Constructive Criticism – Avatar (SPOILERS)


It’s easy to be critical of something.  It’s more difficult to offer constructive criticism.  After watching Avatar, I thought the plot and characters were bland and predictable.  Here are some ideas I came up with while watching the movie.  Mr. Cameron, if you’re reading, please don’t be angry.  In fact, feel free to use any of these in the Director’s Cut DVD you’re no doubt working on at this very moment.

Was there no way to make the Colonel any less of a dick?  From the hackneyed “you’re not in Kansas anymore” opening line to the arrogant racism that defines his character throughout much of the rest of the movie, you know – just know – he’s going to get a fatal comeuppance.  And it won’t be some big old anonymous explosion.  That’s reserved for extras.  No, we’ll need to see that smile ripped off his face in order to achieve audience catharsis.  That’s the ancient character algebra employed in every action movie since Dirty Harry.  If I had written the movie, I would have given the character some positive traits.  I think I would have made him less like General Custer and more like General Sherman.  Maybe make him a man defined by what he is.  He isn’t proud of killing.  He may not even agree with it, but – damn it – he’s very good at his job and he’ll do the best he can to accomplish the objectives he’s been asked to perform.

I didn’t buy the Corporate Weasel character either.  He explained the stockholders are concerned about quarterly profit statements.  That’s understandable, except the movie explains that it’s taken almost six years to get to Pandora from Earth.  That’s twenty four quarters and it just didn’t make sense based on what the movie gave us.  I would have made him more of a middle management wonk.  Maybe he discovered a lode of mineral early on and now it’s gone, but the time lag means his bosses don’t know yet and he’s getting desperate to keep up production.  Better yet, take a page out of current corporate management.  Have the unseen bosses on Earth provide his cool displays some unemotional pie charts in the 2150 version of PowerPoint that force him to implement some policy that he knows may be disastrous, but he doesn’t have the clout to defy.

The company in charge of Pandora is looking for the rare element unobtanium.  Yes, True Believers, you heard me: unobtainium.  Honestly, you didn’t need to throw the comic book guys a bone; they were lined up to see giant blue alien babes.  In any case, we’re not told anything about unobtainium except that it’s really expensive and worth killing off an alien race to – well, obtain it.  While I don’t deny greed for greed’s sake is not a powerful motivator, it makes the audience pick a side really quickly.  I would have explained the need for unobtainum a bit more: it’s the only thing we have that will plug the hole in the ozone layer, it will stop global warming before it’s too late.  We’re going to seed the sun with it, so it doesn’t go supernova.  By making the Earth’s situation more dire, the idea of an alien holocaust might seem more understandable, possibly even necessary from their point of view.  Actually, unobtainium does have one defined characteristic: it seems to defy gravity.  The Corporate Weasel character has a chunk that of it floats over a dish on his desk.  Later on in the movie, the main characters escape to the flying mountains.  My first thought was they must be made of unobtainum.  Ergo, why are the evil Earth guys busy cutting down trees with the giant tractors?  Why don’t they just hack off a chunk of floating island and haul that back to Earth?  It would seem to solve a lot of issues… though of course the movie would only be about ten minutes long.

Even as predictable as Titanic was, the good guy was allowed to drown while the bad guy was allowed to live his life.  There were few surprises in this movie.  I liked the main characters, but I wonder how it would have turned out if maybe Jake had died.  Just a thought.

Avatar is a straight black and white morality tale.  Humans are bad, Na’vi are good.  Na’vi ultimately triumph.  I think by making the good slightly less good; maybe show some unsavory aspects of Na’vi society.  Even the guy who dislikes Our Hero and was supposed to marry Zoë Saldana’s character steps into line without much argument.  There was no jockeying for position in the tribe?  And when Our Hero goes out to meet the other tribes of Na’vi around the world, are there no differences between them that might have put them at odds?  On the human side, could they have been slightly less bad and perhaps more desperate?  Moral ambiguity would have kept the audience guessing longer than the opening credits.  It would have made it into a movie that made audiences say “hmm” as well as “whoa”.  And I would have liked to have seen some kind of compromise made between the sides.  Perhaps something akin to Nelson Mandela’s ability to forgive his oppressors once he gained a position of power.  In that way, there wouldn’t be the need for petty revenge by Earth (can’t they nuke the site from orbit… sorry, wrong movie) and bad feelings all around.

Of course, in this political climate full of Hate Radio and paranoia that overlooks the obvious basic goodness of people, the idea that two such disparate peoples could come together and work for a peaceful solution would probably seem like the most fantastic element of the movie.

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8 comments

  1. A couple of comments, I would appreciate if Mr. James Cameron were to reply – I have just watched the film at home for the first time ever:
    1) How did humans discover unobtainium on Pandora? This important part of the puzzle (in my opinion) is not tackled at all in any sufficient detail whatsoever.
    2) Wouldn’t it have been easier/safer to send over robots to dig the mineral out?
    3) What about the floating mountains – it was darn obvious to me straightaway, why not to the mining company whizkids?
    4) Most characters were of the ‘cardboard’ category.

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