July 16, 2010

Rabid Rewind: Avatar

Title: Avatar
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Michelle Rodriguez
Writer/Director: James Cameron
Released: Twentieth Century Fox (2009)
Genre: Science-Fiction; Adventure

I think I may be the last person on the planet to bother watching Avatar. I figured this movie would do well, as it was hyped for about a year before its theatrical release, and that buzz just continued to build even after weeks of dominating the box office. But I would never have guessed it would make that much money, to take it to the very top as a money earner in cinematic history. Go figure.

The film itself deals with a well-worn plot. There is an invading force threatening the landscape and the indigenous people who live there, in order to exploit it all for some resource. And like many movies that use this plot, white guys are the villains, mostly--heck, we've earned it after centuries of being dicks to non-whites. The indigenous people are a race known as the Na'vi living on a strange planet called Pandora. And the resource sought by what's left of humanity is an element known as--and here comes one of the laziest attempts in scripting--Unobtanium.

I could go on describing what the film's about, but chances are you've seen it already--or one of the several films it's alleged to have "borrowed" from, like Dances with Wolves. While this movie may have raked in the most money in history, that doesn't mean it's good. That being said, I didn't hate this film like so many of the seething cynics out there who still can't let go of their hate for Titanic. In fact, I quite liked the movie. Despite the familiar plot that contained almost zero amount of surprise, the spectacle of the special effects and the performance of Zoe Saldana as the go-between for Sam Worthington's character--a paraplegic soldier offered to control his dead twin brother's alien avatar--as well as the inevitable love interest. Like I said: no surprises.

But for a movie that became so bloody popular with movie-goers, I was naive to expect something ... new. At least beyond the envelope-pushing CGI and 3-D technology (of which I missed out on because I watched it on plain ol' 2-D DVD). Maybe if I had been sitting in an Imax theater, I would have been entranced by the movie and stepped out of the theater as if reprogrammed like a Manchurian candidate. Perhaps the Avatar fanboys can be called Cameronian candidates. But I saw this film on a level playing field with the rest of the movies I watch, and I saw nothing to convince me this movie was much more than an average sci-fi story with a lot of pomp and press.

The characters were crafted via cookie cutters with practically no original thought at all, and their motivations seemed to shift as if they flew on butterfly wings. Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, and others play characters that are more avatars than the actual avatars depicted in the film, present only to serve whatever plot point arises for Sam Worthington's character. If there is fluidity to this film, I didn't see it because it played out as if on rails over the long run.

Over Christmas, when it was first released, Adam Blomquist summed up the movie pretty well in a Christmas Blockbuster Face-Off against Sherlock Holmes. When it's not wowing you with how pretty it is, Avatar is "boring." Now, I only say that because the movie offers little more than eye candy. It is, however, spectacular eye candy and worth seeing once by even the most jaded movie goer.

Along with the insane amount of success this movie garnered, it accumulated an equal amount of disdain and cynicism towards James Cameron and the film. It's interesting to note, as done by io9 here, how many accusations of plagiarism and "ripping off' other films Avatar received. Whether ripped off or not, it certainly shows that despite how entertaining the film is, it's by no means original and by no means worthy of the hype it received heading into this year's Academy Awards.

I'm going to refrain from hating on this movie, because it is a decent bit of escapism. I just would have hoped for more from such a notorious perfectionist and slave-driver like James Cameron. If this is supposed to be the new apex of movies for this decade, I'm sorely disappointed. But if this is supposed to be one more in a long line of action movies that offer more sizzle than steak, then I am satisfied. Just don't ask me to watch it again--I still haven't been forced to sit through Titanic a second time.


  1. That's a fair summary. I saw it twice - once in 2D and once in IMAX 3D, and it was definitely worth the $15 to see it that second time. But not worth a $2 rent fee...so what does that tell you? It's at its best as a theater experience, and that will only come around once. (thank goodness?)

  2. I've never seen a movie in IMAX, but I may have to remedy that one of these days. Though, I'd probably go to one of the nature films instead of something by James Cameron or Michael Bay. :)