Monday, February 21, 2011

Dances with Sandworms...



Disclaimer: I did see it late, and yes before you bitch at me I did not see it in 3D, or in Imax, or directly stencilled into my optic nerve as James Cameron intended. I did see it on Blu Ray but that is because it cost the same to hire the Blu Ray as the regular one. So first I will concede, yes the effects and world created are awesome and cool and full of flying coolness and blue cat people. Yes. No argument there.

Now disclaimer is out of the way; on with the show...

Is it just me, or is this a remake of Dune? Not Frank Herbert’s Dune but David Lynch’s Dune. Seriously look at it. Are you looking? I’ve had many people look at me oddly for saying this but it’s totally true. The plot elements are rearranged and the setting is different but that did not make the Magnificent Seven not a remake of the Seven Samurai. Cameron never acknowledges it either except that on paper they are too similar for words...

First both are set on a dangerous planet that houses some rare vital resource. On Arrakis it was melange, on Pandora it’s unobtainium. On Arrakis the lack of water and dangerous life forms is what makes it nasty, on Pandora it’s the hostile atmosphere and dangerous life forms. Both worlds have tribes of noble savages who when gathered kick much ass under the leadership of an outsider, both deal with the hero extending his senses into the mystic though help from the natives and both end in a knife fight. Heck even one of the main catch phrases of Lynch’s Dune is “the sleeper must awaken”, and avatar takes this metaphor literally.

Cameron’s grand vision is on show here, the world is wonderfully detailed but I did find it more than a little laboured in its modern environmentalism metaphors. I mean you have to be a pretty god damn cynical capitalist not to be somewhat captivated by a world of flying dragons, glowing fungus and floating mountains. I would have found it a more compelling discussion if the planet was less beautiful, if it was as hard to love for the audience as it is supposed to be for the humans; Cameron would then have had the chance to show beauty and wonder in a less garish more authentic fashion. It’s easy to empathise with a nine foot nubile blue humanoid, less so with a more exotic or less appealing creature. I think my issue is that the conflict that Cameron represents lacks any difficulty for the audience; we don’t have to do any work at all as it is visually spelled out for us on screen in a very transparent fashion. (ie: Blue tree people and their feathered dragons = good, Human Corporate humans and their pollution belching machines =bad) This also makes the only character direction change in the movie (and no I don’t count the main character in that as he is never really “Lets kill all the Na’vi” at any point in the film), that of Parker, a little forced as his position as the head of the expedition is never explored deeply enough that his sudden bout of conscience at the film’s end makes any real sense.

It’s eyecandy, it has explosions and robots and dragons. But beyond that...?