(the mildest of spoilers here) I saw AVATAR last night with Anne and Garrett. I had a mixed reaction, as most people who are cinephiles and science fiction fans tend to do after watching this movie. The visuals were simply stunning. Very rarely has a movie had me on the edge of my seat for almost three hours, mouth agape. Avatar was simply epic and beautiful. James Cameron has redefined the art of movie-making and created a visual masterpiece that will stand the test of time. It is worth paying extra to see it in Three Dimensions. I literally was grasping at little arial jellyfish from time to time.
The story, however, had me feeling cynical and jaded. The plot was telegraphed in the first fifteen minutes– and everything I was predicting to myself in that time came true exactly as I predicted. Do we really need a rehash of “big bad white man versus innocent aboriginals” as a plot device.. AGAIN? Haven’t we seen this plot in Dances with Wolves, The Word for World is Forest, Apocalypse Now, The Martian Chronicles, Cameron’s own The Abyss, and assorted candidates from multiple genres in various books and movies, pretty much from 1960 onward?
Did anyone think that Colonel Aldo Ray Stephen Lang wouldn’t end up being the bad guy? The Marines (hired as corporate security) were mere macho caricatures of human beings– spewing stereotypes that weren’t even original when Cameron wrote them for Aliens the first time (way back in 1986). In the movie Avatar, it’s 2600? and we’re still yelling “Git some, Git some?” as we gun down innocent civilians? Really? Phone call for Mr. Cameron. It’s Full Metal Jacket, and it wants its ‘baby killer cliches’ back.
Which brings me to the point I found the most queasy about when watching this epic. I got it. I really did. We were supposed to cheer for the Na’vi. That point was about as subtle as a train wreck. Unlike a lot of people in the theater, I couldn’t cheer for the visual of Marines get wiped out right and left by the aboriginals. I live in a world where (rightly or wrongly), real, live Marines are facing real, live locals in nasty parts of the globe and some of them are getting killed or wounded from time to time. I can’t muster the enthusiasm to cheer for their 25th century counterparts getting blown up in Napalm balls– it struck me as being in bad taste.
With that said, there were many thing Cameron got right. The three dimensional process. The seamless blend of CGI and real footage. The background and culture of the Na’vi (including a very realistic sounding language). Aliens that REALLY LOOK ALIEN, with the exception of, of course, the cute cat-faced Na’vi. We have to root for them, therefore they must be attractive in a Disney-esque fashion. It makes one wonder– if the aliens had four legs and snouts, would Cameron have a blockbuster today?
I recommend it for the visuals and Cameron level detail alone (they get an A plus plus plus). The plot left me cold (I give it a C minus minus minus). So you’re on your own on this one.