Wednesday, December 23, 2009


2009’s Avatar is one of those movies whose reputation is giant before the trailer even came out. It’s been 12 years since Titanic and, beyond the time delay, James Cameron, Avatar’s director, hasn’t made anything but documentaries since his blockbuster, best picture winning last feature. This mixed with the biggest bill in the history of cinema have made for a huge amount of anticipation. So, I hate to be a party pooper, but I definitely don’t think it lives up. Avatar tells a huge tale, but largely it’s about a big, sinister corporation who’s discovered a valuable material (lamely called unobtainiam, as in unobtainable, sheesh) on a distant planet and is exploiting that material much to the chagrin of the natives, who they deal with like over-hormoned jocks by having ex-military guard the extraction sites. An even bigger problem is the biggest deposit is under a tree that the natives consider very sacred. So they hatch an idea to have people virtually inhabit the bodies of a local so they can do things like diplomacy but also to gather intel.
One of the people who was going to join in this experiment died suddenly before it was supposed to start and the company decided this guy’s marine twin brother would be a perfect replacement. So the marine does join in but soon is conflicted in his mission because he falls for the native people and for the princess. Then, you guessed it, the company wants to take drastic, destructive measures to get rid of the natives and get on with business and our boy eventually sides with the natives, as do a small group of defectors from the company.
To me, this movie was one of the most formulaic picks I’ve seen in a long time. Just one teaspoon more formulaic and I would’ve thought Cameron was being sarcastic and making a spoof. Literally every scene and element of this movie seemed directly borrowed from another movie. And not like Tarantino or Scorcese, who explicitly use references to past films like jazz musicians play standards in their own unique way. No, this was more like cutting and pasting. And when I say every element, I mean every element. For example, even the music felt like it was directly taken from another movie. The avatars are being hailed as the product of a vast imagination, but in Hinduism the envoys between the heavens and the earth are beings called avatars that have blue skin. Here we have this way for humans to interact with this alien civilization (envoys between the heavens and the earth) by becoming a blue skinned avatar. I’m just saying.
What this means is there’s no real drama, no real suspense, in this movie. From the fist moment to the last you know exactly what’s going to happen and how things are going to turn out. This is true even moment to moment, with the outcome of every scene being so terribly obvious from the very start of that scene that it’s not even funny. If you’ve seen just about any movie about a bad guy who’s coming down/trying to wipe out an innocent, pure good guy, then you’ve seen this movie. I mean, Disney’s been doing animated features for decades with the same storylines and plot developments. That said, there were some scenes that were fun to watch and some of the action sequences were pretty amazing to see in 3D. Plus, I’m a total sucker for stories about evil western white people getting thwarted in their attempts to exploit or damage pure, spiritual (even if stereotypical) “natives.” I know it’s majorly played but I love watching indigenous cultures kick some capitalist ass.
Long story short, the visuals are neat (though no better than many other movies), some of the scenes are fun, but overall it was a pretty big snore in my book.

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