Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar (2009)

James Cameron's Cinematic Output, Best To Worst
(Excluding Piranha II and his documentary work):
The Terminator
True Lies
Terminator 2: Judgement Day
The Abyss

This was not the end all be all of modern cinema. This was not our Star Wars, as some had promised. This was certainly not indicative of the limitless possibilities of 3D. This was what the trailers looked like; a mildly badass hodgepodge of Dances with Wolves, The Matrix, and a little bit of Dune (how DARE they, I say!).

Sam Worthington, contrary to his surname, is worthless yet again. It is one thing to watch a CGI Big Blue Thing fly around a CGI rainforest like its supposed to mean something, it's another thing when the CGI Big Blue Thing represents a character we could give a shit about. The man's a cripple...hope that's as much as you need for character development! Sigourney, Stephen Lang, and J.P. from Grandma's Boy are decent, but too broadly portrayed to be anything other than background filler. Giovanni Ribisi, on the other hands, nails his scenes as the Paul Reiser-esque company man only interested in mining the jungle planet for all its worth. With his delivery clearly patterned after Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold, he refers to the Na'vi as "blue monkeys," and generally tears apart the mystic hoobajoob that Cameron's mythos banks on. Zoe Saldana is also somewhat effective, despite her CGI handicap, in her portrayal of a native warrior woman with the hots for studly Big Blue Thing Worthington.

To argue that the man was not, at one point, a genius is moot. He has given us some of the best genre fare we will EVER receive as fans, and for any one of his true classics (i.e. the first 4 movies on the list above), we owe him our undying gratitude. But he's been underwater for the past 10 years (13+ if you count Titanic), and it shows. The dialogue, characterizations, and plot mechanics here are not much better than Episode 1, as far as I'm concerned. The visuals are what you are paying for with this film, and on that front, he delivers in spades. While no individual sequence is particularly memorable, there are moments scattered throughout that are exciting enough to warrant the multi-hundred million dollar price tag...maybe. I still would've liked to have given a shit about the characters that do things that I would of course love to do myself, but don't really wanna watch someone else do.

If you gotta see it, you gotta see it, and ain't a damned thing I say's gonna stop you. Just know that there is nothing here that will make you forget James Cameron's earlier work, or even the last big movie about indigenous people and invading military forces.

P.S. RANT: This film, and more specifically, the response to it, follows a trend I have noticed recently of movies not necessarily needing to be any good to be considered audience pleasers. Along with Star Trek earlier this year, many advocates of Avatar seem to believe that the visuals overwhelm the necessity for a clear or decent plotline, and accepting the contrivances that allow the spectacle to take place is appropriate for the experience. Having grown up with Cameron's films above, the original Star Trek and Star Wars series, and the old and new Batman films, I don't accept that for a second. The films Avatar gleefully steals from are some fantastic, original films; even those who understand the extent of the inspiration The Matrix derives from Asian cinema acknowledge that it is a well-constructed, revisionist interpretation of those ideas. However, to keep it in a relatable, human world, it stays very grounded: the villains are the machine-gun wielding U.S. military, the primary conflict is over corporate control, and Sigourney's character, unfortunately, asks for a Xanax in one scene. With all the inventions and fancy gadgetry and wildlife that he came up with for this shindig, would it have been so hard to conjure up original villains, motives, or conflicts? Why is it so hard to create an original plot these days? Or are the studios, producers, and filmmakers so scared of alienating their audience they are willing to pander to their increasingly juvenile tastes?

Whatever the answer, I really am getting sick of feeling gipped by the films I see in theaters these days. I wasn't the biggest District 9 fan in the world, but I totally buy that the film had more than one script meeting to come up with the plotline. With Avatar, once again, I feel that the preproduction meetings focused on things they could build, and design, and not on story, character, or dialogue, things that would make the film as timeless as the movies that Cameron blessed us with once upon a time.

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