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Jan 13, 2010

Comments

1.

Well the view of "gamer culture" may be a somewhat distorted one, or at least not a very deep one. Plot teaser: The main protagonist is a crippled ex-Marine in a wheel chair, comming from a crapsack future Earth. He's chosen as a last-minute replacement on the Avatar project because his scientist brother is killed, Avatars are custom-built to be operated by a particular person and his genetics are compatible enough for it to work. The avatars themselves are artificially grown Na'vi bodies that their controllers mind-link into, so they can interact with the Na'vi, try to gain their trust and meanwhile survive the atmosphere of Pandora which is toxic to humans. Over the course of the movie, Jake becomes more and more engaged with the Na'vi and less with the human world, to the point where his supervisor has to bully him to make sure he's getting enough food and sleep, "and when's the last time you took a shower?". Being 10 ft. tall, strong, able to walk again and eventually gaining a large flying mount is hardly the least of the reasons why. I guess there's your WoW reference, given at a later plot point (being just slightly cagy, although there's few surprises in the plot) he has to try for an epic flying mount.

So it's not just escapism like Harry Potter and LOTR are, it's escapism very much in the mold of the MMOG or other serious game player. Given the attention to gamer addiction these days, not everyone is going to see it as positive as the movie treats it - it should come as no surprise that Jake Sully is eventually fully vindicated, and I don't think that's much of a spoiler.

2.

The cinemas and book charts are filled with aliens, vampires, vampyrs, werewolves, zombies, apocalypses, monsters, wizards, elves, dragons, dwarves and all manner of speaking CGI animals. One in evey three adverts on TV is either for a video game (WoW Mohawk or anything on the Wii?) or gratuitously uses CGI.

Like Bartle said. We've already won, I feel that we just need a better Golden spike than Fern Gully 3D.

3.

When my girlfriend, also a WoW player, left the theatre with me, she asked "was this a movie about online game addiction?"

Avatar is a movie with a protagonist who remotely controls an avatar, fights monsters, becomes a better Na'vi as he fights monsters, and eventually defeats the endboss. He gets a land mount, then a flying mount, then a better flying mount. At one point Jake misses a roll for a bow drop (he was logged out at the time.)

The parallels, in short, are unmistakable, and too strong to ignore. But I'm not sure that the parallels are to WoW specifically, or to fantasy culture more generally (Frodo also eventually gets a mount and some epic gearz.)

4.

Hmm. This haven't crossed my mind that much when I watched it. Probably nothing about this film plot is that special. There were films like Johnny Mnemonic, The Lawnmower Man and more recently Matrix. May be they were not as popular as Avatar gets but I don't think that plot is why Avatar gets so popular. It's more like new Star Wars or something.

As for your questions:
1) I actually find it hard to differentiate Fantasy from Sci-fi in cinema and would actually say that Avatar is somewhere in the middle of both genres and I can't say that world changed or will change. There were many films before that were popular and fall in alike categories like Terminator series, Aliens, Predator, Star Wars and others some of which were more or less mainstream phenomenas. How they are different? How is it different from Star Wars now... I don't really think that it makes much difference.

2) I honestly did not see Avatar that expressive in that direction. Matrix was a lot more clear in that. For me interesting parts of this was nature of Pandora, exploration if Pandora and conflict on societies level. Part of this soldier switching bodies and kind of living two lives of human and Pandora native does seem an embodiment of some gamers or may be literature(Fantasy, sci-fi) fans life but honestly I have no idea why people got so sensitive to that part... May be it is just that breaking moment when computer games really coming to mainstream and that's why people are more sensitive to that, especially ones that are not part of that movement and distantiate from computer games.

5.

You guys ares hammers "needing" nails...

6.

I'm not seeing it. It's you're pretty typical "wish fulfillment fantasy" movie; the fact that the guy uses a remote-control body is actually a fairly fungible plot element. If anything it (minor spoiler) serves to lessen the significance of the protagonist's ultimate (and, might I say, ridiculously predictable) decision to abandon his people, as the new fully functional body is yet another personal reward for doing so.

7.

I saw this article a bit ago: https://www.wired.com/gamelife/2010/01/smoking-avatar/

Basically, Cameron says that Weaver's character smoking is a critique on gamer culture, who focus more on maintaining the virtual than the physical. The money quote:

"We were showing that Grace doesn’t care about her human body, only her avatar body," Cameron said. Augustine’s destructive behavior "is a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games."

Interesting critique from an advisor of Multiverse, hmm?

8.

Thanks, everyone -- those are some great comments. So it looks like we've got it, from Cameron himself, that addiction to avatar embodiment was something that he wanted to put into the film with Weaver's character. And it looks like a lot of people picked up on that from the finished product.

Re fantasy/sci-fi -- I agree that Hollywood has had plenty of that before, and I don't think it has been too marginal. That's why I was interested in how much this was perceived as a "pro-gamer" movie. Sounds like there are mixed views on how much it reflects gaming and, to the extent that it does, how positively it reflects gaming.

I guess part of the issue has to be that the while the movie has an avatar-like them, it isn't really about a game-like projection. The Navi are, within the fiction, a "real" (albeit formulaic & convenient) culture. If the ex-Marine character were actually logging onto a video game, the movie would not work the same way, popularly...

9.

(spoilers ahead)

I'm looking at that quote about Weaver's smoking and I'm frankly baffled by it. The "fantasy world" of the Navi is clearly superior to the "real world" of the humans, and the implication of the protagonist's arc is that he *should* abandon the human world. He's ultimately rewarded for doing so.

It's the same sort of wish fulfillment found in children's books like Harry Potter or the Chronicles of Narnia: the fundamental notion is that the real world sucks, and that the protagonist(s) are destined for greatness once they leave it behind. In fact it's not really fair to those books, which have much more nuance hidden behind that trope.

Cameron shows the protagonist's human body wasting away from neglect as he immerses himself more deeply in the world of the natives, but in exchange he is ultimately rewarded with an entirely new, *better* body. He is never penalized for his "self destructive" behavior, nor is Weaver's character (whose level of immersion in the native culture is much less complete than the protagonist's).

I'm not buying it. If Cameron's being truthful about the significance of Weaver's disregard for the health of her "real body", then the movie contradicts itself by rewarding the protagonist's even more extreme behavior.

I kind of fall back to a quote from Homer (the Simpson, not the poet): "It's just a bunch of stuff that happened."

10.

it isn't really about a game-like projection. The Navi are, within the fiction, a "real" (albeit formulaic & convenient) culture

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