I have to make a confession... it's a little confronting and I do feel somewhat scandalous making such a claim... I just need to get it out of the way right off the bat... so here goes.
I was monumentally underwhelmed by James Cameron's Avatar.
Yep, that's right... underwhelmed.
Now I didn't see it in 3D (actually I can't even imagine seeing it in 3D, and I'm surprised nobody has reported being violently ill given the camerawork), or Super Extra Special IMAX or anything... just a good old regular movie screen.
And I won't lie... it is a good-looking movie. But the story is predictable, derivative and, frankly, I've seen it played out in a ton of other movies before.
It's The Last Samurai. It's Disney's Atlantis and Pocahontas. It's Fern Gully. It's Dances with Wolves. It's Dune. It's District 9. It's every single movie where the character goes into a seemingly primitive culture, expecting to be able to carry on as normal and is changed by the simple act of learning about the primitive people.
It's got the predictably closeminded army commander stereotype (think former Cameron movies, The Abyss and Aliens)... it's got the unfeeling corporate bureaucrat (Aliens again)... it's got the idealistic scientist... it ticks all the boxes.
And as Ma asked when we left the cinema... "It just reinforces the question, do we never learn?"... Do we never learn that violence just begets more violence? Do we never learn to listen to people who understand the land? Do we never stop and think that maybe there are things out there we just don't comprehend?
I know that good storytelling comes from conflict, but I'm not sure how much this should be classified as "good storytelling". I mean, it even fails the "show, don't tell" rule (did we really need the narration at the beginning... new guy, new place... surely it could have been general exposition at the very least)... and plot points are telegraphed well in advance. I'm also aware that there are essentially only four stories out there in the world and everything else is a version of one of them... but there's only so much that that argument excuses.
It's definitely saying something when Ma and I don't talk about a movie at all until we're about halfway down the road to my place. We briefly spoke to the usher girly (are they even technically ushers anymore, since they don't "ush"?) and I was extremely non-committal in my comments. Add to that the fact that my mind did wander from time to time as I was trying to think of all the other movies there were with exactly the same plot.
So that's definitely in the minus column... the plot was a big heap of nothing.
But part of me wonders if this movie was ever supposed to be about that... or is it just another in a series of James Cameron movies where the point is never the plot or the story, but it's about pushing the technology to the nth degree and seeing what you can make it do. It's the water tentacle in The Abyss and the T1000 in Terminator 2. But this time he's getting the technicians to push hair and skin and human movement to the extreme (even if there's a massive amount of motion capture involved in the movement part... at least it's not in Polar Express territory).
And if that was the whole purpose of the movie, then it did succeed.
It's a beautiful movie to look at, and while you never really forget that the majority of the characters you're looking at are completely computer generated, as far as the environments I couldn't begin to tell you what was real and what was CG. There are some obvious exceptions, but even then you don't know how much is rearranged from something real.
Even the interaction between the characters and their environment is flawless on first viewing. And there are a few subtle little touches that would definitely have been CGI that most people probably won't even see or realise, most notably the condition of the main character's real human legs as the movie progresses.
I will admit to a degree of uncertainty when it comes to the actors and acting, mostly because when you're dealing with a combination of a computer generated character, motion capture and a live actor, who do you compliment on giving an outstanding performance? The actor or the animator and technicians?
In some ways, the fully Na'vi characters were easier to deal with, as you never had to reconcile the human face with the alien one... Sigourney Weaver's avatar stood out as being particularly unrealistic... possibly because they had to do really weird things with the Na'vi face to make it recognisable as her.
And I'm not even going to open the particular can of worms that results from the "primitive" Na'vi being voiced primarily by African American actors.
But most of the actors made the best of what they were given... as I've already said, the plot wasn't the movie's strong point, but even so the performances, whether total, vocal or strictly kinetic were fairly strong.
So while this movie was a lot of things... it's enjoyable, it's a good way to kill three hours, it's beautiful to look at... I just can't see it as some sort of monumental leap in the movie making or movie going experience. For that to be true the story would have had to have an original thought.
Sure is pretty though.
yani's rating: 7 hometrees out of 10