The Technium

Loved Avatar’s World-Making

I just saw Cameron’s movie Avatar. I went for the spectacle, the total immersion. As a way to visit another planet it was fantastic. Don’t be distracted by the lame plot (a galatic Dancing With Wolves). The joy is all about the experience. You get an insanely complete world — language, culture, biology, machines, geology, and so on. Every plant is invented. I thought it was going to be computer-y but the tenor and atmosphere was refreshingly biological. Sure the movie’s “message” was environmentally preachy, and the but the experience in 3D was pretty cool. My 13-year old son gave it 5 stars. It is not hard to imagine most movies being fabricated with the same make-a-world technology. It also has “video games” written all over it. Takes the world-making of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings to the next level. I was dazzled by the fantasy and its completeness. Definitely a cultural landmark.


  • Robbie

    Good to hear you enjoyed it; I might even go to see it myself now.
    While you state that it is not hard to see other movies employing the same make-a-world technology, however, or so it seems to me, it takes an insane amount money and effort to pull this off in a way that is convincing. Also, while it does seem to have ‘video games’ written all over it, I can tell you that the Avatar video game itself is mediocre at best.
    Now about that whole cultural landmark thing… I guess we’ll see…

  • John S.

    Isn’t the Technium just ‘Technological Pantheism’ by a different name?

  • Gerard

    I just watched Avatar in 3D a few days ago and was amazed by the experience. The message of the movie also intrigued me as it seemed to be very anti technology, yet Cameron used the latest in movie making technology to create this experience. Technology vs Nature is a theme that has been on my mind for some time. I love technology and gadgets, however would sometimes wonder if they are really necessary. Today while randomly surfing TED I came across your talk about evolution and technology and thought that your ideas are wonderful. Hopefully we will create possibilities that will lead to more possibility. I’m in Australia and would love to read a copy of your book when it is released.

  • Jonathan Steigman

    I realize I’m in the minority on this, but I think Avatar is truly loathsome, a dishonest, phony piece of pseudo-liberal propaganda. It purports to be anti-imperialist and anti-war (and pretty explicitly references current American foreign policy). But it’s just another example of the patronizingly racist “white hero comes in to teach the natives how to be better natives — and how to fight back” plot.

    Did you notice how much more the natives (and the movie) grieve when Sigourney Weaver’s character dies than when the Navi king dies? Cameron shows clearly what he pretends he doesn’t — that white characters are more important than blue ones, even to the Navi.

    Avatar hardly depicts war with anything resembling accuracy. This supposedly anti-war movie revels in the fighting–which, fortunately for those happy natives, is quick and relatively bloodless despite the high body count. Most despicably, the happy ending allows us viewers to feel good about ourselves by absolving us of any responsibility for the imperialism and ecocide that is currently being done in our names (and which the movie purports to condemn).

    “A great war leaves a country with three armies: an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves.”
    -German saying.

    P.S. I found the technology pretty sweet but the visual design unimaginative. I could see the designers striving to be cool in every frame, and I thought the results were generally trite and predictable. Imagine what Peter Max could have done with this technology!

    I thought Peter Jackson performed a much deeper and more convincing act of world building with the LOTR films; although he shot them in New Zealand his Middle Earth felt truly fantastical and otherworldly.

    • @Jonathan: That’s odd you thought it was going to be an anti-war movie.

  • John S.

    @Kevin: Do you it find closer to ‘Panentheism’ than ‘Pantheism’?

    Is it likely that the minds of a globally connected consciousness would be ‘Panentheism’ or ‘Pantheism’ by default?

  • Alex Tolley

    Definitely a ground breaking technical effects movie like Star Wars (1977), Alien and Jurassic Park. I think it also has to be seen in that light, certainly the plot line is very formulaic and the setting could be in almost any time and place.

    Interesting to see that Cameron is still obsessed by the colors of “The Abyss” and the deep oceans.

  • Victor Hill

    I watched Avatar twice – once on a regular screen, and once in IMAX. The animated world of the forest seemed more visually vibrant and “real” than the world Jake wakes up to every time he comes back to his human body. I cannot recall another film with this effect.

    Despite the anti technology message, I ran into a strange conundrum – the world that the Na’vi inhabited seemed to be intentionally and pervasively engineered. Were the links that the Na’vi used to connect to other organisms and control them naturally evolved (and why would a predator such as a Thanator or Toruk evolve to allow itself to be controlled by Na’vi who would normally be its prey), or were those links and the global forest network products of biotechnology? Perhaps Na’vi were the equivalent of Quakers living in the old ways where others originally of their race had moved on but still maintained discrete stewardship over their original home?

  • Lloyd Mintern

    I supposed “insanely complete” should always include: “and so on.” I enjoyed the movie too, but it was a paltry, claustrophobic, dreamy world, as worlds go, and the plants were decidedly NOT invented. Every “life form” in the movie was utterly banal, and that was its appeal. A feast! And an unconscious demonstration once again how technology and nature are drawing from the same (polluted) well.

  • Lorenz Sell

    The irony is that the “lame plot” is precisely about how technology moves us further away from appreciating life and connecting with the earth and with each other.

  • Tom Guarriello

    Yes, plot was very archetypey but, as you said, the overall experience was amazing. Here’s my video review, if interested:

  • jesson

    i loved it. i think we need to define what a contradiction is in order to appreciate the impact that ‘avatar’ is making. cameron utilizes cutting edge technology in order to show how disconnected we are from our natural world. so is technology justified? perhaps how we use tools to manifest our intentions. just as machines are created to destroy, machines have the ability to create, which is the point, or one of them. i fell in love with this other world, the way of life. maybe because of its audacity to imagine another way to live. one that is connected to the land, to the animals and nature, to each other. perhaps it’s because of our current state of disconnect that the soul of this film is reaching audiences and capturing their hearts captivating our imagination, setting it free, allowing our minds to soar like the n’avi. wishing somehow, quietly we could live this way.

  • Craigers

    The enviromentalist “humans are evil” paradigm destroyed the entire movie for me.  battle for Terra was just another manifestation. The chicken little’s cry from every form of media their neo-malthusian nonsense. I have appocalypse burn out. Entertain me and stop trying to push your paleolithic propoganda down my throat!!!