film review: AVATAR

avatar

There’s not much point in reviewing Avatar. People are going to see it and the movie is going to make a ton of money no matter what any critics say, including myself. That said, I guess I should share a few brief thoughts on the film, if for no other reason than I watched it and that’s what I’m supposed to do after I watch any movie.

Written and directed by James Cameron, Avatar is an epic science fiction tale set in the future on a distant alien planet where an evil corporation run by greedy humans is stripping the planet if its natural resources. The natives of the planet—the Na’vi—don’t take kindly to their planet being ravaged. In an effort to gain the trust of the Na’vi, a team of human scientists have genetically engineered their own Na’vi, which are then linked to humans that control the alien bodies. One of these alien bodies is controlled by Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine, who uses his Na’vi body to infiltrate a tribe standing in the way of a major mining operation. Jakes job is to get the aliens to relocate, but things become complicated when he begins to relate to the Na’vi, and finds himself more at home in the lab-created body he inhabits instead of his own.

There were three or four things running through my head as I watched Avatar, the first being that it really made me want to sit down and re-watch Dances With Wolves. Essentially the same story as Kevin Costner’s epic western, Avatar replaces Native Americans with Smurfs on steroids. And while both films share the same story, Avatar has the distinction of having dialog that is…well…laughable (which was the second thing running through my head). And that’s not to say that all of the dialog is laughable; but some certainly is, and the dialog that isn’t laughably bad is still pretty much just plain bad, or perhaps closer to unrefined mediocrity. Third on the list of what I was thinking while watching Avatar—instead of simply enjoying the movie—was how much I would have loved this movie if I was twelve. But I’m not twelve, and try as hard as I did to allow the child in me to become absorbed in the impressive display of action and special effects, it just didn’t happen. This is the fault of the movie, because I tried really hard to just let go. But that dialog kept ruining it for me (as did the fact that I was basically watching Dances With Wolves, only with Smurfs on Steroids). This led me to my fourth thought, which was that since I wasn’t twelve, perhaps I would enjoy the movie more if my IQ were lower. This is not to say that you have to be stupid to enjoy Avatar, but if you’re not 12, it would certainly help if thinking wasn’t your strong point.

Avatar is a movie you experience for the sake of experiencing a movie. It is like a cross between going on a ride at an amusement park and watching a video game, with just enough of a hackneyed story and insipid dialog to warrant calling it a film, when it is really a spectacle. But don’t get me wrong, because as far as spectacles-masked-as-movies go, the whole thing is kind of fun. Sure, writer-director James Cameron recycles quite a bit from his past films (especially Aliens), and never mind the fact that the one-dimensional villain of Avatar is even more sinister and poorly developed than Billy Zane in Titanic. As a filmmaker, Cameron has mastered the fine art of making bad guys bad simply so the good guys can look good, without ever going beneath the surface.

I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if Cameron had spent as much time crafting the script and developing the characters in Avatar as he did on the special effects and 3-D technology. But when all is said and done, this is an entertaining showcase of wow-those-are-really-cool-looking effects, hindered by heavy-handed themes and grunting-it-out dialog that distracts from the ride itself. I’m not going to say Avatar is a bad film, because it is too fun to be bad. But it is important to never lose sight of the fact that it also isn’t a good film so much as it is an entertaining work of eye candy-ish extravagance.

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