Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last year, you’ve heard that James Cameron’s fantasy epic Avatar has been hailed as the future of movies. Critics have been touting this movie as amazing and visionary, and I’d like to know what kool-aid they’ve been drinking quite frankly. Is Avatar a bad film? No it’s not. But it is no where near the cinematic masterpiece that we’ve been led to believe. Yes, technically it’s overwhelming. However, that does not make up for the fact that the characters are cardboard, the dialog is awful and its story is boring and has already been told.
The main story concerns itself about the planet Pandora. Evidentially, planet Pandora houses a mineral called ‘unobtainium’ (think un-obtainable) which we never really find out what its purpose or function is; only that it’s expensive and some corporation from Earth wants it badly. However, wouldn’t you know that those pesky indigenous aliens’ village (a giant tree, named Home Tree) is smack dab on the top of one of the largest supplies of unobtainium. Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and the Avatar program, in which real-life avatars allow us humans to interact with the Na’vi (the aliens on Pandora). Despite the fact that you evidentially have to train for years and years to get in this program, Jake (a paraplegic ex-marine) gets in sans any training. Why? Because Jake’s twin brother (who had trained for years and years) was killed and avatars are so damned expensive, that’s why. To add to the fun, Jake is also part of the military action at Pandora that is concerned with containing, or killing off, the local aliens. As you can guess Jake soon finds himself immersed in the Na’vi culture. Before you know it he is accepted as part of the tribe and finds himself a Na’vi girlfriend ( Zoe Saldana). In the end Jake must decide whether he wants to side with the human world, in which he’s paralyzed and the other soldiers call him ‘meals on wheels’; or with the Na’vi where he’s 9 feet tall, practically indestructible and worshiped by all. Guess which side he joins.
That is the basic story of Avatar, and that is where its problems lie. Yes the visuals are impressive. At 300 million dollars, they should be. The film has been art-directed within an inch of its life; and while the forests of Pandora are beautiful, after a while it starts to remind one of a Kincaid painting. The Na’vi aliens are a step up from the usual CGI humanoids that have been created in the past, but there are still those herky-jerky movement issues. Also the design of the aliens reminded me too much of the character animation from a Canadian film Rock ‘n Rule. When we strip away all the pretty spectacle what we are left with is a film that is essentially a re-tread of Dances With Wolves that is populated by stock characters and bad dialog. What’s infuriating about this movie is not the movie itself, but the fact that so many critics have been willing to overlook its mediocrity because the effects are so cool, and elevating what is, at heart, a summer blockbuster to Citizen Kane status. Go read some of the reviews; you’ll find almost every critic admitting that the core of the film (its story) is not very good, but those visuals are just amazing! Well, I’m not buying it. It very well may go on to win a ton of Academy Awards come March 7th. Most Oscar watchers have confirmed that its winning Best Picture is already a done deal. Which is a shame, when you consider that films like Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Precious, Up, hell even Inglourious Basterds (all far better films) will be steamrolled at Oscars for this bloated over-hyped mess. Avatar shows that if you have a big name and some fancy special effects, you can fool most anyone.