Monday, December 27, 2010

Tales of Two Avatars – Worlds Apart

Tonight, we watched two new DVDs that we got for Christmas. The first, we’d seen before. Avatar, the “Blue Avatar” as Honor calls it. We absolutely love the movie. A lot of critics complained that it was just another good guy, underdog beats bad ol’ superpower bad guy, save the world, guy gets the girl movie. I read complaints that it was just Disney’s Pocohontas, set in space, with aliens instead of Native Americans. Well… it is all that. These are good formulas for good movies. Most classics use the good guy vs bad guy, save the world, guy gets girl, story idea. It works. James Cameron’s version of the tried and true is spectacular! The scenery of his world is breathtaking, and we love the animals and people of Pandora. The kids asked some darn good questions about the situations in the movie too. All sorts of questions about how the scientists were able to use the avatar bodies, and what happens if they are hurt or killed. Questions about how the Navi bond with and communicate with their world. We also had a good discussion about the soldiers. Honor asked that, if a soldier was told to do something bad, should he do it, or go away? (Like Trudy, the Marine pilot, who refused to shoot apart the Home tree and flew off, later assisting the natives in their big fight.) We talked about how, in real life, it’s illegal for a soldier to do something wrong, even if he is ordered to do it. If he did, he’d go to jail. He couldn’t say that his commander told him to do whatever it was. Of course, this was a movie, set in the future, and things might be different in stories, but I thought it was a great question.

Anyway, after thoroughly enjoying that movie, again, we happily opened up the second Avatar movie of the night. Avatar, the Last Airbender. We absolutely love the cartoon series of Avatar, and although we’d heard the movie was not very good, we thought we might enjoy it anyway. No way. It was absolutely, thoroughly, terribly disappointing. Rather than telling a story about the series, or a story set in the world, or just making something up, loosely based on the characters, the movie attempted to tell everything from the first season of the cartoon series in one go… or, at least that’s what we think the idea was. Random pieces and parts were hacked from the story, then clumsily tacked together with no attempt, whatsoever, to make sense of things for those who may not be familiar with the story, or even to make sense of it for those of us who ARE familiar with it … and forget editing. Who needs that?

We know the story, so we knew what the heck was supposedly going on, but even we were asking each other, “What did he do that for?” or “Why did they leave that (part of the story) out?” I mean… if you’re going to try and copy something, COPY it properly! Geez. There were a couple of instances where important things were left unexplained, for example, one character is an enemy, then, (not explained in the movie, at all) hides his identity to help the main character against his own people, and then ends up being saved in return by the main character, who remarks that they could be friends! Later, a character is tied up, then NOT tied up. It was thoroughly random, and truly shoddy.

They couldn’t even get the names right! The main character in the cartoon series is called “Ang” as in “hang”, yet in the movie, they called him “Ong”, like “long”. They couldn’t even get the NAMES right! Avatar (the TV series) was 3 seasons, 61 episodes. I would think that we can claim that the names have been established. Would you make a movie of Charlie Brown and change Snoopy’s name to Snoppy?! What were they thinking?

If pressed to say something positive, I can admit that it was interesting to see the characters brought to life. Most were cast and portrayed fairly well, close enough to be interesting. Not all, of course. They completely missed it on some. The animal characters were done very well, very true to the cartoon, and as realistic as made up creatures might possibly be. I also enjoyed the special effects of the martial arts/magic that the ‘benders’ employed. Of course, the cartoon series did that well too… about the only thing better in the movie, is that the Avatar’s tattoos looked better in ‘real life’ than in the cartoon.

Most unforgivable, the movie managed to murder all the charm, humor, and sense of real friendship that made the cartoon so special. The cartoon series has it’s share of silliness, yet it never lost the seriousness of the story and the characters are very likable. The TV series tells an epic story and is in no way your typical cartoon fare. The movie tries to be too serious, it never found any humor or explained why anyone cared about anyone else, and it lost the whole story along the way. Very sad.

I can recommended Cameron’s Avatar movie about Pandora to families whose kids can handle a bit of violence. There is intense fighting, but it’s fighting for a great cause. Save the world, protect the environment from corporate greed, stand up for the oppressed, etc. There’s no confusion, it is “good guys vs bad guys”. The bad guys are bad, and people die who you don’t want to die, so keep that in mind for sensitive kids. Some of the alien animals are very scary too. I’ve heard rumors that there will be a new release of the movie with parts that are a bit more sensual than this one, which has some gentle love scenes but nothing graphic, and while I do not know what the difference is, you might pay attention to reviews about that. There is also strong language that some parents might object to, if your kid likes to quote their favorite lines!

I will not recommend the Last Airbender movie… I wish I could, but it is so pathetic, so sad…  Do not bother with it! Save yourself two hours. I will however, highly recommend the TV series. If you have, by unfortunate chance, seen the movie and not the series, wipe your brain, and start over with the tv series.

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