Monday, January 25, 2010
Rants on Avatar
I'm in a bit of a "damned if I do, damned if I don't" situation concerning Avatar, director James Cameron's epic 3D action film currently burning up box office records, becoming in six short weeks one of the top grossing movies of all time. If you have been following my Twitter since Avatar's release, I have been talking non-stop trash about the film. From the first trailer, I thought the whole thing looked incredibly stupid, but when the "Avatar is changing movies as we know it" campaign started, I, for lack of a better word, lost my shit. This angered fans of the movie, I'm sure, but, consequently aligned me with those (admittedly few and far between) haters of the movie. This is not entirely surprising given my track record with blockbuster action films, but I digress. Now that I've finally seen the movie, my problem has now become how my reaction will align myself with everyone else. I didn't outright hate Avatar like I thought I would (my friend Sammi told me to keep an open mind and I did the best that I could) but there's no way my reaction will please the fans who may not be calling it the "greatest movie EVER OMG" but were still impressed by the film. Of all the times to end up in the middle of a discussion, it has to be with the most financially successful film of our time. Go figure.
I'm one of those old dinosaurs who truly believes that CGI and computer-related special effects have ruined the movies. Often times I find they are used simply for spectacle and, as a result, do nothing for me in enhancing my movie watching experience. I don't care if they just blew up the fucking Empire State Building--that doesn't mean the surrounding film is any good. Give me Godard shooting a film about Maoism in what looks like my parents' basement or Hepburn and Grant running around the New England countryside chasing a leopard any day of the week. With that being said, I must admit that I thought the 3D special effects in Avatar were nicely done. Rather than rely solely on stupid 3D movie tricks--you know, something randomly getting thrown at the screen just so the audience can go, "Whoa, 3D, man!"--the film subtly immerses us into this invented world of Pandora. You feel a part of the movie in ways I have not experienced before. You're not "there" per se, but it is a hell of a lot closer total immersion in a film world than any CGI fuckfest I have seen before.
As great and inventive as the special effects were, I cannot fully support Avatar because, no matter the film's excessive stylization and massive visuals, we have seen everything else in the film hundreds of times before. The film, numerous times, has been compared to Pocahontas but I actually thought it was closer to another Disney film: The Lion King. With the Na'vi's deep connection to nature and the other creatures who live with them, the odd African tribal music that punctuated the score and the finale, which might as well have had a chorus of Na'vis high-kicking a verse of 'Circle of Life,' I was expecting Simba to pop out eventually and help Jake Sully fight off the Army. While the script wasn't as atrocious as I had heard, I was still concerned that most of the characters were nothing but one-dimensional stereotypes, firmly on either side of good and evil and amped up to 11. The bad guys are so unstomachably bad, I could hardly stand the implausibility of some scenes. Aside from Sigourney Weaver as the no-bullshit, ballsy scientist, the acting is fairly rote as far as these things go. The only truly awful performance comes courtesy of Stephen Lang as the juiced-up, maniacally evil Colonel who often feels like one of those cartoon-ish clowns in an early 3D video game from the early to mid 90's that would shout at the camera with the most godawful lines ever written. And I know it's unfair to compare to a director's earlier work, but the scene where the Army knocks down the tree the Na'vi live in pales in comparison to the terror Cameron drums up for the finale of Titanic. Even the finale, as epic and thrilling as it is (I, at one point, found myself shouting "Kill whitey!" and breathed an epic sigh of relief once the Colonel was killed), was really nothing that an above average action director could have done given Cameron's massive budget. Maybe if Avatar hadn't been billed as the Movie That Changes Movies As We Know Them, I could be a little more fair towards it. But to truly live up to that billing, I expect a little more than I was given in this film. C+