I saw Avatar yesterday evening, finally, almost a full four months after it came out. A lonely little cinema on 2nd and 12th in NYC was showing it for the last time, quite likely one of the last cinemas showing it in the world. At $16.50 per ticket it was costly, although I thought it was worth seeing so I could make up my own mind about it. Seeing it on DVD or so would not have been the same, as I had heard so much that the visuals were meant to be revolutionary – even from people who didn’t like the film. There have been quite a few revolutionary films in in my lifetime…Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, The Matrix and maybe a few others which I all missed seeing at the cinema for various reasons. Given I had one last chance to see Avatar in the cinema, perhaps one of the most revolutionary of the revolutionary movies so far I didn’t want to miss it.
I had mostly steered clear of reading any reviews or peoples thoughts on the film, so my points should not have been influenced by anyone elses reviews or thoughts and are my first impressions upon seeing the movie.
- Revolutionary? – I really don’t think Avatar is a revolutionary film at all. I’m not sure why exactly – the worlds and Na’vi were amazing to watch, but none of it felt groundbreaking. It felt just like the next step in the evolution of an existing technology. The world of Pandora did look amazingly realistic, but I can’t help but be sure I have seen other alien worlds look just as realistic. The area where Avatar was meant to shine was with the life of Pandora, and while this looks amazing, it still does not look completely real.
- The Uncanny Valley – I saw a lot of discussion about whether or not Avatar had successfully bridged the uncanny valley with some saying it was the first to do so, others disagreeing and others saying the uncanny valley could not apply because the Na’vi were not human. The Uncanny valley can certainly be applied here because the definition is not specific to humans and in any event the Na’vi are “human enough” to count. So has it been bridged? The loose definition of the uncanny valley is the gap between obvious fake representations of humans or animals and realistic depictions with everything in between looking distorted or making people feel uneasy. While I don’t think the Na’vi or wildlife looked 100% realistic, since they looked believable and did not inflict any feelings of unease I think it is fair to credit Avatar as successfully bridging the uncanny valley.
- Avatar in 3D – I made sure to see Avatar in 3D, only because I had read much about how James Cameron had properly utilized the technology to make a very immersive movie. Avatar is the only 3D movie I have seen since the fad began, however having seen some at amusement parks and having watched 3D films in 2D they all seem to suffer from things flying at the screen, 3D for the sake of 3D. With Avatar it was rare for something to be popping out of the screen, instead watching Avatar was like looking through a portal to another world as opposed to watching through a window from a distance. It really gave the impression sometimes that you could reach through the screen and interact, and I think that was amazing. I would really hope more filmmakes pick up on Mr Camerons cue and stop using 3D as a gimick, bur rather for the level of immersion it can provide.
- Ubobtainium – One of the most common criticisms of Avatar I saw was that ubobtainium is a stupid name. Well…I don’t really think so. The word is used exactly once during the film, very briefly by the corporate guy from My Name is Earl rather than a scientist. It is quite likely it was an informal name for the mineral used in everyday language there. Even if it were the term the scientists were using, it is not uncommon for scientists to use nicknames in such a fashion when working on projects with things being formalized at a later stage. This seems like such a silly criticism, and I don’t understand the fuss it caused.
- If your avatar dies, so do you? – One thing that was not answered in the film was if Matrix or Surrogates rules were in effect. If you die in your avatar, would you die in your host body? The avatars are remote controlled, so it would seem unlikely that an avatar dying would result in your human body dying. When the humans were in their avatars and threatened they seemed fearful of the animals capable of killing them, however this could have been due to simply not wanting to experience the associated pain. For a film with such a strong devotion to scientific detail and consistency i seems like a strange thing to omit.
- Sam Worthington’s accent – I don’t know what was up with Sam’s accent. It wasn’t American, it wasn’t Australian most of the time…it was like a weird generic mix between the two. Someone needs to pay for him to have some American accent lessons, or in future just make his characters Australian. It wasn’t terribly distracting, but it was noticeable.
- Blue Na’vi breasts – Why give the female Na’vi prominent breasts as with humans? I get that they are humanoid, but the fact that women have permanantly prominent breasts is a unique trait shared with no other animal. It seems quite unlikely that an entirely different species on an entirely different world who happen to resemble humans would also have this trait. I don’t know why I noticed this i particular or it annoyed me, but there it is.
- The myth of the noble savage – Many people are probably familiar with the myth of the noble savage even if they don’t know it by that name and/or don’t consider it a myth. The idea basically relates to people less educated and enlightened or who live off the land are somehow more pure and noble. Generally discredited by those knowledgeable enough to have meaningful input with good reason. In Avatar however…the noble savage was no myth, but the reality. This is entirely due to the unique ecosystem, with all organisms having a real and tangible bond and dependence with each other. Indeed in the film it is the humans who appear to be more deserving of the title.
- The interconnected ecosystem – The whole ponytail-jack thing. That was awesome. It reminded me of the way Gaia was described in Asimov’s later foundation novels. An entire interconnected ecosystem operating as one superorganism. An amazing defense and way to ensure stability. A very interesting idea that I would have liked to have seen explored more. It was unclear to me if there was a constant link on some level with the ponytail link just being more direct, or if the link only existed when a phsyical connection was made. When the final attack was going on it seemed like the Rhinoceros things were called to attack and directed in a specific way although that could have been coincidence. I also thought it was odd that Jake and the princess didn’t seem to join ponytails when having sex. Surely if you could be that close to someone in that way you would…maybe that was a concept too difficult to explore in a PG movie. Even so, I didn’t see any of the Na’vi join ponytails, so perhaps they can only join with certain animals?
- Anti-corporate/military/human views – I saw quite a bit of discussion that Avatar was anti-corporation or anti-military although I didn’t understand that at all. First of all the soldiers on Pandora are not part of any military, they are just mercenary working for the corporation – guns for hire. So any anti-military can be dismissed. As for anti-corporate…their may be something here. I didn’t really get that from the movie, it was just a story about a particular corporation doing something morally reprehensible. We have no idea what the corporate world is like in general in the Avatarverse. It is interesting to ponder how much power corporations have that they can go to a new planet teeming with sentient life and have the power to make the decision if they live or die or not. I felt it was implied the corporation may have been responsible for first contact as well, which is even stranger. Lastly I don’t really see how the film was anti-humanity. Yes, it shows the horrible things humans can do, but it also shows how much we can care and the good we can do. It was just a film involving people and was not pro or anti humanity in any way. How anyone could think it was is beyond me.
- Can avatars be permanent? – I wonder if their is a way for Jake to take over his avatar and leave his broken legs behind. I mean it will be pretty hard to be with Neytiri if he has to go back to his human body regularly to stop it from wasting away.
Well, that concludes my thoughts on Avatar. I quite enjoyed the movie although I agree the story was quite simple and the movie did drag on a bit. I will be most interested to see what James Cameron does with the sequels now that he has announced he will be exploring the oceans of Pandora. Their is so much we have yet to learn and see, and it will be interesting to see how the oceans tie in with the whole planet as a super-organism idea and what our group of ragtag heroes has been up to since driving the humans away.