15 January 2010

Suki's Avatar Movie Review

Great movie, one of my favorites ever!

18 December 2009 (USA), written and directed by James Cameron

Viewed in IMAX 3D, Cherry Hill, NJ with two friends who know military stuff.  Note: Military stuff below provided by input from those friends and their friends, because I am a lil clueless there.

IMDB has the basic plot description:
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.
My description:  A tribal culture clash between humans of Earth and the native Na’vi of the moon Pandora over the control of that world’s resources.  Each side values different resources resulting in violent clashes over use of the commons.  This is a decidedly anti-libertarian story with the human miners portrayed as murderous thieves versus the natives as communal stewards of nature.  I thought all of the humans were contractors, but IMDB has many of them being military, so there is a heavy dose of rent seeking on the part of the humans too.

Let me save all of you the time that I wasted thinking about different things I noticed in the movie that seemed odd.  The Pandorapedia has an explanation for just about everything I was going to comment on as being strange, like the choice of aircraft that the mining company uses.  Additionally, IMDB has goofs and things confused with goofs too.
For example: I thought it odd that the small Scorpion gunships would still be using 20th/21st century technology so far in the future.  But my friends noted that they seemed to fit with the mission of the miners and the threats they faced.  Pandorapedia confirmed that and had gobs more info like what the rotor system is called:
Dual co-axial ducted-fan rotor systems with a total of four 3-bladed prop-rotors.  Twin Magnussen KE-76 turbine generators driving counter-rotating annular ceramic motors.
BTW, guy friend knew the generic description off the top of his head.  The distraction here?  Unless they are made of ‘upsidasium’ they must be fueled by ‘undepletium’ because they are always fully loaded and hovering.  Oh, the miners are strip mining for ‘unobtainium’ (yes, this is true) and that it the only thing I can think of in any James Cameron movie that I cannot forgive him for ;)  Well, maybe 'molecular acid' too.

Since this is a James Cameron film, much of the gadgetry is similar to his other movies and Sigourney Weaver isn’t Ripley, she is sort-of Ripley renamed Dr. Grace Augustine.  Back to the tech, Cameron uses various display technology for the workers in this film.  Some have “surround” holographic displays, most have clear flat panel touch screens, but they all are well thought-out for functionally.  Of course, the big fancy 3D display is in the mine boss’ headquarters and he is not really good at operating it.

My favorite part of the story?  The ROMANCE of course!  Actually, right up there with the display technology, but I am odd that way.  Jake is a former Marine Corporal who lost the use of his legs in battle.  Not that cute, in my opinion, either.  He is the twin brother of a scientist who was working on the Avatar project, i.e., flesh and blood remotely operated beings that are very expensive.  The scientist brother died before the mission, so Jake was asked to fill in for him, since he is an identical twin.  I really did not like the way he was portrayed as “stupid,” like the rest of the mining company employees.  However, it dawned on me before I asked a stupid question, it does make the story work and makes him more heroic in the end.  His Avatar is a lot hotter than he is.

When the security chief (Colonel Miles Quaritch) discovers an Avatar operator is a former Marine, he sees an opportunity to use Jake to infiltrate the Na’vi and see if there is anything they will take to move from their home so that it can be mined for the massive unobtainium deposits beneath it.  Quaritch's job is made easier by the condescending manner of Dr. Augustine towards Jake.

As we get to know Jake, he demonstrates boyish, childish, behavior that might be cute back on earth, but in a lab where he is first getting to operate his Avatar it borders offensive and dangerous.  Not offensive as in “Cameron, what were you thinking?”  The actors are convincingly offensive in their roles, as I think was intended.  Even more offensive is the lax lab procedure.  Jake is given almost no prep or briefing on what to expect.  He is getting to use legs for the first time in who-knows-when and NOBODY told him what to expect, or what the initial evaluation procedure was going to be.  So, he tries out his new legs in the Avatar body, wrecks a lab and goes outside to run, like a little kid.  It doesn’t get better for a while.

When the Avatar team finally gets out into the forest Jakes childish behavior is almost his end.  He has that annoying boy trait of touching anything he sees, even if he has no idea if it will eat him, or poison him.  Like an unmannered child in a museum.  While he is supposed to be the armed guard for the team he wanders off, touching things, until he finds something that wants to eat him!  Several, actually, so he gets chased through the forest and almost dies escaping.

While trying to survive the night alone he is spotted by one of the Na’vi, Neytiri.  She is lovely, graceful and lethal with her bow and poison tipped arrows.  As she stalks the intruder and is about to shoot, a sign comes to her that she shouldn't kill him and the man-boy-sitting begins.  Other than sparing him she really just wants him to leave her forest and she does note aloud that he is like a baby.  Noisy, messing with everything, etc., as he clumsily follows her graceful lead through the wood and she is eventually given the task, by her mother, one of the tribal elders, to educate Jake on their ways, which she objects to like a child.

Neytiri isn’t your average Princess.  She is an expert in everything around her.  She can kill or tame anything around her.  Like Laura Croft of the wilderness, without a gun.

By the time Jake is about to take his “final exam,” something else that can kill him, she is rooting for him as her warrior brother is rooting against him.  Then he dies.  Just kidding!  The couple flies together on large reptiles and start getting romantic, after almost being eaten by a giant flying reptile.  Jake gets to do the ceremony for becoming a tribe member and I am not going to spoil how the couple actually decides to be a couple, but I wanted to cry, it was so well done.

Neytiri saves Jake several times.  She is so badass!  When Jake is “unconscious” (Avatar link shut down) she crouches over him with her knife drawn to protect him from any threat.

The romance is broken for a while when Jake tries to warn the Na’vi that they must leave or the “sky people” (humans) are going to kill them all to take the unobtainium that is below their sacred trees.  Again, the people back at base didn’t help him much with how to do something like that.  He messes it up, is seen as an infiltrator and not truly one with the Na’vi, Neytiri dumps him and the security people shut off the Avatars.
Not to worry, Jake proves himself by showing everybody he really is trying to save them, asks for the right help and get it.  In a fantastic twist of the Knight on the white horse, he comes back to the tribe in the way of their legends and leads them against the miners.

I hope I didn't spoil too much.  Now for the bits I really didn’t like, which is less than it looks like all written down.

I thought all the humans on the Pandora were contractors and the ones with guns were ex-military.  IMDB says some are military.  If that’s right, then they are using the military for something a mining company should be hiring the Space Pinkerton’s to do.  Major rent-seeking by the mining company too.

Everybody with a gun is portrayed as stupid, evil, an asshole or all three.  Even when scientists are given guns, they become stupid.  Trust me, there are plenty of smart gun loving scientists today.  Maybe it is different in the future.

Mining operations are run by evil incompetents who think shooting everybody is cheaper than any other course of action.  All they know how to do is mine and shoot.  They try other courses of action only as boilerplate for doing what they wanted to do anyway, bulldoze away the forest until they find the unobtainium.   I suppose a new conflict would have to be written if they did something unique, like digging tunnels with big nice future tunnel diggers (like the Channel Tunnel was dug with) to get the unobtainium and leave the beings above alone.

Floating mountains with gushing waterfalls.  They must be made of upsidasium and get monsoons when off camera.

Flying reptiles are able to grab Scorpion gunships and fling them to the ground.  Unless the gunships are also made of upsidasium, or at least lowmassium, they should be much heavier than the flying lizards.  As informed by others, they don’t use tail rotors so grabbing the tail doesn’t really do much if you have less mass and thrust than the Scorpion.

That is all for now.  I want to see it again, so I may be back for an update.

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