May 3, 2010


I'm sure quite a few people realize this, but I'd just like to point out a few reasons why Avatar is not science fiction, it's a fantasy film.

First, the generous use of magic. The process of using the actual "avatar" was basically getting into a magic chamber and possessing a new body. I know it's all supposed to be linking neurons based on tissue growth and all that, but really, they never got into the technical side and basically just said, when you get into here, your brain goes over there! Magic! How does it stay remotely connected even at great distances? Magic! How does the connection stay strong in regions that are filled with electromagnetic energy that makes every other piece of technology in the film go haywire? I can only assume it's through the power of magic, since this is never addressed in the film.

The whole "electric forest network" really seemed like a way of disguising a mystic forest with spirits and ghosts as a sci-fi theme. Yes, I get that they "downloaded" their memories into the "hard drive" trees, but really this was a magical forest that had creatures who could hear your thoughts and a powerful protecting spirit that predicted the future and gave the animals instructions. The forest also had the same magic powers that the magic chambers had, but with even more magic! Just lie down and the forest fairy will guide your conscience into the new body.

This isn't really a bad thing, it's actually pretty clever to dress up a fantasy film with sci-fi themes. Maybe I'm wrong here, but between the all the dragon riding and floating mountains, it sure felt like a magical journey to a far away mysterious land full of wonder, the kind of place you might go in an RPG. It's like if the space marines from Halo decided to land on a Final Fantasy planet to steal their Mana points.

I'm obviously nit-picking here, but I just wish that for a movie that takes place roughly one hundred and fifty years in the future (150!) We would get to see some cool future technology or innovative, visionary advancements. Instead it all looked like things we could do in the next 15 years. Wow, computers with screens that you can see through from behind! The ability to map a brain! Holograms! Helicopters! Clunky, bulky, mech suits that reminded me of Robot-Jox! Come on, this is so far in the future it's the equivalent of the difference in technology between 1860 and 2010. Go crazy James Cameron! Make some cool shit up! And why are people still smoking? Why not have some other, weird future drug choice or something.

I just feel like the sci-fi aspects were an obvious afterthought to the fantasy world of Pandora, as if he just pulled from his past films and other standards to get it out of the way so he could really focus on ways to make the Na'vi just the right amount of alien while still being sexually attractive. This right here is where his often proclaimed love of anime is showing, he filled the whole movie with fan-service! I'm on to you, Jim. Way to flood the internet with a new breed of self-insert fan-fiction authors. You gotta give him credit though, he knew exactly what he was doing when designing those creatures to be the perfect mix of cute/sympathetic/sexual.

Two of the things I enjoy about sci-fi movies are the "science" and the "fiction." I like seeing a director come up with a new creative concept, and then making that idea a reality through their film. I like seeing unique interpretations of what the future will hold, or what an alien planet would look like, or what would happen if time travel was possible. Just having a movie take place in the future doesn't make it sci-fi by default. Even the inclusion of giant robots doesn't necessarily make it sci-fi, especially when those robots aren't a huge stretch from what would be possible with current technology.

I think that's what bothered me so much about the movie, there was no exploration of the technology or the future world. I mean, it was hardly even touched upon. The same goes for Pandora, sure, the audience gets to see a lot of it, but it was just visual. Maybe they could have spent, oh, I don't know, five minutes perhaps, explaining exactly what the hell "unobtanium" is and what makes it so desirable. Is it a fuel source? Has it helped advance technology? Is it the new monetary standard, replacing gold? Why does it float? If it floats, doesn't it seem to make sense that those floating islands would be entirely made from this stuff?

I'm not saying that a movie needs to constantly over explain everything, but seriously, this mineral is the entire driving force behind the push to wipe out an alien race. It might be good to fill the audience in on exactly why the government of the future thinks it's a good idea to commit genocide in order to get it.

Anyway, none of this will really make a difference for most people who see Avatar. It bothered me enough to write about it, but I suppose I'm just disappointed by the many missed opportunities in the film. This is my way of venting my frustration that James Cameron felt the visuals of this movie deserved much more development time and attention than the plot.

I'll just leave you with this, Wikipedia's definition of sci-fi (emphasis mine):

Science fiction is a genre of fiction. It differs from fantasy in that, within the context of the story, its imaginary elements are largely possible within scientifically established or scientifically postulated laws of nature (though some elements in a story might still be pure imaginative speculation). Exploring the consequences of such differences is the traditional purpose of science fiction, making it a "literature of ideas".[1] Science fiction is largely based on writing rationally about alternative possibilities.[2] The settings for science fiction are often contrary to known reality, but the majority of science fiction relies on a considerable degree of suspension of disbelief provided by potential scientific explanations to various fictional elements.

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