Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Week Of Trying To Say Anything In The Least Bit Interesting About Avatar, Day One: Avatar, or On Dreaming

Avatar is the story of a man who lives in a movie made by the fellow who made Aliens and The Terminator. But this man dreams about being a strange and ungainly creature who befriends other strange and ungainly creatures. Basically it is a movie about dreaming. Avatar is not the first movie to feature dreams as a major plot point though. There have been a good half dozen prior to this one, and they all fall into one of several holes:

- The dreams contain lots of FASTFLASHES! that inform you QUASISUBLIMINALLY! of things that HAVEBEENORWILLBECOME! important. I have never had a dream like this. My dreams are all edited pretty much like Russian Ark, with the occasional extremely slow fade.

- The dreams contain too much gratuitous craziness. Remember in Living in Oblivion, when that dwarf/midget loses his shit onset and asks the Steve Buscemi character why everybody always thinks that putting a dwarf/midget in your scene is shorthand for "wack-ass dream", pointing out that he is a dwarf/midget, and even he doesn't dream about dwarves/midgets? He is right.

- The movies spend far too long making sure you know the rules of what happens if you die in a dream/die while dreaming/kill someone in a dream who was themselves also dreaming/etc. I am fairly certain that there is a Nightmare on Elm Street movie somewhere around the middle of the saga that is nothing but people explaining the series' rules regarding in-dream death, interspersed with Robert Englund playing air guitar.

Avatar does not fall prey to the first fallacy at all, because James Cameron is a classy guy. It goes to great pains not to fall prey to the second fallacy, having a detailed and entirely self-sufficient reason for every design decision (apart from when the rules need to be broken to make the girl character's boobs look nice) (or someone at Mattel designs a character and James Cameron says, "sure, it's in the movie", instead of saying, "hang on buddy, your company designed Stinkor, the Stinky Master of the Universe, stay out of my movie").

Avatar also spends no time explaining its particular rules as to what happens if you die while dreaming, which means that for the movie's first third or so, there is no dramatic tension whatsoever, because the only thing that is in any jeopardy is Sam Worthington's Second Life character. In the film's final reel it is explained what would have happened if this character had come to harm: Sam Worthington would have felt a bit bad for a few minutes.

It is things like this that make me wonder if James Cameron is still paying as much attention to scriptwriting as he did for Aliens, which had the most beautifully pretentious opening line of any script about vaginas that hide under the bed and was all uphill from there.


Robyn said...

They're not dreaming in Avatar. When the humans are asleep, they are controlling the real, actual Avatars that exist IRL for realz.

neocowboy said...

I believe your referring to Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors - though I don't recall air guitar.