Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avatar in the Valley of Vance

I'm not inspired to write much about Avatar; I'd rather write about Narciso Ibenez Serrador's La Residencia, which I saw on the same day and liked three hundred million times more; I'll get to that next.

Hayao Miyazaki's Naussica - In the Valley of The Wind is an absolute favorite of mine, a sci-fi ecology drama stunningly realized. James Cameron's clearly a fan, too, because he's stolen from it wholesale; then he added floating mountains stolen from Laputa - Castle in the Sky. Despite all that thievery, the film's still shockingly predictable.

Naussica - In the Valley of the Wind

Dances With Wolves
gets borrowed, too. Wholesale.

But it is the work of fantasy titan Jack Vance that Avatar draws from most blatantly; his Son of the Tree, in particular, suffers the greatest act of pillage. Works such as The Dragon Masters, Big Planet, and Planet of Adventure quadrilogy provide rich source material also.

Despite all these rich influences, the result is fairly bland stew.

Yes, the visual effects are striking, but the whole shebang made me nostalgic for the time when special effects would serve the story. The "game changer" (fuck!, I hate that expression) here is that a flimsy waif of a story is now serving the special effects. Is that really progress?

Is it reasonable to expect an amazing script from a $300 million movie? I think so. Do you?

Laputa - Castle in the Sky

Final nail in the coffin is the casting of the charisma-free Sam Worthington. I didn't like him in the Aussie Macbeth and I didn't like him here one bit. Also, his wavering between an Aussie and American accent distracted me unnecessarily.

I mentally slogged through this because every plot turn is excruciatingly predictable; I just sat and waited for the inevitable to come and go.

What I did I like? Zoe Saldana as the blue-skinned heroine 'Neytiri'; she's terribly sensual.

While examining the features of the film's native population, the Navi, it occurred to me that these folks all have noses like 'The Tenia' (Jo Prestia) from Gasper Noe's Irreversible. They just don't possess his savagery.

Despite Avatar's budget and hype, it still doesn't come close to the cinematic magnificence of Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers, the best integration of CG, live action, and storytelling yet.


  1. the posturing (and admittedly rather irritating) little popinjayDecember 26, 2009 at 4:28 PM

    Phantom, i think its important for you to realise that the kind of images on display in "Avatar" represents the future for cinema and the medium of the moving image in general, to be in denial about that is the equivalent of not being able to accept the talkies as representing the future in 1927.

  2. theposturing... I'm not in denial about the images; I called them "striking", actually.

    But these ""images" are only one part of the future, past, and present of filmmaking. "Story" is first, and it is that which will make future films powerful and moving.

  3. Jim Cameron plagiarise? Imagine that!

  4. mandingo -- can't imagine that at all.

  5. jervaise brooke hamsterDecember 27, 2009 at 8:59 AM

    Phantom, today (december 27th) would`ve been Heathers 34th birthday, i`ll certainly be watching "poltergeist 3" tonight to commemorate, i trust you`ll be doing the same. Heather was the most gorgeous chick i`ve ever seen.

  6. For 300 million bucks I don't think you should necessarily expect anything amazing. I think you should expect some bullshit blockbuster that panders to the widest amount of lunkheads.

    As soon as AICN positively reviewed this movie I knew it would be something I'd never ever watch.

  7. jervaise -- Heather will be remembered.


    d-- good point; rather naive of me to expect anything intellectually amazing.

    Yes, AICN's thumbs-up usually signposts a turkey.

  8. As a tech demo it's brilliant. As a movie...not so much. It's Campbell's The Heroes journey once again regurgitated for the masses. Even as a tech demo though, it falters. The only way this movie will make any kind of impression is in IMAX 3D (which is how I saw it). Had this only been released as a standard 2D flick, it wouldn't have garnered all the bullshit hype it received.

  9. Great text. I always like to know, where ideas came from. Already thought of Nausicaä, but I forgot Jack Vance.

  10. Thx for the review. You've explicitly confirmed everything I expected, and why I had not planned on seeing it. If any of the marketing drivel (or the presence of Zoe Saldana) had a chance of compromising my resolve on this, you've well and truly dispelled that possibility now. Cheers.

  11. You've gotten an award! Check it out :)

  12. Scott -- agreed; works as a technical demo, but there are no surprises beyond that.


    I.N. Vain -- for me, Vance sprung to mind when I saw the trail. His PLANET OF ADVENTURE tetralogy is one of my favorites of all time. SON OF THE TREE figures heavily, though.


    TWISTED -- glad I saved you the pain.


    Ninja -- Thank you.