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Will You Go See Avatar?

Avatar, the long-awaited film from James Cameron, opens tomorrow. It’s being called a ground-breaking film for it’s seamless blend of live action and computer-generated imagery.

I have to agree that the film looks absolutely stunning. Some of the scenery and science fictional elements look spectacular (though I think that the aliens movement is a little too slow and not quite lifelike). But I also wonder about the story itself. I really, really hope it will be good but fear it will suffer from LPS (Lucas Prequel Syndrome – looks real pretty but has a weak story). A recent review at JoBlo confirms my apprehension. I’m still undecided on whether I will go see it, much less if I will see it in 3D.

How about you? Are you planning on seeing the latest SciFi blockbuster?

Here’s a trailer to help you decide…

About John DeNardo (13013 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

50 Comments on Will You Go See Avatar?

  1. No, thanks. I’ve already seen Dances With Wolves. I don’t need to see Dances With Blue Cats.

  2. <!– @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } –>

    I’m pretty disappointed that Cameron thinks that giant, blue nekomusume can pass as credible aliens, but I’ll probably go see it (not expecting much more than an overproduced, dumbed-down, live-action anime pastiche). For believable, substantial sf world-building I’ll stick with Poul Anderson’s A World Called Cleopatra (1977), or Harlen Ellison’s Medea: Harlan’s World (1985).

  3. ArcaneHeretic // December 17, 2009 at 1:05 pm //

    I have no desire to see this train wreck. The preview looks bad and the more I here about it the less I like it. Clearly made for a “soecific” viewing audience. I’ll pass.

  4. It looks like another Post Man or Waterworld.  Dances with Smurfs was the Southpark joke.  I’ll wait and see if Netflix recommends I add it to my queue…

  5. “Space Pocahantas Dances with Wolves Smurfs in Fern Gully”

  6. I don’t know if I will see it.  It all depends what happens next month for me.

    That said, it doesn’t matter if I see it or not.  As I said on my blog, it doesn’t matter if Avatar is one of the worst SF movies made in the last decade…people are still going to see it in droves.

  7. I’ll almost definitely see it, although I don’t have huge hopes for its story — and although I worry its visuals maybe can’t be enjoyed unless viewed under the perfect (and likely unobtainable) conditions of 3D and IMAX. Still, I don’t think this is one I can really miss — and certainly not enjoy on DVD.

  8. I am certainly intrigued by the look of it and the spectacle, but the story looks to me to be one that might be too preachy about the current PC themes regarding war and the environment.  I certainly don’t mind films that have a message.  I prefer the message to be less heavy handed than the trailers indicate.  Perhaps it isn’t like that at all, this is just the impression that I personally get whenever I see the trailers.

  9. It is disappointing that so many commenters – alleged science fiction fans – are spouting hate against this movie. Avatar has gotten good reviews. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 85% (95% by top reviewers). Some folks have compared the visuals and sweeping story arc to the revolutionary film, Star Wars. Maybe and maybe not, but I for one am excited to see it. If it has half the impact on film that Star Wars had, I want make sure I see it as it was intended: in a theater, digital 3D or IMAX 3D.

  10. All of the publicity I’ve seen around the film makes it seem like a mix of ablism, colonialism, and a rousing round of ‘What these people need is a honky.’

    No thanks.

  11. Nope. Looks like a derivative mess with smurf-like aliens. No interest. 

  12. I will watch it. I will enjoy it.

    Afterwards I’ll hate myself for willingly supporting such a vapid, heartless retread of a story.

  13. On some level, I consider Avatar to be geek jury duty: Something you’re obligated to participate in as a member of the community. The technology involved in making this film will influence filmmakers (for better or ill, much like The Matrix’s bullet-time feature) for years to come. From a historical standpoint, I want to be there when it gets started. Moreover, this film will be a pop cultural touchstone for many geeks and non-geeks. As such, I need to be up on it, if only to explain o the mundanes how much better “good” sci-fi can be.

  14. I plan on seeing it as soon as possible and am trying to keep an open mind, although I had the same thought about the story possibly being the weakest element. Cameron has a lot riding on this given the price tag–that’s for sure.

  15. Seen the trailer(s). Seen the HBO behind-the-scenes thingie. My reaction: Meh. The effects and all that look cool. But the story just seems like it’s going to be bland. What you’re hinting at above, John, makes me think my intuition is not failing me yet. Memories of AI hype are being kindled.

    However, I enjoy the theater as much as most folks. So…I will see it in the theater IF it’s possible to just see it in the theater. My local theater has a tendency to not play the big, blockbuster films unless they can milk you for “3D” or “IMAX Experience” or “Fork-and-Screen.” I will pay for none of these regardless of the movie. So, if the $5 matinee is available, I will see it. If not, I will wait for the DVD. πŸ™‚

    [If nothing else, I will be interested to see if there are any hints of Haldeman (Forever War), Heinlein (Starship Troopers), or even Richard K. Morgan (Broken Angels)—or any other military sci-fi classics—in this feature.]

  16. Illumineer // December 17, 2009 at 4:08 pm //

    Get your noses out of the air!!! I’ve seen AVATAR – it’s spectacular! If you don’t go see it, you’ll doom any effort to get REAL SF on the screen (you know, the SF from famous books …).

  17. > On some level, I consider Avatar to be geek jury duty

    On many levels, I consider not going to Avatar to be my duty as a member of my community — those people who care about the racist casting, and appropriation of other people’s stories.

    I like to spend my dollars to encourage the world to give me more of what I want. Avatar? Do Not Want.

  18. Matte Lozenge // December 17, 2009 at 5:34 pm //

    Heck, sure, I’ll go see it. Why not? I sat through Star Trek and enjoyed the spectacle, even though the storyline was a disappointing mess of absurd cliffhangers. So what if Avatar has a vapid lowest-common-denominator self-contradictory moralistic message? Eye candy may be empty calories, but that doesn’t you can’t enjoy it.

  19. I’ve just come home from the Danish premiere of Avatar (3D version), and while the story might be a re-thread of things we have seen many times before, the film is amazing. While not revolutionary, I can honestly say that I have never seen a film like this before.

    And it’s not ‘just about the visuals’. Cameron has made a giant sf spectable with all his usual trademarks: amazing set pieces, incredible design, great cinematography and fantastic, well edited, action scenes.

    The story and the acting is quite good as well, in my opinion.

    Honestly? What’s not to like?

    I admit to being a big James Cameron fan but I really cannot imagine anyone not having a GREAT time at the movies with Avatar.

  20. Rani Graff // December 17, 2009 at 6:15 pm //

    I have already seen it in an advanced 3D press screening in Tel Aviv yesterday, and I can tell you that not only I will go and see it again, but I will do it a few days from now. And in 3D. It’s that good. 

    Cameron not only managed to create a believable exciting new and strange world, full of colorful fantastic marvels, but he manged to intigrate it into a story that works perfectly with the technology. Yes, it is a somewhat simplistic story, but the charecters are reach and easy to identify with, and among mainstream movies, big budget movies, it’s a lot more sophisticated then what it might seem in forst glance. 

    After seeing the trailers one might think it’s a movie about evil people against good natured peace loving innocent blue creatures residing in a far away distant moon. That is not the case and there are many grey areas among people and blue aliens as well. 

    Cameron is also very smart in using his new 3D technology, and he never flaunts in your face. It’s simply there as a part of the world. The tagline used in some of the prpmos, “Enter the World”, couldn’t be more accurate this time. And unlike George Lucas who can’t hold a streight story anymore and is just playing with new toys like a 4 year old, Cameron is not about the toys: the toys are there just to support the story. He is not just playing with the toys, he is using them smartly. 

     

    So yes, you should go and see it, and in 3D. Because after all that “Avatar” is also great fun, an old school adventure exciting movie that will rightly attract audiences to theatres, where this time out will get a unique expirience that no DVD or Blu Ray will be able to recreate in home theaters. 

     

  21. I probably would have gone to see it, but with extremely low expectations, except that no way my wife is going to go for it on the quite reasonable grounds that she knew the whole story by about halfway through the cinema trailer. Not because she guessed the story, but because the shown clips literally spell out the most dumbfoundingly by-the-numbers plot imaginable.

    Myself, speaking as a writer, movies like Avatar are nails in sf’s coffin. Movies like this tell us it’s perfectly fine not to bother even slightly tipping the hat either to physical reality or the remotely possible. First off, despite all the CGI in the world, the aliens are … cartoon versions of rubber-foreheaded Star Trek aliens, physiologically almost entirely human bar a bit of blue tinting. Why even bother animating them? And there are flying mountains. Or mountains that just kind of float in the air because, apparently, gravity doesn’t work in the rest of the universe; and indeed, it’s a sad fact that an enormous number of people out there – and I’m really not kidding – don’t believe gravity exists outside of the Earth. Even some apparently quite educated people, and I’m sure they won’t mind, but I’d be tempted to slash the f*****g cinema screen.

    It’s a sad example of just how badly our collective intelligence is being eroded to a point where we neither expect nor desire anything even remotely challenging. Avatar looks not only bland, it appears to have been mashed up for us so we don’t have to chew before we swallow.

  22. The thing about Hollywood SF, to me, is that it is very hard to find SF that actually attempts to innovate with the story, and how the technology or fantastical elements change what is possible in the structure of narrative.

    That’s why I’m not going to see Avatar. It’s another Hollywood plot I’ve seen too many times. This time with more CGI!

     

    I wish the innovations in SF films were based in things like story, plot, and character interactions. Instead, the innovations are all bigger and better kung fu explosions with the help of CGI.

     

    I like kung fu explosions as much as the next guy, but it saddens me that Avatar is on wide release with so much hype while INK, an amazing, innovative film doing exactly what I wish SF films would do that deserves this kind of attention, is a barely-there release that I have to discover based on Netflix recommendations in my instant queue, and the vague memory of seeing about something at io9.

     

    Buy INK.  Wait until Avatar comes out on netflix. Make Hollywood see that INK is rewarded with dollars while Avatar is an expensive Titanic bomb.

     

     

  23. @Gary: I’m glad you brought that up — I forgot to mention the floating mountains as well.  I do hope there’s some explanation for that.

  24. I just saw it and want to add my voice to the choir: You need to see it, and you need to see it in 3D, best in an imax theater like I just did.

    The visuals will blow you away, I promise you that!

    I’m an old cynic and hated much of the story and setting of the film and would subscribe to any criticism you could think of, but dear mighty Spaghetty Monster, those visuals made me slack-jawed and teary eyed like a little kid in the 70s watching Star Wars for the very first time.

    Beautiful.

    If I may recycle some critical points here though:

    What annoys me besides the whole Pocahontas in blue thing here is the compulsive heterosexist gendering. Of course the hero is a guy who gets an avatar that is very alien but still doubtlessly male, and comes together with an alien that is still doubtlessly female. I guess we can imagine a whole lot of things, like going to other planets, switching to cloned bodies, totally alien ecospheres, but oh my god: let them be straight. 

     

    A hollywood SciFi flic can pretend to be as progessive as possible, anti-imperialist eco-warriors fighting against a capitalist military-industrial complex, but it seems it is impossible to subvert the gender dichotomy even a little bit. Maybe this is considered too small a side contradiction to even bother thinking about. 

     

    (I’m also not really surprised that the SyFy channel got one of the worst ratings for not inclusion of lgbt characters in it’s shows. I do not think that it is only the supposedly predominantly teenage male audience that makes this a huge no-no.)

     

    also: this terrible, horrible, awful, unbearable ethno-kitsch soundtrack. Who thought that this Lion King crap would be a good idea for a film in 2009?

     

    Then there seems to be an action-movie trope going like this: The bland faceless hero must compete for the damsel with his native adversary, who hates the hero even though he semes a decent chap. Later the hero proves himself and the adversary acknowledges his claim for the priced female specimen, shakes his hand, and will later in the film sacrifice himself so the heterosexual couple can get together without any awkward preloaded relationship issues. Because that would be somewhat complicated. No, he has to die, like the Viking Prince in Otherlander, there can be no blemish on our new royal couple.

     

    You know, this kinda trope? I think it’s annoying.

  25. Garry wrote:

    “And there are flying mountains. Or mountains that just kind of float in the air because, apparently, gravity doesn’t work in the rest of the universe”

    I gues you missed that this is all because of Unibtainium? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium)

    It is the element they are mining on the planet, because of it’s unique properties, like effecting gravity on this moon enough to let mountains float…

    Some people think its a nice nod towards classic Science Fiction, Cameron kind of saying, “Look, it doesn’t really matter what it is. The bad guys are just after something really f’n valuable, and we’re hanging the plot around it. Just stay with me here, ‘kay?”, while others think it’s just lazy and not even trying at all.

  26. can I now edit my posts for typos, please? Pretty please?

  27. > I wish the innovations in SF films were based in things like story, plot, and character interactions. Instead, the innovations are all bigger and better kung fu explosions with the help of CGI.

    I agree 100 % and that is why I love Gattaca, Primer, Time Crimes, Dark City, 12 Monkeys, 2046, Solaris, Code 46 and a lot of other good sf movies from the last 10-15 years, but I honestly don’t understand why a lot of sf fans are hating this movie.

    Sure, it’s not ‘the second coming of sf movies’ as we might have hoped it would be, but it sure is a kick ass sf spectable, and I can live with that.

    Cameron has stated, a lot of times, that he has no intention of making movies for the ‘festival crowd’. He wants his movies to be seen by the masses, and I for one am quite happy whenever he chooses to do a movie that has some aspects of  ‘real’ sf.

    Does this movie in any way degrade ‘real’ sf? I can’t see it.

    What Avatar delivered to me was a totally immersive trip to another world and I would think any fan of science fiction would want to see that.

  28. Mark McSherry // December 17, 2009 at 8:21 pm //

    This may be as close as one gets to a Poul Anderson movie. The basic premise of AVATAR is straight out of his “Call Me Joe” (1957).

    I’d cut Camerson some slack on this. With the amount of money spent on this he needs to play this movie to the lowest common denominator audience base. And that means NOT only a syrupy song playing over the end credits. In the end, it’s all about the cinematic toolset Cameron has created to produce AVATAR.

    In the near future we may finally get that movie featuring a beer-quaffing Van Rjin bellowing Falkayn, Adzel, and Chee Lan to another adventure aboard the Muddlin’ Through. With the trio exploring the hinterspaces of the Polesotechnic League, of course, between poker games with the ship’s computer, Muddlehead.  

  29. Off course!

  30. Tough crowd, but apparently the same crowd that likes to put ridiculously impossible cities and spaceships on the covers of the books they like to read.  

    Snarky line, but I enjoy all of those things.  I want to see those book covers come to life, want to see environments and battles that are only described in books.  Maybe it’s not the way you visualize things, but anyone remotely a fan of SF, should be thanking Cameron for having the patience and fortitude to see a gabillion dollar postcard make it to the screen. 

    People dislike The Abyss as well.  I’m glad I got to see it in the theater.  Really, films like Avitar are why we have those huge theaters.  Relax.  Have some fun.

    Pointless even commenting because I’m guessing most people commenting here, regardless of what they say, will be seeing Avitar.  Don’t worry, nobody will know.

  31. @J M McDermott:No, thanks. I’ve already seen Dances With Wolves.”

    @ArcaneHeretic: “I have no desire to see this train wreck. The preview looks bad and the more I here about it the less I like it.”

    @SQT:Looks like a derivative mess with smurf-like aliens.”

    @Jeff:Afterwards I’ll hate myself for willingly supporting such a vapid, heartless retread of a story.”

    @Savant:But the story just seems like it’s going to be bland.”

    @Matte Lozenge:So what if Avatar has a vapid lowest-common-denominator self-contradictory moralistic message?”

    @Mark McSherry:With the amount of money spent on this he needs to play this movie to the lowest common denominator audience base.”

    There are a lot of unfortunate statements here, which display the sort of inward-looking hubris of some SF “fans” that can actually do more harm to than good for the wider cultural currency of the genre.

    One problem is that these statements are made without having seen the film, relying upon the incomplete, fragmentary evidence of the trailer(s). Another problem is that I’m unsure why a huge, mainstream event such as Avatar needs to be panned, snorted at, and derided when one very significant consequence will be the added attention it brings to SF — SF as not just a viable entertainment money-maker, but also as a way of delivering provocative commentary upon our world (like, say, District 9). Adam Roberts criticizes this SF “fan” attitude in his very good book The History of Science Fiction (2005).

    This has been an exceptional year for SF film, and Cameron’s Avatar will close out 2009 as probably the highest-grossing film released this year. Avatar‘s already received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Film (Drama).

    I have not seen the film yet; I am going on Friday. I suspect that the film is more complex than the broad brushstrokes that we get from the trailers, and I suspect so because two reviews from generally highly respected sources spend a fair amount of time praising the story and the script:

    Roger Ebert’s review

    Globe & Mail review

    How do you know for sure that the story and its message(e) will be “derivative,” “bland,” “vapid,” and “self-contradictory”? Simply because the aliens are blue and there’s a seemingly simplistic conflict between good (the blue aliens) and evil (rah-rah, kick-some-ass human military zealots)? Why this belief that Cameron is aiming for the “lowest common denominator” in his audience, when he certainly seems willing to present viewers with a variety of issues in Avatar?

    Why are you assuming that Cameron has not, in fact, paid a great deal of attention to the story, as well as to the future of 2154 and the world of Pandora . . . to some of the basic requirements of science fiction? Wouldn’t Cameron’s track record, especially with SF (TerminatorAliensThe Abyss), suggest that he at least knows what he’s doing?

    Perhaps seeing the film and basing judgements and assertions on having the full evidence at hand would be more productive, whether or not you like the film?

    @Gary Gibson:Myself, speaking as a writer, movies like Avatar are nails in sf’s coffin. Movies like this tell us it’s perfectly fine not to bother even slightly tipping the hat either to physical reality or the remotely possible. . . . It’s a sad example of just how badly our collective intelligence is being eroded to a point where we neither expect nor desire anything even remotely challenging. Avatar looks not only bland, it appears to have been mashed up for us so we don’t have to chew before we swallow.”

    Again, Adam Roberts addresses this attitude toward SF in his book The History of Science Fiction. In a nutshell, (some) fans/readers apply scientific accuracy and plausibility to SF as a criteria of aesthetic quality, thereby, ironically, dismissing a great deal of SF as bad SF because it is “wrong” or “inaccurate” or “impossible” on such (non-aesthetic) grounds.

    As to ignoring the laws of “physical reality” or skirting around the “possible,” I ask, so what?

    The sort of SF that you are pointing toward is only one kind of SF, one subgenre of SF, one idea of what SF should be. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr., in The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction (2008), argues that his idea of SF, which derives primarily from Darko Suvin (and is effectively SF as “hard SF”), is actually restrictive — it reduces SF to the necessity of rigid scientific plausibility, when in fact SF is a much more varied genre and mode and tradition, and is just as much characterized by “ludic” elements (i.e., spontaneity, playfulness). And I agree with him, wholeheartedly.

    Why shouldn’t SF imagine the supposedly impossible? Why shouldn’t SF speculate upon ways in which our notions of “physical reality” are subverted, toyed with? SF can challenge its readers and viewers intelligently through more ways than a strictly (and restrictively) “hard” perspective.

    What if this film not just brings new people to SF/sci fi, but encourages some viewers to get more interested in environmental issues or the problems of imperialism/colonialism (economic, political, cultural)? Would this be a bad thing?

     

  32. I was somewhat skeptical when I went to see this on the midnight release 4 hours ago.  I’ve only experienced cheesy 3d movies and the smurf thing wasn’t really leading me to believe that this was going to be worth it, but I’m a geek and any excuse to go to the movies with friends at midnight is worth it.

    So, now that I have seen it, I will absolutely see it again this weekend with my kids.  The 3d was incredible and the movie itself sucked you in.  I was blown away by how good the experience was and was a little disappointed that I couldn’t watch it twice in a row.  From the hype, and the trailers, it looked like it could have been a kids movie, but nae I say.  This movie rocked and will be getting another visit from me as well as a purchase of the DVD when it comes out.

    And what the hell does heterosexuality have to do with any of this ubik?  Why does the archetypical man fights for woman thing have to be a woman fights for woman or man fights for man in order for this movie to be satisfying?  I have enjoyed shows of both slants since the humor is different.  But to come out of nowhere and start accusing this thing of being some kind of heterosexual whatever-the-hell-you-called-it is as stupid as saying the Little Mermaid was a great movie except she should have been a lesbian and obviously there is some conspiracy since she was heterosexual.

    That’s dumb.

    For everyone else…. GO SEE IT!

  33. There’s a difference between invented science that’s there to allow a story to make a point, and invented science that’s there because the writer, producer, or whoever is either a brainless schlub or has zero respect for their audience.

    Look, HG Wells had Cavorite, and the ‘unobtainium’ is clearly Cavorite in disguise. If there’s a rationale in place for the floating mountains, then fine. That’s a step up from ‘red matter’, at any rate. Regardless, I still consider it a massive stretch – and if one of the authors whose manuscripts I assess on a regular basis put that into a novel with even a tentative connection to reality or without some sufficiently powerful underlying theme or motive, I’d be putting thick red lines through it. Wells, at least, was coming from two separate traditions – one of lunar fiction dating back centuries that sometimes saw flocks of doves used as a mode of transport, and one of 19th Century social commentary – and used cavorite to address both.

    Some fiction or cinema comes from the point of view of using fantastical ideas in order to make a point or address a theme. Some uses fantastical ideas because the creators simply don’t know what they’re talking about, and it always shows.

    Let’s look at some clear hard facts. The film cost god knows how many hundreds of millions … and for all that they couldn’t come up with a decent story? I write story and plot every single day, and I and any one of the multitudes up there could generate a better story than what appears to be there. Even the good reviews come away saying the plot is extremely slight. So here’s a question … if you’re not going to see this for the story,then what the hell are you going for? The world’s longest Xbox trailer? A special-effects demo? What?

    It is entirely possible to merge cutting-edge CGI with good, fun writing that carries emotional impact. ‘Up’, by Pixar, is the obvious example. Avatar, by contrast, appears to me to be a more cynical exercise.

    But this is a movie carrying a huge weight of financial expectation. A movie this big that flops would be a Heaven’s Gate for whichever studio financed it. Clearly, that’s not going to happen, but in order to guarantee success, you have to appeal to the widest audience possible – and that means something that could be summed up on the back of an envelope. In crayon. When you go and see Avatar – or the new Star Trek – or Terminator: Salvation – or Phantom Menace, etc etc – you’re seeing a film designed  with the emotional and intellectual capacity of a nine-year old as its audience baseline. And maybe not a very bright or attentive one at that. Hence lots of bright flashing lights, primary colours, explosions, and flashy effects designed to keep you from experiencing anything resembling thought for the best part of two hours.

    Story, in other  words, is no longer required. And that’s the saddest thing I can think of right now.

  34. Of course yes!!!

  35. I believe Roger Ebert’s review mentions “Star Wars” and I think the comparison is apt.  This is a watershed moment in film in exactly the same way.  Was the Star Wars story “great”?  It was OK, but that was somewhat irrelevant to its cultural impact; it was an experience, and based on reviews and first hand reports from all over, this passes that smell test.

    Not to mention this movie stands as the Iceburg of 3D technology.  Within a few years, 3D will be ubiquitous.  3D CNN and Animal Planet.  Whether you want it or not, 3D is coming…

  36. Mark McSherry // December 18, 2009 at 8:46 am //

    @MIke J: Enjoyed reading your arguments. I thought I was complimenting Mr Cameron. Wanting to be able to pay back the gobs of “other people’s money” invested in AVATAR (with a profit) is an admirable quality in a visionary film maker.

    But one should not ignore the long established (and beloved) tradition of cantankerousness and crotchetiness of the SF community when it comes to the Hollywood product.

    ———————– 

    From Forrest J. Ackerman’s “Scientifilm Previews” column in the British NEBULA SCIENCE FICTION #17 (published on July 1956)—

    “FORBIDDEN PLANET: I have to pan it. Sorry as can be, because for the same amount of money M.G.M. could have filmed SLAN or ONE IN 300. Instead they squandered more than a million dollars on a spectacle that I greatly fear will prove to be a spectacular flop. In that event the Studio will probably recoil from science fiction like a snail with salt sprinkled on its eyestalks, and the great scientifilm potentials will be lost in the Limbo of Unmade Things. The alternative is perhaps more depressing: that by some fluke of fate the film will not be a dud but a hit, and then M.G.M. will be convinced that it has the formula for successful sci-filmaking, and go on making more monstrosities like FORBIDDEN PLANET.

    “Not since the sneak” of Bradbury’s IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE has a preview been shrouded in such secrecy… But I tracked it down and saw all 100 minutes of it. About 10 days later, when I was officially invited to the Studio to see the version edited as it will be shown to the public, perhaps 5 minutes had been deleted from it— but they still could have incinerated half the celluloid and had too slowly paced a picture.

    “As Ray Bradbury, who sat directly behind me, said: “Plot, plot, who’s got the plot?”

    “…The sorrowful fact is, the damn thing is just DULL. And I know that it’s not just that I’m getting old and blase about science fiction and scientifilms after 30 years of reading and seeing the same…

    “FORBIDDEN PLANET, besides being boring, has too much about it that’s ridiculous…

    “… Nevertheless, despite the disparagement cast on FORBIDDEN PLANET, you will not want to miss it for several reasons. One, the 50 minutes of weird, alien “electronic tonalities” that constitute the music score. Created by sci-fi fans, Louis and Bebe (Mr. and Mrs.) Barron, this new sound will probably be around for a number of scientifilms to come…

    “… Other reasons for seing F. P. are its magnificent machinery and enthralling architecture (visible during 10-15 minutes of the whole), and the wholely horrifying, satisfying manifestation of the Monster. Walt Disney has done devilishly well in animating evil incarnate at the climax of the film. His and other special effects are magnificent and unforgettable, most of the rest of FORBIDDEN PLANET best quickly forgotten.”

    ———————– 

    One can only sympathize with Mr Ackerman and Mr Bradbury, knowing the cinematic abomination that M.G.M. (and Stanley Kubrick) will spring upon them a dozen years later.  πŸ™‚

  37. I believe the real question is, how many times will you see Avatar, in which case my answer requires some explanation:

    Three, because it is one less than the four James Cameron is banking on, and twice more than the obligatory one I have to expend as a fan of epic Sci-Fi films, and one more that I will expend as a fan of James Cameron films. (Although, if I do see it four times, the extra one will be because I couldn’t bear to see Titanic more than that one time. I still can’t get Celine Dion out of my head. <shiver>)

  38. @Gary Gibson: “Some fiction or cinema comes from the point of view of using fantastical ideas in order to make a point or address a theme. Some uses fantastical ideas because the creators simply don’t know what they’re talking about, and it always shows.

    Let’s look at some clear hard facts. The film cost god knows how many hundreds of millions … and for all that they couldn’t come up with a decent story? I write story and plot every single day, and I and any one of the multitudes up there could generate a better story than what appears to be there.”

    There’s a lot to address in your post, but I’ll use the above quotation as my focus.

    The fundamental flaw in your argument is that you have not seen Avatar, and so your assumptions about and pronouncements on its story, its treatment of its audience, and its plausibility lack the direct evidence of the entire film. Having now seen the film, I can speak to your points:

    (1) Cameron, in fact, does appear to know what he’s doing and talking about, for the world of Pandora is definitely the “fantastical” employed to “make a point.” It is a world on which the the idea of Nature as an interconnected network is a biological and electrochemical reality: everything from the fauna to the flora to the Na’vi are physically and psychologically linked in intimate ways that have tangible, plausible effects upon how the entire world functions. It is a world that captures our sympathy, wonder, even love, such that we resist the ideology and machinery that treats it merely as a commodity.

    And the film signals its self-reflexive awareness of the position it takes regarding the corporate colonization of Pandora at the expense of the world’s indigenous people(s) and biosphere: “unobtainium” as the reason for invading and pillaging the world suggests . . . satire.* Perhaps a bit obviously, but the film does not belabour the point; rather, it brings up the matter once, and then lets the story play out the implications and consequences.

    I suggest that Avatar is purposeful in all that it does, particularly regarding its request that we see our world anew, or, instead, that we remember what is properly valuable about Earth (and humanity). Moreover, the film, even if it revels in and wears its politics all over its sleeves, lets its beauty and immensity and characters take over and, so to speak, do the talking.

    I’m curious, then: what, exactly, do you think Cameron & Co. do not know in what they’re saying?

    (2) Regarding the story, I’m tempted to ask you to define what makes a “decent story,” but I’ll focus on the film instead. Avatar delivers everything that a great story needs: conflict(s) that we get invested in; characters whom we care about and who develop and change because of what they experience; a world that fascinates and awes us; and catharsis, catharsis, catharsis. Avatar, true, paints with broad brush strokes; the good guys and the bad guys are obvious, and whom we’re supposed to side with and root for is also obvious. The film makes no apologies on this count.

    Yet are not these things the ingredients for a good story, if what constitutes a “good story” is a narrative that not only entertains us but also stirs us and maybe brings us to think differently about ourselves? Avatar is not after shades of grey, ambiguities, blurred lines between heroes and villains. Why should it be? It is drawing from the conventions and function of myth, of the archetypal. In doing so, it also gets to what some consider the heart of SF as a genre, a literature: i.e., to use the Other as a medium through which to understand who we are; to use the Other as a means by which we might confront the “alien” and reflect upon the nature of our own paradigms, ideologies, assumptions.

    When Jake at the end of the film narrates how the “aliens” (i.e., the humans) left Pandora not to return, his (psychological, emotional) transformation and ours becomes complete. He’s “gone native,” sure, but who wouldn’t want to after the fine display of greed, violence, and hubris put on by humanity in the film? Ironically, perhaps, it is fundamentally human on Jake’s part to do so.

    What, therefore, would be a “better story” than the one Avatar tells? How can you know what this “better story” might be if you have not seen the film to know its complexities, investments, and aims? These things are much as “facts” as the film’s budget.

    In the end, Avatar glories in SF as “sense of wonder.” Deliciously and magnificently so. It has moments of purely jaw-dropping, inspiring beauty. It is a sad day when SF “fans” will deride and dismiss such a film, for it has much in it to remind us about the power SF possesses to fire our imaginations and thus to alter how we perceive ourselves.**

     

    * In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells also used the then-contemporary speculation upon a “fourth dimension” to underpin the plot device of time travel as a medium for a dystopian satire upon late-Victorian socioeconomic class divisions and ideologies. One thing about a great deal of SF: it need not be plausible based on actual scientific, rational, empirical principles; rather, it can create plausibility by using the discourse of scientific, rational, empirical principles. So, whether or not Pandora’s floating mountains are possible in terms of the laws of physics that we know (and assume to be correct and standard for the rest of the universe), they are possible within the rules and laws of physics of Pandora’s world — which are explained in the film. Again, your idea of SF is a distinct and narrow one, and that’s fine. However, your idea of SF should not thus summarily discount other forms of SF as illegitimate.

    ** I am not arguing that all SF fans must love and adore and praise Avatar. For some, the film just won’t work, on various levels (plot, story, science, etc.). Such is the nature of art. I am arguing, however, that judgements on the film should be made after having seen it — after having read the whole text, so to speak, instead of only the front-cover artwork and the back-cover blurb.

     

  39. @Mark McSherry: Enjoyed reading your arguments. I thought I was complimenting Mr Cameron. Wanting to be able to pay back the gobs of “other people’s money” invested in AVATAR (with a profit) is an admirable quality in a visionary film maker.

    Yet you are kind of damning with faint praise, no? Put another way, you’re reducing your compliment of the film to the “admirable quality” of a profit motive, and thus your “visionary film maker” is clearly tongue-in-cheek and distrustful.

    I will say wholeheartedly and honestly that Cameron is definitely a “visionary.” It takes an incredible amount of willpower, dedication, chutzpah, balls, belief, maybe ego, intelligence, and vision to conceive of and then bring to fruition a film such as Avatar.

    If the film seeks a broad audience, it does so, as I wrote in my post just above (18 Dec., 4:16pm), in the way that the mythical and archetypal seeks to engage as many as possible in its meanings. Moreover, Avatar is anything but “DULL,” “boring,” and “ridiculous” — at least, from my perspective. It is a true movie/entertainment event, but it is also a smart and challenging and engrossing story.

    Will it make millions? Definitely. And I will happily contribute to its profits by going to see the film in the theatre one more time at a minimum (I want the IMAX experience), then getting the DVD/Blu-Ray when that’s available.

     

    NOTE: A point that I wanted to raise in my last post, in the second footnote, is that in Avatar, form supports and mirrors the story and its central themes — one of which is to “see” differently, to look with a new perspective. The use of 3D is perfect in this regard, for it asks viewers to experience Pandora in a way that we normally do not perceive our own regular reality, let alone traditional 2D film. Cameron manages the 3D beautifully: after a while, it’s no longer a shock or surprise but a reinforcement of the newness and wonder of Pandora.

     

  40. Matte Lozenge // December 18, 2009 at 8:51 pm //

    “How do you know for sure that the story and its message(e) will be “derivative,” “bland,” “vapid,” and “self-contradictory”?”

    Well, Mike, since you asked, I don’t know for sure. I haven’t seen the movie. But I will.

    If you notice, the title of this post is “Will You Go See Avatar?” not “Are the Avatar Reviews Correct?” I like reading movie reviews, and I’ve read about 50 reviews of Avatar. And about 90% of them say Avatar is a rousing spectacle with a vapid, recyled plot, thin characterizations, and cliched dialogue.

    So, I say: So what if the reviews are right? I think I’ll enjoy it anyway. And if I find out I disagree with the reviews, all the better. It’s happened plenty of times before.

  41. Mark McSherry // December 18, 2009 at 9:44 pm //

    MIke J, I think we are talking at cross-purposes here. The SFSignal post asks if one is going to see AVATAR based on the pre-release publicity. The negative reactions are based on that, not on viewing the movie itself. So when I write “I’d cut Cameron some slack on this. With the amount of money spent on this he needs to play this movie to the lowest common denominator audience base”, I’m talking about the studio’s pre-release campaign, not the movie itself. And that includes the Youtube video of AVATAR clips with the song “I See You” playing as audio.

    Again, my comment that “Wanting to be able to pay back the gobs of “other people’s money” invested in AVATAR (with a profit) is an admirable quality in a visionary film maker”  may not sit well with you but Mr Cameron is no Michael Cimino. Everyone is aware of Mr Cameron giving up his profit-sharing arrangement in order to finish TITANIC. Mr Cameron is a visionary film maker who also has the conscience of a good businessman.

     

  42. @Matte Lozenge:If you notice, the title of this post is “Will You Go See Avatar?” not “Are the Avatar Reviews Correct?””

    Yes, Matte, I do understand the original aim of this thread. I was originally responding to the summary dismissals of the film (and its story) that were based on the fragmentary evidence of the trailers, to the decision not to see the film because its story can be nothing but “vapid” and improbable — again, based on the trailers, which are incomplete, achronological snippets of the full film.

    This is the sort of attitude also seen here:

    Why Avatar Will Suck, and Everyone Will See It Anyway

    Having now seen the film, I believe even more strongly that the willingness to deride the film before seeing it is … unfortunate. People are depriving themselves of the experience of the “sense of wonder” so central to great SF, and “sense of wonder” writ very, very large.

    @Mark McSherry:The SFSignal post asks if one is going to see AVATAR based on the pre-release publicity. The negative reactions are based on that, not on viewing the movie itself.”

    Yet these negative reactions make sweeping judgements about the film that are themselves to a certain extent based on impressions that Avatar is not good or the right kind of SF, that its story is merely cliché and hence the entire film can only be bad.

    I can understand there being reservations about the film. I’ll admit that I was sceptical, even though I was sure that I would see the film anyway. Even Ebert admits to being dubious about Avatar, according to trailers, advanced screenings, and prerelease buzz. All that’s fine. What I find unfortunate is the kind of negativity seen here that gives the film no chance to be anything other than a “derivative” “train wreck.” Such negativity becomes doubly unfortunate, for it will in all likelihood predispose people to be prepared not to like the film, no matter what.

    (The audience with which I saw the film today, Friday, erupted into enthusiastic applause at the end of the film. How often does that happen?)

    Finally, regarding Cameron aiming for the “lowest common denominator” in order to generate a sufficient return on investment, I think there’s a difference between going after the “lowest common denominator” (i.e., Transformers 2) and strategically making a film that appeals to a broad (spectrum of) audience(s). The latter is, I think, part of what makes Cameron a “visionary.”

     

  43. No.  I’ve seen enough Hollywood liberal propaganda to last several lifetimes.  JC’s fantasy of ‘evil capitalist Marines killing the spiritual Native Americans, oops, I mean ‘Navi’ has zero appeal for me.  I read one review, the guy said about half-way thru they should have just stopped the movie and had Jim Cameron come out and say, ‘THIS IS ABOUT GEORGE BUSH AND THE EVIL MILITARY’.    Sorry, Hollywood, no more ‘evil military’ movies for me.  ENOUGH. 

  44. Mark McSherry // December 19, 2009 at 8:14 pm //

    Here is the complete Forrest J. Ackerman “Scientifilm Previews” column that appeared in the British NEBULA SCIENCE FICTION #17 (published on July 1956)—

    “FORBIDDEN PLANET: I have to pan it. Sorry as can be, because for the same amount of money M.G.M. could have filmed SLAN or ONE IN 300. Instead they squandered more than a million dollars on a spectacle that I greatly fear will prove to be a spectacular flop. In that event the Studio will probably recoil from science fiction like a snail with salt sprinkled on its eyestalks, and the great scientifilm potentials will be lost in the Limbo of Unmade Things. The alternative is perhaps more depressing: that by some fluke of fate the film will not be a dud but a hit, and then M.G.M. will be convinced that it has the formula for successful sci-filmaking, and go on making more monstrosities like FORBIDDEN PLANET.

    “Not since the sneak” of Bradbury’s IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE has a preview been shrouded in such secrecy. As red herrings to throw scientifilm sniffers off the trail, M.G.M even previewed a couple of other pictures the same evening as FORBIDDEN PLANET. But I tracked it down and saw all 100 minutes of it. About 10 days later, when I was officially invited to the Studio to see the version edited as it will be shown to the public, perhaps 5 minutes had been deleted from it— but they still could have incinerated half the celluloid and had too slowly paced a picture.

    “As Ray Bradbury, who sat directly behind me, said: “Plot, plot, who’s got the plot?”

    “As H. G. Wells might have said: “The Shape of Things: Too calm.”

    “The sorrowful fact is, the damn thing is just DULL. And I know that it’s not just that I’m getting old and blase about science fiction and scientifilms after 30 years of reading and seeing the same, because a few weeks later I participated in a dinner-and-theater party with A. E. van Vogt, Evelyn Gold, Ib (son of Lauritz) Melchoir, E. Mayne Hull, Frank Quattrocchi, Ed. M. Clinton, Jr., and about 20 other s.f. enthusiasts, for the local opening of THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, and I was just about as pleased with the picture as I had been 6 months before when I reported to you on the preview of it. A somewhat unnecessary prolog and epilog has now been tacked on, but not tackily, smoothly enough that it didn’t ruin the story. Concensus of opinion was that the extra ending didn’t add anything to the picture, but it didn’t spoil it.

    “FORBIDDEN PLANET, besides being boring, has too much about it that’s ridiculous. We open up about 250 years in the future on a faster-than-light ship that’s doing about 7LY’s (light years per second), and the sci-fi mind can well imagine the fantastic technology implicit in such a feat. Yet when the deep-spacers who man this Pegasus of the void set down on Altair-4 and are confronted with a tinker-toyman called (close your ears) Roddy (sic) the Robot, they are flabbergasted. “Amazing! What a creation! How did you ever constuct him?” they babble in unison like undergraduates at a college for cretins. “Oh, just something I tinkered together in my spare time,” super-scientist Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) modestly explains. An automation of this nature in the inventively advanced culture the background of this picture implies, would be as astounding a sight, I should think, as a ball-point pen in present-day European or American society. Can you imagine a delegation of fans calling on Editor Hamilton at his NEBULA offices and exclaiming, “Oh! Ah! Hoo-ha! A portable typewriter. You must be a genius to own an unbelievable machine like that.” Not, of course, to imply that Peter Hamilton is NOT a genius. After all, it must take some kind of a genius to offer you a column like this, issue after issue, in the face of all opposition, when in place of Ackerman you could be reading two more pages of Willis.

    “Nevertheless, despite the disparagement cast on FORBIDDEN PLANET, you will not want to miss it for several reasons. One, the 50 minutes of weird, alien “electronic tonalities” that constitute the music score. Created by sci-fi fans, Louis and Bebe (Mr. and Mrs.) Barron, this new sound will probably be around for a number of scientifilms to come. Geo Pal called me the day after first hearing the “electones,” and enthusiastically discussed their future possibilities. Pal has taken an option on THE TIME MACHINE, and has an original screenplay on ATLANTIS developed for him by David Duncan. Duncan’s DARK DOMINION has been bought for filmization.

    “Other reasons for seing F. P. are its magnificent machinery and enthralling architecture (visible during 10-15 minutes of the whole), and the wholely horrifying, satisfying manifestation of the Monster. Walt Disney has done devilishly well in animating evil incarnate at the climax of the film. His and other special effects are magnificent and unforgettable, most of the rest of FORBIDDEN PLANET best quickly forgotten.

    “So much, if not too much, for F. P. On the more satisfying side, whilst it is not on a par with BREAKING THE SOUND BARRIER, nevertheless ON THE THRESHHOLD OF SPACE is well worth seeing. This was the verdict of a mixed company of fans and pros who recently went together (about 20 strong) to see a pre-showing of the picture starting at exactly midnite. Rocketsled experiments and gondola ascension to 100,000 feat are graphically portrayed in technicolor and cinemascope, and even though a commentator’s voice says at the end of the picture “This is NOT science fiction, it is fact,” you know that only a few short years ago it would have been, and there are considerable elements of interest to the s.f. fan.”

  45. Mike From Cincinnati // December 20, 2009 at 11:51 pm //

    While I feared the worst, Avatar turned out to be the best movie I have seen this year.  I don’t mind seeing a familiar story.  If you enjoy a story, you don’t mind seeing it again, people can see a play countless times and still enjoy it, regardless of the fact that the story will no longer hold any surprises. 

    I am amazed at the disdain seen in these comments from people who admit they haven’t even seen the movie.  Go see it, if you still think it sucks then by God I will support your right to your own opinion but dismissing a movie based on reviews you may have read or the little you saw in a preview seems incredibly shortsighted.  It’s as if you don’t want your decisions and judgments to be informed ones.  You prefer to jump to conclusions and then (metaphorically speaking) stick your fingers in your ears and say “I can’t hear you, I can’t hear you, na na na na na”?  Its like walking past an art gallery without going in but saying “the art inside sucks and they should have used more colors too”.  Why? Because you heard someone down the street say so?  Go inside, the art very well MAY suck but at least you will have judged it for yourself.

    And if you think this movie is about George W. Bush, think again, Cameron wrote this story in 1995.  Dig around on the internet for the 114 page “scriptment”, its quite good.  Imperialism is not a new thing, George W. didn’t invent it, neither did his dad.  More powerful tribes have been running over weaker tribes since the dawn of man.  This is just another example. 

    I don’t always need shades of grey in my sci fi.  Take Star Wars, I LOVE Star Wars but for cripes sake, the bad guy wears a cape and black mask.  Go WAY back, classic mythology rarely dealt with shades of grey but were instead tales of a great hero winning against all odds, beating every creature, spawned from Hell, placed in his way.  Now, that said, I certainly enjoy smaller, more nuanced tales, tales with said shades of grey….but not at the exclusion of all other types of stories, such as the story told in Avatar.  Its a big freaking world, there can be different types of science fiction.  

    Don’t be a snob or a Debbie Downer.  Go see the movie with an open mind.  It’s a travelog like no other.  If you want to hate it, at least be an informed hater.

  46. Nope.  This year I’ve realised that I have zero tolerance for action movies.  They bore the pants off of me.  Also 3D gives me a headache.  I have no desire to see this film at the cinema.

  47. John C. Wright // December 23, 2009 at 9:39 pm //

    I will not go see it. Not all SF fans are liberals.

  48. Never mind John, you can just re-watch Tag der Freiheit and imagine that it’s filled with giant blue aliens.

  49. Never mind John, you can just re-watch Tag der Freiheit and imagine that it’s filled with giant blue aliens. – Jonathan M

    Snort, what a silly comment to make…

     

     

     

  50. Went and saw it last night. Beside the 3D headache I still have the next morning (granted, a personal issue), the movie completely lived up to my expectations. The effects are mind-boggling. Some major envelope-pushing going on there, no question.

    However, also as expected, the story was sophomoric and, yes, banal. The acting was so-so, but the dialog was truly atrocious in some spots. Predictability – as pointed out in the recent review here on sfsignal – was rampant.

    Now, before anyone jumps all over me about this, consider: This was a sci-fi film with a HUGE budget and BOATLOADS of hype. The same cannot be said of Star Wars (IV). Had Uncle George been given as much money and garnered (and fabricated) as much hype in 1977 for his film, I doubt it would have been as successful a franchise. Critics would have been much harsher with Star Wars, had it come out in a time when big-budget sci-fi (or space fantasy, if you prefer – I do πŸ™‚ and its arsenal of special effects was mainstream, which was definitely not the case in ’77. At the very least, it certainly cannot be said that all of Hollywood was on-board when Star Wars came out, which certainly appeared to be the case with Avatar.

    (And do keep in mind that I am not, at-heart, a huge Star Wars fan.)

    Avatar had been hyped for months and cost a ton of money to make. The end result, IMHO, was a movie with “wow” factor bursting at the seams and a mediocre (at best) story. The latter aspect is, to me, both unfortunate and disappointing.

    But, all that said, it still lived up to my expectations! πŸ™‚

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