Posted by: Chris | January 13, 2010


Noah Millman compares the movie to Star Wars and finds it lacking.  I agree wholeheartedly.  I kind of expected the bad writing/characterizations (these sorts of movies are not expected to be The Wire) and knew of the hamhanded politics beforehand.  What I found shocking, while watching the movie, was its stunning lack of imagination and the fundamental unreality of the world Cameron created.  The movie makes no pretense of being the barest of parables, and the lack of any real meat leaves its other flaws in sharp relief, while movies like Star Wars can glide over them with ease.



  1. In Millman’s own words, Avatar may be like Star Wars because they both”will change forever the way movies are made and the way we perceive our own world.” Avatar is technologically as far beyond other movies today as Star Wars was beyond other movies in 1977. And people are comparing to to Star Wars because they are the probably the only two movies within living memory that were that much more advanced. So the Star Wars comparison is a perfectly good one – until you set deliberately interpret it more broadly than anyone intended so you can take down the straw man you just pulled up.

    While not really relevant to my critique of that guys critique of other people’s critiques of Avatar, for the record: I thought Pandora was an excellent world, thought out just thoroughly enough for a casual-scifi movie. I thought the plot was a simple and familiar story retold quite well. The overt political stumping admittedly irked me at two distinct points during the movie, but not seriously. Without the incredible visual effects, it would be a passable movie; with them it jumps into rarefied air.

  2. Yeah, Chris, you need to back up your point about the unreality of the world; I thought, and many others have said the same thing, that the amount of attention to detail they put into the environments actually made it seem like a viable world. With the exception of gravity defying islands in the sky, but they can probably be forgiven for that.

  3. No, Nick, you got my complaint exactly incorrect. The floating islands in the sky are probably the only redeemable feature of the fetid mess that was Avatar’s world. To make my point a bit more obvious, if Cameron concieved of his islands like he did everything else in the movie, they would be like Hawai’i but with six legs.

    My point was that there was no attention to detail and certainly no imagination involved, in any of the art design, chatacter design, or really anything in the Avatar universe. Shitty sci-fi writers doing one-off Star Wars novels display more creativity than the biggest blockbuster of all time. The creatures all had transparent Earthly counterparts, the Navi were Native Americans straight down to their bows and arrows (strangely poison-tipped despite never having contacted Earth species before) and superfluous loinclothes (if they fuck with their braids, why did they need to cover non-existant genitalia?). Not to mention they were so huminoid that they make Star Trek’s races look almost alien, and they just had make-up and prosthetics at their disposal, instead of all the computing power you could ever want. I mean seriously, if people can replicate your alien species (that you spent hundreds of millions of dollars creating) with just blue paint and some elf ears, you blew an immense oppurtunity. Plus, their “religion” was the most tepid, cockamamie earth-worship noble-savagery I have ever seen.

    Its not just the Pandorans who got the shitty end of the stick. The helicopter gunships are probably the most generic craft that exist in science fiction. Even George Lucas, at the nadir of his career in Attack of the Clones, was able to execute the concept more imaginatively than Cameron with the clone gunships. Next time try making up something thats been done by everyone with an Apocalypse Now boner. It might be excusable if the genericopters were part of a larger fleet of crafts, but no. We saw three ships the entire movie: genericopter, uber-genericopter (as if Avatar were an 8-bit video game, the boss baddie simply gets a bigger version of the normal baddie mech, in the air and on the ground), and dropship-bomber, which was literally so identical to uber-genericopter that I regularly confused the two during the the end fight. That is not a sign of creative genius, when have near unlimited resources but you can only come up with three ships: one is blander than bland, followed by a suped-up blander-than-bland ship, and a third ship that materializes convienently but looks no different from the second one. Oh I forgot about their landcraft, the headless, person-shaped mech, controlled by a pod in the center body compartment, as if every Japanese person who has ever lived has not done that one to death. At least Dr. Robotnik’s version in Sonic 2 had an awesome nose.

    No Avatar is shit. It has a shitty script and shitty characters and utterly-unsubtle and uninteresting politics, but it can’t even cover up those flaws with some actual imagination in the world they create, something even SyFy original movies are capable of. It is utterly indefensible as a movie, unless your only interest is in polygons pushed, motions captured, and d’s threed, in which case, it might be considered superlative, but anyone who would judge a movie with such criteria is worse than JJ. That includes you too JJ.

  4. (a) Chris wins.
    (b) Is Avatar worth seeing?

  5. In reply to Chris’ reply…

    “Shitty sci-fi writers doing one-off Star Wars novels display more creativity”
    I beg to differ. For consideration, I present the following Star Wars novels you may read to confirm for yourself if you are disinclined to take my word for it, all of which I assert show less creativity:
    The Mandalorian Armor
    The Corellian Trilogy
    The Jedi Academy Trilogy
    Isard’s Revenge

    “the biggest blockbuster of all time.”
    In absolute dollars, it has yet to surpass Titanic for the domestic gross, although it’s introduction into a stronger world market than has previously been available has helped it seize the overall gross record. If one chooses slightly less misleading terms, and simply adjusts for inflation, it’s not even close to Gone with the Wind, which earned over $400 million in 1939 – inflation since then has been almost 16x. If one adjusts by consumer price index (to get a sense of what part of people’s disposable income was used by GwtW), then more like $6 trillion.

    “The creatures all had transparent Earthly counterparts”
    The weird floaty-things that supposedly represented the will of the great all-mother tree (or something) don’t have a clear Earthly counterpart. They’re somewhat similar to various tree pollens, and somewhat similar to air-borne jellyfish, but if you’re going to rule out any creature that has similarities to creatures found on Earth you’re really stretching the transparent counterpart definition.

    Hey, some creativity of your own. You made up a new word!

    “We saw three ships the entire movie”
    I recalled 4. There was also the spaceship they came in at the beginning of the movie, and the shuttle that ferried them to the planet surface from the spaceship, neither of which were in your list. Although I never realized there was a difference between the bomber and it’s counterpart until you said there was one; I’d assumed it was just two copies of the same ship.

    “it can’t even cover up those flaws with some actual imagination in the world they create, something even SyFy original movies are capable of.”
    The vast majority of SciFi movies are set on Earth, specifically because it’s so expensive to do alien-world sets well enough to pass. Of those not set on Earth, they tend to be extensions of a franchise (e.g., BSG) for which the sets and costumes are already designed and possibly even made, or set in a very clearly-defined stereotypical world (fantasy medieval and post-apocalyptic are the two most common) and even the most stubborn Avatar-critic must admit they are, in fact, less original than Pandora.

    In regards to Miles’ bottom-line question…
    I’ve already given my view, which is yes. Chris already gave his view, which was that it was worth seeing some time when you had nothing else to do and were interested in some eye-candy (although he may have changed his opinion since?). I don’t think we heard an overall reaction from i82Much.

  6. […] the Dark Knight or even Pixar’s entry Up (which thankfully got a spot on the list), but the utter shit that is Avatar.  Its too big and techy to be ignored, whatever the merits of the movie parts, so […]

  7. […] will ride any hype train with wheels.  This blog has a pretty good track record of calling out overhyped shit as such when everyone else is falling over themselves with praise and I suspect we will be once […]

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