Avatar

Steve and I finally gave in and saw Avatar in 3D in anticipation of it winning Best Picture and feeling like the 3D experience would be beneficial in our quest.  I had heard that the story was lacking and that the visuals somewhat made up for that, but I was still underwhelmed.  The story wasn’t just lacking.  It was bad.  The characters were not interesting.  The alien race was stereotypically “pure” in their tribal ways.  The “bad” military guys were stereotypically macho and heartless.  The Pandora planet was colorful, but animated; if you’ve seen Fern Gully, you’ve essentially seen Avatar.

I will say that the premise of a paraplegic main character’s opportunity to walk is inventive and emotive.  My favorite bit of the whole film was when Jake’s avatar took off running in his hospital gown, finally able to feel his legs beneath him.  I also enjoyed the connection between the Na’vi and their planet.  Talking to (read: “thinking to”) nature surrounding them was intriguing–not that this type of connection is absent on Earth, but the extent to which they communicate is inspiring.

However, the story was shallow, the character growth was inconsistent, and the special effects could only go so far to cover up the substandard plot.  I was especially caught up in the details.  This is a fault of my personality, and it was recently pointed out to me that I am unable to watch films for the visual enjoyment.  Be that as it may, attention to detail was just sloppy.  Why did the Na’vi need belly buttons?  Someone made the conscious decision to give them navels.  But, why?  This also begs the question of how baby Na’vi are born if their genitalia is in their hair.  And why would they need loin cloths?  And why did they kiss just like humans?  How uncreative is that?  The whole hair tendril connection idea was brilliant, but that’s where the character creativity stopped.

Instead of spending all their time and energy drawing out the redundant war sequences, it would have been nice to be clued into how this band of ex-military soldiers came to be — a fact mentioned so briefly during the film’s opening that if you happened to reach for popcorn while they listed these essential facts, you’d be lost for the film’s entirety.  I wished I could see how exactly the humans were running a school for the Na’vi children and what initially caused the rift between the natives and humans and how long the humans had been on the planet and how Neytiri miraculously understood how to use a manmade oxygen mask…  So many questions, so little time.  Oh, wait — there was more than enough time to explain a few things that might have given the characters more substance.

I will note in fairness that I am not one who buys into the 3D hype that is sweeping the nation, so the visual experience didn’t do anything for me.  So far, I have not seen a film that I felt was really enhanced by the third dimension.  Steve and I both walked out with headaches from three hours of straining to track the 3D movement across the screen, spending most of the time discerning between the characters and the red lines that trailed behind them.  I need more than computer graphics to be impressed (in fact, I prefer amazing worlds and stunts created in the absense of CG).

This film does not deserve the Academy Award for Best Picture.  Sure, it will receive the award for visual effects, but awarding Avatar the Best Picture Oscar would cheapen the category.  Lots of action, little intelligence.  But, really, what can you expect from the director of Aliens and The Terminator movies?

Note: James Cameron’s Titanic (1997) will be dealt with at a later time.

9 thoughts on “Avatar

  1. I agree, not with every detail, but I agree.

    I think James Cameron should be remember for what he has done for the film industry, not his films. His developmental work to create the different technologies through the years has certainly changed the film industry forever. The way I see it, he isn’t a good director, or writer. I’ll give him Producer, because he’s done a decent job pulling the different elements together to make some of the largest scale films we’ve ever seen.

    That’s about it though, Avatar was fun to watch, but it was basically a copy and paste of the plot from Dances with Wolves (pointed out to me by Ang, I knew it was familiar, just couldn’t remember where from), set in the future.

    I still enjoy CG, but it’s like perfume, you have to know how much to use. The Matrix, to me, was amazing to watch, and in ways Avatar didn’t even come close to. The special effects weren’t the most realistic ever, but they knew how to use them in a creative way.

    Anyway, I think you are right about the characters and the lack of attention to any solid development there. My only real issue is with this:

    “But, really, what can you expect from the director of Aliens and The Terminator movies?”

    Those are two damn fine movies. Feel free to pick apart any of his other films, just leave those alone…please.

    Dan

    1. I thoroughly enjoy your analogy to perfume use. I concur.

      And I will certainly try to keep my distance from Aliens and Terminators, for your sake and mine.

  2. i have to agree on aliens and terminator – they’re actually good. at least the second terminator is.

    as far as avatar goes: your thoughts were very close to mine. i kept thinking, “how fortunate that these ALIENS have human emotions and facial reactions, or this would be confusing.” also: strip mining? 500 years after we pretty much stopped strip mining? no one thought of the implications of a planetary nueral network?

    if you want to see a really good humans meet aliens movies that is far more realistic, disturbing, and actually very emotive, check out district 9. i was completely blown away by that movie. i applaud it in every way. but fair warning: there were parts that made me crawl into the seat on account of the gross alien stuff happening. still: probably my favorite 2009 movie.

  3. i think the big problem is that modern film makers are just relying on CG to tell stories and totally forgetting about the writing process. we watched transformers 2 (with the rifftrax commentary, only way to watch it), and it made no sense. at all: characters had indecipherable motivations, you couldn’t tell the characters apart, and the plot was over convoluted. unfortunately, it’s what american’s want right now: nonsense with lots of pretty pictures. well, not just america, but the whole world. avatar’s made 2 billion dollars, and transformers made almost a billion.

    1. I completely agree, and I’m glad I’m not the only one out there questioning the magic of CG. I’ve struck several nerves by bringing up my speculations about CG, but I just don’t like that it has become a crutch for filmmakers, as if it overrides any need for a narrative.

      1. i hope it’s a funk we can get out of soon. the same kind of thing happened, however, when movies went from silent to talkies: people started to prefer to watch crappy and mediocre talkies over the best silent movies because of the novelty. as is evidenced by the keen lack of silent movies, however, it never normalized. i think it might be similar with CG: right now people are taken with the novelty of it (i guess), and eventually people will remember the importance of good story. unfortunately, however, i don’t think CG will ever become less prevelant, which is a shame: non CG effects look so much more organic and convincing, not to mention cheaper.

        and while D9 can be a little graphic at points, i do think it’s totally worth it, and there are maybe 3 or 4 points where it’s gross.

      2. I would like to offer this thought. I have little problem with using film as a crutch for poor story telling. Bad story tellers are always going to dress their story up in hopes to make more people interested in it. People have used violence and sex for years. Every now and then, I go to see a film just to laugh, or just to watch people get killed in new ways.

        I think the issue comes when we are supposed to view these types of movies as truly great cinema. I think Avatar was created for a lot of reasons, but in the end, I think the attempt was to create a “classic” film and marry it with CG. I don’t think that attempt made a great film, but that’s how I feel I’m supposed to view it, and I don’t.

        I guess I just feel like CG is a new crutch. I just don’t want to be told a movie is great film, simply because it has great CG. We’ll have to wait and see what the Academy thinks.

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