Call it the Tron of our generation. Mind-bending visuals that blow our mind in the meantime, allowing us to look past a cheesy, painfully self-important and often unintentionally hilarious film in its entirety . But as with Tron, give it a couple of years and people will be looking back on their five star reviews with embarrassment and apology. Because take away the technical impeccability of meaningless but admittedly beautiful imagery and you have a cliched, clunky megalopolis. All glitz with nothing to say. And once other films began to take on this technical impeccability, Avatar will look like an immature dry run by comparison, and much like Tron, time will not be kind, leaving it to a bunch of douche teenagers in 2030 to enjoy it ironically. As it is with all novelty pieces.
The story for Avatar, such as it is, sees paralyzed soldier Jake Tully (Sam Worthington) take his murdered twin brother's place (a plot treated with as much care and thought as it took me to write that sentence.) on a scientific enterprise taking place on the planet Pandora, a place full of awesome minerals that an unnamed company wants to exploit, regardless to the cost of the planet, or its indigenous population, The native Americans. (I meant Na'vi. My bad. But James Cameron seems to forget from time to time too so.) Sully is placed into a Na'vi Avatar and sent to spy and attain info, but falls for their hippie, tree hugging warrior of the earth ways and switches sides, also due to some hot Na'vi chick (Zoe Saldana). But believe me all that shit doesn't matter. Its all about the painstakingly created world of Pandora, from its floating mountains to variety of creatures and birds and 3D glow in the dark naturery goodness. And at times it is breathtaking, and no doubt heralds a new stage in meticulously created green screen worlds. But in my book Visual splendor does not excuse a trite and crass conveyor belt of adventure movie cliches, and technical marvel does not turn bad story-telling into good story-telling. And if you think it does, well good for you. You're a more forgiving person then I am.
Because if you have any intention of looking at the film as something more then an ad for green screen technology, and you know, as a film. Then the problems are hard to ignore. The foremost of which floating around in the background of all James Cameron's films really, is that he has a suffocatingly trite approach to characters and characterization. Somehow in the past it seemed not to matter, cancelled about by either awesome iconography ( The Terminator), strong performances ( Sigourney Weaver and Kate Winslet.) or sick, off the hook action. ( All of them really). But this time the mixture didn't click. Maybe because Cameron arrogantly thought his material was strong enough not to need great actors, casting dullard Sam Worthington in the central role. Maybe a much more interesting screen-presence could have saved this movie. The supporting cast don't help matters, all taking the material much too seriously, just like Cameron does, when the movie doesn't have the quality to justify it. The exceptions to this are perhaps the awesomely over the top Stephen Lang and Giovanni Ribisi, who comes the closest to actually creating a character. For all this there's just no heart or humanity (no pun intended) in the movie. But that's something you can't make on a computer, and thus not something Cameron has troubled himself with. And therein lies the problem. For all the beauty, it is impossible to connect with it because it just feels to synthetic. Flawlessly synthetic, but synthetic nonetheless. The usual Cameron boxes are ticked, it just didn't seem to click this time.
Make no mistake Avatar is not a masterpiece. Its just a stepping stone in the technical evolution of movies, which it is undeniably, and has nothing else to recommend it really. The action is great, but you find yourself disconnected to it, the motion capture is great, but I find myself thinking who gives a shit. I would have so much rather Cameron had made a great movie then a groundbreaking one, and all is not forgiven for that fact. In terms of everything but the CGI, Cameron has done everything before better, and just because a film is for teenagers doesn't mean it has to be told patronizingly. Look at how Pixar makes great kids movies with adult story-telling, and tell me that Avatar is anything but an immature, obscenely budgeted fantasy ramblings of a 12 year old boy. Because that's what it feels like at times. This thing can ben done well, see Lord of The Rings, but only when you give some kind of shit about your characters and not just throw up a bunch of fantasy archetypes and cliches. A lesser work from Cameron, who by and large is a great populist film-maker, in spite of what people might tell you.
And I didn't even mention the inter-species sex. Because Its such a cheap shot and I don't work that way.