1993: “Jurassic Park’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
1995: “Toy Story’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
1996: “Independence Day’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
1999: “The Matrix’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
2005: “Sin City’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
2008: “WALL-E’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
2009: “Avatar’s computer graphics are groundbreaking and game-changing! Films will never be the same again!”
I’m sure you’ve all read the reviews, and probably gone to see it yourself, but here are a couple of quick thoughts about Avatar, which I just saw in (faux) IMAX 3D:
- Sorry, Cameron – I need more. While the effects in Avatar were indeed groundbreaking and beautiful, I’m way over my phase of awesome visual effects being able to overcome a shaky story or half-baked characters. In fact, I can tell you exactly when that phase ended – the minute I sat down to watch The Phantom Menace for the first time. That movie – and all the Star Wars prequels – were indeed visually stunning. But that just wasn’t enough. I needed more from George Lucas, and I needed more from your movie too.
- Yes, I said Phantom Menace. They say that Avatar took 12 years for James Cameron to create, as he waited for technology to catch up to his vision. Does that sound familiar? It should. Those of us who are old enough remember that the first series of Star Wars movies came out spaced three years apart (1977, 1980, 1983), then the original plan was for a five year break before the prequels started. That means that Episode I was supposed to have hit theatres in 1988. But of course, that five year break turned into a 16-year break, and Episode I didn’t actually appear until 1999. Why? Because Lucas was waiting for technology to catch up to his vision for the prequels. But in the end, in the case of both Lucas and Cameron, the technology became a distraction rather than an aid. The Phantom Menace was beautiful to look at – and had a ridiculous, convoluted plot, performances that were phoned in, and no soul at all. It’s obvious what took priority during the production of that movie, and what were secondary considerations. And so it is with Avatar. Avatar is beautiful to look at, – and has a tired, recycled plot, a grating, hamfisted political message, and completely one-dimensional characters. It’s obvious what took priority during the production of Avatar. And if that’s all you’re looking for, then Avatar delivers. But like I said, I need more.
- That said, Cameron is far better at creating dialog than Lucas (not that that’s saying a lot). The dialog in Avatar was only groan-inducing once or twice, and then only mildly so. It made the movie seem imperfect instead of unbearable – flawed instead of a failure.
- 3D is still a gimmick.
- Good performances all around also helped a lot. Sam Worthington is headed for big things. Sigourney Weaver was at the top of her form. This also did a lot to redeem Avatar.
- The main problem was not just the derivative nature, but also the heavy-handedness of the plot. For a movie that provides beautiful delights of light and color, the story was utterly black and white morally. I mean, it was Ayn Rand-level black and white morality. The Na’vi and the human good guys were totally good, and the human bad guys were totally evil, with no redeeming qualities at all. No Na’vi is ever seen doing anything dishonorable or morally questionable. No questions are asked about the human soldiers killed by the Na’vi – about whether they may have been not actually evil, but just men doing something they didn’t really like for a paycheck in hard times. Were they flawed but redeemable? Just trying to feed six kids back home? Doesn’t matter – you’re just supposed to cheer when they get blown to smithereens.
- White guilt. I couldn’t put this point any better than io9 did, so I’ll just link to them.
- Avatar to me really represents the anti-District 9. District 9 was low-budget, and all about story and characters. Avatar is high-budget, and all about the technical perfection and visual effects. But visual effects tend to to age well, and hanging your movie’s legacy on it may not be the most wise of approaches to filmmaking. In addition, for me, it really is all about the story and characters. I never minded the unimpressive visuals of classic sci-fi like Doctor Who, Babylon 5, or Legend of Galactic Heroes. The cutting edge in visual effects moves year to year, but a compelling story and characters you care about are eternal. So when thinking about the best sci-fi movie of 2009, count me as solidly in the District 9 camp. It’ll be the one you’ll still be watching 25 years from now – the one that will still be as compelling as it ever was.
Hello there, Spider-fans!
In order to give everyone here a little more time with our families during the upcoming holiday week, there will be no Geek Tragedy Podcast for the week of Dec. 20th-27th. But don’t worry – we’ll be back and better than ever the following week!
Happy holidays to everyone, and we’ll see you soon!
Episode 25: Nepotism? What’s That?
- Addendum to Geek Gift Guide: Star Trek Communicator VoIP Phone
- Charlie Brown Christmas desecrated
- Dystopian author Peter Watts cuffed, beaten, pepper sprayed by Border Patrol
- Richard Kelly directing, Natalie Portman starring in, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies
- Kids in the Hall returning with 8-part mystery miniseries
- Voice casting for Mass Effect 2 announced
- Breaking News: ‘M’ rated games are inappropriate gifts for young children
- Dirty dealing at Facebook
- Harry and Hermoine to make the sexy time in ‘Deathly Hallows’ film
- Batman and Superman getting rebooted in 2010
- Adrianne Curry games nude. WoW!
- Google CEO doesn’t think much of online privacy
- McG thinks he’s going to direct two more Terminator films
- Star Trek Online Collectors Edition comes with some extras!
- Ultraman monsters dance to Thriller
- Non-gay Ron Livingston sues Wikipedia prankster
- Mr. Burns receives highest number of NYC mayoral election write-in votes
- We’re excited about Tatsunoko vs. Capcom
- Next for James Cameron: The seven Samurai – IN SPACE!!!
- Malkovich to play Vulture in Spidey 4?
- Man makes chain mail from beer can tabs
Some thoughts on Avatar
- Why Avatar can’t just be a hit
- What Avatar could mean for Blu-ray
Stuff You Should Know About
- Voltron for iPhone/iPod Touch – Thumbs up!
- Dave has a question about what a “premium” subscription really gets you
- 1. The Ultimates
- 2. 100 Bullets
- 3. Planetary
- 4. All Star Superman
- 5. The Walking Dead
- 6. The Authority
- 7. Mouseguard
- 8. Blankets
- 9. Invincible
- 10. Y The Last Man
Episode 24: Redshirt – The Scent of Death!
- This will be our special Holiday Geek Gift Buying Guide Episode!
- Obama goes too far, pre-empts Charlie Brown Christmas
- William Shatner TV talk show (Shatner’s Raw Nerve) to debut
- BBC decides NOT to present Christmas ballet featuring deformed, nun-raping Pope
- Superman movies to stay on hold, despite rights worries
- Alyson Hannigan says no to Whedonless Buffy remake
- Bidding not going well for Terminator rights
- Jim Cawley buys rights to Buck Rogers, produces trailer
- Batman sues Batman
- SETI Enthusiast fired from school district
- Brit tennis star Andy Murray dumped by g/f for spending too much time with PS3
- Stallone paintings fetch $40K, $50K
- Plagiarism lawsuit against Stephanie Meyer dismissed
- Alone In The Dark II? Really?
- A Karate Kid remake? Really?
- Will Smith puts Hancock sequel on hold
- Ewan MacGregor puts Trainspotting sequel on hold
- Spielberg puts Harvey remake on hold
- Zombieland 2 (3D?) and Jackass 3D coming
Geek Gift Buying Guide:
- From ThinkGeek – The tauntaun sleeping bag
- From StarWarsShop.com – Garden Jawa
- From Mimobot – Star Wars flash drives
- Found on Jlist – Ranka Lee USB Flash Drive
- From HLJ – Transforming Trypticon USB Mouse
- From ThinkGeek – The 8-Bit Tie
- From Entertainment Earth – the Star Trek Cologne Collection
- From ThinkGeek – the TARDIS USB hub
- From Quantum Mechanix – the “Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal T-Shirt”
- DIY MST3K Glasses
- From Hammacher Schlemmer: Star Trek USB Communicator VoIP Phone
Where to Shop:
Episode 23: The Ballad Of Fred Kaps
- Possible debate with SciFi Surplus
- Creation of the Fred Kaps Special Shiny Award
- Retraction – Harry Knowles actually didn’t like 2012
- ADIDAS Star Wars Edition sneakers coming soon
- FBI uses PS3s to catch pedos
- USAF orders 2200 PS3s to… do something
- Latest Kingdom Hearts game will not be available via digital download
- Strike Witches Season 2 animation moves from Gonzo to AIC
- Warcraft/Wynona Ryder/Depeche Mode lawsuit
- 14GB USB Sofa lets you sit, share files
- Michael Moorcock to write Doctor Who novel
- Unexpected props for Miley Cyrus, who said of New Moon: “I don’t like it… don’t even talk about it”
- New Scottish beer “Tactical Nuclear Penguin” features 32% alcohol
- New in stores: bacon jam
- And bacon soap
- Twelve superheroes who should be on 70s vans
- UFO to be remade
- JMS to remake Forbidden Planet
- New Universal Soldier sequel coming
- Time for another Amityville Horror remake
Remake Special – What Should Be Remade/Rebooted/Sequeled:
- The Rocketeer
- Beverly Hills Cop
- Beavis & Butthead – It’s time for one more movie
- Tales of the Gold Monkey
- Tales From the Darkside
- The Avengers
- American versions of Spaced, Detroit Metal City
- The Rockford Files/Streets of San Francisco
- Bad Taste
- Trilogy of Terror
- Tokyo Zombie – Two thumbs up!
Defending The 70s:
- American TV
- British TV