planetary romance

Out This Week: April 20 2010

Out this week we have four DVDs to feature:  Avatar, Star Wars Omnibus: Boba Fett, Xena: Warrior Princess - Season OneHercules: The Legendary Journeys - Season One.  Do we Love It, Rent it, or Avoid Like Plague?



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Avatar The Planetary Romance

Leaving the theater I was disappointed in Avatar’s marketing efforts.  If only they told me this movie was a Planetary Romance I would have had much more interest in watching it.  Avatar is the first good Planetary Romance in a long time.  They are hard to pull off with the last really good example being Dune. A planetary romance is a story style where the setting becomes the main character.  In Avatar we get to explore Pandora, it’s inhabitants, and the unique interconnectedness of everything on the planet.

I was so proud with the introduction into the depth of the setting.  This begins with a subtle clue from the scene where Dr. Grace and Norm studying the root structure of a tree and noticing how vast that structure stretches and how interconnected it is with all other plant roots in the area.  The big reveal after Jake slowed down listening to Neytiri and actually looked around is a breathtaking scene with all the plants glowing and even the moss lighting up with each foot steep.


The Na’vi are the indigenous species of Pandora.  9 to 12 feet tall, blue skin with bipedal humanoid features. One of the most distinctive feature is the series of tendrils that protrude from the back of their head masked by their hair which is in a long braid.  These tendrils are used to make a neural connection with the Pandora’s plants and animals.  This gives the Na’vi a more direct means of communicating with their environment and even leaving impressions upon the fauna that can be recalled by latter generations.


Called a Direhorse by the humans.  It is used by the Na’vi like a horse as a mount to ride around on.  Standing in at 13 feet tall and 14 feet long, mostly grey in color with blue stripes.  The Pa’li has two long antennae that the rider connects to the tendrils in the end of their hair.  Through that connection the rider can direct the mount through mental commands.  This makes the training process very quick because once the connection is made all the rider has to do is think stop, go, slow down and gets the desired result.  The tricky part in riding is for the rider to realize the Pa’li is like an extension of self rather than this other thing to be ordered around.


Called a Mountain Banshee by the humans.  The Ikran are a flying predator with four wings used as a mount by only the strongest of the Na’vi warriors.  Like the Pa’li they make a neural connection through the Iran’s antennae but this is a life long connection meaning an Ikran will have only one rider.

This process is a dangerous one performed alone in front of the other warriors.  This part of the movie has many similarities with Dune and the Fremen sandworm riders who go through a similar ritual to become a true warrior and one of the tribe.


The Ikran are mythically like the Sandworms in Dune leaving the Toruk like Shai-Hulud.  I loved how the name means last shadow because it’s the greatest predator of the skies with nothing as large or as fierce as it.  The Toruk has only been tamed five times before.  Those instances were at times of great trouble where their riders brought the tribes of Pandora together to overcome the adversity.  The Na'vi celebrate the Trouk in dance, song, and with elaborate totems that symbolizes both the fear and respect accorded to the creature.

Toruk is massive in size, scarlet in color with black stripes and a midnight blue crest on top of the head and on the lower jaw.


Eywa is the great spirit of Pandora revered by the Na’vi and represented through the interconnectedness among all the flora, fauna and indigenous peoples.  The Eywa is most represented through the Tree of Souls, Tree of Voices and the Atokirina which are little floating airborne jellyfish like creatures.  For more on the interconnectedness read Avatar’s Religious Experience.

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Exploring: Avatar

James Cameron’s Avatar gets two overall ratings a 10 and a 3.  The 10 rating is for the Na’vi parts of the movie that were so well done the 3 is for the human parts that were worse than a Sci-Fi original movie.  Overall Avatar is a visually beautiful planetary romance that is worth watching.

This is the first good planetary romance in a long time.  Planetary romances are hard to pull off with the last really good example being Dune.  For more read Avatar The Planetary Romance.

The beginning of the movie is too slow, the first hook was terrible and I was glad once they got to Pandora.  It’s offensive to use a wounded vet with a dead brother to make me feel sad and to peak my interest in a movie.  Then to use a "genetic match" excuse that has no further explanation as to why it was so important… weak.

The saddest thing is that this movie would not make it past the studio's slush pile if someone other than James Cameron sent in the script.  The studios would have read the first few pages, printed a rejection letter and tossed the script into the trash.  Thankfully this was not the case.

The tech behind the avatar program is more interesting than originally believed.  I loved how the Na’vi called them the dream walkers.  for more read Concept and Tech of the Avatar Program.

Avatar’s Immaculate reality issues made watching it harsh.   I felt like Jake  fully immersed in the immaculate reality exploring and enjoying the depths and wonder of Pandora only to have the red button mashed ripping me back to reality sitting in a theater watching a movie. This back and forth was jarring and upsetting because James Cameron was able to reestablish the immaculate reality, which is not easily done once broken, only to break it again every time we went back to the human parts.

The parts with the Na’vi exploring the wonders of Pandora were so well done.  The animation makes everything seem so life-like.  All of the characters and setting elements have such depth that their reactions and interactions are so believable.  Watching these parts I wish the movie was two hours longer.

The human parts on the other hand is why the movie was an hour too long.  They were so bad it even dipped below the quality of a sci-fi original movie.  The characters are flat, poorly acted, stock characters taken from other sci-fi and westerns.  This flat, lack of depth issue in the humans parts of the movie is exacerbated with the overuse of the desaturation effect used on those scenes.

Confusion is added to the human parts because they aren’t clear if the soldiers are actual military or private contractors a la Blackwater style.  A small effort would have cleared this issue up.  This may seem like a small point but it is distracting taking the attention away from the experience.

Avatar’s religious experience is a more insidious issue brought up by experiencing this movie.  For more read Avatar’s Religious Experience.  This heightens the absence of that connectedness in our own lives even if not realized on a conscious level. Thus many leave the movie longing to return and with a sadness over their own situation.

The sad thing is produced in any other culture other than the U.S. we wouldn’t have had to deal with the human parts and Avatar would have been an amazing animated movie.  Unfortunately due to the prejudices of the American audience we had to have human parts in the movie so that Avatar could be classified as a movie with special effects.  This is a must see movie and probably an owner for me.

Plot / Story:

A planetary romance about Pandora and the indigenous people the Na'vi as they struggle against the Human corporation that wants to strip mine their homeland.


  • Visually beautiful
  • Planetary Romance
  • Concept and Tech of the Avatar Program
  • The Na’vi parts were so well done

Dislikes / Concerns

  • Concept and Tech of the Avatar Program
  • unobtanium
  • Issues with Immaculate Reality
  • The human parts
  • The Military confusion
  • The use of desaturation effect on humans
  • Genetically matching the Avatar
  • Beginning and first hook

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