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What follows is a minimally edited cut-and-paste of an e-mail exchange between the Techland staffers the morning after we saw Avatar.
Lev Grossman: Here’s my master theory about Avatar. Which I said last night. This is Cameron remaking Aliens from the aliens’ point of view. He even has a big boss battle against the bad guy in powered armor, like Ripley at the end of Aliens, except backwards. Maybe for Alien 5 he’ll merge the franchises. Sully can sync w/ the Alien queen and they’ll take down Weyland-Yutani together.
Peter Ha: Honestly, I didn’t think the story was all that great. It was basically Dances With Wolves. The Sky People come in with guns blazing to take whatever it is that they want and the natives fight back. But the visuals were so mind blowingly awesome. Everything about Pandora looked so frakkin real. Oh, and there were tons of blue side boob.
LG: Seriously. I kept expecting Zoe Saldana to look at me out of the screen and say hello? My eyes are up here?
PH: I totally thought she was naked in that one scene with the tree.
Steve Snyder: She could seriously be nominated for an Oscar here you guys realize – wouldn’t that be the very first Oscar-nominated, entirely-CG performance? Just like we were all complaining about, in terms of Gollum a couple years back? (Read Techland’s Avatar Review)
What blew me away about this whole thing is that it took us two solid hours to get to any explosions, and I actually preferred the first two hours to the rest. You know what I mean? The focus here, unlike most sci-fi movies nowadays, wasn’t on blowing up stuff real good, but on creating a world we could get lost in. I think that’s sort of profound, actually – that Cameron was more interested in creating an immersive experience. The battles were even sort of restrained….
LG: I think we can look forward to some really detailed freeze-frame analysis on the Web. But I guess it’s a tribute to the success of the FX that the blue boobs were hot. The uncanny valley is over. Those blue dudes looked real. I see them.
Allie Townsend (the intern, and lone female in the conversation): “I see you.”
PH: Hahahahhahaha. Amazing.
AT: It’s always all about the boobs. Sigh.
I liked the plot, overall. I loved the whimsical Na’vi history and connection to nature. I think the way they explained Pandora as running as a complex network of energy was fascinating. What I thought was weak was the reason humans had invaded in the first place. There was zero explanation of Unobtainium. What was so great about it?
PH: Good point, Allie. They definitely skimmed over a few things. But you all see my point about this being a Native American thing, right? They’re all about the land and their connection to it.
LG: I’d be connected to the land too if the whole world was some kind of botanical Internet. That I could plug my hair into.
I think the Earth has run out of oil, and it’s some kind of super-coal? Or something? Yeah, blink and you missed that part.
More on Time.com: Q&A With James Cameron
PH: The Home Tree battle was definitely understated. The Sky People did what they had to do and that was it. Although, the douche in charge seemed like the type to just blow everything up for the hell of it.
What’s this about Oscars?
SS: Given the romance at play here, and that it’s not just a fanboy dream, I think “Avatar” has a serious shot at the awards race, don’t you….
LG: I can’t tell if you guys are joking about the combat being restrained. A dragon grabbed a helicopter and used it to beat another helicopter out of the sky.
But yeah, the romance. I gotta admit, it was pretty convincing. I hereby release Sam Worthington from movie jail for his part Terminator 4.
AT: As far as awards go, I bet your assumptions are correct, HOWEVER that end credits song was no “My Heart Will Go On,” though I did get some major ship-breaks-in-half-sinks-into-the-ocean flashbacks during the battle for Home Tree. Anyone else?
LG: Cameron should get every FX Oscar there is, this year and in all future years, forever.
About the tree, I think one of the marines in the movie expressed my thoughts best: “That’s one big tree.”
I was also wondering if it was a reference to Agent Orange. And I was thinking, gosh, if the planet’s a network, you gotta figure it’s plenty redundant. I mean, if one root name server goes down, the whole Internet doesn’t crash.
SS: These battle sequences, at least the ones involving the Na’vi, ended way before I thought they would. I think the ads are making this look like intergalactic warfare, and it takes a long, long time to even get to the first shot being fired. There’s more going on here than an action-fest…something that I think is far more impressive, actually. Just like “Titanic” – if you can go back to a time before it made a gazillion dollars and we all hated it – was about more than a boat sinking, “Avatar” is about a WHOLE LOT more than two species going to war.
LG: If you wanna talk about what Avatar was about, I thought the movie had more subtle things to say about moviemaking than it did about the environment. We get it, killing plants is bad. But the whole idea of the avatar, putting yourself in someone else’s body, immersing yourself in another world, is one big metaphor for watching movies. And the thing about watching a movie is, you don’t want it to end. You want to go live there forever.
AT: I’m actually moving tomorrow…
Another praise for Cameron’s moviemaking: His female characters kicked all sorts of ass. Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez and Zoe Saldana were fantastic. Action writers/producers/directors could learn so much from Cameron’s style. (I’m talking to you, Michael Bay.)
LG: I’m just wondering if there’s going to be backlash from Native Americans or other minority groups though, re: the many cliches of “exotic indigenous peoples” Cameron uses. Tribal drummin’, face paintin’, nose piercin’, earth lovin’, etc. Not to go all Edward Said here, but it’s pretty boilerplate orientalism.
More on Techland: Avatar, First Look: Why This Geek Hopes Pandora is the Future of Movies
SS: They are definitely the “other,” and there’s a level of fetishism here to be sure. But in the way Cameron plays it all out, allowing us to experience their way of life and learn to love it more than the drab habitats housing the humans on Pandora – I think he goes a long way towards celebrating them, rather than gawking at them. Does this make any sense? I would have failed anthropology in college for sure –
LG: Yeah, but perpetuating stereotypes, even positive ones, is still totally damaging. It’s like saying Asian kids are good at math. Still not cool.
Whatever. Back to blue boobs. Actually my favorite part is the first time Jake gets dressed up in Na’vi (what does that apostrophe even mean?) clothes, thong included, and you see him try to pick a wedgie. Nice touch.
SS: Lots of nice touches, actually, when it comes to him becoming a member of the Na’vi. I love that he still talks and thinks like a marine in the early moments. He’s crass and gruff. He doesn’t assimilate easily – which I think is a mistake that many other films might make, in making him a member of the clan. He gradually falls in love with this world, and its people, and for me it really worked. The movie never felt overdone, nor rushed….the pacing helped a lot….
AT: I think you’re right about the stereotyping, but like was said last night, it also had a lot things to say about imperialism. I think the tribal characteristics are used as a device to really polarize the sides of the argument. Let’s face it, if the Na’vi had been speeding around in futuristic taxis, chain smoking and littering they could have been bought, making Cameron’s plot unfeasible. (Sidenote: To me, the romance had a very Disney’s Pocahontas feel to it) But I think the message, overall was very positive. I think the Na’vi were depicted in this way because it is so contradictory to the American mindset. If you think about the ultimate battle when it comes to “Americanization,” it’s Cowboys vs. Indians. We’ve been playing it for years, and it doesn’t surprise me that Cameron took this route.
PH: Like I said before, I didn’t think the story was anything special. The FX were batshitf**kingcrazy. And this is totally Cowboys vs. Indians.
LG: Probably we should think about wrapping this up and putting it up.
PH: Yeah, I’m done. Blue boobs. Dances With Wolves.
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