Sunday, December 20, 2009

FIlm Review: Avatar



Avatar is the most expensive movie ever made. Sources vary, but the New York Times pegged it at just under half a billion dollars. It's unfortunate, then, that the movie was fatally flawed.


We saw the film in 2D because we're skinflints, and because some of us thought 3D would make us nauseous. Many of the positive reviews Avatar has received were from critics who saw the film's 3D premiere. Thus, their minds were blown by the majestic special effects and no mental energy was spent on the movie's plot.

If critics had paid more attention to the movie's plot, I fancy they wouldn't be quite so quick to proclaim Avatar one of the best movies of the decade, as some have. To be succinct, the plot is about a corporation in the future which has sucked Earth dry and found the world of Pandora to consume with their evil technology. The mineral "Unobtainium," found only on Pandora, sells for $25 million a kilo, and is well worth killing for. This corporation hires scientists led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) to create an "avatar" program: essentially a human mind controlling a body that resembles Pandora's indigenous intelligent species: the Na'vi. The avatar program is meant to relate to the Na'vi, teach them English and basically appease them for having their world stolen.

The Na'vi are tall, impossibly thin, and blue. They are a tribal race with shamanic customs and cliched religious beliefs about a world-tree and a life-force that binds everything together. They are like a group of pretty, warlike, Jedi Smurfs with a lower body-mass index and giantism.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is an ex-Marine whose brother was in the Avatar program. When said brother dies suddenly, Sully is sent into space to take his place. Sully is paralyzed below the waist. He is implausibly given an Avatar after one day on base, and soon wins the trust of the Na'vi. He falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and begins to question his role in the relations between humans and the Na'vi.

Dark clouds loom in the horizon, though, as a rich vein of Unobtainium is discovered--right beneath the Na'vi village! What do our heroes do? After meager attempts at diplomacy fail, scarily gung-ho ex-Marine villain Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a xenophobic Bush-parody figure, is sent in to destroy indigent blue-skins.

This doesn't work.

Long movie short, the aliens win and lots of humans die.

About halfway through the movie, I realized I was watching a movie about aliens killing humans by the hundreds and I was supposed to cheer. The effects were stunning. Stunning. The acting was really pretty credible, especially Worthington, Lang, and Weaver.

The humans, we hear in the movie, come from a world where there is no green left. "They killed their mother," Jake Sully's avatar tells the Na'vi. So the future of humanity, according to director James Cameron, is to destroy Earth and go searching for another world to rape.

This is the James Cameron of Titanic fame, who tied his name to a spurious documentary which claimed to have found "the lost tomb of Jesus." In Avatar we see his ideal world: where quasi-Buddhist, Mother-Pandora-worshipping blue-skinned savages kill a bunch of Marines.

The movie is so well done that I seriously enjoyed it. The effects are truly beautiful and amazing. I would be glad to spend years exploring the exotic biosphere of Pandora. But the plot prevents Avatar from being a great movie, or even a good one.

Why can't our sci-fi epics be about humans finding common ground with aliens and working towards the future? Why do the humans have to lose? What kind of person makes a movie like that?

22 Comments:

Your mother said...

A person who has an ax to grind?

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This movie was a waste of time. The ritual dance in front of the "Tree of Souls" and that girl alien bawling every time a plant died was what pushed this movie over the line from trash to garbage. I seriously laughed till I cried when the evil humans knocked that poor tree over.

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