I was not in the rush to watch Avatar but it finally caught up with me. Thanks to the promo at local movie rental place I’ve got 3 movies for $5 for 5 nights – pretty good deal. One of those movies was Avatar.
Some time ago one of my friends described to me Avatar as a Smurf-Movie: bunch of blue (mind you, somewhat overgrown at 3m tall) people running across the screen. They live in a commune, got Papa-Smurf etc. Well, I laughed and thought it was funny. Now I have to tell you that both me and my wife have this weird connection when we hear “Smurf”: “porn”. I’ll explain – as kids we didn’t have much exposure to “Smurfs” as a cartoon. Our teen years coincided with the growth of Internet (otherwise known as “porn DB”). And Internet was full of porn Smurf spoofs – all those cute characters with over-sized genitalia “having it” with each other left, right and center. I think I don’t have to explain logic any further. In other words somewhere on subconscious level I expected “porn”.
While having all of the above on my mind I watched the movie casually noticing that it did deliver in soft-porn department – with semi-naked Na’vi (Smurfs) running around culminating in a scene of “mating” between main character and his newfound love. And movie has managed to keep us mostly interested until the end not only because of “porn” theme 😉 Lots of special effects and liberally sprinkled battle scenes do their job well, keeping you entertained and glued to the screen.
For me however movie really starts after you have finished watching it – when you start analyzing it. My main criteria typically are:
- Can you compress the plot into 1 sentence or less?
- Could you tell the ending of the movie 10-20 minutes into the movie?
- Did main characters make you sick with their righteousness?
In reality it’s a bit more complicated, but you’ve got the idea. Guided by common sense and curiosity I started to explore. Some things that I found were not speaking in Cameron’s (or movie) favor (from Wikipedia):
Cinema audiences in Russia have noted that Avatar has elements in common with the 1960s Noon Universe novels by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which are set in the 22nd century on a forested world called Pandora with a sentient indigenous species called the Nave.
That naturally spiked my interest in Strugatsky’s books, but not in the movie itself.
Analyzing movie some more I realized that I wasn’t interested in the movie but rather things about it or related to it. Having as many contradictions as it had, not to mention that I could compress storyline into one sentence: “White American guy comes and rescues alien species who couldn’t defend themselves it on their own” it is hardly surprising that my interest in the movie itself was low (you want to dig deeper on that summary, look up Avatar’s meaning in Hinduism:
Avatar (Hinduism), manifestation or appearance of a Hindu deity
Which makes Jake-the-white-American-marine what? Deity?)
Now to the 3D part – we watched movie as a “mundane” DVD movie – no 3D gimmicks except that I cranked our sub up a notch for more dramatic effect. In that setup we both were able to pinpoint sections of the movie designed specifically for 3D – it was too bloody obvious. Not a single time did I feel myself being “robbed” of that extra dimension. So much for 3D. (BTW – we did watch 3D movies in iMax and so far only 1 really delivered on 3D front – “How to Train Your Dragon”, but I’m digressing).
In summary: despite the claimed “3D”, movie was seriously uni-dimensional. Characters have no depth; story is as straight as a line and stretches no farther than two inches from start to end. While gaining “extra” dimension visually in fact it lost at least one as far as I can tell.
I have to mention that among the rented movies was also “Jade Warrior”. Budgets of both are incomparable, latter doesn’t claim 3D. However that movie has way more dimensions than Avatar has. Interesting twist presents blend of: Finnish and Chinese cinematography, mythology, cultures, etc. Movie is rather poor in battle scenes department (comparing to Avatar). It’s budget was around $2.7 EUR which is a far cry from Avatar’s $230M (I suspect it could’ve been done even cheaper – because I didn’t care much for special effects but story was rally engaging). Yet characters have depth – story keeps you engaged until the very end, and while you and sort of kind of predict the end and the twists of the plot – you are never sure. …and I can’t really compress storyline into single sentence – I’ll need at least two 🙂 Don’t get me wrong – “Jade Warrior” is not a masterpiece by any stretch, but when compared to Avatar it sure feels like one.
Now back to the Smurf business. In a conversation with one of my friends I have realized what movie category Avatar falls into: porn. Yes, it is a Sci-Fi Porn. Judge for yourself:
Pornography or porn is the portrayal of explicit sexual subject matter for the purposes of sexual excitement and erotic satisfaction.
The word derives from the Greek ??????????? (pornographia), which derives from the Greek words ????? (porn?, “prostitute” and pornea, “prostitution”), and ????? (graph?, “I write or record,” derived meaning “illustration,” cf. “graph”), and the suffix -?? (-ia, meaning “state of,” “property of,” or “place of”), thus meaning “a written description or illustration of prostitutes or prostitution.”
as compared to eroticism:
Eroticism (from the Greek ????, eros—”desire”) is a philosophical contemplation with a focus on the aesthetics of sexual desire, sensuality and romantic love. Unlike sensuality, which concentrates on the pleasures of the senses, eroticism is concerned with heightening those pleasures. To achieve that objective, eroticism can involve a delay in sexual gratification in order to intensify the satisfaction level by extending the period of yearning desire.
The way I see it: porn is about displaying it all in full view, erotica is about hinting and letting your mind fill all those dirty details for you. In Sci-Fi terms Avatar is porn: it explicitly shows every detail without leaving much for your mind to feast on. Compare it even to such uninspiring item like “Chronicles of Riddick” and you’ll understand what I’m saying (better yeat – read my “Battlestar Firefly” post). There was no reason for it all to “hang out there” but Cameron decided it should, and “hang out” it did.
If after reading all of the above you ask me: “What do you think of 3D movies?” I’d reply: “It’s a poor substitute for depth of characters and screenplay”. And if you ask me what comes to my mind when I hear Avatar?” I’d say: “Smurfs” 😉