the right-wing crybabies saying the movie is “unfair” (I think there’s a whole gaggle of them honking over on Fox or someplace similar), I think it is a realistic version of how whites trampled native americans for their land, retold in space.

    And if it’s realistic, then it’s fair.

  47. Oh, and the same crybabies on Fox complaining how “unfair” Avatar is were probably the same knuckle-headed ijiots who thought “300” was a historical documentary.

  48. @44 & 48

    “No way it’s this generation’s Star Wars” (paraphrased).

    Two points about that:

    1) The plot of the Star Wars, leaving out Empire and Jedi, is as serviceable as Avatars. Both films feature effects that blew away audiences the first time they saw them. Does that mean Avatar will be as important to today’s ten year old as it was to 1977’s ten year old? Possibly, but only time will tell.

    2) Lord of the Rings is this generation’s Star Wars.

  49. We could discuss how Europeans that migrated to this country abused Native Americans. It’s a documented fact and we all know it. Or, we could think about it in different terms. I looked at it more like the Brazilian rain forest and corporations wanting the wood verses the scientists and the indigenous peoples.

    Or, we could think about the fact that it is a world 5 years away. A corporation financed the project. The movie never really gave a reason why we wanted the minerals but mentioned that the human world had no “green.” What would our corporations do if they had access to a natural resource of a mineral that was worth billions of dollars? I’m not sure why the “green” mention was in the movie but the most important thing is the privatization of space. 5 years away and a corporation had full power as to their next move in exploitation of the resources. If a corporation or for that matter, a country, found a resource so valuable but with a local population still using spears…would the scientists have a final say or the “military.”

    My teen son and I had an argument about this after the movie. He assumed that in OUR world the scientists would have the final say. Hahahaha. Yeah. He’s young.

  50. I laughed out loud at “unobtainium.” I took it as a filmmaker’s wink to the audience, essentially saying, “It’s a MacGuffin. We know it and you know it, so we’re not going to waste your time giving you some useless explanation for it.”

  51. #53 Please be right. Let’s please move this along. Sorry for joining in. I thought my post was more removed from earthly stuff but I stand guilty anyway.

    What about the 3D?? I usually can’t handle it. This was perfectly executed for my brain. It brought me into the movie without making me want to stab my eyes out. Great stuff.

  52. Lord of the Rings is this generation’s Star Wars.

    Star Wars was a kids movie (to put it more clearly, a movie that kids could watch and not suffer nightmares for the next several nights). I don’t think Avatar is a kids movie. there are some scenes and nasty creatures that I think would give young kids some nightmares for a while. I don’t have kids, so, I don’t know for sure, but that’s my impression.

    And did people take 6 year old kids to see LOTR???

    I don’t know, but I have a feeling that Star Wars was a movie for an entire generation because it was seen by a lot of young impressionable kids who grew up to be Star Wars geeks.

    I don’t think Avatar is going to have that sort of following because it won’t have the 5 and 6 year olds in the audience.

    Or, maybe I don’t understand movie audience dynamics.

  53. What about a POINTED derailment into politics? C’mon, let’s get this crazy train onto the tracks! :)

    There’s enough politics already in the movie itself, without having to rehash the politics of reality. If I wanted to think about politics at a movie, I’d see a documentary. Avatar is entertainment, pure and simple. If you want to see a sci-fi movie with some real thought behind it, go see Moon or District 9. Preferably Moon.

  54. Lord of the Rings is this generation’s Star Wars.

    I think LoTR was that same generation’s LoTR. The fantasy equivalent to Star Wars, for the same generation. It’s hard for me to imagine (but I suppose it’s possible) someone really LOVING LoTR if they didn’t already love the books. That would make an interesting poll, actually. The latest generations Star Wars is … Harry Potter, as far as I can tell. Kids these days. *sigh*

    Avatar seems like a weird hybrid between Aliens and Ferngully, on a *ahem* Titanic scale. (please forgive me). With the story quality of Titanic.

  55. Cameron has come out openly and stated what he is aiming for in the message of Avatar. His interview with Vanity Fair is the most direct:


    especially starting at the point near the bottom:

    “Do you see parallels in Avatar to current issues, such as America invading other countries?”

    As to the film, I’d have to agree with the beauty of the visuals. The bar has been seriously raised concerning the use of CGI in film, and it’s about time imho. As to the script, it was one of his poorer scripts plot-wise and there was no really good back-and-forths in the dialogues which I’ve enjoyed in his previous films.

    His portrayal of military tactics is getting much worse, but I take it that wasn’t the aim of his film.

    Overall a C with the caveat of an A+ for visuals, which I recommended to my friends to see at least once for.

  56. I haven’t seen it yet, and want to know how the 3-D compares with that in Coraline; because I thought it was masterfully done in that film too. As I plan on going with someone who’s somewhat sensitive to the “bad” 3-D, we’re trying to decide which version to see.

  57. Loved the visuals, it was beautiful and fantastic. The story holes, well you could drive The Phantom Menace though them. All I will say is that Uwe Boll has made a more logical and sensible film than James Cameron. And I will have paid to see it at least twice.

  58. I second that “unobtanium” was totally a wink at the audience, it’s been used too often in sci/fi to not be deliberate.

    I enjoyed the plot. The main char being in a wheelchair and clearly lost on a personal/emotional level really sealed it for me. There are multiple levels on which I can believe the avatar program and the freedom/release it offers for him would bring him around to being on the side of the natives. I loved that dimension of it. Also the idea of being able to reconnect with his dead brother was interesting. The first thing he says upon seeing his avatar is “that looks like Tom”. I found the emotional subtlety in some of these scenes refreshing, since my hand wasn’t being held constantly through the relationships developing. I do hope that some things will be expanded in the dvd version, since I’m sure they had to cut things (that’s the way it works I guess). Anyway, for me, the whole package was far far better than expected, and it’ll be a favorite for many years to come.

    As for military tactics, yeah, charging machine guns with horses is stupid. Didn’t stop people from doing it in WW1 though. And I sort of liked that the grunt marine doesn’t think to employ brilliant strategy. Why would he? And how likely is it that the Na’vi have ever waged any sort of larger scale war? Against superior firepower? I saw it as a fight they probably knew they were unlikely to win, but in defense of their memories and basically their GOD, they were willing to sacrifice themselves.

    my two cents anyway.

    Haven’t seen it in 3d yet. Will this week. Never seen a movie in 3d.

  59. Mr. Scalzy, you have been lucky not to get a headache watching this – But for me, it was the opposite. I paid dearly for watching Avatar, getting the mother of all headaches that lasted all through the night (the pint of Guinnes I had later didn’t help either, I admit) and only abated with medication.

    Still totally worth it, though!

  60. [spoilers spoilers spoilers]

    And I sort of liked that the grunt marine doesn’t think to employ brilliant strategy. Why would he?

    Because he’s a grunt marine? They don’t teach marines how to dance the hokey pokey you know. They teach them how to fight in lots of different scenarios. And Sully was Force Recon, which means he was marine corps special forces. They’re trained to operate behind enemy lines doing recon and direct combat.

    This should have been right up Sully’s alley.

    Granted he probably never trained to ride mind-controlled horses and pteradactyls or how to employ them properly in combat to get the best effect, but jumping jehosifat, they could have had one fifteen second scene where Sully is talking with a bunch of warrior leaders. They wouldn’t even need to have dialogue. they could have inserted the scene when Sully was doing the voice over talking about gathering all the tribes together.

    As for strategies, rotor blades are crap when you drop a twenty pound stone on them from a thousand feet up. Just put a shitload of people on those floating mountains, give them some big ass boulders, and have at it. Instead, they hid on their pteradactyls in the mountains, and when the helicopters flew under them, they dive bombed and threw spears through the cockpits. Really Sully? That was your whole fucking plan?

    How about using some vines to tangle up the aircraft? Anything?

    For someone who was force recon and saw a lot of combat, Sully was an idiot.

    The reason I give the movie an A- is because the story really isn’t about winning the battle at the end, the story is really about Sully and his coming of age. He starts out cynical and mopey and a downer, and then he starts finding himself with the Na’vi, he learns their ways, to the point that he passes their coming of age test and becomes a member of their tribe, and falling in love with Zoe. That’s what the movie spends its time on. That represents about three months of Sully’s life on Pandora. And then a day or two is spent preparing and fighting the final battle.

    So, given the coming of age of Sully as the main plot and the big battle at the end being the silly shoot-em-up just so we can have a big finale sub-plot, I don’t feel too bad about giving it an A-. If there hadn’t been the coming of age plot with Sully, though, and if the battle had been the main plot, it would ahve been an F.

  61. “50, geekygirl602
    Although the “evil” corporation guy was nice. I enjoyed hating him.”

    Having worked with newly minted or rather defecated MBA fucks like him, I’d have to agree.

    Giovanni Ribisi was very convincing as the “fourth member of Green Day turned evil corporate stooge.”

  62. Loved the movie. Saw it in 3D. Blew my mind.

    I can go on and on about how cool it was, but you guys already did that, so here’s one plothole that bothered me…

    The connection between the human bodies and the avatars. There is some kind of electrical signal that is presumably constantly exchanging data between the two bodies. So the avatar body presumably contains some kind of internal transmitter strong enough to communicate miles and miles away to the Sully’s bed. OK, fine. But if they are able to maintain that strong a communication link 24/7, why can’t they get simple radar to work to guide a fucking missile toward a target right in front of them? Yes, yes, we heard about the “flux vortex”, and that is all fine and dandy. But why does that vortex prevent a simple thing like a guided missile, but have no trouble with a presumably high bandwidth synaptic connection?

  63. Saw it in 3D, loved it – as many have said, not a groundbreaking story, but the world-building was fantastic, in the truest sense of that word.

    I never once during Avatar thought of OMW. I did during Friday night’s Dollhouse, when Echo hooked in to what is essentially the Rossum BrainPal network.

  64. Sorry if I’m repeating someone else’s comments, but, the movie rocked my world. I haven’t be gap-mouthed like this since I was 14 and saw Star Wars! And I didn’t get a headache either! I can hardly wait to go see it again.

  65. I hate 3-D movies because they do give me headaches (and don’t get me started on toe common use of Bounce-Cam ™ these days!) Given the glowing reviews of the 3-D version here, however, I may have to give it a go.

    I did see it in normal 2-D yesterday. Time-worn story trope, fantastic visuals which more than helped compensate for the unimpressive plot. One tiny nit-pick: The Na’vi animated fine, but the last barrier to be overcome is the teeth, which still look cartoony. The Na’vi apparently are descended from something felinoid; I would have made the teeth more predatory than human. As it is, I kept having Shrek moments whenever someone smiled, or made that Na’vi hiss grimace of hate. There should have been some fangs there!

  66. I thought the funny thing about the supposed similarities with OMW was that John totally would have been part of the crew wiping these Na’vis off the planet so some humans could have a nice little colony to live on. It bothered me a bit to be rooting for the aliens against the humans, even if the humans were being very very bad.

  67. Salome, I think the point of the moive was that being human isn’t necessarily about being homo sapiens. We identify with good and right, not just species and might.

  68. I’ll be perfectly honest. This movie was an astonishing dissapointment. First off, who the FUCK gives a rats ass about the CGI… it will ALWAYS get better… so much so, that it seems morons of this day and age believe a good movie is based on graphics. NO< it is NOT something new and unique, as the storyline is a rehash of every simpleton plot out there for the last 100 years. Lets get to the heart of the issues, the inconsistencies. Shall I list them…
    1. Horrible MAIN character – Played out Marine character, with no background other than ' he wouldn't quit ', but yet not revealing anything about how in the hell a parapeligic could get recruited as a MARINE???
    2. The Economy??? – In nearly every reference to earth, they said, we killed our mother and now it seems we are raping another planet just the same. If the resources of earth are literally so dwindling, how in the hell then are we still money based in our society. Money is printed by the world banks to increase or decrease the value of it worldwide… how bad is it then that earth is a husk of a world, with everyone desperate to leave, YET, they have what seems trillions & trillions to spare for weapons, private contracted military (Who seem to work directly for the corporations), tons and mega-tons of construction equipment, and so much more… yet all I hear is about how the economy is crumbling and the main dude can't even afford basic spinal surgery. C'mon guys…
    3. CGI the Best? – Seriously, the CGI is outstanding, but it does not make a movie that much better, if those very same characters are doing and saying shit I have heard from disney films and the like. If the CGI makes a movie, then it must mean that every new movie that comes out with graphics equal to 2012 or Avatar are by DEFINITION, excellent movies…. give me a break. Its an animators future portfolio… thats all. I mean, SVA students in NYC can create this shit for college projects! lol
    4. The Villain! – Sadly, many movies are taking the leap of faith and grasping for political venues to move their concepts forward. This is no different, with a seriously Ferned Gully approach to realizing that life is all connected. So without further a due, we present the anglo-saxon aggresive… the texas ranger without a care in the world other than shooting blue coons… as the movie seems to imply multiple times in dialogue as well as appearance. He talks worse than a cartoon or video game dialogue character, h for some reason or another has no mention of earth,or why he so adamant to defend it, and never does he actually say anything other than shit to start the war… very boring.
    5. Technicalities Galore!!!! – If the atmosphere is toxic enough to cause death in 4 minutes due to lung exposure, why then are their skins exposed during the entire movie. If they lack economy to maintain the planet earth, why then do we have private companies with vast resources mining rocks across the galaxy? If they are all connected thru a network of energy and wisdom and voices, why then did they have to fly around to communicate with the other clans.. and for that reason, why have clans anyway? If they are all woven into the cycle of life on Pandora, why then are so many left standing without a clue until big blue marine rides in on his ultra-colored dragon butterfly (Thats exactly what they look like!) If most of the species on Pandora breathe through gills on their chests, why then can they propel massive grunts and yowls… where is the logic of that? Why did they not reveal the nature of the ribs and massive structures surrounding the 'tree of life', a common theme in many, many medieval and fantasy movies and anime. Why is every species bigger than a rabbit on Pandora equipped with fiber-optic cabling in their horns or hair? Do the Na'Vi all have a tentacle growing out the back of their heads, and if so, why does it have hair braided around it in a seemingly perfect fashion when Sully's Avatar is being grown in the tank on base. If the tribes of the Na'Vi are all linked thru a network of energy across the planet, and all tribes listen and follow the words of their spirit guide who interprets the 'well of energy', why did the ancient bitch have to ask so many questions and why were not the other clans aware of the dangers presented by the humans. Why weren't the plants glowing until she turned off the torch… wasnt it nighttime already? Why would humans, who are ludicrously worried about money and efficiency, spend trillions upon trillions to exploit resources sitting UNDER a native village, when it seemed that an ENTIRE PLANET was available to cultivation. They were so cheesy with the plot, they explained it was the richest source of materials within 200 clicks… meaning 2000 kilometers. Seriously, if you travelled millions of miles in space to reach a planet to collect resources, would'nt you scan the whole planet for better spots than one sitting under a whole civilization who just might cost more to your company than just time or money… maybe lives? Why, if the magnetic & energy properties of the valley of the tree of life was so distorted that instruments and lock-on wasn't available… why then could he fight within the field without having his AVATAR transmission signal interupted by the distortion 'flux'. Do the Na'Vi have mating organs, or it their main reproductive organ their fiber-optic connection? Because if so, it would mean that every species can inter-procreate, since they ALL seem to share the neuro-interface in their horns. If the planet has more connected synapse branches than a human brain, then why did the planet not think to defend itself with its indiginous animal population sooner than when the marine called upon its help. Why was every single creature of decent size loaded with 4 arms and 2 legs, yet the Na'Vi are humanoid to the core, even lacking feral claws or toe nails… which made absolutely no sense! If they are of nature, they would have such attributes… even natives of earth who dwell in the forests and jungles, have stronger teeth, nails and toe nails that protrude slightly out and are incredibly resistant to breaking. If the Na'Vi are so loving of life, why do they hunt and not live off of the natural plant life??? Even fucking human vegans would have a problem with this ' eco-friendly- way of living. Why are they flying around on x-wing styles raptor butterflies…. for what reason? They have no enemies to defend against other than humans, as it seems the tribes of the Na'Vi are all peaceful to each other????? If there are entire mountains floating around, powered by the electrical current of the vines connected to them, why then did they not simply cut the vines to one of the massive floating rocks and let it simply fall to mine it??? Why are there not insects of any kind in this movie?…. a human outpost with everyone skin's exposed, yet they are not worried about bacteria, atmosphere exposure nor local insects????
    And thats the SHORT list of errors!
    This movie was a travesty of time, money and waste of time. The budget spent on this crap could have created schools, helped the starving or even been put to the development of technologies to help people. Instead, it was used as a means to lock people into the false idea of 'save the planet from humans' who on this planet are not to blame for the corporate structure surrounding them and destroying their ' mother'. I know many of you love saying this movie is unique, outstanding and the best there is…. but if that were true, why would they have to spend so much time, effort and money in trying to convince you its the closest thing to meeting jesus christ??? Bottom line, it was a college project gone CGI. If anyone has an answer for the questions I put out there, other than ones defending the mainstream nonsense of the herd… I'd love to hear them!

  69. Haven’t seen it yet, but everything I’ve read seems as though it’s very similar in plot to Manta’s Gift by Timothy Zahn, not OMW. Except the alien race is shaped like rays in the atmosphere of Jupiter, and they agree to the brain implantation for reasons of their own.

    Note that I don’t say this is a plagiarism example, just that the similarities are more there. (I believe that because we have storytelling conventions, it’s likely that certain stories will pop up independently.)

  70. After I saw Avatar my eight-year-old asked me what it was about. I gave him the basic set-up of the plot and he said, “Oh, then at the end {x happens}.” And he was right.

  71. @Power dude – I seriously hope you didn’t actually go see the movie. If you thought that it was going to be about anything other then amazing visuals ie. 3D and CGI, then you have not been paying attention to anything about this movie. Your list of inconsistencies was full of inconsistencies. How was a paraplegic recruited? Really? You couldn’t figure out that he was injured in combat, and not brought in as a paraplegic? Sometimes you just have to think a little, and not have everything spoon fed to you in a movie. If they don’t explain something, maybe you can fill in some of the blanks yourself.

    Yeah the movie wasn’t perfect. But guess what… it was a movie. They are paid to make something entertaining, not create a perfect flawless work that has absolutely no holes. Obviously you don’t like the idea of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on developing movies. So why support the industry? Why do you go to movies at all?

  72. Power Dude @79:

    First, they’re called paragraphs. The make it easier for other people to read what you’ve written.

    PD: 1. Horrible MAIN character – Played out Marine character, with no background other than ‘ he wouldn’t quit ‘, but yet not revealing anything about how in the hell a parapeligic could get recruited as a MARINE???

    He was injured as a marine and became a paraplegic.

    PD: This movie was a travesty of time, money and waste of time. The budget spent on this crap could have created schools, helped the starving or even been put to the development of technologies to help people.

    It couldn’t have been, actually. It just wouldn’t have been raised for it. This is, after all, a money making venture that employed thousands and thousands of people. They require some sort of return on investment.

  73. @power dude – You seem to be reading an awful lot into this movie specifically to suit your own private agenda. For example, Sully isn’t a marine, he’s an EX-MARINE, who signed a contract to work in the avatar program.

    Countless other problems with your complaints that rest on assumptions you make that aren’t actually, you know, supported by whats in the film.

    On further reflection, it doesn’t seem possible that you actually saw the movie.

  74. One thing I’ve noticed, is that a lot of people seem to be making the assumption that the soldiers are actual military. I don’t believe they are, they’re a private force employed by the corporation. Possibly akin to Blackwater.

  75. Whether or not the soldiers are actual military or not, I had the same problems with the end battle strategy as some of the other folks here: both sides were complete idiots about it. (Hint, orbital shuttles are not known for being particularly sturdy when you drop rocks on them from several hundred meters up. So it might be a good idea to put some air cover a couple hundred meters up. Especially when coming out from underneath a big floating rock, which you should avoid doing anyway. Never mind the charging machine guns with cavalry.)

    The one thing I think they got fairly right was the psychology of the non-scientists. They’re trapped on a planet where the very air is deadly, in a small compound where leaving in anything of armored patrol is basically a death sentence, for six-year tours. Think Harry Harrison’s ‘Deathworld’. We get to see (through the eyes of the avatars) a gorgeous, amazing world. In character, the humans see a planet trying to kill them, and they’re happy to kill back, given the opportunity. ‘Trudy’ (Michelle Rodriguez’s character) is important not just because she provides air transport and quips, but because she’s another ‘non scientist’ viewpoint on the plant, who obviously loves the place despite its hazards, and who gets to see it as more than just yet another combat mission.

    Perhaps the most impressive non-visual accomplishment of ‘Avatar’ is make the Ewoks look like masters of asymmetric warfare.

  76. power dude

    Wouldn’t it have been simpler to say:

    Worst. Film. Ever.


    P.S in answer to question 2. Not that hard to have all the resources to do what is being done to pandora. After all if humans have the technology to exploit a planet about 5 or 6 light years away, then exploiting all of the resources in our Solar System would be simple. Whether earth has or doesn’t have resources is not particularly relevant. In any event it wasn’t that earth lacked in resources; it lacked in Green.

  77. > how in the hell a parapeligic
    > could get recruited as a MARINE???

    He was a marine and lost the use of his legs in combat.
    He was recruited for the Avatar program because his twin brother was part of the avatar program and the brother died, and the avatars are genetically linked to their controllers. That’s why the avatar for each character looked like the human version it was part of their DNA.

    > If the resources of earth are literally
    > so dwindling, how in the hell then are
    > we still money based in our society.

    Kind of like today.

    > earth is a husk of a world, with everyone
    > desperate to leave, YET, they have what
    > seems trillions & trillions to spare for weapons,

    Kind of like today.

    > main dude can’t even afford basic spinal surgery.

    kind of like today.

    > the texas ranger without a care in the
    > world other than shooting blue coons

    What planet are you living on? Where I come from (Earth), there are generals in the US military who proudly proclaim that their god is bigger than the enemies god. There are presidential candidates who sing “bomb bomb bomb iran”. Seven US senators quoted Nurse Nayirah’s tale of Iraqi soldiers killing Kuwaiti babies for their incubators as justification for the first gulf war. The US military has lowered its standards in order to get bodies on the ground to the point that there are neo-nazis in american uniforms. And a former Blackwater employee in a sworn statement alleged that CEO Erik Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

    > never does he actually say anything
    > other than shit to start the war…

    Bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran.

    > If they lack economy to maintain the planet earth,
    > why then do we have private companies with vast resources

    When the last tree is cut, when the last fish is caught, when the last river runs dry – only then will man realize that he can’t eat money.

    Shorter: Ecology != Economy

  78. Not sure I’ve seen it mentioned here, but did anyone else notice that most of the animal life (the monkey, bird, dog, rhino, etc analogs) is 6 limbed, with two front limbs very close / almost fused, and legs. However, the Na’vi are anthropoid, with no trace even of a vestigial third pair of limbs ?

    I guess I focused all my disbelief on that, ’cause for the rest, it was well and truly suspended throughout. Sure, there are holes and it’s a story we’ve all seen umpteen times (non-US reference: the Aquablue comic series in French), but it’s a fine spectacle and at the end of the day, who knows, it may do more for climate change than the Copenhagen conference, for less money.

  79. The ending was still deus ex machina, but the portrayal of the military industrial complex was close enough to the truth.

    If you want to complain about the deus ex machina ending, I’ll support you there. But if you want to argue that it was an unrealistic portrayal of what the military could become, I think you need to watch the news more.

  80. I don’t think the Deus ex machina is a true statement. The point was made that it wasn’t a “God”. That is how the Na’vi viewed it, but it was more of a biological computer, that could be tapped into by the various species. Memories and what not could be stored there. So I would not say it was “God” that did it. The organism defended itself when threatened. It was not a spirit but an actual organism. Yeah it was a little late to the party when it finally fought back, but the method of communication doesn’t seem to be all that direct.

    I thought my wife brought up an interesting point, when she asked could Na’vi survive off world, or do they need to remain close to the overall system that connects them.

  81. @PaulA #91 – Cameron said he wanted the Na’vi to be attractive so I think he sacrificed that little bit of continuity in order to allow that. 10 ft tall blue aliens is already stretching it, add another set of arms and he might lose what he was going for. The consistency throughout the rest of the environment I think makes up for it.

  82. OK, having not seen the movie but aware of the basic functioning of intelligence, I want to know how the heck anyone here thinks the planet rousing the animals to help in the final battle is unreasonable. The planet THINKS. It CARES what happens to it. Why wouldn’t it join in the battle by sending in the cavalry? If you had the power to send in the saving forces against something attacking your family, you would. And yeah, an empathic planet would have the wherewithal to rouse the animals to serve its needs. It’s called a survival instinct. You could also chalk it up to a mass group consciousness in which the animals realize their lives are at risk as well as the Na’vi, so they decide en masse to join the battle. In an empathic environment, it makes perfect sense. Doesn’t change the fact the ending is very much “oh, look, he’s using the fireaxe,” mind.

  83. I don’t know, I’m so meh toward the film. Purdy CGI is great and all, but I’m not keen on plowing through a cliched and predictable story to get there. Titanic was awful in that aspect. I’ll probably end up renting it, if that.

  84. But if you want to argue that it was an unrealistic portrayal of what the military could become, I think you need to watch the news more.

    Have not seen the movie yet. Will on Wednesday with the wife and daughter.

    So, are Quaritch and Co. just rent-a-cops on juice, or are they supposed to be actual Marines telescoped 140 years into the future?

    Ergo, are they just Blackwater ruffians, or are they true Servicemen?

    In “Aliens” Cameron makes it plain that the Colonial Marines are Good Guys — it’s the Company people are who bad.

    The “Avatar” trailers seem to be implying that both Company and Marines are now equally evil, with Jake as a lonely conscience-sufferer.


    One thing is for sure: Cameron hates officers. There are almost no officers in any of Cameron’s films — save for General Connor in T1/T2 — whom Cameron respects, as moviemaker or storyteller. Otherwise, they’re psycho and/or incompetent to the point of being dangerous. A very Vietnamish take, if I do say so. Not exactly up with the times.

  85. how the heck anyone here thinks the planet rousing the animals to help in the final battle is unreasonable

    It’s not unreasonable, it’s just that it was written as a deus ex machina.

    Imagine a western movie where the white hero is running around where Native Americans are known to attack. The hero needs to go into Indian Country and save the girl. He telegraphs the cavalry station in some city to ask for help. They say they don’t have the manpower and he’s on his own. The hero goes into Indian Country with a small group. The small group basically the ensemble cast. The movie centers around them from start to finish. So the hero gets to the girl, and the Indians attack. The small group is wiped out. The hero and his girl are about to die, when, lo and behold, the cavalry comes out and saves the day.

    Left on his own, by his own plan, his own devices, his own capacities, the hero was dead and the mission a failure. All the characters you got to know durign the movie? They all died. The cavalry was something that the hero talked about, the hero asked for help, but they weren’t a character, they weren’t part of the plan, they weren’t part of the mission. They just happened to show up and the characters had no idea that it was goign to happen.

    Certainly all the explanation can be put around the cavalry (they’re based in a fort within riding distance, they happened to get back early from another mission and had time to help out the hero, they saw the telegraph request for help and headed otu immediately) but all that was hidden from the audience to let the audience think the hero is in more danger than he really is. If the movie had shown the cavalry on their way as the battle started, then you’d know they’d probably show up in time to save the day.

    So, I don’t mind if you have a story where the cavalry shows up at the end to save the day, just make it part of the story. At one point, the spirit leader comes out and says the planet does not take sides. At no point during the movie is there any demonstration that the planet is actually conscious, that it can direct animals to do its bidding, that it can affect anything. At most, we are shown that the planet can store memories. And then, out of the blue, the planet takes sides, the planet can control the animals directly, the planet can affect itself.

    Deus ex machina.

    The other side effect of the cavalry is it means the the hero is inept. By his plans, his resources, his strategy, everyone would have died. He was saved by a gigantic stroke of luck. But he was inept on his own.

    All they had to do would be rewrite it so that the consciousness fo the planet is a known part of the spirituality of the Na’vi. They know they can ask the planet for help and sometimes the planet answers their prayers. Sometimes animals show up to help. Then make it part of the battle plan.

    But that would have robbed Cameron of getting the audience to think all is lost. And that’s what Cameron wanted you to think. All is lost. There’s no hope. The Na’vi are getting wiped out, some of the sidekicks we got to know and like are killed, and there does’t look to be any chance fo victory. Chloe is cornered and about to die, when, what should we hear? But the rumbling hoofs of a stampede coming to the rescue. Out of the blue. From a writing point of view, that was a cheat.

    It’s a deus ex machina ending.

    And because of that, I don’t think “Avatar” is this generation’s anything. It is, at most, this generation’s bar-setting for CGI effects, but the plot plays a cheap trick with the audience to get the big finale.

  86. @Alpha on One #94 – Yeah, 6 limbed may have been stretching our “relating to aliens”-o-meter quite a bit.

    Which is an interesting insight into the decisions production designers face. After all, nobody forced them to design 6 limbed creatures in the first place.

    So the logic would’ve been :
    1) Use convergent evolution (I *think* that’s what it’s called) to have bird-analogues and dog-analogues and the physical possibility of sex between an alien and a na’vi.

    2) Give 6 limbs to drive home the alienness.

    3) But back off to make Na’vi appealing (and hence the emotional possibility of sex)

    4) Have a random viewer pick it up, when he’s totally oblivious to the military shortcomings of the Sky People that everybody else seems to have spotted …

    Mind you, i’m not bitching. As I said earlier, the whole movie just works for me, and part of that is through those little compromises that are made for the flow / impact. Without veering too much of topic, I’m sure John’s seen his share with SG:U …

  87. Again, look at the situation from the line soldiers’ standpoint: they’re stuck for six years in an extremely hostile environment. Moreover, the company appears to hire veterans they think would be useful in an anti-native role, so they’re going to select for people willing to fire at the big blue guys. So more ‘Blackwater’ than anything else.

    Not a generically representative sample, in the same way that the Marines in ‘Aliens’ weren’t representative, or the Navy SEALs in ‘The Abyss’.

    That said, I would really love to see a big budget, Cameron-style movie where the military tactics didn’t outright suck, where the officers were at least competent at their jobs (even if they’re the bad guys), and so on.

  88. The “Avatar” trailers seem to be implying that both Company and Marines are now equally evil, with Jake as a lonely conscience-sufferer.

    I think that given what you see in the movie that it isn’t unrealistic that the military portrayed in the movie is a government military. It could as well be a private military, but I don’t think it outside reality to see the US government military operating like that a hundred years from now. We are, after all, holding people indefinitely in prison without due process. Torture was official, if secret, policy for 8 years.

    The US position on oil in the middle east has been based on one basic principle: keep the major oil holders separate, and non-cooperative, so that they don’t monopolize the oil supply. We intervened in the Iran-Iraq war and helped Saddam because it looked like he was going to lose the war, and Iran would get all of Iraq’s oil under control, and we didn’t want that. We liked a nice stalemate between the two countries. When Saddam won, and then went and invaded kuwait, well, we didn’t want Saddam to get all that oil, so we sent the military in to kick him out. It wasn’t WMD’s that were the issue. We helped get him WMD’s when he was fighting Iran. We just used WMD’s as an excuse once he successfully invaded Kuwait. We didn’t want the oil to fall into one centralized middle eastern power.

    So, from that point of view, it isn’t completely unrealistic to think that a hundred years from now, the US government will demonize a population of people and send the US military in to invade them for some natural resource that they have. We’ve been doing it to some extent for the last 30 years or so in the middle east.

    Cameron hates officers. There are almost no officers in any of Cameron’s films — save for General Connor in T1/T2 — whom Cameron respects, as moviemaker or storyteller.

    Well, that’s a cheap writer’s trick, too. It’s like the FBI that shows up at a local incident always want to take over the case, even though they don’t know anything about it, and then they’re a bunch of bumbling idiots. It’s a way to show the hero out to be that much more competent. Pretty much all the “Die Hard” movies operate on having incompetent higher-up bureacracies trying to tell John McClane how he doesn’t know what’s really going on, and of course, John is the only one who does because none of the bureaucrats will listen.

    Having incompetent officers is a good way to make the hero look even better assuming he’s enlisted.

    I assumed that in Aliens, the corporation got Gorman assigned to the mission because they wanted the mission to fail militarily. They weren’t there to rescue anything, they were there to provide Burke with a way to transport some alien specimens through quarantine. So, Gorman was incompetent because the corporation wanted an incompetent officer. That’s how I understood it.

    But, yeah, I see a lot of incompetent officers in miltiary fiction and many times it reflects a completely unrealistic understanding of how the military operates on the part of the writer.

  89. I guess to follow up my above point…I wanted to say that it was not miraculous. The ability for the way they were saved at the end was setup throughout the course of the movie. So I don’t really feel it was a cheat. I can see how it can be seen as such, and grant that it might have been the cleverest thing, but it really did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie.

  90. the Marines in ‘Aliens’ weren’t representative

    Aw, I loved the characters in Aliens. Pvt Hudson just wanted to put in his time and get out. Vasquez and the other gunner were tight because, well, they run the big guns. Hicks was the responsible low-ranking enlisted man. Apone was a lifer, and he had the most awesome lines.

    I thought they did a pretty good job of showing a cross-section of what you might run into in the military. What wasn’t realistic was the numbers. A squad of 12 for a rescue mission? Only 1 drop ship to evacuate an entire base? and most jaw-droppingly unrealistic, holy shit, who’s driving the air-craft carrier in orbit???? All you need is a couple of Somali pirates in the area, and you’d have a bunch of loose nukes running around. Not good.

    But realistic numbers are hard to do in a movie. You end up with “Saving Private Ryan” scenes, and they’re just hard to film, expensive as all hell, and most people don’t care.

    Plus, if there were more people on the carrier, then Bishop wouldn’t have had to crawl through the pipe to get the drop ship to come down via remote, proving he’s a good guy after all.

    or the Navy SEALs in ‘The Abyss’.

    Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the Abyss. I don’t remember any SEALs. All I remember from the entire movie is the husband giving CPR to his wife screaming “Come on, breath you bitch!” or whatever it was.

  91. I wanted to say that it was not miraculous.

    The cavalry is not miraculous either. But if you write the story with the cavalry a certain way, then the cavalry becomes a deus ex machina.

    The ability for the way they were saved at the end was setup throughout the course of the movie.

    And the hero in the western might mention in passing that the Cavalry has been operating in the area for the last few months, thereby “setting up” the explanation needed to allow the cavalry to save them in the end. But it can still be a deus ex machina.

    it really did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie.

    I think that it means that “Avatar” will be remembered as a bar-setting CGI film, not as the most amazing film in the world. or the most amazing film of this generation.

    For me, I gave the movie an A- because the deus ex machina wasn’t really part of the main plot. The main plot was really about Sully coming of age. You watch him transform from a newb native, a moron, to someone who found his place within the tribe, he takes the test that all Na’vi take, getting his own pteradactyl. He becomes an official member of the tribe. He has a right to speak at tribal meetings. To me, that was the plot arc. From newb to full tribal member.

    The combat at the end was for the folks who wanted something flashy in their movies, for those who needed a nice bit of military action to act as their naughty desert after the amazing several-course dinner that was Sully becoming a member of the tribe. So, I kind of shrugged it off and gave it an A- because the main plot arc was still awesome.

  92. Speaking from experience, the Marines in Aliens — as military, and more specifically, grunts — were very realistically representative. The actor who played Apone was a real-life Marine NCO in Vietnam, so his portrayal was authentic in the same way R. Lee Ermey always nails his military roles, too.

    I agree 100% with Greg, the understrength deployment to LV426 makes 0% military sense, especially when you even suspect combat. But for the plotting purposes of the movie, it makes sense, and you can almost forget about it because the movie is so enjoyable otherwise.

    In The Abyss we should have seen Navy Divers — not SEALS — sent down to spock out the wrecked sub. Wrong environment, for SEALS. But again, it works for plotting because part of the movie’s plot was Cold War paranoia, complete with Lt. Coffee bringing a SMG into a civilian environment — definitely a no-no from a standpoint of realism.

  93. Power Dude, you make some very good points. If Scalzi had written this movie it would have had better logic and science, but until he decides to write a screenplay, we have to be happy with SF for the masses. A little messy, I know. But really, you have to be able to just view it as art and fall into its seductive 3D beauty. Just try to FEEL the love and passion that went into making something so beautiful. Gosh, it made me cry. Just a little. Wasn’t everyone happy for Jake?

    I wonder what the long night of Pandora is like. It must have one as it travels to the dark side of that gas giant. Weren’t those skyscapes amazing? The One Tree was so nice, and Ewok free! Be happy for that: no six-limbed teddy bears.

  94. The movie makes clear that the soldiers are not active military – they are former military, now they are mercenaries. The narrator mentions how the military fights for honor and duty, while these guys are in it for the money. That wasn’t implied, it was clearly announced to us through narrator-exposition.

    I am sure Cameron made that distinction to make the audience feel less bad about the soldiers getting slaughtered at the end. It is hard watching Blackhawk Down (with the US soldiers being killed in Somalia). Replace the US military with some mercenaries there working for a greedy oil company and the tenor changes quite a bit…

  95. On another note, here is something we can all agree on – this movie is making some money.


    Worldwide opening weekend revised up to $242,300,000.


    And I know a lot of people still planning to see it. And a lot of people who already saw it that want to see it again. Like me.

    This move will make some dough.

  96. (I’m going to skip most of the banter, other than John’s replies, so as to hopefully avoid making a statement someone else has…)

    John, I’d agree that Cameron overall picked a better than decent cast, but I don’t think they delivered. Weaver seemed forced, as if she hadn’t practiced her lines enough or they were just poorly written, at times seeming monotone. Ribisi lacked a little in moments, where it seemed like he should react against Lang, his speech quietly agreed. I don’t have much to say about Worthington other than he lacks dynamic in my opinion, so just a poor choice. But, on the upside, I think Saldana and Rodriguez stuck to their track record and did fine. Not over-the-top Oscar worthy performances, but fine.

  97. To all of you complaining about how James Cameron makes “US soldiers” look bad, just consider this:

    He’s Canadian and doesn’t care about your troop worshiping ways.

  98. I would hope, for the sake of everyone who banked this movie, that it’s making money. Half a billion in production and marketing costs is nothing to laugh at.

    Most movies would be considered a smash if they earned $500M between domestic and international box office. AVATAR needs at least $500M just to break even.

    Personally, I think the upward spiral in cost — where good fantasy and SF film is concerned — is an ill omen. The more expensive it is to make SF&F the less likely it is studio execs will take a chance — on anything. They will demand guaranteed returns, guaranteed ‘blowout’ at the box office, etc.

    Cameron made his bones doing good SF on a relative shoestring. I am sure he enjoys having a bottomless checkbook — now — but it leaves little or no room for future Camerons to follow behind him.

  99. I think the upward spiral in cost — where good fantasy and SF film is concerned — is an ill omen.

    I don’t think it too unreasonable to think that cost of facial capture will go down. And we still haven’t topped out on Moore’s Law yet (Have we? I didn’t check today.) so compute power still has room to drop.

    And right now, it seems like motion capture is still pretty expensive, but I would think that some good software and a spandex suit with the right barcodes or dot patterns in the right places and you could automate the process just by having a couple of cameras take video capture and process it from there.

    I think Microsoft is working on (Or already released? I haven’t checked today) a gaming system that used a video camera and motion capture software as the game controller.

    I keep hoping that within my lifetime a guy could get a decent PC and maybe some GPL’ed software (or cheap proprietary software) and do a basic CGI movie in his own home.

  100. Greg,

    I’ve even heard it opined that once CGI becomes a) sophisticated enough and b) cheap enough, Hollywood will be ruined because when everybody can make an “Avatar” in their basement, there won’t be any reason to go to the theaters to see that kind of spectacle.

    But then, this would seem to force the entire film industry to re-focus on quality story, as opposed to SFX flotillas like Transformers. Which would be wonderful IMHO.

    Of course, you know the ones who are really pining for cheap, excellent animorphic CGI are the porn industry people….

  101. @112 Yup, he is a Canadien who as lived in the US for 37 years and is planning on becoming a US citizen.

    I wouldn’t look at this movie as trying to make “US soldiers” look bad. It can pretty much apply to any military group throughout time that has ruled over or displaced another group. A recurring theme throughout history.

    As for troop worshiping ways I am not sorry we respect for those who put theirs lives on the line to defend the country.

  102. Brad@115: I’ve heard similar opinions that CGI will put actors out of business, but I disagree. I think it’ll put set builders, model makers, makeup artists, and wardrobe people out of business, but they’ll still need actors to do the voice acting. In fact, it may open the door to fantastic actors who can’t get a break now because they’re not pretty enough to appear on film.

  103. Dave, I agree absolutely, about the voice actors having a huge door opened for them. CGI films like Avatar and especially Beowulf — which depended 100% on CGI for every shot in the film — give voice actors a great opportunity to do ‘serious’ work that isn’t necessarily cartoon in nature.

    Which is not to slam cartoons — is anyone else here a fan of Chowder like I am a fan of Chowder? — but it would be nice to think that voice actors would begin to command a larger and larger slice of the acting pie, where major motion pictures are concerned.

    And I don’t just mean regular screen actors who muscle out voice actors for parts, as has been the vogue with ‘family’ CGI films these past few years.

  104. “Of course, you know the ones who are really pining for cheap, excellent animorphic CGI are the porn industry people….”

    oh silly, silly man. The world’s geeks won’t just be making “Avatar” in their basements. I think the current porn industry has much more to fear from cheap high quality CGI than Hollywood. Frankly, what I fear the most is the CGI porn itself. When every lonely 23 year old in his mother’s basement gets the ability to transform the depths of his Id into an AVI file, pray for all humanity.

  105. I will be curious to see if the Na’vi are shown to be a simplistic, homogenized culture, or will they be every bit as complex and internicine as humans are?

    I will be similarly curious to see if the, “Evil Corporation Is Evil,” company is given a motive, beyond the simplistic, “We are Evil Corporation so we do Evil, because we are Evil Corporation.”

    I’ve read savage critiques of this movie from both the Left and the Right, and I have my own deep reservations regarding its Preach Factor. But then, I had deep reservations about the reboot of Star Trek, and that won me over. So I am willing to have Avatar win me over too.

    It’ll just have to work extra-hard to do so. Because I genuinely do not like “Nobel Savage” trope, and I also genuinely do not like films that preach when they should be entertaining. I go to movies to have fun, not have my teeth drilled.

    The trailer for Iron Man 2 looks fun.

    The trailer for Avatar looks like church will be in session.

  106. When every lonely 23 year old in his mother’s basement gets the ability to transform the depths of his Id into an AVI file, pray for all humanity.

    23, heck, what about the 14 year olds?

    Lord knows my post-pube fantasies tended to be not just a little on the silly side.

    Of course, there was a notable person — whose name I forget — who recently stated that the future of sex lay with perfectly-life-like androids which would (according to him) be available soon. His thought was that once sex with high-fidelity sex droids became reality, very few people would ever go back to having old-fashioned organic sex again.

    Any way you slice it, the nexus of sex and virtual technology leads down all kinds of interesting and unpleasant paths.

    SIDE NOTE: I am told Japan is leading the way in both areas — high fidelity CGI porn and more life-like robots.

  107. James Cameron regarding the CGI design of Zoe Saldana’s character:

    “Right from the beginning I said, “She’s got to have tits,” even though that makes no sense because her race, the Na’vi, aren’t placental mammals.”

  108. I just came from seeing it in IMAX 3D! I enjoyed it immensely. One warning, do not go see it at an IMAX if heights bother you.

    I agree with GregLondon this is a coming of age story. Everything else is window dressing.

    However I don’t see why people think it’s preachy, the only message I feel he hammers is that corporations will do whatever they want in pursuit of the bottom line. Although he did have one throw-away line at the end; where Sully states that there is no more green on earth. *shrug* Everything else is standard science fiction.

  109. Yes, there were a lot of little scientific & technical details that piqued my curiosity, but I put them aside and enjoyed a damn entertaining film. Had Cameron spent time explaining the evolution of Pandoran fauna, the exact physical properties of unobtainium, or the intricacies of Na’vi “ponytail” neural interfacing, it would have dragged down the narrative.

    For anyone else who would like to know more about these things beyond the film, check out the tie-in “field guide” titled Avatar: A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora.

    Paula @91: “Not sure I’ve seen it mentioned here, but did anyone else notice that most of the animal life (the monkey, bird, dog, rhino, etc analogs) is 6 limbed, with two front limbs very close / almost fused, and legs. However, the Na’vi are anthropoid, with no trace even of a vestigial third pair of limbs ?”

    Hexapoda (insects and their ilk) make up more than half of all known living creatures on Earth, yet we humans are tetrapods. Just sayin’.

  110. >>70:

    Oops. I meant >>67.


    HA HA HA
    …Got me.
    Seriously, though, I liked the character more than I was interested in blue tits. And I think there still was a nipple in one shot.

  111. FWIW, Word of God via Pandorapedia ( http://www.pandorapedia.com/doku.php ) is that the military in the movie is called “RDA Secops”. The site also has some info on how the pterodactyls are able to make sounds with the breathing setup that they have in the Mountain Banshee article.

  112. do not like “Nobel Savage” trope

    [spoilers spoilers spoilers]

    (I keep forgetting that tag)

    I’m trying to figure out if the movie commits the Noble Savage trope (NST). The NST, to me, means the savages are noble because they’re not developed like us. It requires a harkening to the “good old days” before current day technology “ruined” mankind.

    But in some respects, the Na’vi are no different than humans. Scully was able to join the tribe because he was able to come of age according to their terms, their tests, and their tests were nothing so strange to Sully who had been marine special forces. The eggheads couldn’t do it, couldn’t really get inside the tribe, because the tribe was essentially a warrior tribe, and Sully was a warrior.

    There is a point where Sully says that being with the Na’vi is becoming “real” and his human life is becoming “unreal”. That might qualify as a hint towards NST, but by that point, most of Sully’s time as a human has been spent being told to lie to betray the Na’vi and get their magic rocks. And constantly lying could be a way of showing objectively that the Na’vi were better than the humans.

    If the Na’vi were better than humans… just because, then I think that would be the NST kicking in. But the things that the Na’vi are better at, they are better at from an objective sort of way. for example, they don’t lie. When Sully is taken to the village, Zoe tells him “my father is deciding whether to kill you or not”. When Sully is with the humans, there’s always lying going on.

    The other thing that is common with the NST is that the savages are noble because they believe some religious hokum like “all things are connected”, and humans don’t. Except the Na’vi don’t believe that, they actually experience it. Memories of people live on after they’ve died in the god-tree. It’s biological and they’ve got some layer of myth to explain it, but it’s still real. It’s not better “just because”, it’s better because it’s a real part of their physical world.

    Probably my biggest scare watching the movie was when the “all things are connected” stuff started getting mentioned. But my biggest relief was when the “all things are connected” was shown to be a real biological process. The savages weren’t noble because they believed a better myth than our myths. They were noble because they had a real, biologically based kind of spirituality.

    And their spirituality is really nothing more than the evolutionary biological equivalent of what our myths hope and pray our technological singularity will be. So, in that respect, they really are better than us because they are able to jack in and download their consciousness in some way.

    I think Hitchhiker’s Guide mentioned something about a planet where everyone suddenly became telepathic, and it was a nightmare because populations that evolve with telepathic powers also evolve the sociological norms to keep the powers in some form of check. People who suddenly become telepathic have massive issues to deal with that they have no structure to help solve the problem. The Na’vi evolved into a kind of biological singularity, which makes them eons more advanced than we ever could be. If we develop the singularity, we’ll be like a planet where everyone suddenly becomes telepathic. It’ll be chaos as society readjusts. The Na’vi already have a social structure around their singularity and it works for them. The Na’vi are way more advanced than humans are as far as spirituality and dealing with consciousness goes.

    In that respect, teh Na’vi aren’t more noble than we are “just because”. They really are more developed than humans are in certain respects because of their evolution.

    On the other hand, they are savages. They are a warrior cult tribe. But in that regard, the humans they were fighting were no better.

    So, I don’t know if it qualifies as running the noble savage trope or not. I don’t think it has a binary yes/no answer. On a more analog scale, I think I might say that Avatar runs the Noble Savage trope at only about a 10% strength.

  113. Greg Re: “At no point during the movie is there any demonstration that the planet is actually conscious, that it can direct animals to do its bidding, that it can affect anything”.

    I guess you were out getting popcorn when the planet stopped jake from getting shot with an arrow. Just as he was about to be shot a little animal landed on the arrow tip and this was seen as a sign not to kill him by the Na’vi. Shows control of animals and intent.

  114. >>GregLondon (131):

    (***spoilers spoilers spoilers***)
    Fantastic. That was the one reason that I was able to buy into the mythology and actually respect the Na’vi as a people (imaginary or otherwise): If they had simply had the same unsupported, illogical “connectedness” myths, I would’ve walked out of the theater with a big fat “Ugh” floating around in my head, but since there is real, provable evidence that (1) Their deity exists, and (2) Everything on Pandora really IS connected, I can actually respect that tearing down that forest wouldn’t be just cutting trees, it’d be killing a living being. I think Cameron did a great job in that regard with helping the audience care for the Na’vi. And I thought the whole idea of “god-as-the-mind-within-the-trees” was awesome. In a few small ways, it made me remeber Ender’s Game.

  115. Just as he was about to be shot a little animal landed on the arrow tip and this was seen as a sign not to kill him by the Na’vi. Shows control of animals and intent.

    I don’t remember the exact dialogue, but Neytiri says that the little flying jellyfish mean Sully must have a “good heart” or something.

    At that particular point in time, Sully was working with Colonel Quaritch to betray the Na’vi.

    If you have someone acting as a traitor and someone else tells you that “God” says the traitor has a “good heart”, how much empirical faith should you put in that God?

    If the planet could read Sully’s mind and determine that his conscious mission to betray the Na’vi was weaker than his subconscious “good heart”, then I gotta say, that’s pretty amazing mind reading skillls. Not even Sully knew he had a good heart at the time. He knew he was in the mission for new legs. He knew he was betraying a people for his own personal gain.

    And that would mean that the Na’vi are also idiots, because their description of the way the planet works is that it is passive, their entire spirtuality and mythology around how the planet operates is wrong. They say it doesn’t choose sides, but saving Sully with a floating jellyfish moth is taking a side, in complete opposition to what’s going on in Sully’s mind.

    If the planet really did select Sully, knowing everything there is to know about Sully, then the movie commits one of the biggest Gary Stu’s there is: It made Sully part of a “prophecy” to save the world.

    Me, given the choice between (1) The planet knows more about Sully than Sully does, the planet knows Sully is conciously planning to betray the Na’vi for his own personal gain, but the planet knows that Sully has a “big heart” and can be converted, knowing this, the planet decides to make Sully the central figure in its great prophecy to save the world or (2) the jellyfish moth was a lucky break to keep Sully alive, I chose to go with 2 because that meant the least amount of bad writing was occurring.

    If you really want to argue that the jellyfish moth landing on Neytiri’s arrow and saving Sully was a conscious act of the planet, demonstrating that it can control animals and read minds, then it establishes the planet could control animals to send them in as the cavalry at the ending, but it also brings along with it even larger bad-writing issues. i.e. (A) the Na’vi description of how the planet operates is that it is passive, it doesn’t take sides, the main function is to store memories of people as they go through the circle of life, this description is in complete opposition to a micromanaging active sentience that mind reads people better than the people themselves know. and (B) it means that Sully was basically chosen by God, which is a really sucky writer’s tool to be pulling out of the toolbox.

  116. The jellyfish thingy is later revealed to be a seed, so not really a potentially controlled animal imho. Why Sully’s Avatar is such a seed magnet is rather inexplicable and taken as the sign to get him introduced in the first place. His initial acceptance is not due to the fact that he’s a warrior, but rather that he’s chosen by the holy tree.. Yuck. But they – thankfully – didn’t really go any further down the prophecy road..

    The story is far from excellent, but highly serviceable, which made for a very, very entertaining film. I liked the fact that they don’t really go pseudo-science or pseudo-spirituality on our ass (except when comparing the planet’s capacity to the human brain.. that stung!)

  117. “The jellyfish thingy is later revealed to be a seed, so not really a potentially controlled animal imho. ”

    I think we are meant to believe the contrary, that those little jellyfish things are actually guided by the planets sentient intelligence. The same way it guided the animals to attack the humans at the end. Now by what biological mechanism the sentient planet could command floating seeds I could not guess… But my understanding is that the planet thinks, makes decisions and takes actions which includes giving commands to individual life forms on the planet that aren’t directly connected to the neural root structure.

  118. Oh, that does feel less prophecy-y. I could root for the perceptive planet not ‘choosing’ him, but the mass of seeds just getting a taste of the (awkwardly familiar) alien. More of a sentient curiosity thing, ‘this one was fighting back, what gives?’ but less explicit. I’m already reading too much into it, cause it probably isn’t there. Still, it’s nice to speculate on what could’ve been, on how it could work, as a concept.

  119. Reading that article on io9, I feel that the difficulty with any story is that it’s easy to analyze the “underlying theme” in any direction you want based on what you want to interpret it as. That’s both the beauty and difficulty of art.

    While, I would say Avatar is more spectacle than story as most have said, I definitely think this wasn’t a movie trying to tell a grand story as much as it was a movie trying to push the CGI/3D envelope. Thing that I think gets forgotten a lot is that movies aren’t books. While story is definitely a part of it, spectacle and visual stimulation is the separator between the mediums.

    If you’re looking for story, there’s a dozen movies out there like Crazy Heart or Up in the Air that have some very good writing.

    If you’re looking for a visual / cathartic experience similar to what Independence Day was in the 90’s, Avatar is a grand movie in terms of visual appeal. It’s eye candy and a lot of fun I agree especially with the 3D being done so well.

  120. Just a thought: the planet’s total computing power was compared to the human brain, and dwarfs it. Presumably that organic computer evolved in tandem with all of the subunits that compose it: sessile units (trees and plants) and mobile units (other organisms). Think of it like a giant household or office network:

    The ‘wired’ portion would be the sessile units, which do all of the long-term data storage, analagous to a server with firewalls and so on. The ‘wireless network’ would then be the mobile organisms connected via the planet’s magnetosphere or whatever the energy vortex system (very dense around the sacred tree node) might have been. Mobile organisms retained a capacity to “jack in” to the wired network as necessary via their connector tendrils, for making large info transmissions…or possibly for communing with others of their own species directly. The Na’vi are more intelligent and sophisticated users, able to cross-connect with a sense of purpose.

    The worldwide network’s consciousness may well just be the cumulative stored mind-echoes of all of the Na’vi in the network…in which case Pandora is in the process of gradually evolving and increasing its level of sentience. That would mean that the wholesale destruction of the Na’vi would be a threat to the planetary mind’s development, and a reason for it to get in gear and kick the humans off-world if the Na’vi couldn’t do it themselves.

    If the world-mind didn’t want humans to know it existed, it might not want to provide direct evidence by acting. The Na’vi are then pawns of the world-mind in a gambit to eject the humans, and when they seem to be losing the battle the world-mind is forced to step in where it was trying not to.

    In some ways it’s a deus ex machina, yes, but if you consider the world-mind to be a secret character whose presence is hinted at but not revealed, it’s not as arbitrary. That side of the plot shifts from “we failed but the world stepped in to save us” to “we’ve been trying to get the attention of the superweapon, and we’ve failed, so all is lo…wait, no, she sees us. Yes!”

    Puts me in mind of Midworld.

    Unfortunately if this was the goal of the movie as written, they could’ve been a little more overt about the nature of that character and how it relates to the Na’vi and human characters.

  121. If the world-mind didn’t want humans to know it existed

    But the Na’vi would know it existed and wouldn’t have talked about it as such a passive thing as they did.

    The problem with any kind of “The planet is actually very sentient” explanation is it means the Na’vi were actually very ignorant savages rather than spiritually developed savages. Their mythology does not describe an active, aware, consciousness.

    If that’s the case, then Avatar does indeed invoke very heavily the Noble Savage trope. The only way to avoid the noble savage trope would be if the savages have a mythology and spirituality that’s actually true. If their spirituality is just mythological hokum, but we’re told they’re better than humans, then they’re better “just because”, and it’s noble savage troop on steroids.

    i.e. We’re a bunch of unaware monkeys from earth and they’re a bunch of unaware… cats from pandora.

  122. In some ways it’s a deus ex machina, yes, but if you consider the world-mind to be a secret character whose presence is hinted at but not revealed, it’s not as arbitrary.

    Again, there’s a difference between the cavalry being deus ex machina and the cavalry being arbitrary or whatever.

    The cavalry was not part of the plan, was not assumed to be coming, and was not part of the story development of any character.

    Han Solo at the end of SW4 shoots Darth Vader’s ship off of Luke Skywalker’s tail, letting Luke finish his bombing run. Han’s actions was part of the charcter development of a character in the story. We see Han struggling with leaving. Chewie roars something at him about leaving. Luke asks him to stay and fight and Han seems reluctant to go. When Han showed up at the end, it was the third-act of Han’s character arc. It was Han’s victory for Han, and it happened to line up nicely with Luke’s third-act too.

    Now, if you removed the Han Solo character from all of Episode 4, to the point that he is never seen, but his existence is talked about, and at the very end, Han Solo, never seen before by anyone, suddenly shows up at the pinnacle battle to save Luke from Vader, then that would be a deus ex machina. It’s not “arbitrary” because the character talk about him, but it’s deus ex machina because he wasn’t really part of the story until the very end.

    Now, if you want Avatar to have Pandora to NOT be deus ex machina, but still be a Han-Solo-Saves-The-Day-at-the-End moment, then you’d have to do something to make Pandora an integral part of the story, like a character, rather than just an established fact like “the cavalry patrols these parts”. Maybe the Na’vi keep saying that Pandora is undergoing some sort of change, maybe it’s clouded in myth and mystery because the Na’vi don’t understand the chemistry of it, but maybe Pandora is becoming sentient and maybe becomes sentient during the moment of battle, at which point, Pandora sees what’s happening and calls in the cavalry.

    If the development of Pandora itself is part of the story, then you no longer have a deus ex machina.

  123. @Greg London re: your second reply – you actually took time and eloquently stated what I (apparently failed) to summarize with my closing line:

    Unfortunately if this was the goal of the movie as written, they could’ve been a little more overt about the nature of that character and how it relates to the Na’vi and human characters.

    I’d have liked to see the subplot tension being built around the idea that the world-mind was shifting from a passive to an active approach, with the human presence as an impetus. That might kill the possibility of sequels by introducing a godlike active character, though.


    re: your first reply…

    The Na’vi do know that the world-mind exists and refer to it as a god. A distant god who doesn’t take sides and only works to maintain equilibrium, but still a god.

    The Na’vi don’t seem hyper-intelligent so it stands to reason that if the moon’s collective intelligence is smarter than us, it’s smarter than the Na’vi as well and may not tell them what it doesn’t want them to know, or may explain things to them as we would to a child.

    What definition of the noble savage trope are you using? I’m somewhat confused. Do you mean that for a noble savage to not really be an instance of the trope, they need to be in possession of an absolute and complete truth, rather than a relatively more complete truth?

    I didn’t get the impression that the Na’vi were better than humans, just that they were in the moral high ground regarding the human invaders, and that they knew something (their world has a communally intelligent biosphere) that we did not know as we were not in a position to detect it and understand it. (Remember: in the real world, we thought elephants were basically silent until somebody thought to listen with a microphone that can pick up very low frequencies, then we found out that they’re big chatterboxes.)

  124. @Greg London: your quote –

    The NST, to me, means the savages are noble because they’re not developed like us. It requires a harkening to the “good old days” before current day technology “ruined” mankind.

    I’m uncertain how this instance of a fictional alien race relates to the noble savage trope. Here’s why:

    If they’re written to be inherently noble because being ‘jacked in’ to their world-mind makes them so, then is it really nobility, or just a biological advantage?

    If their nobility (connection to their world) were a cultural insight, then yes, they’d be more “noble” in the sense of proving themselves wiser. Free will allows the choice to be noble, or not. But it’s biology. So what’s that? If they have no choice but be more “noble” then it seems like they’re the Jessica Rabbits of noble savages – not noble, just drawn that way.

    If later generations of Na’vi kids grow away from their world-mind as a result of technology, and it’s detrimental…then their progenitors were noble savages and the NST conditions are met.

    But as it stands now, it might not be possible for the Na’vi to develop in that way. The snippets of source material on the movie that have appeared online seem to indicate that the Na’vi have not experienced any major population changes or technological advancements in a long time, making them very static.

    Maybe technologically advanced Na’vi would handle things differently that humans have, and prove themselves more noble that way…but would they still be noble savages, or just more noble creatures by nature?

    If that’s the case, then they can never be noble savages, because their nobility does not come from their primitive culture, but from an inborn quality not related to their level of technological progress.

    Personally, I don’t think that this movie commits the NST as you phrase it…but it could probably be argued that the Na’vi are designed explicitly to be Noble Savages, which is probably why the NST is going to keep getting bantered about in reviews and forums about this movie.

  125. Ugh. I just realized how much time I spent writing what boils down to “No, no, I agree with your conclusions!” in the most argumentative way possible.

    This would make a better IRL conversation – on the web it looks too much like an argument, and not enough like a discussion.

  126. Everything about Avatar was epic, except for the plot. Taking Dances with Wolves and grafting Petaybee and Valley of the Wolves into it does not a good plot make.

    Then there’s the fact that DARPA apparently no longer exists and the military completely doesn’t realize that the ability to regenerate limbs and spines wouldn’t be the biggest boon ever from a training and combat experience perspective.

    Not to mention that the Petaybee series did it much better.

  127. PowerDude at 79: The protaganist was very clearly a force recon marine who had a large hole blown in the middle of his body (leading to his paralysis) while fighting in the jungles of Venezuela. Described as a very nasty place to be by the Colonel (though not as nasty as Pandora).

    He was also described as a corporal (a junior NCO). Above and beyond the force recon issue (which is highly exceptional in its own right), this tells me that he was considered to be both a good marine and sergeant material, a leader.

    Brad at 97: The Colonel was a full bore psychopath. He liked war, he liked violence and he liked blowing things up. He even liked his facial scars as they reminded him to stay sharp.

    My take as to the balance of the troops is that they were a cross-section of the military, much like in Aliens. The difference is that the troops in Avatar are getting their information as filtered through psycho-Colonel. The Colonel was very careful to characterize the last attack as preemptive self-defense. The actors portraying the troops did a good job of starting the briefing looking very anxious, concerned, on the edge of throwing it in, to cheering the Colonel’s plan to wipe out the savages diety.

    As a former Marine, however, I winced when I saw the troops bunch up and advance through the brush like a mob. There were no helmets (something I remember well from my days, tilt it too far back, exposing your forehead, and some NCO would slap it back down for you- painfullly so), no uniformity, no military precision. Those scenes made me think the troops were only a step or three above mere bandits. This is somewhat reinforced when the Colonel references that he used to be Force Recon also, like Sully, which implied that the two of them had an uncommon bond, perhaps not shared by the bulk of the troops.

    As to the movie itself, I liked it. It was a very good action oriented story. My right wing conservative sensibilites were not hurt by the plot as right wing conservatives aren’t supposed to trust government or mega-corporations. Both of whom were portrayed as the villians of the piece.

  128. I believe the Na’vi describe the planet first as not taking sides, and then further explain that ‘she’ preserves balance. After all, when in Na’vi experience would the planet have needed to step in? To the best of their knowledge, the planet had no need before to “take sides”. I imagine that this was the first time someone threatened to strip-mine it, after all.

    It could be argued that the fighting back of the planet at the end was just a basic self-preservation move, but it also could have been in the interest of preserving balance as well. After all, if the corporation had strip-mined the area, that would hardly have been keeping a balance of things. I think the Na’vi’s understanding works fine considering that.

  129. but until he decides to write a screenplay, we have to be happy with SF for the masses

    Now this I don’t get. We should be happy with whatever badly-written crap gets dished out to us because, geez, it’s an SF movie so take it and like it?

    I dunno, y’all are giving this move the review equivalent of “Not much upstairs, but oh, what a staircase!”. Not encouraging.

    On 23-year-olds, ids and video, we already have that; they’re called video games, particularly MMORPGs.

  130. just watched avatar, great movie. Visually stunning, gives me hope that omw might hit the big screen. It would be great to see a big budget sf film with an actual plot that’s not so predictable. plus i would just love to see the consu five question scene from omw in 3D.

  131. WesT@144: The Na’vi don’t seem hyper-intelligent so it stands to reason that if the moon’s collective intelligence is smarter than us, it’s smarter than the Na’vi as well and may not tell them what it doesn’t want them to know, or may explain things to them as we would to a child.

    I don’t think the Na’vi are intended to be portrayed as gullible or simple. I especially don’t think that the planet is intended to be portrayed as an active deciever. A lot of the script spends times showing humans lying to each other and to the aliens, whereas I cannot recall a single scene where the Na’vi lied to anyone. If their god-planet has been lying (or witholding the truth) from the Na’vi for thousands of years, but the Na’vi don’t lie, then something is seriously out of whack with the script.

    Do you mean that for a noble savage to not really be an instance of the trope, they need to be in possession of an absolute and complete truth, rather than a relatively more complete truth?

    The trope usually boils down to the savages believing some mythology that “we are all connected” or something like that, but it’s really just the writer using the savages as a soapbox for his own “The good old days” wishful thinking. The trope boils down to believing in the myth of the good old days. As in, centuries ago things were better than they are now due to technology.

    That simply isn’t true. We’re far better off today in many empirical ways than humans were a thousand years ago. It’s a myth. If the story forwards that myth, then its the noble savage trope.

    In Avatar, there really isn’t a “good old” days myth going on. The story does not forward the trope that humans were better off when we were running around africa hunting wild boar and scrounging a living off the land. The Na’vi really are better off than humans are due to their interconnectivity, their collective consciousness in the planet god, the storing of memories of the living after they’ve died. This isn’t saying humans were better off a thousnad years ago, this is showing a race that is far more advanced than humans are.

    If their nobility (connection to their world) were a cultural insight, then yes, they’d be more “noble” in the sense of proving themselves wiser. Free will allows the choice to be noble, or not. But it’s biology. So what’s that? If they have no choice but be more “noble” then it seems like they’re the Jessica Rabbits of noble savages – not noble, just drawn that way.

    imagine a race of aliens on some planet that evolves psychic powers over thousands of years. They will develop the social structures to integrate those powers into their way of life. They will develop a culture of ettiquette and rules that will dictate proper use of psychic powers. They will become wise in the use of those psychic powers.

    Compare that to what earth would look like a year from now if every human developed psychic powers today. It would be chaos. People would have no structures to deal with passing flights of fancy, passing moments of rage, passing moments of jealousy. There would be no cultural conversation embedded in us to deal with the difference between thinking something and acting on it. It would be chaos.

    When I say the Na’vi are noble I’m talking about the whole cultural intelligence that they’ve developed around their ability to link with one another, with other animals, and with the planetary consciousness. They are extremely wise.

    What you’re talking about is whether they can “jack in” or not, whether they have some superpower or not. It would seem that if you looked at two planets, one that evolved psychic powers over thousands of years and one that was somehow magically granted that power overnight, you might consider them to be of the same “nobility”. But they wouldn’t be. There is power, and then there is the wisdom to use it correctly or not.

    The Na’vi have a certain power that we could only dream of, but more importantly, they’ve evolved a wisdom around that power that lets them use it without tearing their society apart. And what makes anyone noble is their wisdom, not their power.

    stevem@148: I winced when I saw the troops bunch up and advance through the brush like a mob. There were no helmets, no uniformity, no military precision. Those scenes made me think the troops were only a step or three above mere bandits.

    Yeah, but I don’t think Cameron really understands anything remotely military. I honestly think that is probably the best he could do. It’s sort of like when the ancient greeks wrote about what it would be like for men to fly, they said that when you fly to high, it gets hot because you’re closer to the sun, and that will melt the wax you used to make your wings out of. His military stuff seems like something a kid who watched the A-Team would write. I mean, it’s really, really, really bad.

    His military characters in “Aliens” were awesome, but even then, he left an entire military aircraft carrier (with nukes) unmanned in orbit, Gaaaaahhh!!!!!

    izanobu@149: when in Na’vi experience would the planet have needed to step in? To the best of their knowledge, the planet had no need before to “take sides”.

    If no one in the story has any notion at all that the planet could actively “step in”, then that would be a deus ex machina.

    Once again, just because you can explain how the ending could happen from a logical point of view doesn’t mean the story isn’t a deus ex machina ending.

    Think about this for a second: The cavalry is a perfectly rational entity to have exist in any western movie.

    Having the cavalry rescue the hero at the end of a movie is always possible to fit into a rational, logical explanation. But unless the cavalry is part of the story (and story development is not the same as explaning things) then it is deus ex machina.

    If people would please stop trying to explain how the god-planet could have stepped like this was some “Clerks” vignette, and instead show me where in the Avatar movie was the “planet stepping in” built into the story before it stepped in, then we might have a discussion about whether it is a deus ex machina or not.

    I don’t care if it can be explained. The cavalry can always be explained. “Men riding horses”, it’s not rocket science after all. But if it isn’t a part of the story telling process, then it is a deus ex machina.

    Han Solo shooting Darth Vader’s tie fighter at the end of Episode 4 was not a deus ex machina because whether or not Solo would join the fight was part of teh story. If Solo had been only mentioned in teh movie and never seen until he showed up, seemingly out of nowhere, to save Luke, then it would have been deus ex machina.

    In either version of that story, you could explain that Han Solo was a space pirate/smuggler with a heart of gold, and one would still be a deus ex machina ending.

    At no point in avatar is there ever any hint that the god-planet can direct all the animals to do its bidding, until it was demonstrated in the big finale. And then after you see that, you coudl explain how the planet could do it, but deus ex machina is orthogonal to explanation. Deus ex machina requires the ending in act 3 to be part of act 1 and 2. And Pandora was never shown to have that ability, ever. The Na’vi never spoke of it. And if it isn’t in act 1 and 2, then it is a deus ex machina, whether anyone can explain it or not.

    So everyone can stop trying to explain the cavalry is men with guns riding horses. And everyone can stop trying to explain to me that Pandora is a sentient planet that can direct all its creatures to battle. Show me where the cavalry had its own act 1 and 2. Show me where the god planet had its own act 1 and 2.

  132. I think people are declaring victory too soon on the 3D effects. The movie was all but ruined by headache and powerful nausea. Whatever the problem may be, the industry needs to get a handle on it and fix it. It is NOT ok to make a small oercentage of the audience sick. By the way, whoever it is that takes their blind in one eye friend to 3D movies, that is a really nice new level of selfishness you discovered. Since I just watched a large portion of Avatar without goggles, I can safely say I would much rather have stayed home with a Phantom Menace DVD. Mmmm Jar Jar… Like John, I look forward to rewatching, but at home, in 2D, with a pause button.

  133. The fact that Jake (or anyone) *could* ask the planet for help, made me ready (and expecting, frankly, after watching movies like Princess Mononoke) for the planet to save their asses. But maybe that’s just me. I do tend to watch for cues to things because I love solving stuff and figuring out plots tick.

    Now, if the planet had stepped in without the scene where Jake implores the planet to check the memories of the scientist, that would be been a bit out of nowhere. But the consciousness was set up, so I wasn’t surprised at all (and even did a little tiny cheer).

    Basically, Jake said “I’m calling on the cavalry” and then he was told that “the cavalry doesn’t do that” (or at least, that it had, to the best of the Na’vi knowledge, ever done that before) and then he said “oh, oh well, it was worth trying” and then the cavalry, after likely listening to him and thinking about while checking the communal memories, decided “hey, we’re screwed, we’ll step in to restore balance”. Makes sense to me, and was nicely dramatic.

    Anyway, enough of the quibbling for me :P

    Seeing it in 3d tomorrow!

  134. And our hero cowboy could send a telegraph to fort mustard and ask the cavalry to help rescue his sweet bonnie boo. The reply comes back “cavalry out fighting apache, can’t help.” So hero/cowboy rounds up his own posse and goes out to rescue his sweet bonnie boo. The posse is killed, and his sweet bonnie boo is about to die, when, who should arrive, but the thundering hooves of, wait for it, the cavalry!

    It’s still deus ex machina.

    Sending a telegraph requesting help from the cavalry will explain how the cavalry showed up, but it doesn’t make it any less of a deus ex machina.

    The definition of “deus ex machina” comes from old greek and roman plays where the hero would get themselves in an unextractible bind, and then a God would lower themselves into view and save the hero from something the hero couldn’t save himself from.

    The ending of Avatar with the god-planet suddenly commanding an army of animals when no such thing had ever been seen before ever fits the definition of deus ex machina word for word. the only thing you need to do is change “greek” to “Avatar”.

    That the writers use the Gods of Mount Olympus to explain it doesn’t make it any less of a deus ex machina, than if the writers use the God Planet of Pandora.

  135. i didn’t say it wasn’t deus ex machina. i just said it was foreshadowed/not surprising to me. i personally don’t detest deus ex machina and i liked that the planet saved itself. to each their own :)

  136. Your review is quite accurate to my experience. I agree regarding the lack of being a jerk with 3-D effects. My biggest problem was with character motivations– the BBEG had little, in my mind, to motivate him beyond ‘I’m a BBEG and I got scarred.’ The other main issue I had was with the depicted culture of the Na’vi. In my personal opinion, Cameron would have done better if he’d presented it with the Native American label side down. Not exactly a fresh approach to the situation; history rhymed pretty close in the film with regard to resources and native populations.

    For an interesting contrast, I highly recommend Michael Z. Williamson’s Contact with Chaos. A number of roles are reversed or altered, in a similar situation.

  137. @Paula #91

    I noticed the six limb animals/four limb native thing too. While it didn’t bother me too much, I still think it would have been nice if there had been another creature or two with four limbs. Indicate a history where two different types of fish crawled onto land, style of thing, one with four fins, the other with six.

  138. Ok, I just skimmed 158 comments, and didn’t see anyone who had mentioned this, although if I missed it, my apologies… My question is this–

    Did Roger Dean have anything to do with the visual design of this movie?

    I’ve looked around for any information on this, and haven’t found much except for other people who, like me, are asking this question. And the reason we’re asking it is that Dean goes uncredited in the film, but much of Pandora is simply a virtual hijacking of Dean’s work– wildly colorful dragons, rock islands floating in mid-air, the stone arches surrounding the Tree of Souls, et cetera.

    I mean, a huge portion of what makes this movie wonderful is the scope of imagination behind the environment in which it is played out. I absolutely enjoyed that, and was baffled that there was no acknowledgement of Dean.

    Did he work on the film? Even in an uncredited fashion? Or was this simply a straight rip-off of many of his ideas?

    If the latter, I expect we’ll be seeing a lawsuit in the very near future.

  139. Story is certainly not original, but none really are these days. Dances with Wolves it is. I really enjoyed it. There were a couple of places that made me groan and a couple of places I laughed out loud that were not supposed to be funny but otherwise a good movie.

  140. I love the endless comparison to Star Wars. It is ironic, because much of the final battle was done by ILM (Lucas’s FX company).

    Anyway, the true test of AVATAR being this generations Star Wars, is if it can be rereleased 20 years from now and be #1 in the box office on its release day. I personally doubt it. There was no great acting in star wars, but there was a story, music, memorable and lasting characters and fx. Avatar is lacking a few in this mix.

  141. zakur @ 160 —

    Actually, they have 2 pairs of wings, although that may have only been particularly apparent when Cameron showed them gliding.

    If you want to talk morphological differences across the species, besides the limbs there’s the way so many species have 2 pairs of eyes. The Na’vi seem like the only living example of 4 limbs & 2 eyes.

  142. I read through all the comments, and I agree with many of the viewpoints here…but no one has even mentioned the music score for the movie. It is composed by James Horner, and definitely gives the movie the “epic” quality that I felt when watching it. Remember to listen for the music next time you see it, is all I have to say about that.

  143. So, 12 days out, Avatar is at 232 million domestically and 643 million worldwide, and it looks more and more possible that it may take a run at Titanic’s box office record. I went back to see it again tonight and the theater I was in was completely packed and the movie got resounding applause at the final credits. On a Tuesday.

  144. Hi from Novo Hamburgo, Brazil.

    My biggest problem with Avatar was that the film tried so hard to be scientifically plausible at so many things, but in others, it seems the director/writers just said “screw it, forget realism”.

    For example… the whole ecology of pandora is quite plausible and follows rules of evolution, etc. For example, animals and trees can be bigger because of lower gravity. On the other hand, while the TALK about the lower gravity in Pandora, it seems they FORGOT about it!

    Also, ALL the animal life in Pandora has 3 pairs of members… the lemur-like animals… the rhino/triceratops animal… the big predator, the wolf-life animals, the “horses”, the birds (two pairs of wings and one pair of claws).

    The ONLY species out of place in Pandora is the Na´vi, with their pair of arms and legs! It seems they worked so hard to create a consistent ecology but then decided to change the rules for the Na´vi only, so when the human makes out with the native, the audience wouldnt go “ewww”.

    In fact, thats another problem… the aliens resemblance with humans. I can perfectly understand it in old movies and specially in tv-series, where budgets make really alien like caracthers prohibetivelly expensive. But imho, its quite unforgivable that full 3D caracthers like those from Avatar cant be REALLY alien.

    And the message of the movie gets LOST on it. I mean, if its about that we humans should ACCEPT differences and such, so why do the movie presents us with caracthers which are so SIMILAR to us? Where really is the alieness of the Na´vi?

    They look and act as north american native americans, although many of their traits can also be found on many other cultures, including old european cultures (including ancient greece), thus I dont buy much into all that “white guilt” and “noble savage” stuff, considering that Europe itself had cultures with similar traits to which white people CAN relate.

    Maybe its more about western CAPITALISTIC culture than about “white culture”.

    So, there we are, “learning” about respecting and understand other cultures. Problem is, how deep is such message when it requires the audience to respect and understand things so similar to their own culture?

    Its easier to relate to the Na´vi culture than to the Aztec/Mayas culture! DISTRIC 9 was much better in that sense. While we still could “read” the aliens emotions (anger, surprise, etc) they were MUCH MORE ALIEN and difficult to relate, both in appearance and culture.

    I guess AVATAR would be a much better film if the aliens were like those from District 9… with 4 arms, even if at the end only part of the audience was able to relate to the aliens, instead of how the movie is, FORCING you to relate to the aliens by dumping away realism.

  145. Ah, ok, it seems other people had already noticed and commented on the 6 pairs of limbs (I said “members” in the previous post, probably not the best word choice in english haha)

    As for realism in the movie, has anybody mentioned the flying mountains? Another part of the movie where they said “screw all the realism we´ve trying to get in the movie, lets just add some cool stuff for the sake of coolness”. They dont even try to explain those mountains. Just like the lower gravity, which as I said earlier, is mentioned, but never felt in the movie. Maybe when they said “lower” they meant 0.9 G… great, it would be really difficult to notice the difference in the falling speed, the way caracthers walk, etc. On the other hand, those huge trees would also be impossible.

  146. The idea with the mountains is that the Unobtainium that they’re composed of (unobtainium being a room-temperature superconductor) is levitated by the interaction of the magnetic fields of Polyphemus and Pandora. The reason these things don’t make it into the script of the movie isn’t that they’re unsupported, it’s just that audiences don’t want to get bogged down with scientific explanations of all the little details. Most of the information you’re griping about is readily available if you search for it. And of course, let’s not forget the wise words of Mr. Scalzi: “‘Science’ and ‘fiction’ should carry equal weight.” That’s a paraphrase, but you get the idea.

  147. My wife had the same experience she had with Blair Witch – nausea and vertigo. Left after the first 15 minutes or so. Any idea how common this
    response was? She attributed it to all the movement going on in the scened rather than to the 3D effect.

  148. its amazing and stunning in every way really…and yes you have to go –at least twice to really grasp what you missed the first time….ive been four times now and will go back…it is an experience and one you dont mind going through many times….im sure many others feel the same way….yes worthington was sort of bland and lacked spunk in his acting….the dialogue was stupid at times for many of the characters, some things could havebeen done differently but overall a really great movie and something most people have never experienced before

  149. people are giving interesting explanations for …the planet sending creatures to save it….jake didnt pray to the planet…he prayed to Eywa….the deity…eywa of course…is symbolic for the connection to God….realistically if this occurred, its not the planet that sent the animals, it’s really “God” and depending on your belief system, it’s not some fake deity, eywa was GOD….the name for God…just as many belief systems use different names for God, deity etc…many paganistic type religions even ones like hinduism originally linked to the concept of God….ie the same God of the monotheistic religions….so ewya wasn’t some planetary deity–unless you believe planetary deities have the capability of sending out animals to win wars….eywa was God and they prayed to God and were saved….ewya also was ‘spirit’ or wht is referred to as spirit or a nature God…. in most paganistic type belief systems…..there are wars fought in some religious battles where small weak armies were outnumbered by large strong ones, and God sent angels to help fight them and won…that’s what this battle was symbolic of….for people that may not understand the concept….

  150. I went to see this farce in 3 D today and left after 60 minutes. I just got bored and new it was going to be a liberal bashing of corporate greed. The 3 D was awesome, but the lame and predictable story was pathetic.

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