Why Avatar is Exciting for Science Fiction and Fantasy Geeks

avatar-navi-blue-photo2

By this time you’ve likely read plenty of Avatar reviews out there or, more likely, you’ve been to see the movie yourself. My own feelings about the cinematic quality of the film are mixed, but that’s not the point of this piece.

Because watching Avatar didn’t actually make me excited about watching Avatar, if that makes sense–it made me excited about watching future science fiction and fantasy movies in a way that no other film has to date.

I was lucky to be brought up in the 80s, at the height of the Jim Henson‘s workshop, when movies like The Dark Crystal defined my childhood and made me, at such a young age, truly believe in magic. Those were important years, and nothing inspired me so much as fantasy in film. The Last Unicorn, The Hobbit, Time Bandits: the list goes on.

But something happened with the introduction of CGI that, in some ways, have aged films of the last ten years more than those of the 80s and early 90s. It’s like we took a few steps back and had to redraw everything from scratch again. Watching some of the broom-flying scenes in the first Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, for instance, or even some of the parts of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings already feel dated. It’s strange to think that the puppets and animation of my youth seem to hold up better in some ways. (Not all films held out, of course. There’s the weird case of the Ninja Turtles franchise, which started out surprisingly viable and not that bad in terms of animatronics, and then, by the third film, turned into a complete farce.)

Except now, I think the game has finally changed. WETA has demonstrated that, in the last ten years, CGI has truly gone beyond what seemed so monumental during The Lord of the Rings films in the early 2000s. I kept looking for those glaring errors, kept scanning the screen, the shots, for moments of real weakness (i.e. when Neville went on that errant broom ride in Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone and he looked a little better than a stuffed beanbag being flailed about; or those scenes in LOTR when the hobbits just didn’t look short enough, in spite of the camera tricks). But those that I found in Avatar were exceptionally minimal.

Avatar is not a great film, at least, not in terms of what the movie says or achieves from a thematic standpoint (in other words, it’s been done before… but I digress). However, the presentation, the experience of the film, the detail of the world and the remarkable depth of emotion conveyed in the CGI characters is something altogether new and thrilling for me, fangirl as I am of fantasy. While the 3D was a bit distracting at first, in the end I saw the importance of it. It was another layer of depth, another way to draw the audience into the world.

For years I have dreaded seeing fantasy adaptations for the screen, fearing that the result will never even graze the surface of my imagination. This includes nearly every film with a dragon made in the last two decades. Now, I say, bring it on. Let’s get some Pern on the screen, some worlds teeming with alien life, vast ancient monumental cities. Let’s really push the envelope now that we can do it well.

The aesthetic of Avatar, I think, far eclipsed everything else about it. I believed in the world even if I didn’t think the story was that great. Every bug, mushroom, flying creature, hairless dog, and fern frond was a painstakingly real and believable as my own back yard. And that is the key to good science fiction and fantasy: creating a believable world, a world in which you get blissfully, thoroughly lost, and regret having to come back from.

So, readers. What SF/F worlds do you want to see recreated on the big screen in the coming decade? Do you think that, now that the genre is appealing to a larger audience that we’ll have a chance to see more of our beloved books and TV shows in theaters? Or are there canon books that you’re still dreading, regardless of the advances in technology?

Advertisements
Advertisement




54 Responses to Why Avatar is Exciting for Science Fiction and Fantasy Geeks

  1. Hmmm… SciFi stuff to see on the big screen…

    Smith’s Lensman Series
    Anthony’s Xanth books
    Aspirin’s Myth books
    Daley’s Hobart Floyt and Fitzhugh
    Farscape!

    I got a million of ’em!

    • Personally, I’m really hoping that the Once and Future King film in the works is going to be worth its salt. Arthurian nut that I am, it’s been a while since we had something of high enough caliber. Also, a *good* version of A Wrinkle in Time.

  2. Once and Future King would be great, although I would be worried that it would be similar to the Beowulf remake they did a couple of years ago. And I agree, A Wrinkle in Time would be very cool too. The one that I am looking forward too, though, is Ender’s Game. I think that could be truly awesome.
    No matter what is made, I just hope that someone with the vision and tenacity of James Cameron or Peter Jackson does it. Sci-Fi and fantasy are just lame if they are done only halfway.

  3. Have to agree with the pern suggestion.
    Also the free trader series by same author.
    Xanth would be good if Hollywood could keep the puns visual and in the background as an extra to the storyline.
    Lensman or family d’lambert series.
    azimov’s foundation series.
    Greg Bear’s song’s of earth and power (pretty please)
    But only If they don’t do what they did with Heinlein’s starship Troopers.
    Have seen the trailer for the tron remake and they should cancel it now. CGI over acting.

  4. Hmmm… SciFi stuff to see on the big screen…

    Smith's Lensman Series

    Anthony's Xanth books

    Aspirin's Myth books

    Daley's Hobart Floyt and Fitzhugh

    Farscape!

    I got a million of 'em!

    • Personally, I'm really hoping that the Once and Future King film in the works is going to be worth its salt. Arthurian nut that I am, it's been a while since we had something of high enough caliber. Also, a *good* version of A Wrinkle in Time.

  5. Once and Future King would be great, although I would be worried that it would be similar to the Beowulf remake they did a couple of years ago. And I agree, A Wrinkle in Time would be very cool too. The one that I am looking forward too, though, is Ender's Game. I think that could be truly awesome.

    No matter what is made, I just hope that someone with the vision and tenacity of James Cameron or Peter Jackson does it. Sci-Fi and fantasy are just lame if they are done only halfway.

  6. Have to agree with the pern suggestion.

    Also the free trader series by same author.

    Xanth would be good if Hollywood could keep the puns visual and in the background as an extra to the storyline.

    Lensman or family d'lambert series.

    azimov's foundation series.

    Greg Bear's song's of earth and power (pretty please)

    But only If they don't do what they did with Heinlein's starship Troopers.

    Have seen the trailer for the tron remake and they should cancel it now. CGI over acting.

  7. Foundation (some liberty could be involved because it seems like an outline for a larger more detailed story now)
    But I’d love to see Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds on the screen, it was a true work SF/F.

  8. Along with Anthony’s Xanth books, it would be pretty cool to see the Proton/Phaze realms of the Apprentice Adept series.

  9. Foundation (some liberty could be involved because it seems like an outline for a larger more detailed story now)

    But I'd love to see Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds on the screen, it was a true work SF/F.

  10. The forest scenes were amazing. The detail with the added bonus of seeing it 3-dimensionally made what might have normally been quite boring very interesting.

    Avatar didn’t put us so close to the CGI (like Transformers) that we couldn’t see what was happening. Too many directors believe making thinks move extremely fast makes it look more real, but in truth it just makes us want to get passed those scenes so we can get back to focusing on what we’re looking at.
    Avatar’s visual quality was quite exceptional. If more movies are done with this much detail I’d have no issue.

    I would still like to see some realistic looking 3D space battles with depth of distanced spaceships, and explosions even though explosions in space need to be better researched since in a vacuum the space doesn’t allow oxygen to feed ignition.

  11. The forest scenes were amazing. The detail with the added bonus of seeing it 3-dimensionally made what might have normally been quite boring very interesting.

    Avatar didn't put us so close to the CGI (like Transformers) that we couldn't see what was happening. Too many directors believe making thinks move extremely fast makes it look more real, but in truth it just makes us want to get passed those scenes so we can get back to focusing on what we're looking at.

    Avatar's visual quality was quite exceptional. If more movies are done with this much detail I'd have no issue.

    I would still like to see some realistic looking 3D space battles with depth of distanced spaceships, and explosions even though explosions in space need to be better researched since in a vacuum the space doesn't allow oxygen to feed ignition.

  12. Ironic you mention the loss of quality in films when CGI first entered the picture. Many say that the introduction of sound did the same thing to film back when it was introduced.
    Saw Avatar last week and was not disappointed. I knew there would be some story issues, but the imagery makes me want to check it out a second time in IMAX. Makes me wonder what the next “game changer” will be.

    I don’t read much Sci Fi, but in light of the new Metropolis release coming up, I’d be interested to see what the newer crop of filmmakers could do with that story.
    -D

  13. I totally agree: it’s finally time to bring Pern to the big screen.

    I’d also like to see David Weber’s Honor Harrington get the treatment; the later books became very formulaic for me, but the first novel would be a great choice for a CGI-3D space battle movie.

  14. Ironic you mention the loss of quality in films when CGI first entered the picture. Many say that the introduction of sound did the same thing to film back when it was introduced.

    Saw Avatar last week and was not disappointed. I knew there would be some story issues, but the imagery makes me want to check it out a second time in IMAX. Makes me wonder what the next "game changer" will be.

    I don't read much Sci Fi, but in light of the new Metropolis release coming up, I'd be interested to see what the newer crop of filmmakers could do with that story.

    -D

  15. I totally agree: it's finally time to bring Pern to the big screen.

    I'd also like to see David Weber's Honor Harrington get the treatment; the later books became very formulaic for me, but the first novel would be a great choice for a CGI-3D space battle movie.

  16. 1) “Not all films held out, of course. There‚Äôs the weird case of the Ninja Turtles franchise, which started out surprisingly viable and not that bad in terms of animatronics, and then, by the third film, turned into a complete farce.”

    Surely that just proves your point that the further on we went in terms of effects, the less it holds up?

    2) “It was another layer of depth, another way to draw the audience into the world.”

    That sums up the 3D quality perfectly. Most 3D films take advantage of explosions (for action) or quirky characters (kids stuff) that literally jump out at you from the screen. That gets old, fast.

    But Avatar was beautiful. It was literally a window into the world (in terms of how it looked – the flat screen may as well have been a glass window) – the 3D simply made the cinematography so much richer with the added quality of depth. Yes, there were sequences that had a few bits jumping out, but they were justified and not just being all “Look! It’s 3D!!!”. The rest was just to show where a character was standing in a scene, or to show just how far the landscape stretched.

    And for that, it deserves kudos. Hopefully now more directors will see it can be simply used for cinematography rather than explosions and larger-than-life characters that throw objects out to the audience.

    Imagine a film like the quiet melancholy comedy Garden State in 3D, in terms of how Avatar did it. A year ago, I’d have said there was no need for 3D for that film. But now, I imagine seeing the funeral scene laid out in front of me, that famous down-the-canyon shot taking me down with it and even just him riding his motorcycle down the road as if I was looking through a window at it.

    Right now, I’d love to see any film with that subtle level of 3D. And I have Avatar to thank for when it happens.

    3) I personally loved all of Avatar and can even forgive the ‘done before’ plot and themes. Yes, the story needed the CGI, but to be fair, the CGI needed the story. Without Cameron’s imagining of this beautiful planet and race, the armies and their machines, the humans and their mixed reactions to Pandroa and the Na’vi, the CGI would be nothing but a black screen.

    • I thought about Ferngully the other day and realized how, moreso than most other cartoon movies I watched as a child, it had an agenda it was pushing quite hard to children. Save the rainforest, or all the little flying pixies will be homeless!
      Of course now that I think about it, we had Bambi. That could be an anti-gun/anti-hunting propaganda piece.
      The Tortoise and the Hare could conclude that when in doubt, tranquilize your opponents.
      The Gingerbread Man teaches lying is okay and being cunning wins out in the end.

      @[email protected] *RETHINKS ENTIRE CHILDHOOD* @[email protected]

      • And, of course, there’s Captain Planet but there’s literally nothing subtle about it. So many cartoons we grew up on had those sneaky second agendas.

  17. 1) "Not all films held out, of course. There’s the weird case of the Ninja Turtles franchise, which started out surprisingly viable and not that bad in terms of animatronics, and then, by the third film, turned into a complete farce."

    Surely that just proves your point that the further on we went in terms of effects, the less it holds up?

    2) "It was another layer of depth, another way to draw the audience into the world."

    That sums up the 3D quality perfectly. Most 3D films take advantage of explosions (for action) or quirky characters (kids stuff) that literally jump out at you from the screen. That gets old, fast.

    But Avatar was beautiful. It was literally a window into the world (in terms of how it looked – the flat screen may as well have been a glass window) – the 3D simply made the cinematography so much richer with the added quality of depth. Yes, there were sequences that had a few bits jumping out, but they were justified and not just being all "Look! It's 3D!!!". The rest was just to show where a character was standing in a scene, or to show just how far the landscape stretched.

    And for that, it deserves kudos. Hopefully now more directors will see it can be simply used for cinematography rather than explosions and larger-than-life characters that throw objects out to the audience.

    Imagine a film like the quiet melancholy comedy Garden State in 3D, in terms of how Avatar did it. A year ago, I'd have said there was no need for 3D for that film. But now, I imagine seeing the funeral scene laid out in front of me, that famous down-the-canyon shot taking me down with it and even just him riding his motorcycle down the road as if I was looking through a window at it.

    Right now, I'd love to see any film with that subtle level of 3D. And I have Avatar to thank for when it happens.

    3) I personally loved all of Avatar and can even forgive the 'done before' plot and themes. Yes, the story needed the CGI, but to be fair, the CGI needed the story. Without Cameron's imagining of this beautiful planet and race, the armies and their machines, the humans and their mixed reactions to Pandroa and the Na'vi, the CGI would be nothing but a black screen.

    • I thought about Ferngully the other day and realized how, moreso than most other cartoon movies I watched as a child, it had an agenda it was pushing quite hard to children. Save the rainforest, or all the little flying pixies will be homeless!

      Of course now that I think about it, we had Bambi. That could be an anti-gun/anti-hunting propaganda piece.

      The Tortoise and the Hare could conclude that when in doubt, tranquilize your opponents.

      The Gingerbread Man teaches lying is okay and being cunning wins out in the end.

      @[email protected] *RETHINKS ENTIRE CHILDHOOD* @[email protected]

      • And, of course, there's Captain Planet but there's literally nothing subtle about it. So many cartoons we grew up on had those sneaky second agendas.

  18. I wonder if anyone could undertake the 12 books of the Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan. The world created there and the magic used by the characters would certainly be a challenge for any CGI pro. I also like the Pern suggestion……. that would be very nice.

  19. I wonder if anyone could undertake the 12 books of the Wheel of Time series by the late Robert Jordan. The world created there and the magic used by the characters would certainly be a challenge for any CGI pro. I also like the Pern suggestion……. that would be very nice.

  20. Niven’s pair “The Integral Trees” and “The Smoke Ring” would be my first choice. I’d love to see those done convincingly. Especially the segments in the ponds.

    Avatar is striking audiences today the same way “Star Wars – A New Hope” did in 1977. It doesn’t just raise the bar, it sets a whole new standard for epic science fiction and fantasy movies. Here’s hoping that movie makers can start raising the bar from Cameron’s new scale.

  21. Yes, the technology is there, and it would be really neat to see the series mentioned in the above comments on the big screen. Still, I’m not sure there’s a high possibility of any of it happening, and happening well.

    Look at the Dungeons and Dragons movie (the one with Jeremy Irons), Eragon, that last King Arthur movie with Clive Owen… they were pretty much all crap. Regardless of what technology is available, if the right people don’t make it, it will suck. I do think we’re making progress in that people are now expecting a lot higher standards when it comes to Sci Fi and Fantasy flicks, but the genre still suffers from finding the right people who actually have the motivation to make it. Still, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Honor Harrington, mentioned above, because those would indeed be some awesome space battles!

  22. Niven's pair "The Integral Trees" and "The Smoke Ring" would be my first choice. I'd love to see those done convincingly. Especially the segments in the ponds.

    Avatar is striking audiences today the same way "Star Wars – A New Hope" did in 1977. It doesn't just raise the bar, it sets a whole new standard for epic science fiction and fantasy movies. Here's hoping that movie makers can start raising the bar from Cameron's new scale.

  23. Yes, the technology is there, and it would be really neat to see the series mentioned in the above comments on the big screen. Still, I'm not sure there's a high possibility of any of it happening, and happening well.

    Look at the Dungeons and Dragons movie (the one with Jeremy Irons), Eragon, that last King Arthur movie with Clive Owen… they were pretty much all crap. Regardless of what technology is available, if the right people don't make it, it will suck. I do think we're making progress in that people are now expecting a lot higher standards when it comes to Sci Fi and Fantasy flicks, but the genre still suffers from finding the right people who actually have the motivation to make it. Still, I'll keep my fingers crossed for Honor Harrington, mentioned above, because those would indeed be some awesome space battles!

  24. Pern and Xanth are good choices. Butcher’s Alara would be fun. I’d love to see Ender’s Game done in 3-D.

    One last idea. Despite the fact that it was so recently adapted, I think it’s time to go back and do Starship Troopers the right way. Iron Man and GI Joe proved we could do powered armor on screen.

  25. Pern and Xanth are good choices. Butcher's Alara would be fun. I'd love to see Ender's Game done in 3-D.

    One last idea. Despite the fact that it was so recently adapted, I think it's time to go back and do Starship Troopers the right way. Iron Man and GI Joe proved we could do powered armor on screen.

  26. One thing that really pleased me about Avatar was that someone finally got scale right. The ships and planets at the beginning and the groundships and shuttle towards the end looked absolutely huge. To be honest the mix of 3D and CGI made me forget entirely that even though the ‘creatures’ wern’t real that also the environment wasn’t real, stunning integration and immersion in my opinion.

    Did anyone else feel quite depressed once you got in your car and drove out into our ‘drab’ earth life afterwards?

  27. One thing that really pleased me about Avatar was that someone finally got scale right. The ships and planets at the beginning and the groundships and shuttle towards the end looked absolutely huge. To be honest the mix of 3D and CGI made me forget entirely that even though the 'creatures' wern't real that also the environment wasn't real, stunning integration and immersion in my opinion.

    Did anyone else feel quite depressed once you got in your car and drove out into our 'drab' earth life afterwards?

  28. I would really like to see a rendition of the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. The Clayr’s city of ice, the Royal city with the aquaducts all around, Orranis rising up from the Lightening farm, the Dead that walk, and the manifestations of the bells would all benefit from not only the CGI from Avatar but other techniques.

    I’d also like to see the Young Wizard Series as a movie. It may be a classic battle of good and evil, but the imagery of it would be just plain gorgeous. Just think of a giant Balor of the Fomori riding a six-legged horse out of the mist. Talking cats, a planet as a silicon chip, and the Crossroads–where every alien worth their salt stops to eat something blue and delicious!

  29. I would really like to see a rendition of the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix. The Clayr's city of ice, the Royal city with the aquaducts all around, Orranis rising up from the Lightening farm, the Dead that walk, and the manifestations of the bells would all benefit from not only the CGI from Avatar but other techniques.

    I'd also like to see the Young Wizard Series as a movie. It may be a classic battle of good and evil, but the imagery of it would be just plain gorgeous. Just think of a giant Balor of the Fomori riding a six-legged horse out of the mist. Talking cats, a planet as a silicon chip, and the Crossroads–where every alien worth their salt stops to eat something blue and delicious!

  30. How about a Shadowrun movie?? yes? please? love the book series, and want to see if someone can make that Universe as future/ post-apocalyptic grungy but yet tech-savy as I imagined it to be when reading it.

  31. How about a Shadowrun movie?? yes? please? love the book series, and want to see if someone can make that Universe as future/ post-apocalyptic grungy but yet tech-savy as I imagined it to be when reading it.

  32. Although I really like Jackson's LOTR, I would like to see a CGI one done absolutely, down the line, faithful to the book, including Bombadil and Scouring of the Shire.

  33. I'm liking the idea of Pern, if done right. And I don't suppose anyone would know what I was talking about were I to say the March Upcountry series, by David Weber and John Ringo?

    Come to think of it, Ringo's Posleen stuff could be pretty cool if done right…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.