Last night I saw Avatar with a few friends.  I honestly didn’t expect much more than a gorgeous CGI panorama.  In some ways, my expectations were fulfilled.  In others, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The story didn’t surprise me a great deal, and the characters were generally predictable (you could label the goners right from the start, for the most part).  The characters were also not as developed as I would have liked from a two and a half hour movie.  But then, what sort of depth can you really get from two and a half hours?  Television has spoiled me.  And…unobtanium?  Really?  Really? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry the moment that word was uttered.

So what did surprise me about the film was the sheer amount of development that went into every aspect of the world.  It really felt like the production crew had spent the last four years thinking through every aspect of the movie.  I didn’t expect the depth of emotion and investment that I nonetheless found on Pandora.  Though the speeches felt, at times, a bit canned and the characters came out of nowhere (mostly Neytiri and the other Na’vi) I nonetheless cared deeply about the outcome.

One of my biggest qualifications for a good film is the soundtrack (I’m a dork, I know).  A good soundtrack can make or break a film.  It can draw you in or totally kill the mood.  James Horner did nothing less than a stellar job on the Avatar soundtrack, and it ranks up there with some of my top soundtracks.  Not only is it a perfect companion to the action of the film, but it also makes for damn fine listening at any time.  The gorgeous music can transport you to the beauty of Pandora and a way that few soundtracks ever manage to achieve.  I give it my highest recommendation, especially for you gamers who enjoy music at the table.

So, on to my thesis for this post.  Throughout the entire film, I felt almost like I was back in one of the Arthur C. Clarke stories of my childhood.  The sense of awe, respect, and terror in the face of the unknown was breathtaking.  Ever since my dad first read Rendezvous with Rama to me in middle school, I’ve loved the classic science fiction of Clarke, Bradbury, and Asimov (who was personal friends with my grandfather, in case you’re curious).  Classic sci-fi is something altogether different from military sci-fi (don’t get me wrong, plenty of military action in Avatar, and boy was it well-done!) or hard sci-fi, and seeing it in a modern epic film was thrilling beyond belief.

Classic sci-fi is definitely near and dear to my heart.  Avatar‘s scientists, new frontiers, and things that humans cannot and do not understand hammered home the same feeling of cautious wonder that Clarke first instilled in me years ago.  Rather than focus entirely on the big guns and shiny spaceships of the human interlopers on Pandora, the film gave a breathtaking glimpse into the world of the Na’vi.  The audience gets to see their world and culture for the first time along with Jake Sully and a select few other humans.  As some of my friends have pointed out, the film is problematic with regard to the “white male soldier saves native population” aspect of the story, but I choose to accept that it has its issues while not letting them taint my enjoyment of the film.  Everyone has a different approach, and I respect that.

The classic sci-fi elements in Avatar also make it ripe for roleplaying.  Though I’ve never played it, based on what I’ve read Traveller appears to have a similar tone and approach.  Obviously, things would have to be tweaked, but the film just left me wanting to explore the world of the Na’vi and the dying Earth even farther.  Not being one to sit around and let others tell the story, I’d like to make tracks in that direction myself.  I can already see a band of humans returning to Pandora years after the film, making contact with other tribes of the Na’vi, or visiting one of the other nearby moons.  The film hinted at just enough technology and galaxy to provide plenty of material to build on.  Sounds like an exciting time…

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