The Geek community realized that something was amiss with James Cameron after he made Titanic. We understood the logic of True Lies. Once the explosions started, and Arnold shot a guy attached to a rocket into a helicopter after saying, “You’re Fired”, we understood why James C made the movie. He wanted to do an action flick. Totally understandable. But Titanic wasn’t an action flick. It was this strange love story that was as predictable as it was boring, and the most interesting part of the movie was seeing people drown and freeze to death. We were concerned because we grew up with the James Cameron of Terminator, the James Cameron of Abyss, the James Cameron of Terminator 2, the James Cameron of freaking Aliens. He was proof positive that, with an imagination and skill, sci-fi movies could be mainstream blockbusters, critical successes and geek fonder.
Avatar is none of that. Avatar is a strange daydream. We are witness to James Cameron’s imagination spilled onto the screen. The special affects are amazing but the story is a horrible, steamy bowel movement. And the old clichés of a stupid, war hungry military just don’t hold the weight that it used to. Spoilers ahead. But, with a story this bad, I might be doing you some favors.
Avatar is about humans going to another planet and trying to move or gain the trust or whatever of these blue people so that the humans can mine for some material. We have no idea what the material does, but we need it. In order to work with the Alien dudes, humans create “Avatars”, human-alien hybrids. The humans get into machines and puppeteer the hybrids, like playing a video game or driving a remote control car. So, pretty much every fantasy of every boy that has ever existed since Tron came out. One guy, Jake, gets into an Avatar and meets the alien people, falls in love with the alien princess, and helps the aliens revolt against the humans. Yawn.
Avatar was actually a pretty good movie when it came at before in two different versions. Dancing with Wolves did a better job with it, but Last Samurai was the comparison that is the most consistent. An American hell-bent on killing people that was in his way is taken in by the people, taught their ways, and then changes his mind about the people. Last Samurai told the story better because it told the story better. It is a sad state of affairs when a Tom Cruise vehicle can do a better job than a movie by the Cameron. Avatar fails at the “Change by Changing” storyline by becoming far too in love with CGI special effects and his new 3D toy. We don’t see scenes to help move the plot or get to know the characters. We see scenes just so we can have these nice, special 3D CGI moments. I knew this to be true when I saw Sam Worthington’s Avatar Blue-creature-thingy spend moments of my life touching stupid plants. We spend whole sections of the movie exploring this world that is so solid in Cameron’s mind. Too bad the wonderful world doesn’t have a wonderful story.
My main problem with the visual parts of the movie is the 3D, which was supposed to be the selling point. I had never seen a 3D movie before, and I was actually excited about the effect of it for the first five minutes. But, after that, it was more distracting than it was enhancing. It might have been because I wear glasses, but it wasn’t as comfortable as I imagined it would be. I hope this doesn’t become a trend.
I don’t want to completely diss the film. There are some saving graces. The movie does look great. The CGI is the best any movie has ever done. But it still looks CGI. Too shiny in some places. Not dirty enough. Not real enough. I was never confused about where the real world started and when the CGI began. No one is confused about that. We can tell. It is apart of our souls at this point. The only thing I loved about the film was the voice acting of Zoe Saldana. She made this movie. Her voice acting was so good that her CGI face-acting was better. Every time she spoke, you could feel her character. She was more than just a hot girl-alien voice. She was honest and pure. Without her in the flick, the movie would have been a complete waste.
Lastly, I wanted to make mention about James Cameron’s opinion of the military. Movies only see the armed forces in two ways, apparently. Either the military are hot-head, stupid, war-hungry mongrels or they aren’t. There is no middle ground and there is no development. It is unrealistic and, frankly, outdated. Such horrible clichés attached to Marines, even Space Marines, feels easy, uncreative and uninteresting. The military keep us safe. And, yes, there are some Marines that fit this bill. But there are other marines that are smart, caring, honest and multi-sided. James Cameron should have invested in creating interesting characters and not pretty bugs or plants or weird CGI dogs. It might have been a better flick.