Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Michelle
Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Sigourney Weaver
Director: James Cameron
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Length: 162 Minutes
Release Date: April 22, 2010
“YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE.”
It’s fairly common for me as a critic to wonder why certain movies, as great as they are, seem unable to find an audience. It’s a little more rare for me to come across a movie that found its audience in an immense way and wonder why. Titanic, the previous all-time box office champion, had its detractors. I wasn’t one of them. Avatar surpassed its numbers quite handily, and I have to say, I don’t think a worse movie has ever achieved such riches and glory.
Both films were, of course, helmed by James Cameron, of whom I consider myself a fan. It was ten years between feature films for the Oscar winner, and when word came that his newest vision was about to be unleashed, I was one of the enthused minions.
That enthusiasm waned when I saw the first trailer. Why? Because by then, I’d had my fill of expansive CGI epics. It had become a stale genre, largely because studios were all trying to capitalize on the success of The Lord of the Rings movies, and none had come close.
But I did finally bring myself to watch the movie…after all, what critic can ignore numbers like Avatar raked in? I was in a better and more receptive frame of mind for it. I was even looking forward to it.
But, as I suspected, the movie offered very little I hadn’t seen before. The worlds were beautiful and creatively designed, but populated with uninteresting characters and far less amazing and awe-inspiring than some of Pixar’s greatest films. The story was a clumsy, politically correct mash up of Dances With Wolves and Ferngully. And if you’re going to bring together two existing stories to try and make something new, you should at least make sure the movies you’re ripping off are both good. Only one of those is.
The absurd premise is a future where some planet called Pandora (gee, how original) holds an element called…get this…unobtainium. What is it? What does it do? Doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it’s the MacGuffin that gets a nameless corporation (What is it? What does it do?) intrigued enough to send the military after it.
The problem? The rightful inhabitants of Pandora, the Na’vi. These are tall, blue humanoids who worship their planet and communicate with plants and animals via their hair. Don’t ask.
Enter Jake Scully (Worthington), a former Marine turned paraplegic stepping in to the ultimate character role: namely, having his mind planted into an avatar so that he can blend in with the Na’vi and hopefully convince them to move away from their sacred tree so that the nameless corporation, who also somehow controls the United States military, can harvest the…um, unobtainium.
The movie is basically a tedious and tiresome peacock who just wants to show off its colors up to a point, but by the final hour, it had grown from an unwelcome experience to a downright unpleasant one for me as war breaks out, and Cameron gleefully positions us to cheer for the deaths of our own military at the hands of the Na’vi.
Frankly, it nauseated me, and nothing Cameron has said since the release of this movie can make up for the fact that his deliberate choice was to be anti-America and anti-military. He created a whole fictional race of people to celebrate; he could have just as easily created a fictional villain as antagonist. No, it was not an accident. Cameron even makes a point of having his hero being a FORMER Marine; obviously, nobody actively involved in the military could be heroic or honorable. Well, one exception...if you're a soldier who turns on your own commanders and starts shooting them. Wasn't that kind of like a sign Iraq war protesters used to wave?
Apart from that, the story is just weak and absurd, not to mention atrociously acted. Whenever a tree got harmed, the lead female Na'vi Neytiri (Saldana) would wail like an Orca passing gas. But that's just for starters...this planet of Pandora seems to be positioned as a moon of Jupiter, based on the proximity, so where does all the sunlight come from? Why do corporations in these movies seem to have no logical motivation other than destruction and ruination? What do they really exist for? What is their mission statement? I guess to those in the Hollywood left, you corporations all look alike.
Ironically, I had the same problem with the Na’vi. I could never keep track of who was who, or even which human beings were actually avatars amongst them. It was hard to keep any kind of emotional involvement when I couldn’t remember names or relationships or even which computer generated figures were really supposed to be human.
By the end, I felt like a lot of precious time had been wasted, and a lot of money. Not the studio’s money, but that of those who shelled out the cash to see this film in expensive IMAX and 3D runs that helped push the take to record numbers. And what did we get for our troubles? An overblown, pretty but empty cartoon that had less heart and visual wonder than Finding Nemo, WALL E, or Up? A lesson in how corporate greed and military endeavors are a perfect match to destroy worlds? A pompous, egoistic lecture in all things socialist while making more money than any film in history?
I don’t even want to think about it anymore…enough of my time is already irretrievably lost because of this film. Let me just sum up by saying that Avatar is now quite easily James Cameron’s worst movie ever. And yes…I’ve SEEN Piranha II: The Spawning.
No complaints here…this high definition transfer is a vivid and detailed delight from beginning to end, and easily one of the year’s best looking Blu-ray issues. The film is colorful and filled with action, which are just the traits you would want when showing off an HD system.
Likewise, the DTS HD soundtrack really delivers…this is a most demanding audio mix, and all of it comes through with amazing dynamic range and full-on utilization of the surround channels and subwoofer. James Horner’s score is a plus, although the final song seemed like a Titanic theme rehash.
Features (zero stars)
Nothing but a DVD copy of the movie. Can you say “future special edition secretly planned so that gullible consumers will have to buy this damn movie twice”? I knew you could.
There are so many better things you can do with two hours and forty-five minutes than watching Avatar. Frankly, I wish I had spent that time listing them. This is an overproduced, overhyped exercise in ego that looks down on the same audiences that made it a record-breaker. There’s got to be a better film somewhere, ANYWHERE in the future that will rectify this travesty.