Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Augmented Means to Diminished Ends

This evening, I saw the film Avatar, and the above basically sums up my reaction.

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it. The spectacle is amazing. I saw it in 3D, and it was well worth the extra money. The alien creatures (the animals, I mean) are well-conceived. The final battle is exciting. There is no doubt that James Cameron knows how to make a crowd-pleasing movie.

The problem was, it was basically a B-movie. There was very little of original sci-fi in it. What was there was hardly touched upon. For example, the Avatar concept could have led to some really interesting implications. How can you grow a (to all intents and purposes cloned) body without some kind of consciousness already in it? This is a living organism waiting for someone else's consciousness to be implanted. How does that work? What are the implications for the mind-body problem? The film touched on none of this.

What it did have was a weird quasi-biological version of Star War's Force. And the Na'vi were basically cyphers for American Indians. That annoyed me. They couldn't have thought up an alien alien? With the budget they had? Come on!

Likewise, the script was merely decent -by no means extraordinary, but certainly not as horrid as Star Wars dialogue. Mind you, there were some corkers. At one point, for example, the obligatory hyper-gung-ho military baddie declares to his men, "We will fight terror with terror!" Someone should tell the scriptwriter that being gratuitously topical is not always a good thing, and that if one does choose to do it, it should at very least make sense within the film. In this case, there had been no Na'vi suicide bombers whatsoever- indeed nobody had been killed yet at all- and so the statement made absolutely no sense.

And the plot I have seen in at least half-a-dozen other movies. It was done better and more plausibly (though that conclusion may say more about me than the film- my Japanese history is by no means thorough) in The Last Samurai.

I suppose economically it makes sense to throw a mind-blowing budget and test out unprecedented effects on a film whose story is tried and tested. But just once I would really like to see the Cultural Mafiosos take a risk. Pitch Black was far better as sci-fi than this. And when is someone going to make a movie out of The Mote in God's Eye? Now there's an alien culture I would pay to see on-screen!

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