Begin the Big Whine: Avatar

I think what disappoints me about the Avatar aliens is that all this technology has been deployed to create an improved version of the same old man-in-a-rubber-suit effect. Why not make aliens which are impressive but distinctively nonhuman, like Anderson’s Ythrians? Or a beautiful environment which is nonetheless unsuitable for humans (e.g. Simak’s “Desertion” or Blish’s Seedling Stars). And those things were written generations ago. CGI is a pair of 7-league boots that filmmakers are using to take baby steps–even backward steps.

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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13 Responses to Begin the Big Whine: Avatar

  1. The technology has far out-paced the vision at this point. Not necessarily the vision of the fantasists, but rather the vision of the producers and screenwriters and marketing departments. Even with this kind of whiz-bang-magic-pop at their finger tips, caution about the bottom line, etc. is winning out. At least, that’s my knee-jerk, spur of the moment take on it.

    What I find more distressing about the property in question, though, is the re-treaded plot line. Non-native becomes immersed in alien culture, sees the complex beauty of it, falls in love with a local, and emerges as the champion of the alien culture against his (technologically superior) own? Really? Haven’t I seen this with horses and buffalo before? Or with horses and katanas? Or even in anthropology texts? It’s lazy writing which, IMO, is even more of a travesty than wasting good CGI. People are going to be going ga-ga over this despite the derivative story.

    Good CGI gives potential not only for setting, but also for pushing the limites of the story line. Look at even one of your suggestions, and think of how that alone takes the story in new directions. Yes, the protagonist could still develop sympathy for the alien culture, but it would have to be on very different terms, and possibly with a very different outcome. We could forego the “save the noble savage” trope and venture down any number of equally interesting, and possibly more challenging, avenues. But that, too, I fear, would require the studios to not play it as safe as they may like.

    My one hope is that with decent CGI getting cheaper and digital formats getting more accessible from both the creator and consumer ends, we will eventually see some of these potentials being realized — just not by the moguls. Until an indy vid hits it big, of course, after which we can lament about how it has become an over-used trope in an under-utilized medium (“No one is using plasma-immersion video bubbles to their true potential!!!”) again. 🙂

    • peadarog says:

      People are going to be going ga-ga over this despite the derivative story.

      And wait for all of the cries of “how original! ZOMG!”

    • JE says:

      Good thoughts, thanks. The “Dances with Thundercats” thing is especially depressing. Lucas and Cameron both seem to be headed the same way, making high-tech hobbyhorses instead of telling stories.

      If movie theaters finally fade away, that might also kill this kind of movie, which is essentially an entertainment for a big screen. But the medicine might be worse than the disease, in that case. I still like seeing movies in theaters (though sometimes my fellow moviegoers make me wonder why).

  2. malkhos says:

    I watched the trailer at the link you gave. How is that anything other than a retred of the Alien movies (with a little bot of that Carl Sagan film and Starship Troopers thrown)? Is the plot meant to be some sort of parody of LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest?

    I didn’t see any aliens in the clip though. I saw people with recognizable human facial features (the very last things that aliens could have) and recognizable human anatomy and gaits, but with blue skin and over-sized noses. The aliens on Lost in Space were more believable as aliens.

    • JE says:

      “The aliens on Lost in Space were more believable as aliens.”

      Agreed. It’s a real bummer, because if it fails studios will say, “People don’t go for that scifi stuff!” and if it succeeds we’ll get more of the same. Well, that’s more time for reading, then…

  3. scbutler says:

    SF movies finally caught up with 1930s written SF with Star Wars, which I always thought of as a kinder, gentler Lensman series. Don’t think they’ve budged since, which means they haven’t even made it to the Golden Age yet.

    • JE says:

      I see what you mean. I think of Star Wars as “Planet Stories” sort of stuff (which is why Brackett was such a perfect choice for a scenarist). But at least we’ll see the dawn of the Golden Age in Hollywood with Roland Emmerich’s Foundation movie. (I laugh to keep from weeping.)

      • scbutler says:

        Really? A Foundation movie? Maybe he’ll go back in time and cast a 14 yr old Natalie Portman as Arkady.

        Now if someone could convince the Coen brothers to do Earthman, Come Home….

  4. davidcapeguy says:

    I can never get too worked up in anticipation of anything from the man who gave us the gawdawful boring pointless “Titanic.” Sink the damn boat already! Though to be fair, Leonardo DiCaprio did play a convincing non-human in that movie. 🙂

    James Schmitz had some wonderful aliens in both his Telzey Amberdon and Trigger Argee series, and since both series feature beautiful young women as their leads, they might actually be workable as films.

    I’m kinda leery of the planned Foundation movie. I could see it done as an extended tv mini-series, a la the recent Battlestar Galactica. But I don’t see how they can remain even vaguely faithful to Asimov’s story and pack enough of that story into a two- or even a three-hour movie and make it comprehensible. Which probably means the story’s going to be jettisoned, and we’ll end up with something more like The Ice Pirates than like Hari Seldon. Or even more likely: the Foundation way out on Trantor is composed of young (devastatingly sexy) men & women who have lots and lots of personal problems and family issues and relationship difficulties, and have many problems keeping their clothes on, while they’re also busy battling off the crinkly-foreheaded mutant alien hordes led by The Mule, who is the crinkliest-foreheaded mutant alien of them all, and who also turns out to be both Hari Seldon’s illegitimate son, AND, the alcoholic father who deserted our gorgeous young leading lady and left her mother to sell her hair to pay the evil innkeeper and his evil wife with whom the lovely young lady is boarding.

    Did I mention that I’m not optimistic about this flick? 🙂

  5. malkhos says:

    Sorry I didn’t get back to this earlier, but just a few minutes after my last post in this thread, I read the following in Sedley’s Sather Lectures on Creationism in Antiquity (with reference to Empedolces’ anticipation of evolution):

    One might also compare, at the more basic level of the the laws of physics, the currently fashionable anthropic principle, according to which these laws cannot be understood other than from the point of view of the eventual emergence of man. Similar principles to these are, I take it, consciously or unconsciously endorsed by the innumerable science-fiction writers who populate other planets with a humanoid dominant species. (p. 61).

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