Friday, December 25, 2009

Avatar

Went to see the film. Plot is straightforward; story is, at times, actively obnoxious (technological man=BAD, BAD, BAD; noble savage=GOOD and let's ignore their technology, mmmKAY?). Review + spot-on snark from Tam.

But damme, the visuals are...stunning. Not just well-realized CGI, but beautiful; a delight to the eye. And the yarn's not poorly told, either.

It is, for a wonder, pretty much mainstream SF and uses familiar notions; there's a huge borrowing from Clifford D. Simak's Desertion, (which I am stunned to be reminded was published in 1944; Simak's SF was well ahead of its time) (Tam points out Poul Anderson's Call Me Joe from 1957 as an even closer parallel), with additional elements reminiscent of Anne MacCaffery's Pern stories, Andre Norton's Janus novels and a few odds and ends from other (M..A..T..R..I..X) SF films. There's also a pervasive detail or two that may have been inspired by Zenna Henderson's The People, but I'll leave that for readers to figure out (bonus points if you notice the botanical "koomatka" connection, at least as the latter was depicted in the ABC TV movie).

I have some tech nits to pick ("unobtanium?" Rilly?) and the conflict and its resolution was trite and formulaic (just damn once, I'd like to see the Noble Savage pull a sharp real-estate deal on The White Man, or at least take him to court and win; you can blame my Cherokee ancestors for that; but would even once be too often?) but it's still a nifty film -- and it bodes very, very well for sbsequent SF.

We have reached the point where They Can Film It. Pern? Done. Heinlein? Not a single novel is unfilmable. Eric Frank Russell's delightfully diverse (and yet nearly anarchist) space-crews? Easy as pie.

The old SF writers are mostly gone; they wrote lot of great yarns, the film rights to which would set their inheritors up nicely. Wouldn't a film of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy be a treat? (...Speaking of the Noble Savages winning a fair shake without The Usual Villains...)

Avatar is big, lush, and pretty. The 3-D effect works well and they don't milk it (unless you're really acrophobic). Still, for me, one of the best things about this film is what it promises for future SF films.

38 comments:

MrWolf. said...

There is a short sf story that SOMEONE must remember the title of.

Space Scout goes native on paradise (South Seas variety) planet. Teaches natives universal language, law, etc. Years after his death, civilization catches up with him, and big corporations build beach-side hotels.
Locals apply to join Federation, are accepted as they speak universal, and have 100% literacy, world government, etc. Alas, however, hotels already built, can't reverse business deals, etc.
No problem, say locals, let's go on to next matter-which is our tax rates. Never had to collect before, as no tax on our beach huts, but multi-storey hotels subject to 500% of value annual tax........

Ends up with natives taking over hotels in lieu of taxes, turning them into universities, keeping one on distant island as local-owned hotel, for a little mad money.

Read it long ago and far away, in short story collection. Think you would enjoy it, and love to read again myself. Can anyone help?

Anonymous said...

I have to take issue with one thing about the visuals in the movie, the color design in certain parts of the movie. The part when earthman gets lost at night for instance. Those scenes put me in the mind of "psychedelic movies".

Sam said...

Almost three hours long? I'll wait for NetFlix.

WV: tingenud

I'm guessing that would be the blue tinge?

D.W. Drang said...

They can film it, yes, but does that mean they will do it well? Track record says "no".

D.W. Drang said...

P.S.: I understand that Avatar is losing the Christmas Ticket Sales race to... Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel.

Data Viking said...

From your description it is almost exactly what I would expect from a Cameron product these days. Competent and well-crafted but not exactly (or just barely) ground-breaking.

A number of SF authors have experimented with telepresence over the years: Blish, Nourse and Saberhagen are but three more.

MrWolf: the story you are thinking of is Monument (early sixties) by Lloyd Biggle Jr. which was later expended to a full size novel in the mid-seventies. A very good read and one which never gets old IMO. Thanks for the reminder, I think I'm going to pull it from the shelf and give it a re-read.

Tam said...

"I understand that Avatar is losing the Christmas Ticket Sales race to... Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakuel."

An adult sci-fi flick that had already been out a week was out-earned (barely) on a family holiday by a massively-promoted kids' movie which opened on Christmas day?

Think about that for a minute.

Don't worry, Cameron appears to be well on track to own the two biggest grossers of all time.

Nathan said...

I'd love to see Little Fuzzy on the big screen.

The problem is that Hollywood would find too many ways to screw it up, just as they do with Heinlein. They'd get Victor Grego COMPLETELY wrong, for instance. And there'd be a lot less shooting and talk about guns. Jack Holloway would probably punch Karl Borch to death instead of shoot him.

And the whole thing would be geared for the kiddies, instead of a serious science-fiction audience.

All things considered, I'll just replay it in my head, thanks :)

Anonymous said...

as "DW Drang said, they can film it but..."
Starship Troopers, the movie ?
Terrible!


Bruce
ceankyoldmanwithgun@yahoo.com

Stranger said...

The problem with taking Little Fuzzy or Weapons Shops of Isher and making a movie is quite simple. The producer would not hunt up a competent writer to turn Van Vogt's story into a watchable film.

Instead, the producer and director would get "Charlie Brown because he's a progressive like us." Since Charlie partied and politicked through eight years of social promotion, his ability to write an intelligible sentence or follow a plot for half a page does not exist and his diploma should be bumfodder.

As will be any film he scripts. And while a few diehards may pay $25 or more to sleep through his opus, the original storyline will never be noticed.

Films based on crap scripts do authors a disservice. I would not wish that on Ray Palmer. Or for that matter, Dick Shaver.

Stranger

Mr.Wolf said...

Data Viking, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

Roberta X said...

Data Viking! Dude! ...You are one of the few folks who can beat me at "ID this SF story."

I remembered the yarn and was trying to remember the author; Biggle is another of SF's lost treasures.

As for Hollyweird messin' up SF yarns, well, they do; but one can still hope. Despite what they did to Starship Troopers.

pdb said...

just damn once, I'd like to see the Noble Savage pull a sharp real-estate deal on The White Man

If you haven't read MZW's Contact With Chaos yet, I humbly suggest you add it to your stack.

Personally, I liked Avatar better when it was set in the post Civil War West and starred Kevin Costner.

Roberta X said...

Read it, enjoyed it, reviewed it -- and you're right!

Ken said...

Doggone, but I loved "Desertion" when I read it, back in the day. Thanks for the reminder...and happy Boxing Day.

perlhaqr said...

I read Monument in short story form. I went looking, but can't find the anthology it's in.

I remembered that the crashlander was called "Langri", though. *headshake* My indexing system is a bit funny. :)

Ed Skinner said...

Alas, I fear yet another badly done treatment of Dune -- film simply cannot do justice to the well-written word.

Will Brown said...

The technology Cameron employs making his latest trust fund contribution (I concur with Tam's observation above) is impressive, but it raises other issues previously explored in sci/fi. What follows is a comment I originally made here:

Just because James Cameron has a quick grasp of the technology advancement involved doesn't mean he also has the ability to sell a non-formula storyline to investors at the same time. That said, I marvel at the technical accomplishment while declining to actually watch the present example.

I forget who's scifi story I read it in (lo, these many years ago now), but the idea put forth was that technology had developed to the point that it allowed then-living actors to emulate long dead performers (who already had an established marquee value) in new on-screen entertainment productions. For the life of me, I can't see how the technology behind Avatar wouldn't allow this to actually occur now. Mind you, I'm not looking forward to watching "John Wayne" and a 13 y/o "Brooke Shields" as they star in the new production Rio Blue Lagoon, but I don't doubt someone in Hollywierd will try that very thing some day too soon. Or worse.

The possibilities are a bit frightening actually, given the degree to which people's experience has trained them to associate a broadcast image with the person being depicted. If someone used the Avatar technology to film an actor killing a person, and the crime was actually committed, what with all the physical evidence of a murder having occured, could you prove that wasn't actually you in the video of the killing posted on You Tube? Or the President or the Pope, as the case may be? The possibilities are ... interesting, aren't they?


Anybody want to take a crack at the original author/story title ID?

Not sure how serious I am over this potential, but the fuzzy memory is becoming worrisome. :)

Roberta X said...

Not sure about the story.

Tech Guru Don Lancaster has been talking about the emergence of "digital Bogey" for quite awhile; oldest online ref (PDF!) I found was from 1994: "Given enough memory, there is no reason at all why everything in a movie cannot be an alterable data base."

Photos haven't been proof for decades now; the Israelis were especially good at it, perhaps in large part through dissecting bad photo hacks by their enemies. Once stills fall, hacking pictures that move is a mere matter of applying enough pure brute force to the job.

Mark Alger said...

Not having seen the movie, I am reminded by the descriptions of C.J. Cherryh's 40,000 in Gehenna, et sequelae.

As for Hollywood getting SF: I am reminded of a bit of advice I received once. Movies are equivalent in content to short stories. Novels will never translate satisfactorily to that form.

For novels, you are far better off thinking in terms of television miniseries or full-blown episodic series, although the episodic part of the latter makes scripting a bitch.

I am, however, excited by the growth of new technologies. Today, Cameron needs hundreds of millions of dollars, specialized state-of-the-art equipment, and thousands of experts spending tens of thousands of very expensive man hours to produce his work.

That used to be true of your typical 7-minute animated short. Nowadays, a tech-savvy artist can use about a $10,000 rig to produce the technical equivalent of Steamboat Willie -- only better.

Though Sturgeon's Law WILL apply, the future holds great promise for talented and tricksy storytellers in a visual medium.

M

Movie Watcher said...

Avatar is already a financial disaster and an unprecedented historical BOMB at the box-office. No amount of media trolling on the internet and entertainment industry tax-evasion tactics is going to change the hard reality of the numbers.

As Avatar becomes one of movie historys most embarrassing financial disasters and technical flops, this Fern Gully rip-off live-action "commie-drama" shows that "If you make it, The Americans WILL NOT come".

This is especially true when the movies lack of technological prowess is overhyped to the theme of it being a technological advancement. If this is an advancement of any kind, it's that the entertainment industry is financially and socially deader than it already is.

You can wave your fake Cherokee ancestry at that, entertainment industry troll, because the real Americans will kill you with the best technology on Earth. And they're going to be doing that very soon.

Jay G said...

Dude, seriously?

Spend a few minutes looking around a site before you troll.

It will help reduce the outbreak of keyboard-in-mouth disease with which you seem afflicted.
-------------------------------
Good review, RX. Still don't think I'll watch "Dances with Aliens"...

Tam said...

Anonymouse 12:45,

"You can wave your fake Cherokee ancestry at that, entertainment industry troll, because the real Americans will kill you with the best technology on Earth."

Big talk for an anonymous coward.

Bring it.

Tam said...

PS: Pleasepleaseplease let Anonymouse come troll my post. Please!

Roberta X said...

C'mon, "Movie Watcher," try me. You won't enjoy it. Especially since you've made threats.

...Got some "fake" damn Cherokee t'kick your real American backside with, kid; I'm a mongrel, little bitta everything and most of 'em were, and are, cross-grained stubborn.

Come back, read my blog, see if you are still minded to pick fights there from.... Hey! "Vancouver, B.C.," ey? So, your "real Americans" would be...Crown subjects? It seems unlikely; most Canadians can spell. Also -- and no disrespect to the Maple-Leafed intended -- they are a little light on that-there personally-owned lethal technology. I'm not.

Movie Watcher said...

You're a troll liar who markets entertainment industry wares, and who knows what else, on the internet into America. Are you really posting from Canada, you say? Canada really belongs to the Americans, too, twit. Someday they're going to get it back.

James Cameron comes to America through Canada, as if you didn't know. Fox via Australia. But you knew that, too.

Cherokee, and real natives on the whole, ARE the real Americans, you dumb troll. But you don't want your readers to know that, right? Right.

If anything, you read like you're posting from europe-asia way. Most likely, right? Right. Typical.

Or, as you call yourself, a "Neo-Victorian". Right? Right. Typical.

Troll and liar.

Tam said...

Hahahahahaha!

Oh, this is priceless!

Please don't go! Tell us more!

Tam said...

I'm spreading entertainment industry lies at my blog, too! Rupert Murdoch and James Cameron are paying me!

Please come denounce me, too!

Movie Watcher said...

Oh, and I spelled everything correctly. Not one mistake, twit. You need an education, and a school, most likely. But, then, schools are probably forbidden for you over there, aren't they? Right? Right. Typical.

Troll and liar.

pdb said...

O.O

Roberta X said...

Anon 1:41. ...it is simply mind-buggering....

Kid, you only think you can read. Please don't come back and comment until you have mastered the "comprehension" part, too.

Also, please read this before making further threats.

Tam K wants to play, too -- please visit her!

Tam said...

Sigh. The thrill is gone.

Never mind, y'all; it's just some kid posting from a Rogers Cable IP add'y in Vancouver BC, attempting to get his yucks doing what he thinks is an impersonation of a Yank.

Like Gecko45, but with poutine. Some of y'all will get the reference.

I thought we had a real live one for a minute...

Will Brown said...

Dang! And I just got the popcorn out of the cabinet, too.

pdb said...

I miss Gunkid.

Tam said...

See, now Gunkid was a real live one...

Everybody needs a .45 Detonics shooting bras bullets 2100FPS is RIFLE ballistics SUPPRESSED better than 9mm YOUR LARGE WOMEN GIVE ME NO PLEASURE!


(WV: "berser". 2/3rds there.)

jed said...

Coincidentally, I just stoppped by DRB and see he's tracing Avatar memes as well. You might enjoy his steampunk and other SciFi writings too.

Happy Festivus, and Joyous Yule.

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that the movies are mind blowing. And I think thats what this movie is about. And movies in general are about visuals. And this one just draws you in really deeply into the world.

So what if the story isn't mindblowing. It's straightforward and to the point. It's a good simple universal story. There isn't anything necessarily wrong with it.

I think a good simple story + mind blowing visuals = awesome movie.

My friend wrote a little manifesto along the same lines. I pretty much agree with him and I think you would too.

http://wobbot.com/news/2009/12/25/4-reasons-you-should-watch-avatar-in-theatersand-not-download-it-or-wait-for-the-dvd/

RC said...

Good stories never die, they just get remade. I haven't enjoyed myself that much in a long time. Can't wait to see it again.