Sunday, January 17, 2010

Avatar again

I went to see Avatar for a second time. I think I liked it better the second time, partly because I knew where the story disappointed me and I was prepared for it. I went in just hoping to have a good time, and I can see why so many people like it. I think the advertising may have been one of the reasons I was so disappointed with the story the first time. The trailers gave away the entire story, so there were no surprises.

I want to talk about a few things that bugged me. I was paying attention the second time to make sure I didn't miss something. Oh, and if you haven't seen the movie yet, beware of mild spoilers.

What happens to you if your avatar is killed? This should have been explained within the first 15 minutes or so. Jake Sully would have asked this at some point, and if he hadn't, Grace would have brought it up. If your avatar dies, do you also die, like in the Matrix? Since you sense everything your avatar senses (feel pain, taste and smell), it would make sense that if an avatar is killed, the operator suffers.

On the other hand, is it like in Surrogates, where if a surrogate dies the operator just kind of wakes up? Remember Surrogates (I hope you don't)? People take their surrogates and jump off balconies just for fun, since they don't feel anything.

In Avatar, when Jake (his avatar) is risking his life, flying thousands of feet in the air, we don't know whether to be afraid for his life or not. When he first meets the tribe and the chief is trying to decide whether or not to kill him, we don't know how worried we should be. Does Jake Sully know? Is he afraid he may die, or is he just afraid of losing the expensive avatar?

I think we get the answer to this at the end of the movie. During the big battle at the end, Norm's avatar is shot. Not sure if it was a kill shot, but we see Norm emerge from his tanning bed, er, whatever you call their connection terminal. No one was around to unplug him, so was he unplugged automatically because his avatar died? He comes out gasping for air, but that's because of the atmosphere. So he seems unharmed by the bullet that hit his avatar. A few minutes later, Norm (the human) is outside with an oxygen mask and a gun, joining the fight.

So I'm going to assume that the operator is safe. No matter what happens to your avatar, you won't be hurt. But this should have been answered early in the movie.

Do the Na'vi know about the avatars? When Jake is meeting the tribe, they call him a "dreamwalker". I assumed that this meant they knew he was miles away plugged into a computer and controlling the body. But then towards the end one of the Na'vi says "see, they are just minds in a demon body" or something like that. So they don't know about their avatars? Did Grace want to keep that a secret? Did she want the Na'vi to believe that Grace and her people looked just like the Na'vi? The Na'vi know that Jake is an alien, but I figure they just thought they were aliens that looked like them.

What about all the times he was unplugged? Jake meets Neytiri, she takes him back to the tree, he meets the tribe, then they go sleep in hammocks. Then Jake wakes up. Good timing there. They unplug Jake just when his avatar is going to sleep. Jake is back at the base talking to all the humans for a while, then they plug him in again. The next scene is Jake (avatar) and Neytiri doing stuff.

So here is what I don't get. Did they plug him back in before Neytiri woke up? It seems like what takes place at the base is during the day, so how long was he unplugged? Does Neytiri just think Jake sleeps for 20 hours at a time? There are other scenes where we see Jake's avatar with Neytiri, then we cut to a scene where Jake is unplugged, then back again. At no point do we understand if he is only unplugged at night, or if sometimes he is unplugged during the day, and does Neytiri just leave him alone to sleep? Does she try and wake him up, and can't understand why he won't wake up?

We finally see this happen when the bulldozers arrive, the morning after Jake and Neytiri are mated. She is trying to wake him up, yelling and screaming at him because the bulldozers are coming, and he is unplugged so he has no idea what's going on. He is miles away, eating breakfast. Luckily, he plugs in before the bulldozers run over his avatar. This scene makes us think that this is the first time Neytiri has experienced this. So are we to believe that the entire movie, in all the times he was unplugged, this never happened before? I am picturing a scene where he plugs in and as he becomes aware of his avatar's surroundings, a bunch of Na'vi are standing around him saying "We thought you were dead. You wouldn't wake up. We've been trying to wake you up for hours."

The first two flaws are, to me, big flaws in the script. For dramatic purposes, we the audience should know whether Jake is in any danger or not. If the death of his avatar does not affect him physically, then the only time in the movie he is in any danger is the end, when the Colonel smashes the windows and Neytiri has to go in and save him.

We should also know whether the Na'vi know about the avatars. A simple line of dialogue from Grace saying "They know we are from another world, but they think we look just like them. They think our avatars are us. We figured it would be easier to establish a relationship with them if we looked just like them." Something like that.

Also, as Jake is falling in love with Neytiri, wouldn't he want to let her know that that wasn't his real body she was caressing? At some point, say "hey, come back to my place so we can actually meet face to face." Or if she did know about their avatars, maybe she would have said "take me to the place where your real body is, so I can see what you really look like." Something like that.

I had these questions the first time I saw the movie, and the second time I was paying close attention to see if they covered these issues. I don't think they did. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Your question regarding whether or not the Na'vi understand how the avatars work is unquestionably a gaping plot hole in the movie. The more I think about it, the more maddening it becomes, as it's inexplicably not directly explained in the movie. Nonetheless, here are my thoughts on the matter:

I think it's apparent that Neytiri and her Na'vi clan are unaware of the human body-Na'vi avatar body link. In other words, they are unaware that Jake is constantly switching back and forth between his avatar body and his human body. This assumption, as you mention, seems confirmed in the bulldozer scene when Neytiri is clueless and at a complete loss as to why Jake will not wake up. If she truly understood how Jake's avatar worked, she would have known the reason for why Jake was not waking up, and, consequently, she would have been aware that simply screaming "Jake WAKE UP!" over and over again would be of no help. So, yes, as far-fetched as it undoubtedly is, I think Cameron wants us to believe that this is the first time Neytiri has ever experienced Jake not waking up. (And yes, this is a big flaw in the plot. I guess Naytiri never got up early one morning, during the whole three months, and said to Jake's avatar: "Wake up Jake. Let's get an early start this morning since you have so much yet to learn!")

The other reason why I believe that the Na'vi are in the dark regarding how avatars really work is because if they did completely comprehend the human body-avatar body connection, there is absolutely no way that they would have trusted Jake by agreeing to accept him into their clan. If they knew that when Jake's avatar is "sleeping" he is transported back to his human body, they would have been very concerned about what he did when he was back as a human (i.e. they would have been extremely worried that Jake, after returning to his human body, would provide information about Neytiri's clan to the other humans who the Na'vi are at war with--which verily is what ends up happening!). Neytiri and her clan are suppose to be highly sophisticated--they would not do such a stupid thing like give Jake full access to their secrets when they can't ensure that he won't pass that knowledge on to other humans when he reverts back to his human form.

Anonymous said...

So all of this raises the following question: Before Jake explains everything to Naytiri's clan, what exactly did the Na'vi think Jake and the other avatars are? I'm not really sure, but here is one potential hypothesis...

They knew that the avatars are a human creation, although they didn't know the details of how they are created or how they actually work. They seem to have been aware that there is indeed a "human presence" inside the Na'vi avatar, but how exactly the human was transformed into a Na'vi they had not the slightest idea. The key point, however, is that they believed that the human had literally and physically BECOME a Na'vi in a PERMENANT form. They believed that they were formerly humans who somehow, either technologically or "magically," succeeded in permanently transforming their human body into a Na'vi body.

This theory upholds the idea that the Na'vi were cognizant of the fact that there was a "human presence" inside the Na'vi avatar, but because they thought the human was permanently transformed into a Na'vi, they didn't understand that the human inside the avatar still had an existing human body somewhere else; a body that the human had the ability to transfer in and out of with his/her avatar body.

This notion of the avatar that the Na'vi have is only shattered when Jake’s avatar suddenly "faints" after the Colonel pulls the plug on him. Once he faints and becomes lifeless in the way that he does, it's apparent to Neytiri's mother that this isn't a Na'vi in a fixed, permanent form, which subsequently leads her to make the comment that there has to be some sort of “demon inside the body."

Anyway, that's just one hypothesis. It’s all quite confusing, and it's a shame that Cameron didn't do a better job trying to explain away this plot hole.

Mike said...

Thank you. I'm glad I'm not the only one. It seems the only complaints I hear about the movie are the similarities to Ferngully and Dances With Wolves, or complaints about the dialogue.

I like your hypothesis. Not a bad way of looking at it.