Avatar - a review or 'Giant Robot Blue Monkey Knife Fight Says What?'

You remember TRON, right? Jeff Bridges is a computer programmer reduced to scamming on teenagers from his loft above the video arcade (remember when you had to GO SOMEWHERE DANK AND SMELLY if you wanted to play video games??) because he got fired from his cush job designing games like STAR INVADERS and BLASTEROIDS. But he gets sucked into the COMPUTER WORLD via laser digitization when he tries to get the goods on the bastard that stole his KILLER robot tank game and has to fight for his life against DOS programs and bloated, whiny spreadsheet software armed with nothing but a glowy blue frisbee.

Well I saw THAT in the THEATER (Yeah yeah, I know. I’m OLD. Now shut up and get off my lawn.) and it was AMAZING!

I remember reading an article about the cutting edge graphic development that went into it. One of the lead designers talked about how they had a terrible time getting the computers to make the gridlines that described the landscape of the computer world to DIM as the lines receded into the distance rather than grow brighter.

In the twenty-odd years since then computer generated special effects have… shall we say… made some improvements…

TRON is to AVATAR, the new James Cameron movie just out today, as poo smears on the walls of the monkey house are to the Sistine Chapel. In most cases (and given that I know there IS no moon called Pandora inhabited by 10-foot-tall HOT bipeds of pseudo-feline extraction) I couldn’t tell where the film ended and the effects began.

The movie is beautiful. It is an amazing spectacle and for that alone, I recommend going to see it. If nothing else, you’ll get to see a couple hours of really pretty design. The textures are amazing, the movements smooth and natural. And I don’t mind telling you, the Na’Vi are really pretty hot across the board.

Furthermore, the concept plays DIRECTLY to the escapist fantasies I’ve harbored for the vast majority of my life – trade my pudgy, fragile, humdrum human existence for INSTANT HUGE AND AWESOMENESS BY LAYING DOWN IN A POD LINED WITH MEMORY GEL! I mean really… Who WOULDN’T sign up for a service where they grow you a new body that is BETTER IN EVERY WAY, has bones laced with carbon fiber, organic neural interfacing, and just happens to match a race of UNIVERSALLY ATTRACTIVE aliens who have no hang-ups about running through the forest naked.

…Well, maybe a couple of folks in Utah…

As for the story… well…

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a BAD story exactly…

Okay, so maybe it is a bad story, but it’s familiar and hits a bunch of pre-installed buttons, so… y’know. There’s that.

It’s been done a few times over the years: White guy is disabled and disenchanted with life/society/the world he lives in. White guy goes to land of savages to serve as Ambassador/Outrunner/Bastion bringing the glory of Whiteness to the Red/Blue/Yellow/Purple people. White Guy gets an in with the natives and finds out they’re really a hell of a lot more civilized than their lack of firearms would imply, begins to learn their ways. White Guy is accepted by the open/happy/gentle-but-don’t-screw-with-’em natives just in time for the WHITE EMPIRE to come along and spoil it all by murdering a whole bunch of pretty rainbow people. White-Guy-Gone-Native does the Rainbow People thing better than the folks that made it up and becomes the savior of the poor naked savages, leads Rainbow People to fight Panzers with Toothpicks and wins (director’s choice as to whether victory is AWESOME PRIMITIVE ASS-WHOOPING or NOBLE DEATH AS MORAL TRIUMPH). Either way, White Boy saves the day the Native Way ‘And then they named me their chief…’

Story-wise, Avatar is almost identical to Dances-With-Wolves, except Wes Studi is blue instead of red, and chief instead of warleader. (And I TOTALLY looked at his character the first time he came on screen, back to camera without uttering a word and I thought ‘Is that Wes Studi??’ And then he spoke and it WAS!!) Oh – and Kevin Costner (or rather, his analog) gets his own black braid and blue dragon. Plot developments are telegraphed YEARS before they happen (seriously – I got them in the mail for my 23rd birthday. Fifteen years I’ve been wondering what the hell that was all about…) But then another big blue butt swings by on a vine and it doesn’t seem to matter quite so much.

(It’s also almost identical to The Last Samurai, except that Ken Watanabe is played by Zoe Saldana and Tom Cruise rides around in a 10′ tall blue box of awesome and is heterosexual.)

(I’m just sayin’…)

All in all – a FINE piece of entertainment. I’m gonna go see it again. :)

3 comments to Avatar – a review or ‘Giant Robot Blue Monkey Knife Fight Says What?’

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