What do you get when you cross a Bratz doll with a Smurf? *UPDATED*

What do you get when you cross a Bratz doll with a Smurf?  A Na’vi.

Yup, folks, I finally caught up with my pop culture and went to see Avatar last night.  Seeing it made me realize why I so seldom bother to catch up with pop culture.  The movie was a snoozer.  The first two hours were mostly a college freshman’s fantasy anthropology thesis leavened by myriad cliches and really bad acting.  At the very end, when the action adventure sequences finally kicked in, I didn’t think the visual quality or the plot turns were any better than the most recent Transformers movie.

Others have written about the movie’s politics, which are certainly offensive (military evil, corporations evil) and stupidly demeaning (indigenous people are child-like angels on earth), so I won’t go there.  What bugged me was how derivative the movie was.  Again, others have commented on the way in which Cameron simply recycled Dances With Wolves and a gazillion other movies in which the evil American military and corporations seek to destroy indigenous people, only to have a messiah like ex-military or ex-corporate person ride in to save the innocent indigenous who can’t save themselves.  All that goes without saying given Cameron’s knee jerk politics (although I don’t see him donating his profits to any indigenous people’s groups).  Nope, what bugged me was the lazy derivative quality that had Cameron borrowing from a bunch of other movies.

For starters, as I said, the creepy Na’vi were clearly inspired by hybridizing Bratz dolls and Smurfs.  Here, I’ll illustrate.

First, the Bratz dolls, with their big heads, huge, highly colored eyes, and abnormally elongated bodies:

SteppinOut.Group

Next, the Smurfs, with their blue skin and big ears:

smurf-tm

Blend these pop culture images, and you end up with Na’vi, completed with oversized heads, big ears, big eyes, blue skin and weirdly elongated bodies:

avatar_Navi

The only mystery is how the Na’vis figured out, on their own, the wonders of corn-rowed hair:

tn_HPIM0084

But the borrowing didn’t stop there.  Do you remember when Jake Sully was giving his impassioned “we can’t all get along” speech?  Because the movie was in 3D, Jake’s wagging little tail kept distracting my eye.  It didn’t take me long to track down that image either:

CowardlyLion-300x287

Twice in the Wizard of Oz (that I can remember) that tail took center stage:  once when the four friends began their long walk down the hallway to meet the Wizard for the first time, and once again when the tail kept peeking out of the costume the Cowardly Lion had stolen from the witch’s guards.  There is no doubt in my mind that the same genius who designed the tail for the Wizard of Oz got resurrected to help out with the Na’vi.

Cameron raided old Hollywood for other ideas.  The night time scenes of a luminous Pandora were pretty, but certainly not original.  Disney got there first, all the way back in 1940, in the lovely Nutcracker Suite part of Fantasia:

For the goddess’ tree, those glowing, hanging limbs, into which the Na’vi can plug their braids, were clearly inspired by commercial grade rope lights, right down to the little bulbs embedded in the strand, and the plugs at the end:

ledropelightcat

(Here’s an even better example of light ropes.)

As for the dialogue . . . bleh!  Cameron is a terrible writer.  Borrowed ideas, film cliches (people always whoop in helicopters or when they’re otherwise flying) and, worst, unbelievably hackneyed lines borrowed from decades of bad action movies:

[to Jake, before he becomes an Avatar]
Dr. Grace Augustine: Just relax and let your mind go blank. That shouldn’t be too hard for you.

***

Dr. Grace Augustine: So you just figured you’d come here, to the most hostile environment known to men, with no training of any kind, and see how it went? What was going through your head?
Jake Sully: Maybe I was sick of doctors telling me what I couldn’t do.

***

Trudy Chacon: [fires on Quaritch's Hellicopter] Your’e not the only one with a gun, Bitch!

***

Col. Quaritch: Yo Sully! How does it feel to betray your own race?

***

Jake Sully: It’s over.
Col. Quaritch: Nothing’s over while I’m breathing.
Jake Sully: I was kinda hoping you’d say that.

Cliches, insults, wooden writing, it’s all there. I’m surprised Cameron didn’t manage to have the wacko Marine Colonel throw in “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”  To be fair to Cameron’s bad writing and nasty attitude, though, he did manage to get in a snide reference to “shock and awe” by referring to the campaign against the angelic Na’vi in those terms.

I could go on, but it’s like re-living a bad dream over and over.  For 162 minutes, I writhed in my theater seat, overwhelmed by boredom, leavened only by the occasional disgust.  What a lousy movie.  If it wasn’t for the computer animation, it would have sunk like a stone.  And to be honest, even the animation wasn’t that good.  [Slight spoiler alert:]  The only time I really felt it added to the movie was when ash was falling after the crazed military bombed the great tree.  That was kind of pretty.  [End of slight spoiler.]

If you’ve seen Avatar, I bet you know what I’m talking about.  And if you haven’t, save your money.  Or better, the ticket price to a gift basket at Soldier’s Angels.  Those guys and gals deserve it after the massive insult lobbed at them in the most popular movie in years.

UPDATE:  Silly me.  I forgot another borrowing.  (The following is a slight spoiler, if you care.)  When the born-again indigenous Jake calls upon the earth for help, and gets that help, that came right out of Tolkein and C.S. Lewis (who borrowed the concept from Tolkein).  In both those classics, the enraged trees in a land despoiled by evil end up helping the good guys.  Funnily enough, though, I never saw either Tolkein or Lewis as savage critics of corporatism, conventional religion or their own nation’s military.  I must have missed something.

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh my god Book, your brain is in hyper. That’s one good thing I can praise for the movie for!
     
    You should see Guardian of the Sacred Spirit, Book. It’s an anime geared towards more mature audiences.
     
    Here’s episode 2.
    http://www.veoh.com/collection/seireinomoribitoZ/watch/v1490336SAp2ccDM
     
    Episode 1, however, is a little hard to find.
    http://www.blinkx.com/watch-video/guardian-of-the-sacred-spirit-season-1-episode-1/bKDrVkXhu7Go6HTv_dyT8A
    That link should work, otherwise i’ll post the original table of contents.

  2. says

    You keep getting dragged into these low quality Hollywood productions that people call ‘art’, Book. I sympathize with you.
     
    People just don’t know any better. And do you know why? This article explains some of it.
     
    http://grimbeorn.blogspot.com/2010_02_01_archive.html#7801439291976640305
     
     
    The entire epistemology concerning how do you know that what you know is true, isn’t something the oligarchical rulers of this nation or this world wants the rest of the human race to figure out.

  3. jj says

    I don’t get it either, because the movie is Godawful.  I will state flatly, for the record: if this screenplay were ever pitched with the idea that it would be made with human beings taking the roles, in front of actual sets – it would never have been made.  No chance.  The story is horrendously bad, if, indeed, it may be said that there is a “story” somewhere in there at all.  What we have is three hours of undigested cliches, regurgitated in endlessly recycled plots.
     
    Find the lamp, wake up the genie, save the world.  Find the key, open the treasure, retire to Bali.  Find the map, locate the treasure, pay off the mortgage and save the ranch.  Find the ring, save the world.  Find the…. “unobtainium?”  (Really?  That’s the best he could do in the imaginative department?  “Unobtainium?”  I guess that means it’s hard to find, eh?)… and do whatever it is that unobtainium does.
     
    The one thing Bookworm forgot is the heavy influence of the Keebler elves in siting and decorating the Na’vi tree house.   (“Let’s put it… right on top of Mudder Erff!”)
     
    The movie’s horrendously bad in every sense except as a technical exercise.  (And Hollywood better wake up to that, too – otherwise, who needs electricians, sound people, lighting people, set decorators, costumers, craft people, carpenters – hell, who needs actors?)
     
    There is no there there, as Dorothy Parker once said (of Oakland), and I don’t understand why anyone outside Cameron’s immediate circle likes this move.  (Although the current wife probably likes it – there’s no leading lady for him to dump her for.)
     
    And, of course, (sorry, has to be said), it’s – inevitably – the favorite movie of our own, not-quite-real-himself, Barack Obama.  He just thinks it’s the berries!  Anybody surprised?

  4. gpc31 says

    Why is Avatar a top grosser?  Because in the short run,  a market is a popularity contest (replete with network effects) but in the long run, a weighing machine.  Apologies to Warren Buffett and Ben Graham.
     
    I always bring my ipod to movies.  If they’re really bad, one or two great podcasts will save the day.

  5. spiff580 says

    Book,

    You were warned.  :)

    Everyone,

    Check out these youtube reviews from a guy named Plinkett (not real name) from Red Letter Media.  He hits the nail on the head and it is laugh out loud funny:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJarz7BYnHA&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLzKwTcGO_0&feature=related

    Y is correct, Unobtanium is an actual engineering term:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium

    I dont get why the movie is so popular either.  Maybe it’s because like Lucas, Cameron is so popular, that no matter what crap he makes it will be universally loved (he will always have a built in fan boy base).  I agree, had this movie been made by someone else and/or didnt use cutting edge cgi, it probably would have a straight to video or… gasp, a Sci-Fi channel exclusive. :)  I cant believe it was nominated as best drama???  All it should get is best sfx.

    Sean

  6. says

    Spiff, people who have observed propaganda and have analyzed it often get a built in BS or manipulation detector. It’s like the old adage that experience can make foolish men wise. Either that or dead.
     
    The Main Sewer Media propaganda still works, however, because the American people, while obtaining various other sources, still lack the capability to analyze propaganda and manipulation attempts. Too much goes through whatever un-filtered perceptions people have and hit them straight in the conker.
     
    A benefit of having watched the Dems work at Iraq, minimum wage, Unions, feminism, gay activism, and now the Obama Nation is that after awhile you should have either joined their side or have built up an internal resistance to these common tricks. The rest of America, as evidenced by the Obama Hope and CHange campaign, aren’t up to our level yet.

  7. says

    That review is funny as hell, Spiff.
     
    There’s some good reductionist propaganda elements, as shown in the movie. Maybe I’ve watched too much anime, but the big eyes thing doesn’t work on me. And given I was unconscious of the design behind it, it should have. My brain was working too much to allow feelings, however. That’s usually what happens when you need to feel passion but you got this complicated problem in your head you need to solve. If you don’t pay enough attention to the people and the interactive emotions, you aren’t going to get it. That’s an automatic propaganda blocker right there.

  8. spiff580 says

    Y,

    You should check out the ones he did on the Phantom Menace.  Thats how I first came accross his website.

    I just couldnt get over how simplistic and manuplative the movie was.  Had the story been more complex and dimensional, I probably would have given the politics a pass.  But it was so bad, it just made the politics that more offensive to me. 

    I totally agree with his point about District 9, despite it’s political message, it was good because the aliens and main characters were not one dimensional (although the mercs were).

    Sean

  9. Mike Devx says

    As Spiff580 said above, the Plinkett guy’s reviews are fall on the floor funny.  They’re greatness.  I first caught the seven – seven! – ten minute sequences where he just eviscerated The Phantom Menace.  Of course I was laughing constantly at this guy’s reviewer persona.
     
    But behind the hilarity, it’s a great deconstruction.  I *knew* The Phantom Menace was one big rotten pile of crap movie, but he showed me WHY.   Visit Spiff’s Avatar review links, and if you enjoy them, look up the Phantom Menace ones.  You’ll love it.
     
    Ymar’s points on propaganda are spot on.  My sister is as a-political as they come, liberal leaning, and she’s got no BS filter at all.  She loved every second of Avatar.  You have to hand it to Cameron, he’s got an uncanny ability to satisfy the populist urges out there, just as Lucas and Spielberg did early in their careers.  (Not so much lately for either of them.)   Part of populist movie making, I think, is to keep it very, very simple.  It’s a shame (for me) that Cameron’s politics are so mis-aligned to mine.  I mean, “The Sound of Music” and “The Ten Commandments” are two other epic movies that are populist and extremely simple in concept (and the dialogue in Avatar couldn’t be worse than that in The Ten Commandments, could it?   Edward G. Robinson’s slave driver… Anne Bancroft moaning “Moses! Moses! Moses!”
     
    But a heartfelt “Thank You!” to Book for this post!  I was actually considering going to see Avatar today.  Finally have some free time away from work deadlines.  Book made me realize what a miserable time I would have had.  Thank you!
     
    The Fantasia sequence was beautiful.  That’s a movie I haven’t seen; the old Disney movies are never on TV.  It reminds me that cartoonists back then were brilliant in their marriage of scenes with classical music.  Therefore, instead of going to see Avatar this afternoon, I’m going to pop one of my Warner Brothers’ DVD collectins (Bugs Bunny, Daffy, Foghorn, Elmer, Broom Hilda, Marvin, Sylvester, Tweety, etc) into the player, sit back on my couch, and laugh my head off.   (And on point, enjoy the marriage of scenes with classical music, another thing they got right back then even in the cartoon shorts.  Elmer and Bugs at the Opera House with “Leopold”, anyone?)
     
     

  10. Mike Devx says

    Crap.  It wasn’t Elmer… it was the irritating opera singer living “next door” to Bugs out in the bucolic countryside, driving poor Bugsy nuts.  My memory was momentarily faulty.  Bugs dressed up as Leopold in that wig in the amphitheatre…
     

  11. says

    Spiff, Mike, I’d like to invite you two to watch a few episodes of Guardian of the Sacred Spirit as well, via the link I provided in 7, on 04 Feb 2010 at 11:59 am

    I want to hear what people have to say about it. For example, I already gave it to Grim, one of the authors at Blackfive, and got his response to the first two episodes.



     
     

  12. says

    Btw, Much of Cameron’s propaganda effect in A isn’t actually his own abilities. It’s tied in with Al Gore, September 11, and various other things going on. Propaganda operations are effective because they tie in with other propaganda, con artist tricks, and various manipulation campaigns going on elsewhere.
     
    In this fashion you can create “social worth” as perceived by the subject because the subject sees all these people he respects or is liked by high class peer groups saying essentially the same thing about Gaia, the military, corporations, etc. This reinforces those things as true in the mind of the subject, even though everything they perceived about the subject of corporations came from people who made money robbing poor people.
     
    You see how the web of propaganda works. It’s not just an isolated incident. It’s not just a mistake. It’s not just something someway off. It’s an entire panoply of life experiences distorting people’s views, not for a month but for decades and centuries. This is no joke. It has happened already.
     
    Magicians don’t trick people because they came up with a way to control human perception. Human perception already has inherent flaws in the system that magicians simply take advantage of. And the same is true about film makers like A’s. They don’t create the distortion effect, they just take advantage of it.

  13. says

    I believe in free will, but I don’t believe everybody does things of their own free will. I believe humans have this gift, but at times it may be submerged or denied or deceived.
     
    People in this nation always shout platitudes about freedom. But what is freedom without free will? How can people be free when their lives and their very perception of reality is controlled, not by them, but by the puppet masters at the top pulling the strings?
     
    Freedom without the ability to make decisions of your own will, is simply an illusion. A pleasant one, perhaps, ala the Matrix, but an illusion nonetheless.
     
    Education alone isn’t enough. You have to train people to resist external influences. You have to train people to be strong enough to listen to what they themselves believe, and not simply agree with their peers because they are afraid of rejection or of being run out of the group. Natural individuals with strong inner moral fiber, like say Bookworm or Neo-Neocon, are too rare for us to ‘depend upon’ to save the rest of the human species. Because the rest of the human species are pretty weak and malnourished at this point. Their very health have been sucked away by the corrupt oligarchs, drug lords, and UN esque authoritarians.
     
    Children often complain that what they are taught in school doesn’t have a use, in terms of application, in real life. If they took my ideal curriculum, they won’t be easily bored because I would not cover the subjects of deception, warfare, violence, political subterfuge, and propaganda with a PG-13 brush.
     

  14. says

    Mike:

    One of my favorite cartoon moments is Elmer Fudd caroling to Wagner “Kill da’ wabbit, Kill da’ wabbit.”  They truly don’t make ‘em like they used to.

    As it is, Mel Blanc’s huge talent notwithstanding, I’ve become a die-hard Elmer Fudd fan (and I understand that wasn’t Blanc’s voice).  That semi-demi quaver, the put upon air, the perpetual need for “west and we-waxation at wast” — Elmer’s just my guy.

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