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I’d Dance with That Smurf

December 19, 2009

The James Cameron film Avatar is getting some very mixed press right now.  Some critics – from what I can tell, the best-known critics – have christened it just short of a masterpiece.  Others have dubbed it the sci-fi equivalent of Dances with Wolves, aka, Dances with Smurfs.  I’ve seen other variations, but that’s the idea.  So which is it, a fantastic new world of CGI and brilliant storytelling or a tired old plot regifted in technicolor wrapping paper?

It’s both, but it’s mostly the former.

Face it, there is no new plot under the sun.  Humans siding with aliens, especially in ways that bring attention to some political hot topic, has been a science fiction staple in literature for a while.  It can be as small-scale an alien presence as ET or as large-scale as an interplanetary war (specific works escape me).  People have gone so far as to accuse Cameron of plagiarizing Poul Anderson’s novel, Call Me Joe.  I’ve not read the latter, but come on, how many people have thought up stories they thought were brilliantly original just to find out they are cliche.  A vampire private detective?  The aliens are really humans?  Anything with a dwarf in it?  plagiarism has to go deeper than a synopsis.

So what was good about Avatar?  Of course the effects were outstanding, Lord of the Rings – calibur CGI.  The environment was beautiful even if it did look a tough like Batman Forever in the jungle.  The 3d was quite good but still distractingly like a pop-up book; I’d rather watch it flat.  The aliens’ tribal culture was convincing.  Yes, it reeked of Native American influence; every alien culture has to come from somewhere. The plot was solid if unoriginal.

Bottom line, it is the execution that makes the film brilliant, not its originality.  It is feverishly predictable throughout, mostly through its own heavy-handed foreshadowing.  So what?  The pacing was great, not always the case in a 2 hour 4o minute movie.

I’m going out on a limb and calling Avatar the best sci-fi movie since The Matrix.  I may have forgotten one or two contenders, but I’m pretty confident in my statement.  It is possible to recycle things to make something better, especially when combined with something cutting edge.  Avatar is a must see.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2009 6:25 pm

    I totally agree. I’m going to go see it a second time, because I’m sure there are world details I missed while watching the plot. And while the plot is fairly thin/predictable, I felt that the characters were generally well-rounded (minus the antagonist, but he was an archetype also, so I let it go). I really cared (hell, I cried 3 times, and once wasn’t even for sadness).

    In unrelated stuff- have you sent “Glow Baby” to Pseudopod podcast? They pay 100, which isn’t pro, I know, but they have lots of listeners and they’ve always given me nice feedback on the stuff they reject (my stories so far aren’t dark enough for them). Anyway, was a thought I had. 🙂

  2. osomuerte permalink
    December 21, 2009 2:14 am

    I did send “Glow Baby” to Pseudopod. Not interested. They didn’t feel it had enough suspense and felt the end was too subtle for their taste. I guess it’s good to be accused of subtlety, isn’t it?

    I haven’t sent it elsewhere yet. I’m going to the post office tomorrow to mail gifts, so maybe I’ll get it out again.

    • December 21, 2009 7:09 pm

      oh well, it was a thought 🙂 I keep thinking about that story, which has to be a good sign, right? 🙂

      • osomuerte permalink
        December 22, 2009 9:24 pm

        Glad to hear it resonated with you. And thanks for the prodding; I ran a quick edit today and sent it off to Ann VanderMeer at Weird Tales. It may be a bit tame for that market, but we’ll see.

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