Bladerunner and Avatar

Bladerunner (1982) and Avatar (2009) are both successful science fiction films. Both are superb in terms of production. Both have depth in the way they assess and look at various themes. Avatar is the most successful film to date in terms of non-inflation adjusted global release box office figures.

It should also be noted that this combined review has spoilers.

Bladerunner tells the story of Deckard who hunts down human clones called replicants. The story details his tracking down of replicants who have escaped from the off world colonies and who are then being tracked down. The setting is Los Angeles in 2019. In the film it is constantly raining and Los Angeles is a dark metropolis that is overcrowded and is presented as being crime ridden. Bladerunner provided the look for cyberpunk with its dark, dystopian future of a city and a world that is decaying.

Bladerunner explores the themes of what makes something human. Would a sufficiently complex being have similar drives and morality to human beings? This theme is derived from the book on which Bladerunner is based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? by Phillip K Dick. Dick explored this theme a number of times in his work. Dick was a very good science fiction writer but unfortunately not a particularly good writer. His dialogue is often stilted and his characters are often two-dimensional. Bladerunner does a better job of exploring the theme than does Dick’s book.

Avatar tells the story of Jake, a paraplegic marine who is dispatched to Pandora to help a mining operation deal with the natives of the planet that resist the mining operation and do not want their planet mined. The film mixes live action with CG to incredible effect. It is also in 3D. The film looks simply stunning. The natives are larger than humans and the planet has many dangerous, poisonous native creatures that kill humans. Jake inhabits the body of a genetically engineered creature that is like the natives of the planet. There is a small scientific team that does a similar thing. Jake is selected because his twin brother was some hot shot scientist who was going to undertake the mission but died. This is done so that an everyman can be placed in the Avatar. As a plot device it works quite well. Jake then goes native and defends the natives as the mining corporation and their military wing seek to extend their mining.

The film explores the ideas of native rights, corporate greed, the military and environmental themes.

The film has received some interesting reactions. On the right some commentators have seen it as pushing Gaian environmental themes. Others on the right have seen it as pushing themes of the importance of respecting private property. It does touch on all these themes. Very few, if any commentators have noted that there is irony in Avatar in that it is a huge film all about profit that allegedly anti-profit. Wall-E has a similar inadvertent irony.

The reason for comparing these films is to contrast how they deal with their characters and story. In Bladerunner Deckard is a complex character for whom there is a huge, quietly made reveal. In Avatar the lead, Jake undergoes an entirely predictable path. Each time something happens to Jake the film is telegraphing what will happen later. In part this is quite clever, such as the use of a mobile lab. At other times when there is a ‘super’ dragon creature that chosen ones ride it is pathetically obvious what is going to happen.

Bladerunner is a sophisticated adult film. Avatar is a family film with a plot and themes set out to be appreciated by 8 year olds as well as adults. This limits Avatar. Both have their place in the world. There are fewer Bladerunner type films made because they don’t do nearly as well at the box office. They may also be better suited for books and television.

Bladerunner 4/5 Avatar 3/5.

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4 responses to “Bladerunner and Avatar

  1. Avatar was definitely made to have a broader apeal than Bladerunner, but as you say, both have their place. An interesting comparison you have made here.

  2. Does the standard plot line in Avatar make it easier for people to project thier own meanings on to the plot, I wonder?

  3. Joke Rifle

    You are altogether wrong about PKD, when you say: “Dick was a very good science fiction writer but unfortunately not a particularly good writer. His dialogue is often stilted and his characters are often two-dimensional. Bladerunner does a better job of exploring the theme than does Dick’s book.” What books have you read by him? If you have not read VALIS, The Divine Invasion, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer, Ubik or A Scanner Darkly, then you are not qualified to make this sort of biased statement. Otherwise, you don’t seem to indicate well how Blade Runner has anything in common with Avatar —

    • I’ve read VALIS, Ubik and many other books by PKD. Here is someone else describing Dick’s strengths and weaknesses.

      Bladerunner and Avatar are simply two big science fiction films that I watched in close succession and the comparison appealed to me.

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