Typing Faster

December 31, 2009

What Could Avatar Have Done Better?

Filed under: Avatar, Features, Stuff I Like — petertypingfaster @ 5:00 am

An interesting post over on Boing Boing that offers up some story telling risks that Avatar could have taken, but didn’t.

There are some interesting suggestions. Let’s take a look.


Suggestion the first:

Jake actually betrays the Na’avi

Our hero’s journey is smooth sailing: Jake so badly needs his destination that there’s never much ambivalence about the journey. This lack of internal conflict manifests when the Na’vi tribe rejects him: his only betrayal of them is the plain fact of his original mission, which he’d had abandoned in any case. Wasn’t it obvious that he might be telling others what he’d learned about the tribe? As the first “warrior” dreamwalker, no less.

If Jake instead pursued an explicit and timely opportunity to betray his new friends, his ‘going native’ afterward would have been a powerful moral turning point rather than a faint point on a ‘character arc.’

Can’t really argue with that. Jake is pretty much fully committed to siding with the Na’avi as soon as he steps foot into his avatar body. I think that Cameron tried to skirt around the issue (or at least cloud it a bit) by giving Jake the opportunity of regaining the use of his legs (the biggest reason that he enjoys being in his avatar so much), if he can actually regain use of his legs then he has the motivation to betray the Na’avi.

Of course it didn’t really hold any water. Everyone knew exactly how things were going to fall from the get go.

Give his rival some balls

In Dune, off-worlder Paul Atreides is forced to kill to gain acceptance with the locals when his own kind finally forces him into the wilds. In Avatar, however, Jake only has to show up on a fancy ride. Instead of becoming a nonentity after their earlier aikido warmup, Na’vi chief-to-be Tsu-tey could have drawn a line in the moss: I represent the caution and tradition of my people, and you’ll have to beat me down to change and lead us. If Jake has to defeat, even kill an ally who hates him, it tarnishes his character–but Pandora is red in tooth and claw, after all, and it is what he’s fighting for.

This would have been a great change. In Dune not only did Paul Atreides have to kill his rival to gain acceptance with the Fremen, but it also provided an opportunity to shed more light on the Fremen culture (they show a Fremen funeral ritual, which involved reclaiming all the water from the slain rivals body…it was a great cinematic moment). Riding in on a big bird? Not as effective.

The savages show how smart they are

Jake masters the bow and horse. Why not let one of the Na’vi surprise everyone by getting to grips with some of that weird sky-people tech? And perhaps even do a little betrayal of his or her own.

I’m not entirely sold on this one, but not for the obvious reason. I would of found it more interesting if we got to the Na’avi use biotech. They’re so in tune with their natural surroundings, what with the hair plugging in, that it seems like a natural jump if they’d been able to use their relationship with the natural world to create their own version of bio-organic technology. If the realization was that these people aren’t savages, but have their own specific technology, that would of been really cool.

Not arguing with the spirit of the suggestion, just the execution of it.

Show the colonel’s hidden depths

You can’t just let Steven Lang take a role like that and then bury him in cartoon villainy. Colonel Quaritch is evidently a spiritually blasted former soldier who went private-sector after tiring of fighting dirty wars. As Lang says in an interview, “I didn’t play a villain; I played a man who is doing his job the best way that he can.” But he isn’t given much space for that nuance by the script. For example, he knows that his brief is to protect a blood diamond operation, not patriotic duty, and yet in his climactic battle with Jake, he asks him how he could betray his people. What he really means is, “How could you not be a soldier, son?”

In the movie, Jake simply snarls. A retort would be sweeter. “Is that what they told you when you quit Venezuela?” does the the trick. The Colonel knows he’s lost, after all, and getting irony thrown in his face offers him a chance to choose his own doom–without any need for the leaden pathos that often comes with such turnarounds. Consider the many suggestions that Quaritch is the only human on Pandora to feel at home there in his own body–he is much more like the Na’vi than he’d like to admit.

Yeah, no argument here. Colonel Quaritch was a pretty ridiculously one note character. Would of been nice to see some depth there.

Kill Carter Burke

That brings us to the disinterested corporate apparatchik in charge of the whole show. He’s the real villain of the piece, who gives the natives none of the respect offered them by his soldiers and scientists, at least until his decisions’ moral consequences are thrown in his face by Ripley.

Wait… wrong movie. In any case, Mr. Cameron had the right idea the first time around. Kill the slimeball–or better yet, let an alien do it.

Seriously, why did Giovanni Ribisi’s character survive? Where’s the justice in that? Kill the crap head and be done with it.


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