23 January, 2010

5 Things That Could Ruin Avatar For You

There are times when you watch a movie, you try to give it the benefit of the doubt. You've invested a certain amount of your time to watch the movie so you want it to succeed rather than suck. This means you may sometimes forgive it for its flaws. Tropic Thunder was brilliantly hilarious but I got the fear in me when Matthew McConaughey appeared on screen, luckily I let it slide, and he was actually quite good. The Wrestler had great performances from Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei, who should have clinched their respective Oscars, but the film sunk to its knees every time Evan Rachel Wood came onscreen to whine and live up to her surname, but I forgave the film and enjoyed what was good about it.

Oddly enough, when I recently saw the much lauded The Road, there were too many logical inconsistencies in it, which I was unable to keep to the back of my mind, despite Viggo Mortensen and his incredible beard acting. It's a shame but there you are.

I'm pretty generous, however. I went into Avatar with pretty low expectations. This was mostly because I hated Titanic. And I mean hate with the depth that causes feuds several generations after an insult. I've otherwise enjoyed all Cameron's previous films (didn't see Piranha 2), although, tellingly I felt that both director cuts of Aliens and The Abyss were inferior to their theatrical release. With Cameron longer ain't better, so there was some trepidation.

Avatar worked enough for me to enjoy it. I liked the characters well enough, or at least their actors. Sully's a bit of a bland pill, but not off-putingly so. And for the most part I let the story carry me along so I could look at the pretty, well-rendered visuals. There were some moments that this too delicate concoction nearly came crashing down, but I managed to forgive these flaws. A good thing, otherwise I would have had to sit there like a grump for nearly three hours, which is as bad as sitting through Revolutionary Road once.

5 Things That Could Ruin Avatar For You:

1. Sully's brother was killed for "the paper in his wallet".
This is the whiz bang future. They probably don't even have credit cards anymore. It'll be subcutaneous credit chips or retinal scans. I mean you're telling me mankind has reached the stars, and can genetically engineer alien-human hybrids that can be controlled via some sort of telepresence couch, but they still haven't eliminated folding money? The only explanation is that as they later hint that earth is no longer green, that paper itself is extremely rare and valuable, like "unobtainium".

2. "Unobtainium"
When I heard this, I thought, you have no imagination at all Mr. Cameron. Sure you've created this pretty world taken off a prog-rock album cover, and given it a name from Greek mythology which suggests that someone knew that nothing good could come of it, but you couldn't even come up with a proper name for your McGuffin, the stuff the human big bad is so turned on about. Perhaps you could have called it Reallyvaluableacite, Morallybankruptium, or Couldntthinkofanythingbetteron. When I got back to base I did look Unobtainium up on the pile of execrable lies known as the internet, and apparently it is a real term that some scientist use to refer generically to an extremely rare element or compound. That said, if we needed a particular thing so badly we'd go to war for it, I'm pretty sure we'd have more than a generic name for it, otherwise we'd still be calling oil -- "blackstufffromground" or "Texas Tea".

3. Tunnel of Light
Really, doesn't Stargate have dibs on this? Or hyperspace? Or Poltergeist? (No wait, that's don't go into the light.) Anyway, I found it a completely unnecessary device and a waste of seconds of screen time in an already massive running time. It only shows contempt for the intelligence of the audience that even though they've been shown and told about how the alien puppet body couch thing works, they somehow won't work out that you've hit the on switch. It's like those mid '90s films that showed the internet like cyberspace with equations floating untethered in mid air.

4. Floating Mountains
Here we are, back on that Yes album cover. I'm surprised that Cameron, such a geek tech head would create something scientifically impossible like this. There's already an Avatar wiki out there and it claims that something about the "flux" zone of magnetic fields and the lightweight carbonfiberlike strength of unobtainium accounts for all this. I say BULLSHIT! The magnetic fields necessary to float land masses with vegetation and WATER (water ain't so light in volume) would probably tear soft living type things apart, I don't care if their skeletons are unobtainium enriched.

Leaving that aside, there are WATERFALLS. We're not shown any of these so called mountains that have say, a lake, so where the FUCK is the WATERFALL coming from? If the magnetic field etc. was so strong, would water even fall in a straight line? And finally, we're told that the magnetic fields are unstable so that instrumentation fails to compensate and can't work there. If that's the case why are the mountains in fixed places, vegetation neatly and conveniently growing between them?

Of course if these mountains are floating 'cause they're made of unobtainium, why don't we just tether them and drag them away? Then we could leave the pretty blue people and their shiny white tree alone.

5. My Big Blue Love Doll
Neytiri seems like a nice enough girl, but would you let yourself begin a relationship with a soul-less puppet that becomes lifeless when not being controlled by its human host? It's not like she's some pathetic loner that needs to get her rocks off with some latex molded in the shape of a porn star's genitalia. She has prospects, she's a catch. She believes deeply in her culture, yet she abandons the path it arranges for someone who cannot provide any sort of future. Ahh love and spurious plot devices....

Missed Opportunity
Finally, what almost is number 6 on this list, Avatar is a missed opportunity. I was annoyed that too much of the so called biology of Pandora is directly analogous to what we're familiar with. It's really taking this great new technology and making Star Trek style head ridges on it. So the Na'vi are humanoid, the "females" have mammary like bumps although we're told they're not even mamalian, their faces have eyes nose and mouth arranged as ours are. The land animals have 6 legs instead of 4, ooh that's different, but they are deployed as if they had 4, not as they might be on 6 legged insects. The animals used as we use horses, look like horses. The likelihood of extraterrestrial life is slim enough, that its evolution should be so utterly parallel in such different conditions is virtually impossible.

O.K. this is something we forgive in almost all science fiction, but this has mostly been because make-up and visual special effects, and their costs have been prohibitive in making more realistic depictions of aliens on this scale. The other factor is that the audience may need a modicum of familiarity, so as not to be too distracted by the new surroundings. However, if Pixar has taught us nothing else, an audience can anthropomorphise and identify with almost anything. Cameron should perhaps given the audience a little more credit. He has pushed the tech envelope greatly but merely tapped the visionary one.

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