Empire is giving their October cover over to Avatar, and the first picture of it is online now. The image of Sam Worthington’s Avatar is pretty impressively rendered, but he looks so sad. I knew the Na’vi were blue, but not this blue!

In a recent piece HitFix’s Drew McWeeny defends the Na’vi design, saying:

I’m convinced that there is only one aesthetic choice that fanboys
like, and that’s grim and dark and dirty and gritty.  Anything else
confuses and upsets them.  You want a fanboy hit?  Just rip off “Blade
Runner” for the 8,000th time.  They’ll go nuts for it.  Whatever you
do, don’t use any primary colors and don’t set anything in the daylight
and don’t try to tell optimistic stories or include anything that
remotely smells of whimsy.  Everything has to be dark and depressing…
right?  Because that’s what I want… a film culture where we only
allow one particular flavor of SF to survive.  Dystopia or bust, eh,

I don’t disagree with Drew; I’ve been banging the ‘enough with the grim ‘n gritty’ drum for a while now. But I think he’s wrong here. People don’t like the Na’vi design because it’s bad. There’s something inherently juvenile in giant blue cat people, and I don’t get the impression that Cameron is making a juvenile picture. All ages, maybe. Juvenile, no. But to me blue cat people are one step removed from My Little Pony; they don’t need to have blades coming out of all their joints or be wearing spiked armor, but do they have to look so silly? That flat, wide face and the goofy, cartoon Native American hair and the yellow doll’s eyes all add up to a character design that immediately turns me off. They look a little too much like the furry porn drawings I’ve seen out on the internet. Yiff!

As for whimsy… Drew saw the same footage I did, and I didn’t get much whimsy from that. Cameron was attempting to elicit awe, that’s for sure, but whimsy would not be one of the words I would use to describe anything I’ve seen from the film. The Na’vi are the boring noble savage stereotype, just like Hollywood portrayed the Native Americans in the years after the bloodthirsty savage stereotype fell out of favor. But they’re still savages, and I think that Cameron isn’t going for lightness with the design but beauty, in the way that simplistic, moronic portrayals of American Indians show these people as impossibly beautiful and ‘in touch’ with the spirits of nature, while also being fierce warriors. Cutesy is what I get from the design, but not what I get from the 20+ minutes of footage I saw at Comic Con. Still, I don’t think these are supposed to be fairy tale creatures, yet the design looks like something a 12 year old girl would doodle in her Trapper Keeper.

I’m not some sort of creature designer, and I don’t think that the Na’vi have to look like 20 foot tall crocodile men to be cool. I just think that 8 foot tall blue cat people also aren’t cool. And there’s something to be said for that hard to define ‘coolness’ when it comes to the design of characters like these. Will we get used to the yiffy design of the Na’vi and their gravity-defying balletics? Probably enough to watch the movie without groaning, sure. But somehow I suspect that this deeply lame design is going to be something that hampers Avatar from ever reaching the next level when it comes to pop culture. Or maybe it’s going to be the thing that makes it reach the next level in the pop culture of girls who read yaoi manga. Or maybe I’m completely wrong and Avatar‘s Na’vi not only hit the pop culture like a ton of bricks but they usher in an era when the furries are no longer a subculture but an actual fad.

Thanks to Brian Henne, as always, for sending in the original link.