My Biggest Problem With the Science of Avatar: A Fanboy Rant

Posted by Michael Pinto on Dec 25, 2009 in Cinema, Science |

Avatar: Why are we using Vietnam era machine guns in the future?

My problem with Avatar is that the humans are smart enough to achieve interstellar space travel, but their technology feels like it belongs in the early 21st Century. I’ll grant you that you can make this critique of quite a few science fiction films, but frankly Avatar seems to become a giant plot hole when you think about this.

I’ll grant you that James Cameron wasn’t making a science fiction film but doing Dances with Wolves in outer space: But the fact remains that if the humans are smart enough to go outside the solar system their military skills should match. For example why would the military use that firepower when you could just use germ warfare? One would assume that even a grunt would have those skills.

Another problem I have is if the blue creatures have a pre-industrial technology then they wouldn’t stand a chance against a tech culture. Frankly if you look at insurgents in the third world they’re all armed to the teeth with AK-47s and rocket launchers: So these blue guys are too dumb to get to that level but they can take out a helicopter gunship with their kung fu and pterodactyl flying skills?

Avatar: What kind of crappy robot can't kill a dinosaur?

And I think this is where the film fails. Cameron could have finished the film when they blew up the silly giant tree, but no he had to make it “better” by having more stuff blow up. It’s at that point the film becomes a videogame and the structure of the “film” makes no sense after that.

But I think this points to a larger problem: Back in the day you had real science fiction writers powering the stories behind a film, but this isn’t the case anymore. So for example while Kubrick was a great filmmaker he still collaborated with the likes of Arthur C. Clarke or Anthony Burgess. But today you’ve got Cameron who feels qualified to make a science fiction film by just adding some spaceships and special effects here and there.

Avatar: Is this a science fiction or a Vietnam war film?

The result of this is some great eye candy, but as a science fiction fan it’s a meal of empty calories. Granted I shouldn’t be singling out Cameron, I get that feeling with quite a few science fiction films. And when I look back at the films that I love all of these years later they always had a script that was powered by a great writer.

Perhaps part of the problem is that the market for science fiction novels is a fraction of what it once was? Back in the day you’d have writers who aspired to tell new stories, but today so much of the market is dominated by novels based upon Star Trek and Star Wars.

Frankly if Avatar came out first as a comic book or novel I don’t think anyone would have read it or even cared. In fact if it came out as a videogame first I’d still would have to say that I’ve seen other videogames on the market that were much more original or interesting.

Of course this is just my fanboy rant, no matter what my opinion is the film will rake in a ton of cash and no doubt we’ll looking at Happy Meal toys based upon the prequel which will come out in 2011. But being that Avatar wasn’t based upon anything, it leaves me with a hunger for an innovative original science fiction space opera film that isn’t Star Trek, Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica.


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