The politics of Avatar
January 14, 2010 8:09 AM   Subscribe

James Cameron has acknowledged that Avatar implicitly criticizes America's War in Iraq and the impersonal nature of mechanized warfare in general, although it's not the films main theme. American Conservatives have blasted Avatar for depicting U.S. marines as villains. Others see it as a "race fantasy" for white people. Over in China, Communists see parallels between the movie’s plot and one of the nation’s most prominent social issues: the forced removal of Chinese citizens from their homes for government development projects. The St. Petersburg Communist Party believes the film is an American apology for Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. “It is quite funny to watch how the activists of the national liberation movement of Pandora accept a Pentagon-made mutant instead of judging him by the laws of the revolutionary time,” the communists noted.
posted by stbalbach (264 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Open thread?
posted by chinston at 8:10 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why must people see everything in Rose and Sapphire tinted glasses?
posted by samsara at 8:13 AM on January 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


Didn't they start making the movie before Obama got the Peace Prize?
posted by box at 8:13 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


I liked the 3D effect. Too bad there wasn't a movie accompanying it. Hey look, that squirrel has a fluffy tail.
posted by Aquaman at 8:14 AM on January 14, 2010 [21 favorites]


Home Tree destruction = 9/11?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


box: "Didn't they start making the movie before Obama got the Peace Prize?"

Before Clinton's second term.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most interesting criticism of Avatar I've read is right here on MeFi, by Pastabagel.
posted by Nelson at 8:15 AM on January 14, 2010 [13 favorites]


Darn, beat me to it.

Tom Shone* has an interesting take on how the movie (and Cameron) transcends the liberal/conservative division.

*Author of Blockbuster, an interesting attempt to rebut Peter Biskind's narrative of decline from a Hollywood highpoint in the 70s.
posted by lucien_reeve at 8:16 AM on January 14, 2010


The most interesting criticism of Avatar I've read is right here on MeFi, by Pastabagel.

That reads more like a lot of odd praise and projection than criticism.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:17 AM on January 14, 2010 [11 favorites]


I thought this sarcastic, spoiler-filled metacontextual edition was funny.
RIPLEY: Hey Jughead, fuck you. Seriously, just... fuck you. Fuck you for being you, for being here, and for everything. Fuck. You.

JUGHEAD: So... you don't like me?

RIPLEY: I don't have to spend any time finding out about you to know I don't like you. Everybody knows that as a scientist, I am high and mighty and quick to judge. I wouldn't ever evaluate people by the observable evidence of their behaviour or anything sensible and in keeping with my training.

JUGHEAD: Whatever. Your dislike of me isn't going to slow me down... or the story... or have any impact whatsoever beyond expository dialogue.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2010 [35 favorites]


The Vatican doesn't like Avatar (Evo Morales does, however).
posted by Kattullus at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2010


Criticism? Fawning adoration, maybe.

And there is already an open thread addressing a lot of this stuff.
posted by billysumday at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2010


Avatar in 5 frames.

!!!SPOILERS!!!
posted by billysumday at 8:19 AM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Don't forget the sexual politics!

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. ... I came up with this free-floating, lion's-mane-like array of feathers, and we strategically lit and angled shots to not draw attention to her breasts, but they're right there. The animation uses a physics-based sim that takes into consideration gravity, air movement and the momentum of her hair, her top.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:21 AM on January 14, 2010


Avatar is about the changes in Europe after the Treaty oF Westphalia, right?
posted by The Whelk at 8:25 AM on January 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


The feeling that I took away from Avatar was one of overwhelming sadness for the human condition. Although the film ended on a hopeful, upbeat note, we all know that the film can only have one "real" ending:

Thrown into social and political chaos by the loss of unobtanium (the petroleum of the 22nd century), the forces of Earth (or maybe just the richest countries) band together and use whatever resources remain to build a massive invasion fleet for the pacification of Pandora. Six years later, they arrive in the skies over Pandora and, instead of engaging in a costly land battle, simply nuke the jungles from orbit.

They begin unrestricted mining operations amidst the charred Na'vi bodies, and humanity chugs along for another few centuries.

No matter how you look at it, no amount of "bad PR" is going to keep us from having our civilization's lifeblood delivered on time. Even at the cost of total genocide. We are just a very fucked-up species.
posted by Avenger at 8:27 AM on January 14, 2010 [16 favorites]


The Whelk: Avatar is about the changes in Europe after the Treaty oF Westphalia, right?

No, that was 2010.

In the name of the most holy and individual Trinity: Be it known to all, and every one whom it may concern, or to whom in any manner it may belong, that all these worlds are yours except Europa, attempt no landing there.
posted by Kattullus at 8:29 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever else it is or isn't, Avatar is apparently the best Rorschach test in years.
posted by you just lost the game at 8:29 AM on January 14, 2010 [33 favorites]


"Titanic" also had the same knack for inspiring diverse national responses. A German critic saw it as a parable of Spätkapitalismus. In Japan it was taken as an illustration of the quality of stoicism in the face of tragedy (I've forgotten the Japanese word). This is what I like about Cameron. His storytelling is a bit crude, but he can use new technology to put across images that mean something to people in an elemental way.
posted by texorama at 8:29 AM on January 14, 2010


American Conservatives have blasted Avatar for depicting U.S. marines as villains.

The guy sitting beside me in the theatre while I watched Avatar was cheering the Corporation/Military on the whole time. I literally heard him say "Not these fucking guys again." At the start of scenes featuring the Nav'ii. The weird part was that after the movie I heard him talking about him much he liked it.

FYI: I'm from Canada.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 8:31 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Criticism - \ˈkri-tə-ˌsi-zəm\

2 : the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature; also : writings expressing such evaluation or analysis
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:33 AM on January 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


Right from the beginning I said, "She's got to have tits,"

Someone's overcompensating for all the bright blue cock in Watchmen.
posted by fatbird at 8:33 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Home Tree destruction = 9/11?

while that's probably the ham handed thing he was going for, I at first assumed it was the destruction of lebanese towers that bin laden had claimed to be his inspiration for the 9/11 attacks in the first place, since the movie seems to be dealing with american imperialism and its destructive consequences.

but you're probably right. as much as I'm happy Cameron has returned to his anti-corporate, anti-military-industrial-complex roots, I think he's more of the "LOOK 9/11 OMG" style film maker than anything more nuanced than that.

honestly the movie is stupid fun, but it's A LOT of fun. and the only thing I want out of it besides that is for kids growing up with the explosions to have that little germ put in their brains: the corporations as bad guys germ. I grew up with it in Alien, Aliens, The Abyss, Terminator 2 and a bunch of other formative action movies. It's not Chomsky, but it opens the mind a bit. As much as we may want to deny it, I bet there are a bunch of us who at some point were hipped to some corporate shenanigan going on in the real world and somewhere in the back of our minds thought of Paul Reiser in Aliens.
posted by shmegegge at 8:35 AM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


Bush did Pandora. WAKE UP SHEEPLE!
posted by rusty at 8:37 AM on January 14, 2010


Criticism - \ˈkri-tə-ˌsi-zəm\

2 : the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature; also : writings expressing such evaluation or analysis


[pri-skrip-tuh-vist]

In common usage such as threads here, that term usually connotes being critical of something in the sense of deconstruction or redirection, not fawning praise.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:38 AM on January 14, 2010


In common usage such as threads here, that term usually connotes being critical of something in the sense of deconstruction or redirection, not fawning praise.

in common usage such as threads here, words have multiple definitions which we are free to pick and choose from. it's ok that you misunderstood, or that he miscommunicated. but the word means what he says it does.
posted by shmegegge at 8:41 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Well, this is a completely uncharted planet with like hitherto unclassified alien life man, so the whole scene's wide open for a scientific exploration. The real hang-up was with the bread, man, but when the top brass pigs came through we got it together in a couple of moons. Jake Sully, who's a real sub-Navi head, has got it together huntingwise and like the whole gig's been a real gas, man.
posted by crapmatic at 8:45 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why do I even bother? Yes, I meant the analytical definition of criticism and not "fawning praise".
posted by Nelson at 8:46 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other end, is Avatar sexist, racist, and ableist?*

*linking does not imply endorsement or agreement since I haven't seen the movie yet!
posted by mkb at 8:49 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Plate of beans, meet overanalysis.
posted by blucevalo at 8:53 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: overcompensating for all the bright blue cock.
posted by CynicalKnight at 8:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Please tell me I'm not the only one who wondered this.

On the other hand, one of my friends is convinced it's all about bestiality, what with mind controlling the animals the same way they mate with their own species. I changed the subject, since the other subway patrons were, in the words of Queen Victoria, "not amused."
posted by LD Feral at 8:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hairy Pandora and the Pointy Browser.
posted by effluvia at 8:59 AM on January 14, 2010


I kinda thought of it like Dances with Wolves in Space...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:02 AM on January 14, 2010


TheophileEscargot: "I thought this sarcastic, spoiler-filled metacontextual edition was funny."

It's gold.

JUGHEAD: I don't remember - what did they do in Jurassic Park when there was a situation just like this?

RIPLEY: Never mind that! Run! Run the other way, away from us and all the security protocols we don't have for this situation because we've never had anything like this happen in all the years we've been here!

posted by Joe Beese at 9:06 AM on January 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


I haven't seen the film yet, but from the trailers I assumed it was obvious to everyone that it this was allegory about the Alexander Hamilton - Aaron Burr duel and the socioeconomic ramifications of the result.

I mean, how much more clearly does Cameron have to spell this stuff out for people?

Either that, or it's a subversive effort to make furries acceptance a widespread phenomena. In which case, we are well and truly yiffed.
posted by quin at 9:09 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


You're all wrong, wrong, wrong! Avatar is obviously about how hot it would be to have a ten-foot-tall blue girlfriend with a tail. I mean, YMMV, theoretically, but who's kidding who here?

Also: blue people with yellow eyes and white markings? Cameron totally ripped off MeFi's default color scheme.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:09 AM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Every time something evil happens in the world I think of Paul Reiser.
posted by Elmore at 9:12 AM on January 14, 2010 [20 favorites]


Christ, it's almost as contentious as a Pixar movie.
posted by edgeways at 9:14 AM on January 14, 2010


Cameron totally ripped off MeFi's default color scheme.

It's not a rip-off. The movie's an allegory of the struggle between the default colour scheme and professional white backgrounds.
posted by CKmtl at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2010 [51 favorites]


Its interesting how so many people project their ideas and philosophies onto this film. I don't think its because its complex and layered and deep, just that the storyline is so basic its almost archetypal, and the omg wow special effects mean a lot of people have and will see it. Which allows for all sorts of interpretations to be grafted on.
posted by sandraregina at 9:17 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Google Ron Pa'ul.
posted by darkstar at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


This movie seems to be something like L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. People can read just about anything into it and come up with elaborate allegories.
posted by orange swan at 9:19 AM on January 14, 2010


I think this gives far, far too much credit to cameron. He was crafting a commentary of anything. He was simply aping the commentaries we've seen a million times before in order, which is exactly something he's done before to make his sociopathic versions of "movies."
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2010


This movie seems to be something like L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Shh. Don't give people any ideas for stoner album mashups.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:20 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't exactly a Rorschach test, unless you have an agenda. There's plenty of moments where the script hits you over the head with its themes.

Imperialism/War on Terror... the words "shock and awe" are actually used. Subtle?

Race... Sully is referred to as a "race traitor." Subtle?

Ecological destruction... obvious.

Pantheism / new age trappings... obvious.

Not that the movie has anything INSIGHTFUL to say about these topics. But they're quite obviously present.
posted by naju at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2010


it's ok that you misunderstood, or that he miscommunicated. but the word means what he says it does.

Yeah, but the other guy posting the phonetic spelling of "criticism" caused my second response there.

posted by Burhanistan at 9:22 AM on January 14, 2010


"The feeling that I took away from Avatar was one of overwhelming sadness for the human condition. Although the film ended on a hopeful, upbeat note, we all know that the film can only have one "real" ending"

... because it currently has a score of 84 on Metacritic, one of the highest scores of all movies now playing, higher than every Coen Bros. film except No Country for Old Men and Fargo and every (listed) Kubrick film except 2001 and Dr. Strangelove.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:23 AM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Naju - that's what I mean about archetypes. His messages, when presented, are so obvious, but also very very broad. So anyone can pick up on the archetypal message 'war is bad' and the turn around and apply it to their own, very specific war issue. I hope I'm making sense.
posted by sandraregina at 9:24 AM on January 14, 2010


It's all Buckaroo Bonzai.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:25 AM on January 14, 2010


Race... Sully is referred to as a "race traitor."

This bothered me. I mean, wouldn't it be more accurate to call him a traitor to his species? Or, given the fact that they are on a completely different fucking planet, to his genus? Family? Order? I mean, does Linnaean taxonomy even work once you get into outer space?
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:27 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


He says "how does it feel to be a traitor to your race" - ie, the human race.
posted by billysumday at 9:27 AM on January 14, 2010


Rorschach test indeed. It's only a little bit interesting that the usual band of conservatives decided to display a unified front over the supposedly outrageously liberal Avatar even before it was released, with a barrage of talking points. Which I've seen parroted mindlessly from conservatives around the intertubes. Testimony to the incestuous nature of their world, I suppose.

Yet, a different brand of conservative (aka libertarian) sees something completely different, taking the conservative party line to task, arguing Avatar is a defense of the usually conservative notion about property rights:

If given a choice between high-tech, with all its creature comforts, and the jungle life of Tarzan, I, like [conservative critics] Salam and Hudgins, will take high-tech every time. But that's not what the movie's about. It's about people from a high-tech civilization using technology to make war on people from a more primitive society so that they can steal their stuff. That's a very different choice. I would choose not to kill them and take their property. What would Salam or Hudgins choose? They don't make their answers clear, although they show zero sympathy for the victims of the attack.

In fact, the defense of property rights in Avatar is so clear that, at one point in the movie, when the bad guys are justifying their war on the grounds that they need "Unobtainium," I turned to a libertarian friend and said, "This is the Kelo decision." Recall that the Supreme Court, in Kelo v. City of New London, decided that it was all right to take Suzette Kelo's property from its low-tech use as a house so that a major corporation could use it for a "grander" project.

posted by 2N2222 at 9:28 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


As mentioned in the open Avatar thread: some viewers are experiencing "Avatar blues" after leaving the impossible world of Pandora.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:29 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I thought is was very pretty and tremendously boring.
posted by four panels at 9:31 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


higher than every Coen Bros. film except No Country for Old Men and Fargo

Raising Arizona didn't score that high? *checks RT* Um... check again. (I'm shocked, however, that The Big Lebowski didn't score higher. What the hell, people.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:32 AM on January 14, 2010


The metacontextual edition is hilarious, and oh, so true.

PEOPLE AT FURRY CONVENTIONS : Thank you, James Cameron, for the highest budget masturbation material ever made.

and...

JUGHEAD IS BEING SHOWN AROUND A FIGHTER PLANE BY THE ONLY NON-BLUE, NON-WHITE-ARYAN PERSON WITH A SPEAKING ROLE IN THE ENTIRE MOVIE.
posted by zarq at 9:35 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


This movie seems to be something like L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. People can read just about anything into it and come up with elaborate allegories.

I wonder how well Avatar syncs up to 'Dark Side of the Moon?'
posted by ericb at 9:42 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


A movie so vacant and luxurious that we can put the furniture wherever we want.
posted by quarterframer at 9:43 AM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


If you play Dark Side of the Moon backwards while watching Avatar, Zalgo comes.

So don't do that, it's really gross.
posted by Mister_A at 9:45 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This bothered me. I mean, wouldn't it be more accurate to call him a traitor to his species?

In many contexts, species = race. See, e.g., widespread usage of "the human race."

I mean, wouldn't it be more accurate to call him a traitor to his ... genus? Family? Order?

There isn't, as far as I can tell, a strong sense among most people that these are things to which one owes allegiance. I would be saddened by the extinction of another primate species, because I believe in ecological responsibility and biodiversity, but not because I feel any sort of moral obligation of allegiance toward macaques.
posted by jock@law at 9:46 AM on January 14, 2010


filthy light thief: As mentioned in the open Avatar thread: some viewers are experiencing "Avatar blues" after leaving the impossible world of Pandora.

This bit from the "Avatar blues" article is really striking:
Ivar Hill posts to the "Avatar" forum page under the name Eltu. He wrote about his post-"Avatar" depression after he first saw the film earlier this month.

"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning," Hill wrote on the forum. "It just seems so ... meaningless. I still don't really see any reason to keep ... doing things at all. I live in a dying world."
posted by Kattullus at 9:47 AM on January 14, 2010


There isn't, as far as I can tell, a strong sense among most people that these are things to which one owes allegiance.

I was eating HAMBURGER.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:50 AM on January 14, 2010


Am I the only one who thinks that it's Disney's Pocahontas all over again? Seriously. I liked the move fine, but I was astonished at the ham-fisted retelling of what-seemed-obvious-to-me.
posted by Xoebe at 9:56 AM on January 14, 2010


Yeah, there's been a lot of bizarre posts on the Avatar forums on the profound depression people are experiencing. At this point, they're almost more like support communities than fan sites.

This one in particular struck me as remarkable. I was sure it was a troll, but there were dozens of comments in response saying "I know exactly how you feel."

The past 7 nights in a row my wife has asked me to have sex with her, and I just havent been in the mood. Scratch that. I'm incredibly horny most of the time, but I dont feel attracted to her anymore. The sight of her naked literally does nothing for me, and I'm frightened by that. Instead I imagine Neytiri. Her majestic grace and boundless beauty as well as the alien mystery about her. I want to fly off to pandora and live with her, to be with her always. I would worship her as she deserves. I'd do anything to just to touch her, to smell her.

She's the perfect woman, and i feel like this life here has lost its spark. Where is the magic in humanity. Just a few days ago, my son asked me some question about what happened in Avatar. I dont even remember what it was, but after I told him, I started crying. Right in front of him. All I can think about is how depressing it is that I will never reach pandora. I almost vomited while I cried. It was the most pathetic thing I have ever done. Im in my 30's for god's sake. I have to remain strong for my son. Right?

I want to tell my wife but she's a psychologist. She'll think I'm sick. I know it. I probably am sick. But what can I do. Its a little early to tink about divorce, but the thought of her disgusts me. The thought of me disgusts me. How could I compare to the beauty and grace of a Na'vi. I want to leave, to just leave and sort things out, but I dont want to leave my wife and son alone. I dont know what to do with myself, with my life. I dont want to see another psychologist and get treated like a specimen. I just want to be a Na'vi. I've never wanted anything more in my life.

At this point I would rip my son to shreds for an hour on pandora. I would too. And that thought frightens me. Can anyone somehow offer me assistance. Christ what ami going to do with myself?

posted by naju at 9:56 AM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


I haven't seen Avatar, but if one more person gushes to me about the genius of James Cameron, I'm going to get a pilot's license, buy an airplane, and skywrite spoilers over every major city in the US.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:04 AM on January 14, 2010


naju, I have similar feelings for True Lies.
posted by Mister_A at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Dances with Ferngully Wolves in the Mist.
posted by plinth at 10:07 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Shh. Don't give people any ideas for stoner album mashups

Avatar sychs up perfectly with the complete works of Bach!
posted by shakespeherian at 10:15 AM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm sure you've already heard this too, Marisa, but once more with feeling: it's really, really not about the plot.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:18 AM on January 14, 2010


A little anomie will do those people good.
posted by sciurus at 10:26 AM on January 14, 2010


Really, that Metacontextual Edition writeup deserves it's own FPP here:

POCAHONTAS: Then you are one of us.

THEY FUCK.
Image: people_at_furry_conventions

PEOPLE AT FURRY CONVENTIONS : Thank you, James Cameron, for the highest budget masturbation material ever made.

THEY GO AT IT FOR KIND OF A LONG TIME. ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THAT THERE ARE SCENES THAT STRANGELY GET NO TIME AT ALL, LIKE THE UPCOMING TAMING OF THE BAD ASS FLYING THING. ANYWAY, NEXT MORNING POCAHONTAS WAKES UP TO THE SOUND OF HUGE ASS BULLDOZERS COMING TO DESTROY THE FOREST. SHE TRIES TO WAKE JUGHEAD, BUT HE'S NOT IN SMURF MODE, SO HIS SMURF BODY WON'T WAKE UP. SHE SCREAMS AT HIM TO WAKE UP BUT HE DOESN'T FOR A LONG TIME. BUT THEN JUGHEAD FINISHES HIS BREAKFAST AND GETS BACK IN THE TANNING BED AND SMURF-JUGHEAD WAKES UP.

posted by Burhanistan at 10:27 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't exactly a Rorschach test, unless you have an agenda.

You know what else isn't exactly a Rorschach test unless you have an agenda?
A Rorschach test.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:46 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


American Conservatives have blasted Avatar for depicting U.S. marines as villains.

Uh, no it doesn't. I know there's "no such thing as a 'former Marine'", but if anything Avatar pretty clearly depicts private security forces (e.g. Blackwater/Xe) and greedy corporations as villains.
posted by Bluecoat93 at 10:47 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


but if one more person gushes to me about the genius of James Cameron

The man is a genius, no question. Granted he doesn't things the way *I* want the them done, but damn if he can't make entertaining films.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:50 AM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Geez, white privelege sure leads to some troubling fantasies. This from the aforementioned metafilter posted criticism sums it up pretty well:

Avatar, and James Cameron in particular, is brilliant.

Avatar strips bare the archetype that all these other films are built around. More precisely it strips away all the equivocation and ambiguity of context and bias that any discussion of analysis of those films is plagued of. All of these other films, like Pocahontas, DWW, or even the Iraq War, are clouded by their historical context.


So Avatar wins by removing that whole troubling historical context thing: now its even easier to go native, fall in love with the hot exotic chick, immediately lead your native followers to the promise land, and tell the entire story from your perspective.
posted by RajahKing at 10:51 AM on January 14, 2010 [14 favorites]


> The most interesting criticism of Avatar I've read is right here on MeFi, by Pastabagel.

If by "interesting" you mean "showing an amazing ability to pretend that the piece of crap on the screen is in fact a profound meditation on history and civilization." On the other hand, maybe I should get him not to bogart whatever he was on when he saw the thing.
posted by languagehat at 10:56 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Okay, another great quote from the meta version:

JUGHEAD: Holy shit, you mean I can interface directly with the network of this planet directly by plugging into various connections that living creatures everywhere seem to have? That's fucking wild! And if you think about it, since we humans have the technology to remotely connect my consciousness by WiFi to this body, then that implies we have the ability to network our consciousnesses as well. There could be potentially all sorts of wild story elements of trying to use mechanistic technology to hack into an organic network, pitting an artificial neural network against a biological neural network and highlighting the diff...

JAMES CAMERON: Shut the fuck up.

posted by captain cosine at 10:56 AM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


but if one more person gushes to me about the genius of James Cameron

The man is a genius, no question. Granted he doesn't things the way *I* want the them done, but damn if he can't make entertaining films.

Cameron is undeniably a movie making genius who has an innate sense of what will play for mass appeal, even if not one person will leave the theater feeling totally satisfied about the movie in some way. There's something almost ineffable in the way he creates an aggregate of characters, storyline, visual effects, and naked social commentary. None of it holds up on its own, but the whole is magically greater than the sum of the parts.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:57 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I learned from Avatar was that in 150 years bullet-proof glass on military planes/ships will not be able to withstand bows and arrows.
posted by flarbuse at 11:00 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


The whole Avatar depression thing sounds weird, but it's also exaggerated enough that I would at least consider the possibility that it's a SomethingAwful or 4chan hoax.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:05 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a prediction about this film. It will be followed by a sequel in a few years, and, by then, critical evaluation will have simmered down to "It was pretty cool if a little shallow." And I think Cameron tends to be spectacularly good at sequels, as he demonstrated with both Terminator 2 and Aliens, and I suspect the sequel to Avatar will likewise make the story richer and more complex, and will cause a critical reevalutation of the first film.

Additionally, between the first film and the second, there will be quite a lot of additional media, including videogames that are primarily about exploring the planet, and you'll start seeing a lot of people showing up at sci fi conventions colored blue and wearing feathers, and places will start offering lessons in Navi, and people will start identifying with the religion, and this will bulk out what Cameron has created, with his permission and under his influence, as, after all, this is a massive act of worldbuilding on his part.

Years from now, this will be considered classic science fiction. It seems weird now, but, truthfully, Avatar is no dumber than Star Wars, while likewise benefited from one terrific sequel and a huge amount of participatory worldbuilding.

Go ahead and bookmark this and check back ten years from now. I;m so right about this I can't even stand it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 AM on January 14, 2010 [41 favorites]


AZ:

Avatar may not be dumber than Star Wars, but it sure is a lot less fun.

And people already do identify with the religion. It's called dumb-ass New Age crockoshit.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:13 AM on January 14, 2010


The man is a genius, no question. Granted he doesn't things the way *I* want the them done, but damn if he can't make entertaining films.

There are plenty of mainstream blockbusters I can eagerly settle in to watch with a tub of popcorm in the crook of my arm. James Cameron, though, hasn't really done a lot for me. His films are passably good, definitely. Everything is done right; just not spectacularly well. It's a little too sterile for me.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:13 AM on January 14, 2010


At this point I would rip my son to shreds for an hour on pandora. I would too. And that thought frightens me. Can anyone somehow offer me assistance.

While it may seem counterintuitive, you want to stay away from extremely sharp blades, as they cut cleanly. For a more "shredded" approach, try a dull serrated blade, which tends to pull and tear the flesh, rather than simply slicing through in a straight line.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:14 AM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Avatar may not be dumber than Star Wars, but it sure is a lot less fun.

Well, fun is very subjective. And highly responsive to weed. If you are a 13-year-old, Star Wars is the most awesome thing ever. If you're a stoned 19-year-old nerd, hot blue cat sex on Roger Dean prog rock island is pretty fun.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:16 AM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well, I'll go out on a limb and say that it's arguably better than Star Wars, which seems to be a case of a movie franchise coming together in spite of its creative director.

But I'm feeling lukewarm about Avatar. Perhaps it just needs time to grow on me, but I'm not having any of those, "wait, what about..." moments at 1:00 am, and the political soapboxing sort of kills it as a cheesy fun movie for me.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:22 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most interesting criticism of Avatar I've read is right here on MeFi, by Pastabagel.

Pastabagel's "This is the only version of this story where the natives win" thesis is an interesting idea, but...really? Is there anyone who sees this movie without walking out of the theatre realizing that there's no way the humans aren't going to come back with bigger and bigger weapons until either they win or there's nothing left to win?
posted by straight at 11:24 AM on January 14, 2010


Is there anyone who sees this movie without walking out of the theatre realizing that there's no way the humans aren't going to come back with bigger and bigger weapons until either they win or there's nothing left to win?

So what do the Navi do, get their tech up to speed in order to deal with that or do they stay as they are?

It's like the sequels just write themselves!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:38 AM on January 14, 2010


I thought Pandora was a place where all the people avoided fast food joints and so none were obese...do they have wi fi there?
posted by Postroad at 11:39 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there anyone who sees this movie without walking out of the theatre realizing that there's no way the humans aren't going to come back with bigger and bigger weapons until either they win or there's nothing left to win?

This is an intuitive idea, but I'm not sure how correct it would be in what is apparently a pretty scientifically--not accurate, but plausible--scenario. The economics of space travel and transporting a powerful military force are very different than a mining operation with some security guards, especially for a corporation with no ideological need to destroy the Na'vi. Stomping the natives makes economic sense only when it's not that hard to stomp them, especially when they're on another planet.

That's all speculative handwaving, but I didn't read the ending as a tragic moment of successful but ultimately doomed defiance.
posted by fatbird at 11:41 AM on January 14, 2010


My wife loved it for its wiccan/pagan message. She's sure that's what it's about.
posted by Danf at 11:44 AM on January 14, 2010


I liked how Cameron made all the standard mistakes an enthused newbie pantheist makes-- from "pantheism is a superior belief system! Actually, it's so superior that it's superior EVERY OTHER FORM OF BELIEF!" to "fuck objectivity, tactics, and planning, we'll rely on our superior intuition because we're guided by the overarching intention of the universe."

It was kind of like being a 16-year-old would-be Wiccan all over again, in all its overly-enthused lack of critical thought and righteous rage at the Man.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:49 AM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


AZ: Was the cat sex really all that "hot"? I mean, the whole movie seemed very sterile, as Marissa pointed out. I saw it in 3D, and the CGI was not at all immersive for me. Not in a "Oh, I can see the zippers on the Ewok suits" or "you can totally tell that's a green screen" way, but "everything is so smooth and clean and pretty and perfect, obviously this is computer generated world." Everything was so damn smooth, sometimes I couldn't tell if the actors were real people or computer generated. That's why everything was booooring to me.

As far as its lasting impact, I don't think this will have anywhere near the cultural impact of Cameron's much better earlier films: T1 & 2 and Aliens. In 10 years, it'll be yet another forgettable popcorn blockbuster.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:55 AM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]



If by "interesting" you mean "showing an amazing ability to pretend that the piece of crap on the screen is in fact a profound meditation on history and civilization." On the other hand, maybe I should get him not to bogart whatever he was on when he saw the thing.
posted by languagehat at 1:56 PM on January 14


I was on the internet.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:00 PM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


The man is a genius, no question.

I mean, you know there are real people who are geniuses, right? It's not just, like, a figurative term?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:02 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Na'vi blue?
posted by Rhaomi at 12:03 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pastabagel's "This is the only version of this story where the natives win" thesis is an interesting idea, but...really? Is there anyone who sees this movie without walking out of the theatre realizing that there's no way the humans aren't going to come back with bigger and bigger weapons until either they win or there's nothing left to win?

Taking this hypothetical way too seriously, but: yes, I thought the exact same thing as I was leaving. But then I also though that it is entirely possible that humans had invested a huge portion of their capital in the infrastructure to reach Pandora, and that without that stream of Unobtanium and with the lost infrastructure, getting back there with enough manpower and firepower to win a war may not be economically possible.
posted by molecicco at 12:04 PM on January 14, 2010


When all you have is a hammer an ideology, everything looks like a nail evidence for that ideology.
posted by Sparx at 12:08 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


shakespeherian: I mean, you know there are real people who are geniuses

I'd argue that the term "genius" as commonly understood, i.e. someone whose intellectual gifts transcend those of almost all human beings, is not a real thing so much as a myth (by which I mean that it's a story that has a particular resonance in our culture and that people believe to be true). I'm not arguing against talent or that some humans have achieved great things, but that there's nothing inherent about them that makes them better than other humans. Some people achieve the status where people ascribe genius to them through a combination of work and luck and that's all that is needed to explain it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:11 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


People here complaining about how James Cameron's writing doesn't do it for them are people who've apparently spent their lifetimes not paying attention to James Cameron movies. Avatar was the first movie of his I ever saw, and even I wasn't stupid enough to go in expecting a plot. The fact that we're sitting around here arguing about the one thing Cameron does horribly goes to show how a lot of smart people are willing to be very stupid in order to express our inner rages.

It's possible to be a brilliant moviemaker and still suck ass at writing. James Cameron's brilliance has to do with special effects, with pushing for incredible elaborate movie set-ups that have never been done before. Do we all remember how they had to invent a brand-new camera in order to shoot this film? Or how the entire movie was CGI and managed not to look much like it? Or the terrific 3D handling that blew away every other 3D movie to date? That's the brilliant stuff. The plot exists in order to keep us nominally involved in the brilliant effects.

If you really want to talk about brilliant, look at the camerawork in Avatar, that gets away with some ridiculous stuff because it's not entirely real even when it looks real. There are shots that have an unbelievable flow, and I'm not just talking action scenes or running-through-woods scenes. There are a few sequences when Sully is still a jughead in the beginning, going through the facility, where lots of information is conveyed in short periods of time because the camera's capable of being exactly where it's supposed to be. After coming out of a semester shooting my first student film, I couldn't help but be envious of how perfectly it all worked. It didn't have a Coen Brothers-esque sense of absolute visual perfection, but James Cameron doesn't make movies that are still enough for that style to work. He did have some perfect sequences, even if the writing underneath was shit.

Speaking of missing the point: I can't helpbut find these Avatar depressants a little pathetic. Not because they liked the movie, but because they haven't been able to find any sort of beauty here on Earth. Maybe I'm lucky, because I grew up in a mountain town and got lots of breaktaking views and shocking greens and spent every summer of my youth building tree forts, but there's a hell of a lot of awesome things here that're worth a view.

Not just in nature. I moved to Philadelphia this year and have to resist the constant nagging to enter every building and ride the elevators around to every floor for the sheer architecture of it all. There was already an incident regarding a medical center with a particularly attractive walkway I just had to see from the inside.

(That's normal? Right?)
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:14 PM on January 14, 2010 [10 favorites]


Well yeah, "post-colonialism" came about because the world powers realized that economics and military advisers delivered more bang for the buck (along with plausible deniability) than expeditionary forces.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:14 PM on January 14, 2010


I am a little bemused by the people who claim that the movie is "just like Pocahontas again" or whatever. The basic plot of the movie - an outsider who comes to identify with the plight of an oppressed people and eventually leads them in rebellion - is a fairly old trope; you can even see echoes of it in old Robin Hood stories and so on. So the movie is not simply copying an older movie as much as using a time-tested plot structure, which is entirely appropriate as Cameron was self-consciously aiming to create a movie with mythic overtones. Plus, well, Pocahontas didn't have ten-foot tall blue aliens...

Also, to all the people raging over the praising of Cameron as a genius - can you please accept that others may enjoy and greatly value movies that you personally do not? I do happen to think that Cameron is a genius (albeit a flawed one), due to the superb way his earlier movies merge sci-fi action with humanist sentiment.
posted by fearthehat at 12:16 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah Cameron is a genius at making a certain kind of entertainment. You don't think that dude is extremely intelligent and intuitive? Hell yeah he is, whether you like his corny-ass movies or not. I like (many of) his corny-ass movies fwiw. It's spectacle, man! Like the Ten Commandments! We all knew how it was going to end but we saw it anyway. For the spectacle, man! The spectacle of Charlton Heston in a tunic! You get it now?
posted by Mister_A at 12:21 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Welcome to Philly, Rory!
posted by Mister_A at 12:22 PM on January 14, 2010


The feeling that I took away from Avatar was one of overwhelming sadness for the human condition.

You know, a lot of you are railing about how hamhanded his presentation of the various themes were, but if he's trying to make a point, that's exactly how you have to do it. People everywhere aren't geniuses. They don't understand the complicated dynamics that make certain movies great while rendering others into steaming piles. And you know what, odds are you all are not the people Cameron was trying to reach with his ideas. I'm sure most of you already agree with "imperialism, is bad" and you seem to be arguing over the implementation rather than the content of the message. If that's the case, then fine, but what that means to me is that this movie simply wasn't made for you.
posted by scrutiny at 12:23 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, to all the people raging over the praising of Cameron as a genius - can you please accept that others may enjoy and greatly value movies that you personally do not? I do happen to think that Cameron is a genius (albeit a flawed one), due to the superb way his earlier movies merge sci-fi action with humanist sentiment.

How about we take it a step further and remind ourselves all that "genius" is a word, not an objective appraisal of a man, and that when you start to get that upset over people using a word, you're probably due for a nice outdoor walk.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:24 PM on January 14, 2010


(That's normal? Right?)

Every time I drive north into Chicago on Lakeshore Drive, I'm awestruck by the beauty of it all and a sense of pride that I'm a part of a long line of crazy apes who have built it all. So if it ain't normal Rory, at least yer not alone!
posted by Wink Ricketts at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Mister A!
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:25 PM on January 14, 2010


People here complaining about how James Cameron's writing doesn't do it for them are people who've apparently spent their lifetimes not paying attention to James Cameron movies.

So if only we "paid more attention", we would surely arrive at the conclusion that James Cameron is a great film-maker. Got it.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:27 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


So if only we "paid more attention", we would surely arrive at the conclusion that James Cameron is a great film-maker. Got it.

If you'd paid more attention to Cameron's work, you wouldn't have gone in with the expectation of a decent plot.
posted by fatbird at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Avatar was the first movie of his I ever saw, and even I wasn't stupid enough to go in expecting a plot.

You may interested in checking out Terminator 2, which not only has a plot, but has a DAMN good plot, completely upending the timeworn slasher-victim-runs-helplessly-from-unstoppable-killer trope he worked to establish in the first Terminator movie. It's pretty much the standard I'm holding Cameron to in my badmouthing of Avatar. Terminator 2 gives us a lead character who:

A) is often unlikeable, but who we root for anyway, because some amount of unlikeableness is a standard part of humanity, and we're happy to watch the potential for personal growth that affords

B) is willing to make sacrifices in order to accomplish her goals, succeeding at protecting her child / humanity at the cost of her own soul and anything resembling a pleasant life

C) learns and changes over time, like real people do, rather than being a quick sketch of an Awesome Hero Who Does Some Things

D) Sweats. Fucking sweats and bleeds. Fucking sweats and bleeds and screams like an actual organism, rather than a big ol' video game character.

Man, Terminator 2 is a great movie. I'm kind of shocked it exists, as it's more or less a best-case scenario of what I might imagine if I idly pondered, "Terminator was a pretty good horror movie, but what would a balls-to-the-wall feminist sequel to that film look like?"
posted by Greg Nog at 12:35 PM on January 14, 2010 [15 favorites]


I'm a little amused by the idea presented in this thread that quality in a film is a zero-sum game: If you want to have neato visuals, well of course the story and characterization will be shitty! That's the only thing that makes sense!
posted by shakespeherian at 12:36 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, she suffered and failed impressively on the way to winning in T2, which is the key to the film. It's like the Raiders of the Lost Ark in a way. Hero up against long odds gets his ass kicked repeatedly but grits it out and wins in the end.
posted by Mister_A at 12:38 PM on January 14, 2010


If you'd paid more attention to Cameron's work, you wouldn't have gone in with the expectation of a decent plot.

But that's just it - I never talked about his writing. I talked about the way his movies look. They look good, they're well-shot, all the i's dotted and t's crossed; they're just not spectacular or remarkable in anyway I can remember.

And to the "genius" remark - Cameron being called a genius doesn't bug me. One person after another howling in my face about how much of a genius Cameron is does. The skywriting remark was meant as a joke. I haven't flown a plane in ages.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:40 PM on January 14, 2010


Cameron being called a genius doesn't bug me either. It's just that, more and more, it seems that the word 'genius' is coming to mean 'person who makes products that I like.'
posted by shakespeherian at 12:42 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Your favorite mainstream furry fantasy sucks.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2010


It's possible to be a brilliant moviemaker special effects designer and still suck ass at writing.

FTFY.
posted by Saxon Kane at 12:44 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who thinks that it's Disney's Pocahontas all over again? Seriously. I liked the move fine, but I was astonished at the ham-fisted retelling of what-seemed-obvious-to-me.

Considering that every review of the movie mentions this, and it's been said outright repeatedly in every MeFi thread that discusses it, you're probably not the only one. But thanks for your analysis.

The man is a genius, no question.

Apparently, good filmmaker + lots of $$ = genius (unless it's George Lucas amirite?)
posted by coolguymichael at 12:45 PM on January 14, 2010


fearthehat: "I am a little bemused by the people who claim that the movie is "just like Pocahontas again" or whatever. The basic plot of the movie - an outsider who comes to identify with the plight of an oppressed people and eventually leads them in rebellion - is a fairly old trope; you can even see echoes of it in old Robin Hood stories and so on. So the movie is not simply copying an older movie as much as using a time-tested plot structure, which is entirely appropriate as Cameron was self-consciously aiming to create a movie with mythic overtones."

Exactly. Well put.
posted by brundlefly at 12:47 PM on January 14, 2010


Saxon Kane: "It's possible to be a brilliant moviemaker special effects designer and still suck ass at writing.

FTFY.
"

There is more to filmmaking than writing, and quite a few well respected filmmakers are not writers at all.
posted by brundlefly at 12:49 PM on January 14, 2010


Yeah, shakespeherian is right. Every time someone discounts the story but mentions that, hey, it's okay, because visually it is something NEW!!! I think about the fact that Kubrick basically invented* the steadicam for The Shining. So he gave us a new way make movies AND a damned scary story to boot.

That said, I think there is something to the idea that movies will never be the same. Avatar was the first movie I've seen at a 3-D IMAX, and it's the first time I've thought "this is TOTALLY TOTALLY better here than it would be on my big HDTV." Most of the time I'd just as soon watch a movie at home, because I can still get an experience pretty close to a movie theater (minus crying babies and sticky floors and whatnot) but not with Avatar. And in that sense, I think it's really good that the story is simplistic and dumb. Because if it was too forward-thinking, I think it would have turned off too many people and this kind of technological leap might have been shuttered. Now that Cameron has turned people on to 3-d films, and done some interesting visual things with it and cgi, I'm hopeful that we'll get a similar experience from other directors who can also bring good stories to the screen in addition to great visuals.

* Yes yes, I know. There are instances of steadicams before The Shining, but let's not nitpick.
posted by nushustu at 12:49 PM on January 14, 2010


I was looking at this Picasso the other day and I was all like, "this dialogue sucks! Fuck cubism!"
posted by Mister_A at 12:51 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


good filmmaker + lots of $$ = genius

Heaven's Gate.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:53 PM on January 14, 2010


Heaven's Gate is one of the best films ever made. All criticism of that film from the time is based on a butchered studio recut. The actual picture as intended is film at its finest. He may have had too much rope, so to speak, (he certainly hanged his career) but the film is marvelous, nonetheless.
posted by shmegegge at 12:56 PM on January 14, 2010


Cameron being called a genius doesn't bug me either. It's just that, more and more, it seems that the word 'genius' is coming to mean 'person who makes products that I like.'

Would it make you feel better if I said that I try not to overuse the word genius, but that in terms of movie design I think Cameron qualifies? I'm having a hard time thinking of somebody better at figuring out sets and costumes and special effects.

I think about the fact that Kubrick basically invented the steadicam for The Shining. So he gave us a new way make movies AND a damned scary story to boot.

You see, but this is where subjectivity kicks in. I saw The Shining for the first time last year, and it meant nothing to me. I thought the acting was overdone and Jack Nicholson failed to unnerve me in the least. It felt too sterile to work as a horror for me. So if I were going to judge Kubrick on the merits of that movie alone, he'd get a "nice special effects shots" sticker and little else.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:58 PM on January 14, 2010


Stomping the natives makes economic sense only when it's not that hard to stomp them, especially when they're on another planet.

It's not hard to stomp them.

They have some kind of starship that gets them there in five (subjective) years. So either they're superluminal, or they're almost-C relativistic. So build a few more ships, load them with... it doesn't matter. Lead. Dung. Dead bodies. And smack them into Pandora without bothering to decelerate.

Or, unless they've already used up all Earth's fissionables, cobalt bombs are cheap and compact.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:00 PM on January 14, 2010


It's just that, more and more, it seems that the word 'genius' is coming to mean 'person who does frustratingly-neurotic retail tech support for the company that makes products that I like.'

FTFY
posted by jock@law at 1:00 PM on January 14, 2010


Did it occur to anyone else that making the aliens similar to humans but obviously non-human was a way of getting past CGI limitations that could lead to an uncanny valley?
posted by Araucaria at 1:01 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Part of the issue with just seeing The Shining last year, if I may be so bold, is that the well-developed persona of Jack Nicholson prevents you from seeing anything except Jack Nicholson chewing the scenery. If you saw it before the full-blown development of that persona (in fact The Shining did more than any other film to create the Jack persona) then it could really scare the hell out of you. Or not, depending on taste...
posted by Mister_A at 1:02 PM on January 14, 2010


I mean, you know there are real people who are geniuses, right? It's not just, like, a figurative term?
I'm not quite sure what you think 'genius' means but it often applies to people who are just good at various creative endeavors. A genius director, a genius composer, and so on. I'm sure James Cameron would count in that sense, at least for a lot of people.

Other then that, I'm not sure what you mean. People who are good at math or something?
The fact that we're sitting around here arguing about the one thing Cameron does horribly goes to show how a lot of smart people are willing to be very stupid in order to express our inner rages.
I know. I mean, criticisms like "I didn't understand why they needed the unobtanium!" or whatever when we're talking about a movie that involves giant blue aliens who otherwise look just like humans and interact with each other the same way and have learned English.
posted by delmoi at 1:05 PM on January 14, 2010


The only interpretation for Avatar that matters is my interpretation.
posted by Rashomon at 1:09 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


There is more to filmmaking than writing, and quite a few well respected filmmakers are not writers at all.

Respected because they know enough to hire decent writers so they have more than just neato CGI to present to their audiences.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:10 PM on January 14, 2010


If you saw it before the full-blown development of that persona (in fact The Shining did more than any other film to create the Jack persona) then it could really scare the hell out of you. Or not, depending on taste...

I guess that's possible, but I still feel that Kubrick did a lackluster horror movie in comparison to Stephen King's original. I mean, King doesn't have the technical mastery in his prose that Kubrick does in his film, but at the heart of the novel was an abusive father who loved his family but was terrifyingly human and prone to violence. With the movie, you don't get that. There wasn't enough of a connection between the family to make Jack's being evil really horrifying.
posted by Rory Marinich at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


So...I'm not remotely interested in seeing this in the theater, because movie prices are now high enough that a film has to practically be better than Shakespeare for me not to walk out of there feeling angry that I've been ripped off (and that's not accounting for 3D and IMAX mark-up).

Would this be remotely worth seeing on a regular non-HD television on DVD in a year or two, or should I just not even bother?
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:11 PM on January 14, 2010


I guess that's possible, but I still feel that Kubrick did a lackluster horror movie in comparison to Stephen King's original.

you are welcome to this opinion.
posted by shmegegge at 1:12 PM on January 14, 2010


Yeah, totally valid criticism, Rory. That sterility has been noted in many Kubrick films.
posted by Mister_A at 1:13 PM on January 14, 2010


I was looking at this Picasso the other day and I was all like, "this dialogue sucks! Fuck cubism!"

Did that even make sense while you were typing it?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:15 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Would this be remotely worth seeing on a regular non-HD television on DVD in a year or two

IMHO... abso-fuckin-tively not.

The only interpretation for Avatar that matters is my interpretation.
posted by Rashomon


Favorited as Eponygeniustyerical.
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:18 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm taking a moment to snark at the word "unobtainium".

Other than that, Avatar was fantastic. Don't read so much into it and just enjoy it as a good movie.
posted by Malice at 1:22 PM on January 14, 2010


What fatbird said, and something else that the nuke-it-from-orbit types aren't considering: that dropping that much ordnance on the planet surface might make the unobtanium permanently unusable, in the same way that you can't use nukes to mine coal. That's the great thing about making up elements, as innumerable Star Trek writers know: nothing's better for plugging up plot holes.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:22 PM on January 14, 2010


Also WRT Kubrick's The Shining: it doesn't help that the movie's signature moments have been parodied to death. Plus, there were some things that couldn't be accomplished with the technology of the day, like the animated topiary, that ended up getting dropped.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:25 PM on January 14, 2010


Did that even make sense while you were typing it?

The sense of it is absurd—like Peewee Herman. Like life. There is a deeper truth to it than the shifting truth of the mere written word. I have seen a glimmer of what lies beneath the thin crepe paper you call reality. And what I have seen is - sausage.
posted by Mister_A at 1:30 PM on January 14, 2010


Saxon Kane: "Respected because they know enough to hire decent writers so they have more than just neato CGI to present to their audiences."

I would say that Cameron is a damn fine filmmaker (in construction of scenes, editing, production design, direction of actors, etc.) whose weak point at times* is in his writing. I'm not the world's biggest fan of Cameron, but to dismiss him as nothing more than an effects guy seems really off base.

*I will stand by the Terminator films and Aliens.
posted by brundlefly at 1:31 PM on January 14, 2010


The Shining is more about IMHO the nature of violence in the abstract, the family unit as essentially abusive, and The White Man as Death. The sterility I always thought was a feature, not a bug.

(that being said, it is harmed by knowing who Nicholson is)
posted by The Whelk at 1:32 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


*I will stand by the Terminator films and Aliens.

I'll probably catch a lot of shit for this, but despite how much I love Aliens, I've gotta say that the dialogue is pretty piss-poor.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:34 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


What? "GAME FUCKIN' OVER, MAN!" is brilliant, man.
posted by Mister_A at 1:36 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ripley's "Get away from her, you BITCH!" line seemed a bit pinched.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:38 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The "James Cameron Meant For It To Be Stupid So It Being Stupid Is A Good Thing" argument is kind of depressing.
posted by EarBucket at 1:39 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


I love the dialogue in Aliens. It may not be realistic, but that's not a requirement in my book.

Also, what Mister_A said.
posted by brundlefly at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2010


It's possible to be a brilliant moviemaker and still suck ass at writing.

And if you don't realize this shortcoming and make sure to hire good writers to make up for it, then that makes you not-so-brilliant as a moviemaker.
posted by deanc at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Would this be remotely worth seeing on a regular non-HD television on DVD in a year or two, or should I just not even bother?

IMO, No.

I spent 15.50 to see it in DVD at a non-Imax theater. The special effects were incredible, but the experience won't transfer well to video.
posted by zarq at 1:44 PM on January 14, 2010


For what it's worth, special effects are what happens when a bunch of guys go out and physically create an effect.

Visual effects or digital effects are what happen in a film like Avatar, when the vast majority of the gee-whiz is computer-generated. Just sayin'; there is a distinction between a nerd like me pushing pixels and a guy out there with a box of detcord.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:48 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


there were some things that couldn't be accomplished with the technology of the day, like the animated topiary, that ended up getting dropped.

I think the Doctor Who episode "Blink" was a fine example of how Kubrick could have done the animated topiary animals with the technology of the time and made it perhaps equally scary.

What is more terrifying? Seeing a hedge lion move, or looking at it twice and having seen that it has changed in between glances?

I'm much more a fan of the novel than the movie when it comes to The Shining, but much of that has to do with the basic inability of ANY film to deal with a character's internal state very well, and most of that book is internal.
posted by hippybear at 1:54 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


hippybear: "I think the Doctor Who episode "Blink" was a fine example of how Kubrick could have done the animated topiary animals with the technology of the time and made it perhaps equally scary.

What is more terrifying? Seeing a hedge lion move, or looking at it twice and having seen that it has changed in between glances?
"

It's been years, but wasn't that actually the way they moved in the novel?
posted by brundlefly at 1:56 PM on January 14, 2010


I saw it in 4-D, and I have to tell you, I didn't like the Obama-centric subtext.
posted by blue_beetle at 1:58 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The plot exists in order to keep us nominally involved in the brilliant effects.

Very much like the latest from Vivid Video?
posted by mikelieman at 2:01 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


3D 3X. Cumming soon.
posted by Babblesort at 2:13 PM on January 14, 2010


Of course for science geeks, the whole economic premise doesn't make sense. There's very little out there in terms of minerals that isn't:
1: also abundant in our cosmic backyard
2: couldn't be synthesized or substituted
3: is so deep within a gravity well that we couldn't use it (degenerate neutronium).

The economic bang for interstellar travel (a premise that is on the same level as Hogwarts) would have to be information and biodiversity. Because the products of the supermassive parallel development structures we call culture and evolution are much rarer than those of geologic forces.

But then again, I know that the writers have their brain on hold when the crew of ships that travel between star systems not only need to search for water, but strangely potable water at that.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:20 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I've learned from this thread:

-James Cameron is a genius and is more deserving of praise than Kubrick
-Avatar is the best sci-fi movie ever made and is better than a Cohen Brothers film

Did I miss anything?
posted by P.o.B. at 2:42 PM on January 14, 2010


You forgot that by recycling an old narrative but setting it in space, he subverted the old narrative completely even though every other aspect of the story remained the same.
posted by billysumday at 2:44 PM on January 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


Also, there's only one H in 'Coen Brothers.'
posted by box at 2:46 PM on January 14, 2010


Cameron is a genius, or perhaps a savant, in that he has been able to make 2 movies that gross over a billion dollars in a row. No matter what you think of the movie, who else has that ability? I mean, most people don't criticize Warren Buffet over what crappy corporations he makes investments in, as long as he's making a ton of money.

I think being critical of the movie doesn't affect Cameron as much as it hurts the feelings of the people who love the movie.

But, then again, I liked the movie.

Also, there is likely no way I will ever buy it on DVD or Blu Ray until I am satisfied with 3d technology at home. I've seen what's coming out in terms of 3d tech in the next year, and I'm not impressed. Not to mention, I couldn't afford it anyways.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:49 PM on January 14, 2010


P.o.B.: "-James Cameron is a genius and is more deserving of praise than Kubrick
-Avatar is the best sci-fi movie ever made and is better than a Cohen Brothers film
"

Can you point out where any of these things were said?
posted by brundlefly at 2:50 PM on January 14, 2010


That is to say, Cameron is a genius film maker in a way we don't typically define genius film makers (i.e. not the same genius-metric that Kubrick or the Coen Bros are measured with).
posted by jabberjaw at 2:51 PM on January 14, 2010


What I've learned from this thread:

The only takeaway from this thread you should have is that use of the term "genius" is more like a shotgun blast than a laser incision.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:53 PM on January 14, 2010


H in 'Coen Brothers.

Damnit!

Actually I have two questions that are a little off topic:

When the hell did Sully have time to take a crap?
and
why did Snake Eyes have a mouth on his suit?
posted by P.o.B. at 2:54 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


P.o.B.: "When the hell did Sully have time to take a crap?"

In the avatar body or in the human body that was lying around while he was in the avatar body, because I wondered about both.
posted by brundlefly at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2010


I don't know the first one, but Snake Eyes has a mouth on his suit for the same reason people in pornography wear shoes.
posted by box at 2:56 PM on January 14, 2010


I don't know the first one, but Snake Eyes has a mouth on his suit for the same reason people in pornography wear shoes.

To make you feel awkward and depressed?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:58 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


P.o.B., the number of people who want to see a crippled Sam Worthington and/or ten foot tall blue alien taking a dump in 3D is, while undoubtedly above zero, too small to warrant the inclusion of such a scene in a $237 million dollar major motion picture.
posted by fearthehat at 3:04 PM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


What fatbird said, and something else that the nuke-it-from-orbit types aren't considering: that dropping that much ordnance on the planet surface might make the unobtanium permanently unusable, in the same way that you can't use nukes to mine coal.

They don't need to nuke it. They can just throw rocks at it.

They can throw ungodly fast rocks at it from Earth. Or they can just get out to Pandora's stellar system and throw local rocks at it. Pandora's a moon of a gas giant; it's almost at the bottom of a deep, deep gravity well, so any rocks you throw at it will hit Real. Fucking. Hard.

Drop a few rocks on it and wait a year for it to freeze solid under the dust. Or throw a few rocks REALLY hard and crack it open.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:12 PM on January 14, 2010


Jonah Goldberg, the Liberal Fascism guy, wrote a column complaining that the blue cat people should have been Christians.

I don't even have anything to say about that. Just throwing that out there. If you want to say dumb things about blue cat people, the sky is the limit.

Granted, that's the ultimate complaint every neocon has about the marine embracing "pantheism." Of course, they'd have the same freakout if they worshiped Polyface, the three faced God who was both three seperate things and one thing at once who was everywhere at all times, who sent one of his faces to live as a blue cat person and then be killed by the Roman-like blue cat people. A bigger freakout, actually, as they'd then say depicting Romans in a bad light is anti-Catholic. I think conservatives doth protest too much when they say liberals offend easily.

Misposted here.
posted by mccarty.tim at 3:27 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course for science geeks, the whole economic premise doesn't make sense. There's very little out there in terms of minerals that isn't:
1: also abundant in our cosmic backyard
2: couldn't be synthesized or substituted
3: is so deep within a gravity well that we couldn't use it (degenerate neutronium).


Well...maybe Unobtainium is an unexpectedly stable element with an ultra-heavy nucleus with room temperature superconducting properties that was created in significant quantities in an unusual supernova that created the nebula that the Pandoran system formed in. That would explain why it's 1) not found in our solar system 2) can't be meaningfully synthesized and 3) is found in a relatively accessible place like Pandora.

I mean, it's still pseudo-scientific technobabble but at least it's more than the total handwavey "it's a magic rock, deal with it" that we got from the movie.
posted by jedicus at 3:33 PM on January 14, 2010



Would this be remotely worth seeing on a regular non-HD television on DVD in a year or two, or should I just not even bother?

In my insignificant and unimportant and deeply 'umble opinion, absolutely it is worth it. It would help not to read all the snarking parodies first, of course. I thought it was beautiful (and didn't see it in 3D), emotional, compelling and engrossing. After it has settled for awhile I'll probably try to see it in 3D just for the experience, but that certainly isn't necessary.

There are a few other people out there who think it is a really good movie -- if not the greatest work of literary or scifi genius ever penned -- as it is a global hit, not a one weekend wonder. Do see it if you can.
posted by bearwife at 3:44 PM on January 14, 2010


warrant the inclusion of such a scene in a $237 million dollar major motion picture.

Take it easy there sicko! I was only curious. I just want massive amounts of death and destruction in my ultra-costly-super-genius film, not normal everyday body process'.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:47 PM on January 14, 2010


Cameron has had his moments as a screenwriter. The fate of Vasquez [not to be confused with Vasquez Wanna-Be] chokes up Mrs. B and I every time. Even in the generally dreck-tacular Titanic, that one shot of the old couple clinging to each other in bed as the water rushes in makes up for a lot.

But other than Sigourney Weaver's avatar wearing a Stanford t-shirt, I don't recall a single moment in this movie that didn't feel recycled and lifeless. It wouldn't have taken much. Maybe 20 seconds of dialogue for the Stephen Lang character talking about how he became a soldier because he wanted his old man to be proud of him. With the shadow of self-doubt across his eyes quickly banished...

But no... he had to be a cartoon villain through and through. We don't want to jeopardize Fox's $300 million investment.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:54 PM on January 14, 2010


Actually, I've known quite a few marine officers and Stephen Lang's character behaves exactly like some mid-level career officers. They're fighters, that's what they do and what they love. Of course there's a lot to them, but they still are pretty straightforward people in some respect. Their nuance is their lack of nuance. Remember General Mattis that said some people need shootin'? I've seen him speak before and some people are so . . . one thing that they can seem cartoony. But they exist. So perhaps insisting that everyone be deep on many levels is more a fiction from books and movies than a seemingly unbelievable character.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:01 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Saw the movie a few hours ago and I just wanted Jeff Goldblum to connect his MacBook to the planet. It's like trees -> apples -> appletalk, duh
posted by uandt at 4:08 PM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oi! Don't be watering down Colonel Nutcase. If anything teh movie needs him to be more nutcasey, not less.
posted by Artw at 4:16 PM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


I thought he was the best part of the movie.
posted by brundlefly at 4:19 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is what my friend Sam said, he is often much more eloquent than I can ever hope to be:

"On a Palinesque, culture warrior level, I like having an aggressively left wing movie making obscene amounts of money. However, I guess I see it as a net defeat when simplisticness, stupidity, violence that solves everything, characters whose middle names are all secretly Cipher and deliberate/lazy shallow writing on all fronts win the day. There... See More's less distance between the white guilt jackoff fantasy of a benevolent honky saving those fetishization-ready underdeveloped noble savages and reading those same noble savages' lack of development as a justification for plowing them out of the way so we can get to their resources than most people realize. You see hundreds of Na'vi in this movie, yet they have (at most) one character between them. Common humanity is a really hard idea to buy when there aren't people involved. I buy "Avatar" as an unprecedented spectacle, but it runs counter to nearly everything that makes something legitimately good and plays into basically everything that makes blockbusters part of a larger cultural disease."
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 4:22 PM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


I second that James Cameron can be, and often is, a good screenwriter. Both Terminator 1 and 2 and Aliens prove that. (And no, screenwriting is not mostly about dialogue).

But I think one of the best things he's written is a movie he didn't direct: Strange Days. It's a smart plot, well structured, good ideas, and the dialogue is quite excellent, for those keeping track of that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:38 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Only realistic sequel to Avatar, based on the events of the movie: either no one ever comes back, because they really don't need that shit that much, or they come back in 5/10/20 years with a gene tailored virus and wipe out the entire Na'vi population. Seriously, they have the biotech to create the Avatars, they have what they need to get ride of the population without any danger to themselves.
posted by Caduceus at 4:41 PM on January 14, 2010


Joakim Ziegler: "But I think one of the best things he's written is a movie he didn't direct: Strange Days. It's a smart plot, well structured, good ideas, and the dialogue is quite excellent, for those keeping track of that."

Seconding this. Really, really great film. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who is finally getting her due.
posted by brundlefly at 4:45 PM on January 14, 2010


Well, yeah, unless it turns out Pandora is just plain better at biotech. Personally I'd go in the direction of Pandora turning out to be the universes most wussy Tyranid swarm - until messed with.
posted by Artw at 4:52 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


(basically leave any SF franchise with me and it'll end up looking like WH40K fan fic eventually)
posted by Artw at 4:53 PM on January 14, 2010


I mean, it's still pseudo-scientific technobabble but at least it's more than the total handwavey "it's a magic rock, deal with it" that we got from the movie.

It's true that that's all we got from the final cut of the film. However, the actual screenplay (PDF link!) includes a lot of stuff that was cut from the film, including this bit of voiceover from Jake, as the AVTR team approaches Site 26:


WIDE AERIAL -- the Samson is tiny as it approaches the floating islands of rock. An archipelago among the clouds, they cast great shadows over the forested slopes below.

JAKE (V.O.)

Yeah, so what does hold them up? Grace explained it to me -- some kind of maglev effect because unobtanium is a superconductor, or something. At least somebody understands it. Just not me.

So, you know, at least you see what Cameron was trying to do there. His editorial process is notoriously brutal-- if he has to cut for time, entire B-plots suffer his wrath, and so does any exposition. The screenplay is actually different in some respects from the film we all saw, and I think I like it a little better... although not as much as I enjoyed the original "scriptment" Cameron wrote, which you should be able to dig up on your own with a little Googling and application of bugmenot to get into pastebin sites. I find Cameron's scriptment style quite engaging overall; it's somewhere between a regular screenplay and a story bible.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 4:57 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The superconducting thing is kind of weird - all the setup for it is there - the magnetic flux, the whole thing being premised around them being there for some kind of mineral with unusual properties, the little rock that the corporate weasel uses as his desk toy when placed in a stand - it's kind of surprising that there's no cluehammer line tying it together.

I have to say that I find "OMG, I cannot possibly put this together for myself!" kind of discouraging as a criticism - I actually rather like figuring out little things like that for myself.

(And "OMG, floating rocks are so unsciencey just seems douchey given the superconductor thing. Now, if you were going to get into some kind of proper nerd argument about magnetic fields, superconductors and the shear mass of rock...)
posted by Artw at 5:11 PM on January 14, 2010


Oh, so it levitates because it's in the flux tube between Pandora and the gas giant. Neat.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:15 PM on January 14, 2010


Now you see, I personally like science fiction with double-helpings of unobtanium and handwavium. The mere fact that it happens in another solar system puts it firmly into the category of fantasy stories with vaugely sciency window-dressing. As long as you can deliver the fucking cool, I don't really care if you try to justify your Macguffins, and trying to do so more often makes the writer look like a blathering idiot with something to hide.

(It's the same argument I'll make about Fringe foot-long viruses don't matter, because Walter is a fucking cool mad scientist.)
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:32 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah I'm surprised at how much I like Fringe. I know it's trash but hey, same thing with Oreos.
posted by Mister_A at 6:03 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


"OMG, floating rocks are so unsciencey" just seems douchey given the superconductor thing.

Well, the movie and screenplay and scriptment do, to varying degrees, explain why Unobtainium is valuable (i.e., it's a room temperature superconductor that enables levitation with little energy input), but they don't seem to explain why it can't be synthesized on Earth and must be mined from Pandora. The theory that Unobtainium is a super heavy element makes considerably more sense than the explanations given in the texts.

The scriptment, in particular, claims that it is a 'rare earth mineral, formed volcanically.' Given that the scriptment indicates that fusion power is commonplace on the base and spaceships and the script even states that the spaceship is powered by antimatter, it's hard to see how we wouldn't be capable of or have the energy necessary to synthesize something that forms under mere volcanic conditions. Shoot, we can already mass produce industrial diamonds on the cheap and gem quality diamonds are getting less expensive every year.

Of course, if you really want to criticize the science, look at the scriptment's claims about Pandora's atmosphere: "a poisonous brew of ammonia, methane, CO2, oxygen and nitrogen. Even a little hydrogen cyanide." Can those chemicals even stably coexist at Earth-like temperatures? Even if they can, the amount of cyanide is just unbelievable.

The fact that the Pandoran atmosphere will kill a person in 4 minutes suggests that the HCN concentration is about 700ppm. In that case there's no way merely putting a mask on would save someone who had been exposed to more than a few breaths of raw atmosphere. Furthermore, any significant amount of ammonia would cause problems through exposure of the skin. A rebreather mask would be insufficient.

Cameron should've kept things simple and just said that Pandora's atmosphere is Earth-like but has a much higher concentration of CO2 (and somewhat lower nitrogen levels to leave room for oxygen; there's still enough oxygen for fires to self-sustain, for example) but its distance from its sun means that the increased greenhouse effect is beneficial. High CO2 levels are not particularly harmful to the skin, can easily be filtered out, and would cause symptoms like those in the movie, symptoms which could be solved by simply putting the mask back on.
posted by jedicus at 6:10 PM on January 14, 2010 [8 favorites]


Nerd alert!
posted by billysumday at 6:15 PM on January 14, 2010


The most interesting criticism of Avatar I've read is right here on MeFi, by Pastabagel.
Pastabagel's "This is the only version of this story where the natives win" thesis is an interesting idea


Pastabagel's comment was interesting, but he cited historical-based stories/movies for this comparison. I would think that citing fictional stories/movies for the comparison would be a bit more appropriate. And in fictional stories/movies, the people with the more primitive technology almost always win, just like in Avatar.

Neo and his buddies battle and defeat the far-advanced weaponry of the machines.
The humans beat the aliens in Independence Day -- and probably almost every other alien-invasion movie.
The ragtag group of rebels take down the Empire and the freaking Death Star in Star Wars.

So in The Matrix, Star Wars, and Independence Day, the natives who are less technologically advanced win. Those strike me as pretty big examples.

The native inhabitants of a moon that supports life live a very peaceful life. They have hostile humans land on their moon to take advantage of its energy source. Other friendly humans land on the planet and work with them. Together with their own primitive weapons and the help of the wits of the friendly humans, they are able to take out the hostile humans and preserve their moon and its wonderful forests for themselves.

I am talking about the Ewoks, of course.
posted by flarbuse at 6:22 PM on January 14, 2010 [5 favorites]



The glee with which the American Marines participate in this massacre is appalling and does not show the true feelings and concerns of the real United States Military.

HmmmOk, you do know it's not a documentary?
posted by mattoxic at 6:26 PM on January 14, 2010


The past 7 nights in a row my wife has asked me to have sex with her, and I just havent been in the mood. Scratch that. I'm incredibly horny most of the time, but I dont feel attracted to her anymore. The sight of her naked literally does nothing for me, and I'm frightened by that. Instead I imagine Neytiri. Her majestic grace and boundless beauty as well as the alien mystery about her. I want to fly off to pandora and live with her, to be with her always. I would worship her as she deserves. I'd do anything to just to touch her, to smell her.

Well this is evidence to add to my theory that Avatar is a superstimulus of earth bound "going native" fantasies.
posted by afu at 6:46 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's why I think this movie bothers contemporary American conservatives and gets under their skin. It has nothing to do with the natives vs. exploiters and whose vision triumphs historically.

The conservative mindset right now is all about seeing oneself as tough by mocking the caricature of bleeding-heart liberalism mixed with 90s identity politics. Think of how mockable Sean Penn was right before the Iraq War for going to Iraq. Oh those poor Iraqis! Shut up you spoiled Hollywood know-nothing--Saddam is evil and we're not going to appease him, we're going to liberate those Iraqis! None of this cultural relativism, they want to be free just like us!

Avatar must bother those conservatives because Cameron seems to get the macho attitude of his Blackwateresque goons, who mock the scientists and philologists for their New Agey pretensions. He gets the macho attitude, but rejects it--the warriors have become the clueless one-dimensional cartoon characters to defy and not the bleeding hearts.

U.S. conservatives are all about expelling from themselves and projecting onto the liberal "other" any sort of weakness they fear they have. Avatar holds up the conservative ideal self-image and mocks it.
posted by Schmucko at 6:48 PM on January 14, 2010 [7 favorites]


In other words, my what an interesting plate of beans to think over!
posted by Schmucko at 6:49 PM on January 14, 2010


Of course, if you really want to criticize the science, look at the scriptment's claims about Pandora's atmosphere:

All science questions go out the window once you accept that a stone age civilization is a legitimate military threat to a civilization that has mastered faster than light travel.
posted by afu at 6:53 PM on January 14, 2010


Yeah, the David beating Goliath part of the story isn't surpising and doesn't nearly bother me as much as the lack of telling it to me in an interesting way.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:31 PM on January 14, 2010


And the meaning of the name
avatar?
posted by Postroad at 7:35 PM on January 14, 2010


I think Cameron mixed up which Poul Anderson story he was lifting from.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:07 PM on January 14, 2010


All science questions go out the window once you accept that a stone age civilization is a legitimate military threat to a civilization that has mastered faster than light travel.

I actually got the impression from the movie, script, and scriptment that it wasn't FTL but rather relativistic. The spaceship is described as using a fusion or antimatter drive, depending on the source. Still, I'll grant that it's pretty advanced propulsion either way.

As for the legitimacy of the military threat I would submit three points. First, the humans are greatly outnumbered; it appears that there are at most a couple of thousand military contractors on Pandora. Second, it seems likely that many of the military contractors never had reason to leave the base, so during the main battle the Na'vi had a definite advantage in the terrain.

Third, and this is the big one, the military contractors have limited ammunition, weapons, and weapon platforms. Consider, for example, how many of the troops were on foot instead of in AMPs (the robotic suits). Consider how they only had one heavy aircraft. Consider how they had no heavy bombers or bombs but instead had to press one of the shuttles into service. And this only makes sense. Every kilogram of ordnance shipped to Pandora must cost a fortune and it's one less kilogram of mining equipment. Every person making guns, ammunition, etc locally is one less person engaged in mining. One gets the impression that the final battle is an all out attack; they were literally firing every last bullet and sending in every last mercenary they had.

Frankly, what strains credulity is just how much weaponry the humans had. I think a more realistic movie (and one with more dramatic tension) would have had a fairly minimal security team with more non-military personnel pressed into service. This would run more along the lines of Alien or Terminator, where a minority of military personnel (Ellen Ripley, Kyle Reese) along with reluctant non-military characters are set against an apparently overwhelming, inhuman enemy.

Of course, other posters are right in that the whole thing would've been most easily solved (albeit immorally) by just dropping stuff from orbit or from even further up the gravity well. You can kill the natives and churn up the Unobtainium all in one go that way.
posted by jedicus at 9:17 PM on January 14, 2010


Really, that Metacontextual Edition writeup deserves it's own FPP here

Yeah, that was one of the funniest things I have read in a long, long time, and really does point out how Avatar could have been a better movie in so many ways. Thanks for the link, zarq!!
posted by KokuRyu at 9:39 PM on January 14, 2010


Frankly, what strains credulity is just how much weaponry the humans had. I think a more realistic movie (and one with more dramatic tension) would have had a fairly minimal security team with more non-military personnel pressed into service. This would run more along the lines of Alien or Terminator, where a minority of military personnel (Ellen Ripley, Kyle Reese) along with reluctant non-military characters are set against an apparently overwhelming, inhuman enemy.

Wait now, that would mean the movie is focusing on something more than CG effects?

It's funny how Cameron's most expensive project to date didn't bother to pick up some of the lessons from his own previous movies, which were pretty damned good.

I don't remember when he reportedly first started fantasizing about that movie, but it must have been the early teens, considering what the script is really about...
posted by wet-raspberry at 10:25 PM on January 14, 2010


Frankly, what strains credulity is just how much weaponry the humans had. I think a more realistic movie (and one with more dramatic tension) would have had a fairly minimal security team with more non-military personnel pressed into service. This would run more along the lines of Alien or Terminator, where a minority of military personnel (Ellen Ripley, Kyle Reese) along with reluctant non-military characters are set against an apparently overwhelming, inhuman enemy.

Isn't this really what Avatar is about, though? A minority of military personnel (Jake Sully, the pilot) along with mostly non-military characters (hunters, certainly, but not soldiers) set against an apparently overwhelming, all-too-human enemy?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 10:33 PM on January 14, 2010


Cameron should have incorporated more of Harry Harrison's Deathworld Trilogy into Avatar.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:21 PM on January 14, 2010


Actually, I've known quite a few marine officers and Stephen Lang's character behaves exactly like some mid-level career officers. They're fighters, that's what they do and what they love. Of course there's a lot to them, but they still are pretty straightforward people in some respect. Their nuance is their lack of nuance. Remember General Mattis that said some people need shootin'? I've seen him speak before and some people are so . . . one thing that they can seem cartoony. But they exist. So perhaps insisting that everyone be deep on many levels is more a fiction from books and movies than a seemingly unbelievable character.

This. Oh God, this. Look, not everyone has a Michael Cera Project-esque quick quip or foible ready to deploy at a moments notice. I heard the oft maligned Avatar line "You're not in Kansas anymore," repeatedly though my military basic training.

Really, military motivational speak is often either based on grand cliches or looking to score a quotable new one. That anyone thinks a phrase RE: Kansas is bad writing from a character or that a someone acting as they believe as such speaks more to the lack of experience with such people than it does from a knowledge of good screenwriting.
posted by Cyrano at 11:59 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Shoot, we can already mass produce industrial diamonds on the cheap and gem quality diamonds are getting less expensive every year.

They're not cheap. They're still more expensive then ordinary white diamonds, but for so-called 'fancy' colored diamonds, they're cheaper.

Frankly, what strains credulity is just how much weaponry the humans had. I think a more realistic movie (and one with more dramatic tension) would have had a fairly minimal security team with more non-military personnel pressed into service. This would run more along the lines of Alien or Terminator, where a minority of military personnel (Ellen Ripley, Kyle Reese) along with reluctant non-military characters are set against an apparently overwhelming, inhuman enemy.

Like OverlappingElvis said. That is how the movie played out. Just that the roles were reversed. Non-millitary Na'vi against an overwhelming human enemy.
posted by delmoi at 4:55 AM on January 15, 2010


That is how the movie played out. Just that the roles were reversed.

Is that a joke? "This is exactly how it happened, only opposite."?
posted by billysumday at 5:03 AM on January 15, 2010


KokuRyu : Cameron should have incorporated more of Harry Harrison's Deathworld Trilogy into Avatar.

Shhh! Keep your voice down! So far Hollywood has completely overlooked this series and thus it remains beautifully unspoiled. One day they are going to discover it and we will get a medium sized blockbuster treatment most likely followed by some straight to video dreck (see the Starship Troopers trilogy. Yes trilogy.). And I'll weep.

The same mostly holds true for his Stainless Steel Rat series as well. Though this is a franchise I can actually see working pretty well as a couple of movies. How they have missed it amazes me.
posted by quin at 7:47 AM on January 15, 2010


to all the people raging over the praising of Cameron as a genius - can you please accept that others may enjoy and greatly value movies that you personally do not?

Sure. Can you please accept that others may not enjoy and greatly value movies you do and say so, just as you are entitled to say the opposite?

Cameron is talented, but a film genius, not in my book.

Saw the film. It was somewhat interesting for awhile and descended into bloody awful. Just my opinion, glad others loved it.
posted by juiceCake at 8:32 AM on January 15, 2010


I think any time you accuse detractors of someone's work of "not getting it" in some form or another, you pretty much open the door to say that about any artist whatsoever, while simultaneously equating taste with some objective standard. It's not really helpful to any discussion of an artist's work to dismiss anything that isn't praise as not understanding the artist's work.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:45 AM on January 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sure. Can you please accept that others may not enjoy and greatly value movies you do and say so, just as you are entitled to say the opposite?

No. This is the internet and we will not agree to disagree.

I think any time you accuse detractors of someone's work of "not getting it" in some form or another, you pretty much open the door to say that about any artist whatsoever...

Maybe, maybe not. It's entirely possible to argue that, based on his past films, Cameron is not the type of creator to do massively nuanced films. He works in broad strokes, with some trite dialog (to me ears) at times. In that sense, I think it's fair to say that people aren't getting it if they're arguing that Cameron should have been more nuanced.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:50 AM on January 15, 2010


Granted, you're not going to rail against Michael Bay for not referencing early Dadaists. I just "you don't get it" is way too facile an argument, and highly overused.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2010


"Nuanced" ain't gonna gross anyone any billion USD.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:53 AM on January 15, 2010


In that sense, I think it's fair to say that people aren't getting it if they're arguing that Cameron should have been more nuanced.

First of all, a lot of people have problems with the plot, not just the dialog. Second of all, did you read the scriptment? It was more nuanced, more complex, more subtle than the film. So Cameron made the conscious decision to excise that stuff and go for a more direct storyline with less background, which some people thought was cool and some people didn't.

What exactly aren't we getting again?
posted by billysumday at 8:59 AM on January 15, 2010


I just "you don't get it" is way too facile an argument, and highly overused.

I agree, but I think it's important to approach art not with an expectation but with an open mind as to what it's trying to do.

I wasn't going to see Avatar at first, 'cause hey, it's Cameron and I wanted something meatier. So I saw Up In The Air to satisfy that craving (highly recommended!) and after that was ready for BIG SCREEN BATTLE, but found Avatar to be a really well done. Could the story have been deeper? Sure, no question, but that's not what Cameron was going for and the broader, archetype story worked really well here, particularly since it was giving the finger to the entire imperialist mindset.

The worst part of using such broad themes and characters in Avatar, IMO, isn't that they're so general, but rather they're mirror images of situations that have occurred the world over for thousands of years. You could dress up with nuance, but it really does boil down to less powerful group having something the more powerful group wants and the easy way that more powerful group dehumanizes the smaller in order to justify destroying or stealing from the smaller.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:06 AM on January 15, 2010


What exactly aren't we getting again?

That going for more direct storyline can still work extremely well.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:07 AM on January 15, 2010


That going for more direct storyline can still work extremely well.

Oh, see, for a second there I thought it was that you weren't getting the fact that people in this thread were expressing their personal opinions that they would rather seen a film containing a more nuanced story, but now I realize that it is our fault for having that opinion.
posted by billysumday at 9:11 AM on January 15, 2010


It's like someone saying "Hey I don't think Andrew Dice is very funny - his jokes are corny and lame and I don't appreciate all that shock-humor stuff," and someone responding with, "Well you're wrong because he sold out Madison Square Garden."

Not only does the response completely miss the target of the issue brought up by the first person, since when can a personal opinion of a work of art be incorrect?
posted by billysumday at 9:18 AM on January 15, 2010


It's like someone saying "Hey I don't think Andrew Dice is very funny - his jokes are corny and lame and I don't appreciate all that shock-humor stuff," and someone responding with, "Well you're wrong because he sold out Madison Square Garden."

I see it as "Hey, I get that you wanted more nuance and subtext from this film, but simply because it doesn't have those elements doesn't mean it's a bad film, never mind how much money it made".

These sort of differences on opinion on something we've all seen is really fascinating, i.e. we all saw the same objective content, but are viewing it through our subjective filters. I sympathize with those who disliked the film and wanted a few more details or stronger, I felt the same way about the widely praised "District 9", think it's a massive failure story wise, even though it worked in broad strokes like Cameron did.

What's difference? Are there actual story mechanics that work better in film and if so what are they and how did Cameron use them vs the director of District 9? If Cameron made the changes that the more nuanced crowd desire, would that have turned off who enjoyed the film? If so, why? These are the interesting questions to me.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:40 AM on January 15, 2010


I really loved the film. Can't wait till its out on DVD, especially the director's cut.
posted by Juglandaceae at 9:44 AM on January 15, 2010


So far Hollywood has completely overlooked this series and thus it remains beautifully unspoiled.

May 2008: Movie News Update – Deathworld.
posted by ericb at 9:45 AM on January 15, 2010


Oh, see, for a second there I thought it was that you weren't getting the fact that people in this thread were expressing their personal opinions that they would rather seen a film containing a more nuanced story, but now I realize that it is our fault for having that opinion.

If that WERE the case, then people would be stating their opinion and then be content for having had their say and would let others also have their opinion.

As happens with a lot of MeFi threads, people are expressing opinion over and over in the hopes to change someone else's opinion. This means they don't think it's an opinion about something, but rather is more objective therefore is Somehow Right, and anyone who disagrees with them is Somehow Wrong and must be swayed into Correct Thinking.

This is sometimes a feature of MeFi, and sometimes a bug.
posted by hippybear at 10:58 AM on January 15, 2010


As happens with a lot of MeFi threads, people are expressing opinion over and over in the hopes to change someone else's opinion.

If I can speak for myself, my re-stating was done more to clarify where I'm coming from (there seemed to be some confusion there, and it's entirely possible this was because of my own failure of communication), and also that other stuff about personal tastes not being the same as an objective standard.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:34 PM on January 15, 2010


I'm surely not the only one to note that Cameron has confirmed there will be at least one sequel for Avatar. Here's a look at what one blog would like the sequel to tackle.
posted by librarylis at 12:47 PM on January 15, 2010


Is that a joke? "This is exactly how it happened, only opposite."?

I'm not sure why you would find that confusing.
posted by delmoi at 3:36 PM on January 15, 2010


since when can a personal opinion of a work of art be incorrect?

oh hi welcome to the internets. that is how things are done around here.

ALSO IF YOU DON'T AGREE WITH ME YOU ARE WRONG.
posted by elizardbits at 4:08 PM on January 15, 2010


Some of the real horror is in how comparatively small-scale the human occupation of Pandora is. Like what, 1000-2000 people and a few hundred pieces of military hardware? This is a tiny franchise operation. Back on Earth the entire events of the movie are probably recounted as "...in commodities news, the price of unobtanium rose three-tenths per ounce while obtanium prices continue to fall..."
posted by cowbellemoo at 3:52 AM on January 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never realized I could disagree so strongly with Greg Nog. Terminator 2 had a great character in a movie with a crappy plot. Sure she's a nice flawed heroine, three dimensional character, etc... That's not enough to rescue the movie from mediocrity plus the causal loop plot which requires some serious quantum dope smoking to get behind. Honestly I liked the first one a hell of a lot better. In part because they minimized the audience insulting over-explanation common to sci-fi, but it was also mediocre. Maybe it's just my general impatience with late 20th century explode-y action movies.

I kind of liked Aliens, warts and all, mostly because I liked the cast.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:37 AM on January 16, 2010


delmoi, the other poster said, in effect: hey, instead of there being so many military personnel and so few na'vi, it should have been the other away around. And you reply with: well, that's the way it was! Only the opposite!

So I'm just going to chalk that up to you joking. I guess. Confused.
posted by billysumday at 5:35 AM on January 16, 2010


Ok, I'm late to this party because I just saw Avatar yesterday. With the 3D, it's probably the most astonishingly eye-popping eye candy movie I've ever seen. I went to sleep thinking about Pandora and keep thinking about how amazing the film looks. So on that score, Avatar gets an A+ from me. A++. How about a new standard? AA+

The script, though...the metacontextual link floating around this thread is pretty much dead-on, and even it missed a few more absurdities. It's Cameron's weakest script, and the live action scenes and characters are so perfunctory and one-dimensional. There's the seeds of a good story buried there--the Gaia neural brain--or whatever it is--vs the mining of unobtanium should've been a tension fulcrum for the story, but it's just swept under the rug like so many other threads. It's amazing that in a 3 hour movie so much plot development time was wasted. It's never really boring, though, that movie just flies by. Anyway, I'd give the script a generous D+.

Shit, I'm gonna have to write a full blog entry on this damn movie. Got too much to say about it.
posted by zardoz at 5:51 PM on January 16, 2010


And Avatar wins Best Picture at the Golden Globes.
posted by Atreides at 8:17 PM on January 17, 2010


Oh boy, there's going to be some whining across the internets tonight...
posted by Artw at 9:44 PM on January 17, 2010


*rends clothing, unleashes keening howl at sky, the sound vanishing into the night*
posted by Greg Nog at 9:25 AM on January 18, 2010


*screams "BUTTS BUTTS BUTTS" a few times for good measure*
posted by Greg Nog at 9:46 AM on January 18, 2010


I wonder if this sucker will have grossed over $2 billion by the time Oscar night rolls around.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:48 AM on January 18, 2010


*Gets a tattoo of James Cameron*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:24 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


*one-ups and gets a full back 3D tat of Nav'i sex scene*
posted by Burhanistan at 10:25 AM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it IMAX?
posted by Artw at 10:30 AM on January 18, 2010


Only if I shake a little while the viewer moves their head in sync.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:30 AM on January 18, 2010


*Reenacts Nav'i sex scene with Legos and furries in Stereo Scope Telepathic Vision*
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:04 AM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


*has a complete psychotic breakdown, takes a huge dose of mescaline, climbs into a tanning booth, experiences full on waking hallucination of being a Nav'i engaged in hot Nav'i intercourse, gets a nasty sunburn*
posted by Burhanistan at 11:11 AM on January 18, 2010


*paints self blue, sit naked on the couch, eating Cheetos and watching Alien, sobbing*
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:14 AM on January 18, 2010


James Cameron's Laser Cats
posted by Artw at 11:19 AM on January 18, 2010


Hee. I enjoyed Laser Cats 5.

For all you talking about Nav'i sex scenes...SNL brought a previously unseen scene to the small screen Saturday night that might interest you.
posted by Atreides at 12:53 PM on January 18, 2010


Heh.

Avatar's self-congratulatory win tarnishes the Golden Globes

Horrors!
posted by Artw at 9:34 PM on January 18, 2010


James Cameron Wins, Has to Pee
posted by homunculus at 8:29 AM on January 19, 2010


James Cameron Wins, Has to Pee

He also spoke in "Nav'i" there. He seems....crazy?

Dreading the inevitability of a Nav'i to Klingon translator app for the iPhone
posted by Burhanistan at 8:37 AM on January 19, 2010


'Avatar' pulled from 1,628 Chinese movie screens - At propaganda officials' urging, 2-D versions are replaced by a biography of Confucius, though 3-D showings continue.
posted by Artw at 12:01 PM on January 19, 2010


Does the biography of Confucius include giant cat person sex?
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:15 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Only if the cat people uphold revolutionary values such as the demolition of unnecessary forerst mega-flora in order to obtain valuable rare-earths and the suppression of indiginous insurgents ungrateful for the many benefits this will bring.
posted by Artw at 12:19 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, the Chinese are always vacillating between Confucianism and Taoism. The Tao that can be told is not the true blue cat hominid sex.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:21 PM on January 19, 2010


Observe the tree and reed. The tree is strong and unmoving, while the reed is flexible. When the storm comes, the tree will be uprooted, but the reed will mroow meowwwrowooowwoweowrow
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:28 PM on January 19, 2010


Confucius!

In 3D!!!
posted by darkstar at 12:37 PM on January 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could be worse, could be this thing, which sounds awful.
posted by Artw at 12:45 PM on January 19, 2010


But it's got Jet Li and John Woo.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:01 PM on January 19, 2010






The Southern Sky Column in Zhangjiajie, Hunan province, will now be known as the Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.

Well that's just fucking horrible.
posted by Artw at 1:12 PM on January 26, 2010


It makes me want to laugh in that uneasy, uncomfortable type of way and say, "Really? I mean, really?" At least they aren't going to rename the Star Ferries, Titanic Star Ferries.
posted by Atreides at 6:07 AM on January 27, 2010




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