29 December 2009

The Madness of Avatar

So yesterday myself and the Mrs bought ourselves the right to an opinion about James Cameron's eco-epic. We eschewed 3D gimmickry and went for a much more aesthetically pleasing panavision 2D viewing. Maybe this coloured our opinion of the work but honestly? I mean... honestly?

There has been much written about the contradictions inherent in the evil corporate entities that make up the movie business making this hippy dippy wonderland fairy tale but I don't really buy into the dialog about anti-military this and that or anti-corporate whatever when the actual storytelling is just so piss poor it kind of renders the discussion pointless.

In fact most commentary sub-consciously acknowledges this by saying Avatar in the first sentence and then moving on to a discussion of tech vs. nature which has little to do with the ramshackle set up of the movie world.

I'm boggled that people have the stomach for this argument when the characters, human and alien alike, in Avatar behave in incomprehensible ways that betray the set-up that we're being asked to buy into.

Not the least of the questions is why the humans have such a huge chip on their shoulder about the aboriginal aliens anyway. I kept waiting for an explanation that never came. The statuesque, beautiful aliens seem to have no guile and a pretty laissez faire attitude towards the humans as long as the humans don't muck around near their world tree.

These Navi are the most reactive creatures I think I could imagine. They show no curiosity about the midgety pink things that have brought all their metal to a nonsensical base camp on the surface of this moon, Pandora. They are happy to exist knowing nothing of these invaders and they only rise to warfare when the aliens turn up in a flying napalm factory and fell their world tree in painful flame and fire.

So these dumb, fairly placid, aloof creatures are somehow turned into a threat with no actual evidence even fabricated. In Starship Troopers the overt storyline is that the insect aliens for no reason bomb earth with meteorites and occasion a war against humanity. You can understand humanity's position even if the implied secondary storyline is that the humans wandered into insect central with guns, assuming the insects were giant but not sentient and then learned that the stupid alien opponents were not so stupid.

You can understand how the conflict arose intuitively, even if it does make humanity look like a bunch of callous, shallow, territorial meatheads. Those bugs were dangerous and the political spin of their actions make you understand why meatheads like Johnny Rico would sign up for a tour of duty intutively. Sure, humanity might be wrong but it feels right.

In Avatar, on the other hand, I never ever felt that I understood why the majority of the humans would just naturally want to shoot at these aliens who clearly are intelligent and have their own culture and language. This coupled with the fact that even after we've torched their habitat the best they can resist with seems to be bows, arrows and giant birds and most people have got to come out feeling that there has to be another way.

I learned a few bits and pieces of backstory from the surrounding commentary on the movie, like apparently the earth is dying and apparently this stuff the corporation are mining "unobtanium" will solve humanity's problems somehow. Not only did I not get that unobtanium was supposed to be a room temperature superconductor, or any sense of earth's dire plight, but I couldn't really see how having the superconductor would help out with this plight in any event (talk about a phantom menace!).

Even given that I had received a full lesson in how humanity was suffering back on earth, pictures in 3D using the latest technological advances would have been nice, and how the use of room-temperature superconductors would solve this I still have a problem. If I'm a brain surgeon in need of a kidney transplant and the only acceptable donor is a high-school dropout with only one working kidney it is still not my right to commandeer that kidney to the dropout's detriment.

Even if some shenanigans had been arranged in the movie for the massacre of a few hundred blue aliens to be made somehow "legal" I think the resulting action would have had a polarising effect between those who believe humanity must be saved at any cost and those who believe some prices are just too high. Now that would have been an interesting movie.

As it is every stage of the story is telegraphed and all the characters even bemoan the fact that the endgame seemed inevitable. This is cold comfort when you know that depite apparently being opposed to the route taken every step of the way the characters all just did what they were told until the moment at which the plot told them to do the opposite. All sympathy lost. You can't understand why anyone's doing anything they're doing at any stage.

The movie also does an excellent job of kneecapping itself at some points. For example the time frame of the events in the movie are roughly three to four months. If the characters had been given more time, if the situation had dragged on, epically, for years then that would have just made the finer points of the storytelling a bit sloppy. As it was it just seemed utterly insane.

I could nitpick over the rights and wrongs of it for weeks but it comes down to this. I never understood why the "bad" guys were being so mean. I never understood why the "good" guys were being so passive. Therefore the whole thing just looked like pointlessly mean guys try to hand stupidly passive guys their ass and implausibly lose for reasons of plot.

I don't sympathise with anyone, I don't empathise with anyone, I find myself wondering about the wider implications of the plot and I start to realise my bottom hurts from sitting in the movie seat too long.

Suffice to say I won't be one of those who queues up to see this movie six or more times. I hope never to see it again. I don't understand how people can watch this and excuse it's glaring flaws and then say the Matrix Trilogy was overall irretrievably flawed and irredeemably terrible. I am of exactly the reverse opinion, Avatar is just dreck whereas the Matrix trilogy is hidelously flawed but has its heart in the right place. This is the right way to think about things and if you disagree with me you are wrong.

The luxury of having no readers.


  1. Hi,
    you may see it then understand everything why i am saying to see it...One of the most exhilarating, barmy and eye-wateringly gorgeous movies of the decade.

  2. Why thank you spambot. I have a wonderful screensaver you may also wish to view for nearly three hours seeing as narrative factors don't even seem to enter into the equation for you.

  3. Harsh words my friend. Just been to see it in mouthwatering 3d and loved every second. I will be certainly going see those amazing visuals in 2d, in the proper letterbox format. And then i will probably get the art book to accompany the film..... To me, this is what cinema does best. Visuals that send your imagination spiralling, and make the impossible as real as being there.