Three Perspectives on Avatar (One for Each Dimension!)

+ Morgan

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You can walk into the theatre to see Avatar in two ways: You’ll either go in wanting to like it or wanting to hate it. Either way, you’ll probably get what you want. James Cameron’s Avatar is such a visually beautiful film that if you want to like it, you’ll be able to ignore the badly written script and the overly predictable plot. You’ll also have to ignore science, because Avatar pushes the laws of physics, evolution and just about everything else out of mind. But you really can ignore all of Avatar‘s faults-the movie just that pretty.

In a way, the weak script is kind of a benefit. Not having to think during the film gives you more time to appreciate the beautiful visual detail of Pandora’s environment. Not to mention its occupants the Na’vi, a race of super tall, super skinny, super strong cat-people. The Na’vi are able to interact directly with their surroundings: the plants glow with bioluminescence in their presence, lighting their way at night and creating fiberoptic light shows. The world is full of pulsing lights, beautiful greens and blues (the Na’vi color palette) and a menagerie of fantastical animals, all of which are intimately connected.

Michelle Rodriguez provides at least one part of Avatar that’s effortless to love. Rodriguez shines in her role as military helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon. Her skin shines too: she’s glistening with sweat and sexiness in almost every scene. For a sci-fi/action movie, Avatar gives female characters like Chacon more screen time than most other films in the genre.Avatar does have its high points, but I’ll admit that I went in as a skeptic.

I knew that I’d spend almost the whole movie being annoyed by any number of logically improbable things. How could the journey between Earth and Pandora be possible? How could those mountains float? How could evolutionary processes produce organisms remotely similar to Earth’s? Let alone a society of intelligent two-leggers in a land of trees that are for the most part just a black light acid-trip version of ours.

But hey, oh yeah, it’s a movie! And an action movie, at that! You don’t need even vaguely accurate science. Though you might need some other stuff to make a pretty film into a good film. Like a good script, for starters.

There’s no real depth to the dialogue in Avatar– everyone says what they mean and what they think in the simplest way possible. The storytelling in the movie was equally weak, with no subtlety whatsoever. There’s always a lot going on, but the storylines intersect in overly simple, predictable ways.

While the strong female characters in Avatar were nice, the movie didn’t make any huge leaps in overcoming Hollywood’s habitual lack of minorities in significant roles. For a film ostensibly about acceptance and tolerance, Avatar lacked diversity in a pretty big way. There was little racial diversity and there were certainly no LGBT characters to speak of. For a movie that seeks to send so many “progressive” messages, both social and environmental, the exclusion of non-Na’vi marginalized communities seems like a bit of an asshole move.

Overall, I thought Avatar was a good movie. Maybe not a great movie, but a good one.

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+ Sam

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I was excited to see Avatar. The trailer gave me goose bumps, so I started looking into it a bit more, reading about the revolutionary camera, the totally immersive CGI and the 3D experience. But soon enough, the Avatar media blitz and hype became overwhelming and my initial excitement was quelled by overexposure.

Now, after finally seeing it, I’m left with mixed feelings. On one hand I think the time and effort put into the creation of Pandora made it incredibly aesthetically appealing. I was charmed by Pandora’s floating mountains, its array of inventive fauna and its spectrum of blues and greens.  The use of 3D in this case seemed to enhance the movie rather than distract from it by being gimmicky.

Beyond the ambiance of Pandora, there’s always the ambiance of the female cast members. Michelle Rodriguez as an aviator-sporting, tanktop-wearing bad ass coupled with Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine, a smart and sassy headstrong scientist, were undeniably cool. And the tail interface that the Na’vi used to connect with the trees and animals was a really interesting concept that I think was executed well. Although they kinda looked like a cross between fiberoptic cables and glowsticks covered at the end by fur.

The problems with Avatar began for me when I stopped being intoxicated by the look of the movie and tried to get into the plot. The story lacks nuance and follows a very well-tread path à la Dances with Wolves. The archetype of “the noble savage” comes on a bit strong with the Na’vi. The story’s oversimplication of the tale of a native race really left a sour taste in my mouth.

Avatar scores a lot of points for visual execution, but it falls short of becoming an epic sci-fi classic. James Cameron may have wanted to inspire a new generation of diehard fans with his film, but the Na’vi language won’t become the new Klingon any time soon.dotted-divider2

+ Kim

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I am going to preface this by saying I did not see Avatar in 3-D because that is way too fancy for my hometown’s movie theatre.

Avatar tells an age-old story condemning the evils of imperialism. To mix it up this time around, James Cameron’s tale on the classic anti-colonialist tale gets set in outer-space with some mech warriors and Sigourney Weaver!

Unfortunately, in this particular retelling I don’t think the writing was pushed far enough. But maybe I just expect a script that’s been in the works for 10+ years to be a little more compelling.

On the plus side, when you get bored with listening to the poor dialogue and the trope of a male former conquistador seducing an exoticized/eroticized female native, there’s plenty to just look at.

There’s nothing wrong with deciding to create a new spin on an idea that’s been done to death (see: Dances With Wolves, Pocahontas, Fern Gully) so long as you do, in fact, bring something new to the table- and not just visually.

Despite this storytelling setback, Avatar was a completely engaging movie experience. Every time I spotted an inconsistency, a plot hole, a line of filler, or some far-fetched pseudoscience I was almost immediately seduced by a beautiful landscape, a strangely-garbed alien or some Metroid-style monsters.

I am okay with that. And I’ll probably see the the sequel(s) and continue to be okay with that. Avatar will certainly be remembered for its stunning visual effects, not its underwhelming script. I think that James Cameron is probably okay with that too, laughing all the way to the bank.
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+ Taylor’s Editorial Note

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While I have not seen Avatar because A) I have a pretty intense fear of heights and am a bit wary of the 3D experience following some mid-90s IMAX mishaps B) I’m not sure there are boobs and C) I forgot, my comprehensive knowledge on the topic of the movie can be expressed thus:

Also I love large, vaguely feline, shamanistic blue aliens, as evinced by my World of Warcraft avatar (see what I did there?). Which I think puts me somewhere between the animated version of Englishman John Smith and some kind of post-jingoist hippie.



Taylor has written 137 articles for us.

34 Comments

  1. So that kitten thing you did there is now my desktop background. I will change it back to Sara Quin in a couple of days surely, but that is just too awesome not to look at every time I turn my computer on for at least the rest of the weekend.

  2. Good review and I agree with you all. I got about 30 minutes in and got bored. The story is very, very weak. Plus I didn’t have the visuals to keep me interested (because I was watching it on my computer) and the subtitles were in Russian. So I will just have wait for the DVD.

    On a side note, it did inspire me to make this: http://fav.me/d2fziyh

  3. i liked avatar a lot a lot mostly because i loved fern gully when i was little.

    also when i was talking about it to my friend’s boyfriend, the first thing he said was “did you see her nipple? i totally saw her nipple.” and then we talked about how awesome it would be to be a nerdboy and add sneaky nipples into movies.

        • I didn’t see Fern Gully until last year. I was convinced that I *had* seen it but was apparently confusing it with Ferdinand the Bull which led to a lot of drunken confusion when my BFF started getting nostalgic about it at a bar and I was all “It’s so cute how Fern Gully sniffs flowers! But it makes me crave laughing cow cheese…”. And I got cut off not because I was faced, but because my childhood was apparently 50 years behind those of my friends.

          My favorite part of this was definitely Taylor’s reasons for not seeing it, which are the same as mine except insert “3D and French all at once will make my mind explode” for A.

  4. I initially swore that I was not going to see this movie because I had basically ignored the hype and I always feel like I’m falling into some sort of trap when I go to see a gimmicky blockbuster. However, when faced with a group of friends who all wanted to see Avatar, I gave up making the case for A Single Man and relented. I guess I fit that first description where I went in not wanting to like and walked out not liking it (except for Michelle Rodriguez). Idk… I kinda like my movies to be more human and less about computer-generated everything.

  5. I disagree with Morgan’s first sentence. I went into Avatar wanting to love it, and I ended up being completely baffled at how mediocre it was. Yes, the CG was nice, but it wasn’t nearly good enough to carry the film. Star Wars, this ain’t. Jurrasic Park, maybe. No, that’s not right, Jurrasic Park had an interesting concept and a memorable score to go along with its breathtaking visuals.

    I really want to understand what everyone sees in Avatar.

    • i totally feel you, though i guess my love for the visuals was just enough for me.

      i think people see different thing in movies and in the end it’s just how it ends up sitting with you- I have no feelings for the Notebook and people think I’m nuts for it!

  6. I just saw this last night (not in 3D). I honestly didn’t even notice the gaps in the story and poor writing, and I am usually one to rip those things apart…seriously I have walked out of movies before because of the writing. I didn’t notice because I was so completely captivated by the graphics and the visuals. Pandora was truly a piece of art in my mind. Every scene had something new and exciting to gasp about in the concept art. Truly magnificent, in my mind. My friend and I walked out just awed. From the graphics to the cinemetography, the production quality simply blew me away.

  7. After weeks of seeing Avatar posters of Zoe Saldana all CGI’ified and thinking “Aang, what have they done to you? … oh… apparently this is unrelated to Avatar: The Last Airbender,” I finally figured out what this movie was about when I read this article: http://io9.com/5422666/when-will-white-people-stop-making-movies-like-avatar.

    I thought it was excellently written and well argued. (I recommend giving it a read for a more in-depth examination of Avatar’s race issues.) Unfortunately, it prematurely killed any interest I might have eventually developed in seeing this movie. Autostraddle’s review just confirms that for me. Racefail for the fail.

    • io9.com is fantastic just in general. Annalee is totally my hero she and Charlie Jane are just fantastic writers.

      The whole treatment of race was really hamfisted in the worst possible way. Also the last air bender was a cartoon, and now is going to be made into live action and THAT looks really cool – then again the sum total of what I have seen for it is a teaser trailer.

      • Oh, man, I loved Avatar: The Last Airbender. Once I got past all my “this is a cartoon that aired on Nickelodeon… post-Spongebob Nickelodeon… and what’s with the bald kid?” reservations I enjoyed the hell out of it. Great story, great characters, great animation. Unfortunately, I’ve been reading up on the live action adaptation (directed by M Night Shyamalan! hmm…) and it looks like it’s got its own share of racefail going on. All the characters, who are pretty obviously ethnically Asian in the cartoon and living in an Asian inspired world, have been recast as white people, except for the bad guys, who are all vaguely brown now. Sigh. So, maybe don’t get your hopes up too much.

  8. I expected to dislike Avatar, mostly because I’m not a huge sci-fi fan and I still remember Titanic. But in terms of an overall grade, this film mostly left me feeling indifferent. Here are some notes:

    – I found Neytiri to be a little too hysterical. It didn’t sit well.
    – I could look at Michelle Rodriguez on screen all day. I feel like playing the same character in every film has worked for her, she’s perfected it.
    – I feel obligated to heap praise on Sam Worthington, aka “Our Sam”. So um, what a dreamboat.
    – 3 hours of 3D viewing hurts. The technology is impressive but it’s wasted on me, my eyeballs cannot handle it.

  9. I had no interest in seeing Avatar, but some of my friends abducted my drunk ass and took me to the theatre. The plot was predictable, and the writing was pretty bad, but it’s just so damn pretty. I highly recommend seeing it in 3D while under the influence. So good. I also suggest wearing snow pants as well. Rubbing my legs together to make a loud rustling noise really helped the time pass. And Michelle Rodriguez can fly my aircraft any day. Swoon.

  10. Yep, sounds about right, went in wanting to love it, left a bit perplexed at the end. Loved the special effects. It might just have been the cinema I saw it at, but some 3D bits were really blurry which sucked a little. I look forward to the day when we can have a film that pretty with a new plot and more clarity on screen (although I might have just had a massive smudge on my glasses) and Michelle Rodriguez can stay forever, obvs.
    Also, um, Draenei FTW.

  11. Movies should not be three hours long. My bladder just cannot take it.
    Avatar was relatively entertaining though. Plus my love for Michelle Rodriguez and Sigourney Weaver certainly helped me forget about my impending bladder issue. But the line for the movie was ridiculously long (and I went like three weeks after it opened!) plus the theater was so packed that it was hot which led me to believe that I was probably going to suffocate. At least I got to see tall skinny blue people!

  12. I got stuck seeing it again.
    there are so many terrible lines in that movie I didn’t even catch the first time.
    one guy seriously calls the Na’Vi “blue monkeys”.
    um, isn’t this just supposed to be reminiscent of european colonization of africa?
    because they are obviously blue CATS, if anything.

  13. I felt like a kid when I watched Avatar. I fell in love with Pandora utterly and completely – it’s so freaking gorgeous. And although simple & undeveloped the characters had a softness that felt like family. Like characters of awful sitcoms. For me avatar was a completely visual, emotional experience (I cried!) that did not want to be analyzed or over-stressed with the weight of a deep story, good dialogue, etc. It can basically be assumed when walking into an action movie that: you are going to see some very expensive explosions/special effects; you are going to hear some ridiculous one-liners; you are going to be asked to make a lot of leaps of faith concerning the plausibility of the whole thing; you are going to know who the bad guy is, even if they try to implement a “twist”; the experience is not going to be disturbed by any deep or provocative themes or notions. Action movies are to be enjoyed by disengaging the “verbal/analytical” and just soaking it up.

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