So a few months ago I posted an article marveling that not a single '00s
film had come close to replacing Titanic as
the highest-grossing movie of all time, and this came out the very next day.
I'm guessing that Cameron slapped this thing together overnight just to make
me look bad.
Before Titanic, the highest-grossing movie of all time was Jurassic
Park, whose appeal David Letterman summed up
thusly: "mechanical lizards."
Later that year I was in a seminar with a woman who apparently couldn't make
alternative arrangements for child care and brought her two young daughters
to class every day. They'd sit next to her and work through coloring books
and stuff while the rest of us talked about Fish's theory of interpretive
communities and whatnot. One day I noticed that the older girl was reading
Jurassic Park. "How're you enjoying the mechanical lizards?" I asked.
"They're not mechanical!" she protested.
Anyway, so this is another mechanical-lizard movie, only this time they're
mechanical alien lizards. Computer graphics mean that your alien
worlds no longer have to look suspiciously like British Columbia or New
Zealand — they're limited only by your budget and your imagination.
Unfortunately people have never been all that great at imagining alien life
and so this ends up looking like New Zealand anyway, only with cartoon flowers
and toothier, multi-eyed versions of horses and rhinos and pterodactyls. We
also get blue people with some tiger genes who are all voiced by black
people and whose culture is Noble Savage boilerplate. Naturally, the white
guy turns out to be a better native than the natives are. I assume that all
these observations have been made by a million people already. I do know,
because I follow politics, that right-wingers have complained about the
storyline, which is about the American military invading a foreign land
to plunder its natural resources and "humanely" bombing the crap out of the
inhabitants; the film encourages viewers to feel bad about these things for
a couple of hours before they retreat to their SUVs with the "Support Our
Troops" ribbon magnets. But, again, my understanding is that above all else
this movie been hailed for climbing up the far wall of the uncanny valley;
just as they thought the mechanical lizards in Jurassic Park looked
like real dinosaurs, many viewers have found that the mechanical Thundercats
in Avatar are sufficiently expressive that they look like actors in
makeup, not like Sims. I never actually played The Sims, but I did
play Civilization IV, and can confirm
that Avatar had more convincing faces than the Civ IV
music was pretty
much the same, however.