Picking at the bloated carcass of geek culture...occasionally!!!

Avatar: The Aliens What-if Movie

In Movies on December 30, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I saw Avatar recently and I want to write about it.  If you want to know how I feel about the movie, in general, check out this review by my friend Jon.  It pretty much sums up my general feelings about this movie.  Basically, it’s an okay to better-than-okay movie with tons of tired, cliched moments and special effects that are good, but not consistently mind-blowing.  So what do I want to say about it?  Well, I’ve been hearing a lot about how this is Dances With Aliens, Ferngully II, or Dune Lite.  I have heard and repeated those pretty accurate statements.  But upon thinking further, I have come up with my own take on it.  This is James Cameron writing the ultimate “what-if” movie.  He is basically saying: “What is the Colonial Space Marines didn’t fight a inhuman breed of killing machines, but instead a nature-loving, furry enthusiast’s fantasy.  This would basically be that movie.

To get started, we have characters.  Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully (or should I say Jakesully) is basically Michael Biehn’s  Cpl. Hicks if he had survived the accident in the beginning of Alien 3.  He’s dependable, smarter-than-he-seems, competent, and pretty likeable compared to his war-crazy compatriots.  How about Michelle Rodriguez’s Chicon, a wonderful combination of Vasquez and Ferro.  She’s a badass, super-pilot who you can almost hearing Cameron directing by saying: “Act more like Jeanette Goldstein.”  You even have shades of Ripley in (surprise, surprise) Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Augustine, a non-military, non-corporate expert along for the ride because she knows more than anyone else how these aliens work.  My personal favorite is Giovanni Ribisi channelling his inner Paul Reiser’s Burke in every scene he is in.  Do you think James Cameron hates yuppies?  Yeah, I wonder.

This

Plus this

Equals this.

But it’s not just the characters.  Avatar has tons of Aliens DNA in it.  We have militarized load-lifters walking around.  I mean, the climax of both Aliens and Avatar have a person in a robot-suit fighting a big alien, for Christ’s sake.  I mean, just the idea of trained, technologically soldiers getting beaten by stronger aliens more familiar with the fighting in the terrain is a enormous repeated theme.  Even Sigourney Weaver waking up from cryosleep and demanding a cigarette echoes Apone’s immediate reach for a stogey coming out of his own cryosleep chamber.  Worthington’s post-sleep hangover could and has been perfectly summed up by “you look how I feel.”

So, if the marines in Aliens had woken up on Pandora, I feel like this would have been the movie, more or less.  This, however, is not the end of my Avatar talk.  I have a particular bone to pick, but that will be tomorrow.

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  1. i agree scott- quite alot of cameronesque characters and setups seemed to return… and of course lots of blue. its something i felt spielberg had tried to do with indy4 but it came off as tiring,goofy and not as thrilling.

    but i have to say despite all of its flaws(and it had alot of stupid ones) and story cliches,etc etc- i honestly enjoyed the ride. i enjoyed the amount of detail and imagination he put into the “world” and the experience.
    yes, it could of shaved off 20-30 minutes or the main character could of been more then a carboard cutout of a jarhead. but at the end, i felt like eh..that was a fun,awesome sci fi film. did it revolutionize film. not really. did it revolutionize film making itself? probally to some degree, on the tech side

  2. yeah, i went in pretty skeptical and left feeling pretty good and forgiving much the 8th grader screenwriting (unobtanium??….gah!) and white boy saving the native peoples schtick. by the time they got to the final act i was so happy about just watching sully conquer shai hulud, er…i mean, neon dragons and his girlfriend riding a displacer beast that i was even more in the mood for some of the over the top cornball popcorn movie aspects. the roided out scar face nick fury guy…”hey, you are ON FIRE!” “yeah, i’ll take care of that in a minute or two when i get the chance”
    so yeah, pretty dumb, but pretty damn fun to watch. I dunno if it was a giant leap ahead in terms of the cg, but it was definitely a big step and maybe a hop. I dug the fern gully elves.

    Another funny thing about cameron repeating himself, or getting stuck on some of the same themes in images…..you know, they are all a little totally 80’s dude. I’m not saying they’re BAD, but like…hypercapitalist yuppie fuckheads, and gi joes, but the funny thing with the Na’vi is that they looked so new wave. like, all the day glo colors, they could have been wearing jams.

    also, welcome back to the blog scooter.

  3. See, I think Avatar’s rote, by the numbers story took away all the fun and awesome. And it was so filled with familiar concepts and designs, I didn’t find it all that original either. I just can’t excuse those failings because either A. The 3-D was awesome or B. This summer’s big movies mostly sucked.

    Come on, anyway you cut it, it is a disappointing experience. Think about it. James Cameron + $500 million + 15 years = Dances with Halo Fern Gully?

    Seriously, just because it’s Cameron and it looked awesome, does not mean he should get a pass for his boring storytelling. Imagine if the movie had not only LOOKED awesome, but had contained an awesome story, as well.

    That kind of shit should be mandatory.

    Also, Unobtainium is a real term.

  4. 15 years has nothing to do with it.
    if you went into every movie judging on “what it took ” to make the movie and comparing the final outcome, you would be dissappointed alot more and probally baffled just as much. i dont care if it took 50 years or 3 days to make this movie. what happens in the 2 hours should speak for itself.

    i think giving something a “pass” is different then just having an enjoyable movie experience; despite its flaws and cliche story. thats what we are saying above(atleast i was) i dont think anyone on here says avatar was a masterpiece.

  5. But that’s what those two hours DO say to me: 15 years? 15 years and this is what you wrote? 15 years AND $500 million? Lucas, Spielberg, Cameron… they have too many resources available to be allowed to turn in half-efforts.

    But I agree with you, it was no masterpiece, in fact, it was much less than a masterpiece and I can’t imagine it receiving any accolades at all, if it weren’t for the 3-D.

  6. well to be fair- not all of those 15 years did he spend on the movie. he only go the idea 15 years ago and was waiting/working on the tech to catch up. he spent 14 million of his money alone to develop the tech. plus it wasnt a franchise like indy4. so in that case(indy 4) i will agree there…since 1989 thats the best story you guys could agree on!

  7. I didn’t see it, and since everyone else I know already has and there are a ton of other movies I want to see, I probably won’t. What I’m curious about is what you guys think this means for another generation of sci fi action fans. My wife took our nieces and nephew to see it and they loved it. I can’t help but think that’s partially because they’re unaware of the tropes that its based on. If I want to be generous I’d say that this is James Cameron trying to give people a way to continue loving the kinds of movies they loved in the 80’s, a sort of pastiche of his own work (and maybe the work of his contemporaries too). Any thoughts about this theory?

  8. i couldnt agree more with you Noah. i think that’s most likely what he is doing. Whether thats consciously or subconsciously, I feel he has even said things to this effect in recent interviews.
    I mean he grew up loving sci fi, mostly makes sci fi movies and he is from the late 70s -80s film making class. the aesthetics of the navi creatures alone; i feel scream early 80s sci fi art with a mix of the 70s fantasy kick.

    one thing for sure, whether the movie sucks or not- producers and filmmakers see one thing- an original IP, big budget sci fi film making money. that means more sci fi films like this will get greenlit for a few years till those stop making money.

  9. I don’t think Cameron intended to create a new generation of fans(Lucas did and it colored everything with fake childhood wonder, which hurt him), no, I think Cameron just set out to make a movie, but either way, though, that’s what appears to have happened.

    A billion fucking dollars world-wide? In three weeks?

    That’s not just kids loving it. I’ve overheard people on the bus talking about it, blah, blah, blah… it’s everywhere. That’s not a terrible thing, like I said: It’s not a bad movie, it’s just not a great one and sometimes, actually, it’s kind of dumb, but a billion dollars in three weeks with like a 12% total Box Office drop?

    That says that not many others feel the way I do.

    I fear my position of “meh” will just end up being slid down to the far end of the spectrum eventually by simple reason of not being one with the “horray” crowd. I mean, I don’t ask for wholly original, just not completely recognizable… But then, maybe people just prefer the watered down version of things they’ve seen before? Maybe it’s comforting? Fucking Dances with Wolves swept the Oscars, right? And maybe a long time ago, Star Wars was the same thing, redressed and recycled themes in a fancy new package?

    I can hope that this film is right now lighting some spark in some kid’s mind and they’re off to create strange new fictions, but all I know is: I want less CGI, not more. Or at least, less TOTAL CGI. Movies like Avatar? Their success says to me that we’re going to see more CGI tentpoles with greater reliance on gimmick and less attention to internal quality.

    And this year has proved that is the way to go. Transformers 2 and Avatar crushed the competetion as far as money earned is concerned. Crushed them. That’s going to be the real legacy of 2009.

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