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.