Monday, January 04, 2010

Buh. whu. um. siiigh. My Avatar review.

As a proud new papa I've had to make certain concessions with my life. The biggest means far far fewer films in actual theaters, more Blu-Ray. That of course means that when I do decide to see a film it has to be something deserving of it. Something I'm really excited for, and/or something that if it is to be seen, needs to be seen on a big screen. And Avatar was that movie.

Now I had some trepidation the second I saw the Papyrus font logo, and then the blue people, but this is James Cameron!!! Aside from Titanic and that crummy James Bond deconstruction/parody with Tom Arnold, and all those IMAX sea docs that I didn't see, he's never made a movie I didn't love! I also have never been super big on the headache involved in previous 3D generations, but because I do stuff for the innernet the nice people at AVTR (coke) sent me a free pair of really nice 3D glasses to ensure that I was seeing this the way it was meant to be seen.

So after the holidays and after our friends were gracious enough to watch the little one for a Sunday afternoon, we went to experience the event that is... AVATAR.

I'll nitpick more in a moment, but the blurb review is this, Avatar is the cinematic equivalent of a Drive-thru-Tree. It's set in a forest, it looks really cool, you don't see many things like it, it took time and care to make, and it's a mildly diverting novelty, but ultimately you can see exactly where you're headed and it's totally pointless.

I wanted it to be good. I wanted to not care that it was Dances With Wolves on another planet. But I'd be buggered if I cared one bit about anything that was happening through the whole movie. Every time some phenomenally beautiful spectacle came up, or I noticed just how lifelike the Naavi looked (my wife thought it was make-up not CG), it just made me angry that such skill and talent was going to waste on soulless and done to death story.

Right from the get-go you're handed a gigantic bag of ham handed plot points that for any other film would derail it in the eyes of any critic and most viewers. I have no idea why they're all being so kind to this one.

Imagine if you will if Avatar was a sequel and the first film was about the scientists creating the Avatars. They've worked long and hard to create these remote controlled biological wonders, but the one catch is that they are genetically coded to one individual. Then, at the climax of the film the hero scientist, the handsome Thomas gets killed right before they ship off to Pandora! Oh no! What a dilema... but don't worry, he has AN IDENTICAL TWIN WHO IS A RECENTLY PARALYZED MARINE and he's be perfect to step in and replace him!!! You would throw your soda at the screen and walk out because that is one step up from "IT was all a dream the whole time!". I think it would look a little like this...

So, imagine that ending and realize it is the beginning of this film. That is the road they send you on and they stick hard to that road. I don't need much logic in my films but at least pretend to try.

Why is he a twin? Wouldn't the film be just as good if he was the scientist joining the Naavi learning to hunt? Or, if he was a Marine all along saddled with the scientists to keep them straight?

Why is the character paralyzed? I understand the plot point of him maybe getting his legs back, but by the time the general throws that bone at him it's not even a choice anymore because he's so gaga over the Blue Lady.

How do they "lose" him in the jungle the first trip out? Cameron, you created the concept of motion sensors for Aliens that has been ripped off more times than I can think of. You mean to tell me they created these bodies from scratch with no GPS locator? My fucking dog has a microchip in it for crying out loud!

They have spaceships equipped with cryo units (awesome), huge walking Mechs (sorry District 9 really kicked your ass on that one), super huge hover-ships (again awesome), ungodly amounts of ammo and guns, but no long range artillery? You have to literally fly right over the "God Tree" and drop pallets of explosives on it?

Again, I don't usually nitpick, I really enjoyed both Transformers 2 and GI Joe for crying out loud (but neither of them are, nor will ever be, on anyone's best list) but Avatar was one overlong missed opportunity. Less time touching plants (We get it. they glow) and more time with the community learning why the Naavi are so wonderful. All we saw them do was yell, fight, and meditate. I wouldn't have even minded the done to death scenes of him playing with Naavi kids, making food with the women. Hell, make it a montage set to "My Heart Will Go On", lord knows the rest of the film was (Horner, I'm looking in your direction). The evil General might as well have been played by a gigantic Green Army Man figure for all the depth he had. One, ONE! scene of him torturing, or at least being mean to a captured Naavi would've made him a villain. Instead he was an unethical dick doing his job. And speaking of unethical dicks... Giovanni Ribisi I actually enjoyed. But I feel that Cameron missed a real chance to do something technically challenging and digitally insert Paul Reiser from Aliens in that role as they were pretty much the exact same character.

The only time I felt any true emotion was when Jakesulley ditched his own personal dragon with whom he had a biological bond with for the giant dragon. Poor little dude got ditched and was never seen again. 15 minutes were spent on Sully getting that first dragon only to say sayanora to it the first chance he gets. Oh and on the topic of the dragons... is anything in nature that conspicuous and still alive?

I could go on, but I'm just wasting breath at that point. I know there are worse films out there, but few are wrapped in such a glorious package. That is why I feel so betrayed. Such skill, technology, talent, artistry used to create such a cold, forced, boring mess pretending to be a rousing heart filled socially conscious film. If you haven't, go out and read Maria Doria Russell's book "The Sparrow". While I realize it is far from as family friendly as Avatar, it also tells the tale of humans on another planet dealing with foreign races locked in their own ecological struggle and the part humans play in it. Then think of what a phenomenal film could have been made from that story with this team, and $300 Million, then go and weep a little.

I'll end with this. Go see it for the 3D but know that the 3D is the only depth this film has. Oh and thanks for the Glasses, they fit perfectly and will get much use from other Real D stuff in the future because it really did look amazing.

Now, on the topic of 3D... Who's ready for TR2N!?!?!? I could give a fig if that has a plot and I hope to god everything in that film is iridescent.



Agent Beryllium said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Agent Beryllium said...

When it comes out on DVD, I'm going to mute the sound and queue it up to "Dark Side of the Moon" and hope for the best.

(And if that doesn't work, I'm gonna set it to 4x speed and play "Yackety Sax" on loop.)

(sry, misspelling)

Agent Beryllium said...

... FUCK!

L'Emmerdeur said...

I suspect I'm a few years older than you, but you should have known better than to walk into that theater with any such elevated expectations. It took me many, many years to realize that most big-budget sci-fi will be like this movie, empty fluff, and I would either learn to enjoy it for what it was or avoid it.

I learned to enjoy some of it - like Avatar and the new Star Trek - and avoid the rest.

Anonymous said...

I agree with L'Emmerdeur. You really just need to take a chill pill and enjoy it. Most of what you say about the plot, characters, etc., is right. The whole flick is shallow and you can tell exactly where the story is going, but in a way, that's good, because it's mostly coherent, so you can just switch your brain off and enjoy the ride. From the previews, I honestly thought I would hate Avatar and never watch it. Someone told me just to see it anyway for the visuals, so I reluctantly did. It was no surprise that the story and plot devices were so facile, but I was blown away, to the point of tears (literally), by the visuals. Sure, it's a popcorn flick, but as popcorn flicks go, Avatar is the s***. I really think of it less as cinema and more as a theme park ride (on steroids, that feeds crack into your visual cortex). If you didn't like the ride, meh, but rather than Cameron having missed an opportunity, as you assert, I think that by ranting about stuff that's obvious to most people (and probably Cameron himself), you're missing out on all the fun.

Josh said...

Your drive-thru tree analogy is on point, broseph (as is, "We get it. They glow"). The story was totally serviceable, but it was like, Really? All that work, and you couldn't come up with, like, one plot twist?

I dunno. I can see how many people found it entertaining, and I don't think they're wrong. But in five years, once this level of CGI is de rigueur, people are gonna only vaguely remember the Avatar hoopla, and future generations will have no clue what the fuss was about.

Neill said...

"is anything in nature that conspicuous and still alive?"

yes, tons of stuff. you made a lot of really good points several of which were not far from my own mind watching the film (they're droping pallets of explosives instead of bombing it from orbit?) but this is more masquerading as witty than anything else. plenty of animals right here on earth are at least that conspicuous in their natural environments. aquatic life is the most obvious example, coral reefs have an even more extreme color palette than pandora, but even in our own rain forests there are many animals with bright coloring.

Garrison Dean said...

I'm man enough to admit the conspicuous animals thing was for humor.

I did however just find myself wishing that those dragons were not just as colorful as poison tree frogs but just as poisonous and the Na'vi were just being dicks.

"Hey, jakesulley! Why don't you go hop on the back of that dragon over there and show us all what a cool dude you are!"

"You got it guys!!!"

vr said...

Your dog has a chip in it? Do you really lose your dog that often? Or do you live next door to Cruella DeVille?

How long before you put one in your kid?

Garrison Dean said...

@ VR.

It's a pretty common practice to microchip dogs actually. Granted it's not a GPS synced chip that I could track her with, but if for any reason she runs off and someone finds her all a vet or shelter needs to do is scan her and this chip will give them the info they need to get her back to me. And as she was a stray that I found on the street and rescued I know all to well the importance of it.

And for the record... no I've never lost my dog. Though my neighbor is this rich old man who keeps asking me to see his vest.

Agent Beryllium said...

A dog can't tell you where he lives, collars get lost all the time, so chipping is the next best thing.

Unless you tattoo your home address on all your pets, 'natch. Then you're just weird.

Pets are found years later and thousands of miles away to be reunited with their families, all because of a little subdermal identification tag: