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December 23, 2009

Pawns & Prawns

Two films about alien relocation reveal a stark difference in maturity - of their respective creators. James Cameron created cinema's most expensive cliché with Avatar, a juvenile cartoon sketch that won't go down as a science fiction classic. But what will, just released on DVD, is District 9. First-time director Neill Blomkamp portrays cartoonish characters that feel real, as does the film itself. All too real - in expressing human nature, something Cameron lampoons while aiming for the same mark. The two films overlap in many ways, making it easy to observe that District 9 puts Avatar to shame where it counts.

Posted by Patent Hawk at December 23, 2009 11:51 AM |


I happened to have watched Avatar a couple nights ago and I felt completely transported. True, the plot is not exactly ground-breaking, but then neither was that of Star Wars or a host of other now-classic SF movies. I think that while the story telling in Avatar, like that in The Matrix (the first one) is in the style of graphic novels, I would not refer to Avatar as "a cartoon sketch" by any stretch. With comments like that, I have to wonder whether you even saw the movie you are denigrating so thoroughly. At any rate, I look forward to seeing District 9 and thank you for the recommendation.

Posted by: Defector at December 23, 2009 4:28 PM

Thanks for the comment.

Please. Of course I saw Avatar.

Avatar is indisputably eye candy, and Americans have long been ones for form over substance. The cinematography is adept. No doubt it will be a hit.

Avatar is clever at points, but more predictable than not. One would never say that of the Matrix (the first film), which was shimmering and stunning in every sense. The first Star Wars was pure tongue-in-cheek adventure, instantly familiar yet fresh.

My biggest complaint with Avatar is as a missed opportunity, and it goes to the "juvenile cartoon sketch" aspect. The dialogue could have been written by a 13 year old, and maybe was, if counting only mental age. (James Cameron, the director, wrote the script.)

The gung-ho kickass military commander of Avatar was nothing but a caricature. It would have been a much more interesting film had he suffered some self-doubt and inner conflict.

The script needed polish, particularly in the way of sophistication. The characters all spoke as if reading from a script written by one person, and were rather one-dimensional. The protagonist went from being a rootless dumb shit to a self-righteous dumb shit. All the characters seemed of the same mental makeup, with only different opinions, not, as in real life, or in great movies, people with very different worldviews, conflicting over those views.

In an equivalent role, compare the boss character in Avatar to that in Outland, the pedestrian Sean Connery film. In Outland, the boss knew what he was about, with a menace generated by confidence. In Avatar, the boss was namby-pamby, someone very unlikely to actually have that level of responsibility given what a simpleton he came across as. Though a mediocre (yet satisfying) film, Outland is a good example of clashing worldviews.

Come back and tell us what you think of District 9.

Posted by: Patent Hawk at December 23, 2009 7:08 PM

Saw both movies and totally agree with you that they operate on different planes.

I highly recommend both.

As to Avatar, I think there is an aspect of it that you may be missing.

***Warning: movie spoiler ***

There's a part near the end of the movie where the audience (of humans) is cheering for the aliens (the Navi) to defeat the humans --and you have to think to yourself at that moment, hey wait a minute, why am I and everyone else here in the auditorium cheering for the other creatures to defeat my species, the humans?

The reason of course is because this movie is about mind control.

The movie demonstrates to you how easy it is to manipulate someone's mind even to the point where they are cheering for the "others" to kill their own species mates.

There is mind manipulation on many levels in the movie.

1) First of all, as in any movie, you are sitting in a dark room with lights bouncing off a flat reflective plate and you are being deceived into believing that something real and moving (a "movie") is out there on the other side of the screen, except that this time you are fooled into believing it is also in 3D! (Make sure to see only the 3D version of Avatar !!! Totally awesome.)

2) Second, the protagonist, Scully is a mind manipulation worker and target. He is trying to manipulate the minds of the Navi into accepting his drone as being real and one of them and being there to "help" them. (Hi. I'm from the "other" government and I'm here to "help" you.)

3) At the same time, Scully is under mind manipulation attack by the corporation that hired him where the corp. wants him to be a good soldier and unquestioning corporate citizen.

4) Yet at the same time, Scully is under mind manipulation attack by the Navi, who know he is a "dream-walker" and yet they still go to work on him under the belief that they can bring him over to their view of the world (which at the end of the movie, of course, they succeed in doing).

5) Finally, there is you the movie goer who is being subliminally exposed to all these story lines and your mind finds itself buying into all of it because of the cool 3D graphics and the heart strings music (did you not pay attention to the music?) and the emotional tugs of a rebirth/ redemption story where a paralyzed guy finds a second life and falls heads over heels into love with it. Is it real at the end that Scully becomes full blooded Navi or is that just his dream? What is real? How can we tell? I think the movie should make you wonder. Maybe it's deeper than you give it credit for?

Posted by: step back at December 25, 2009 2:18 PM

step back,

You make some astute points.


Posted by: Patent Hawk at December 25, 2009 9:35 PM

Avatar is the chief of the cliches that's for sure. Even so, not a bad movie. The thing that pissed me off the most is the disney romance, which I suppose is thrown in there to appease teen girls. Complete, of course in line with today's teenager, with them having se x so that they considered themselves together. The movie would have been 100x more realistic/grown up if the tribe as a whole killed the guy outright for getting with that chic. Or more probably, the girl not even getting with him anyway.

Disrespectin' on their traditions, hah, like that would be tolerated from that guy.

Them blending fantasy with scifi also kind of pisses me off but, meh, that's the wave of the future of decent scifi.

That said, the 3d was awesome and the scenery and all are certainly very nice.

On the topic of D9 however one word sums it up:


Everything about it was just about perfect save the guy's wife not trusting him for a bit. She would have trusted him throughout the whole thing, just consider what kind of people they are. Perhaps it could be said that a very few parts of it seem rather contrived, but imo not quite.

Posted by: 6000 at December 30, 2009 3:59 PM

Holiday films I saw
1. Sherlock Holmes (4.5/5)
2. Up in the Air (3.75/5)
3. Avatar (3.5/5)
4. Invictus (3.5/5)
5. Alvin and Chipmunks Squeakuel (2/5 my cousins made me see this)

Posted by: 2600examiner at December 31, 2009 12:11 PM

I thought Disctrict 9 was really awesome - saw it in the theater. At the time you wrote this I had not yet seen Avatar, so I declined to comment. But I just now saw Avatar in IMAX 3D - and WOW. Wish you could move this post to the top to refresh the conversation - what a good topic for a discussion, the compare and contrast of these two movies.

Posted by: Jules at January 25, 2010 3:17 PM