Sunday, February 21, 2010

Film Review - Avatar

Film #26 of 2010 - Avatar

Directed by James "I'm the King of the World!" Cameron, Avatar is a science fiction/fantasy film about Jake (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine who, after his twin brother is shot "just for the paper in his wallet", steps into his place in a scientific experiment on the planet Pandora, where humans are merged with the indigenous people, the Na'vi, creating avatars whose bodies they can control with their mind in order to gain knowledge of their customs (and for the mercenary ones of the group, where to find deposits of priceless "unobtainium".) The marine brass, Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) in particular is at odds with the scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) due to their disparate philosophies of their mission, which leads to Jake being placed in the middle after Quaritch promises him new legs if he gets them the information they want. Jake finds himself conflicted the more he gets to know the Na'vi, especially when he meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the one who teaches him the ropes.

Full disclosure: I really dislike science fiction films, and probably dislike fantasy films slightly more. The only reason why I saw Avatar was because it was Oscar nominated and I kind of had to, for completist's sake, because until now, I had avoided it like the blue plague. However, having said that, I had every intention of going into it with an open mind, not only because I had to pay $10.50 to see a matinee because they were only showing it in 3D (which doesn't work for me anyway because of my near-blind right eye), but I had to drive to an outlying theater to see it and endure the crowd of people around me excitedly seeing Shutter Island and, probably most important to me these days, invest a full three hours sitting in a chair watching the darn movie. So, believe me when I say that I really, really wanted to like Avatar, just for practical reasons alone.

Unfortunately, I still hated it. I wish that I could say that I was only bored for 95% of the film, but I honestly can't think of the 5% when I wasn't. The script, when not just plain bad (unobtainium, really?) was full of cliches, even borrowing from other films that I hate. (When the Colonel said, "We're not in Kansas anymore" about ten minutes into the movie the only thing that kept me from throwing something at the screen was the fact that I was not about to give up one of my smuggled-in cookies for this junk). I don't think anyone expects stellar acting in a big action movie, so I guess that my expectations were met in that affair. (And I'm just waiting for Sigourney Weaver's lips to fully recede into her face eventually. Maybe by the next Cameron film?)

I wish I could say that the story was the only thing that was derivative about Avatar, but that would be a blessing. The entire movie was a brightly colored cut-and-paste of other movies, but with better technology, culminating in what was basically Dances with Wolves starring the Thundercats. (I wish I could take credit for the Thundercats thing, but I actually read that in another like-minded reviewer's entry on this film and thought it was brilliant.) Even James Horner's music was derivative...of his own work! There were several times during the film where the score, and then eventually, in the closing credits song, where I busted into, "Near...far...wherever you are..." because it sounded exactly like the theme from Titanic. Yet this guy keeps getting nominated for Oscars. I can't even say the same thing about Avatar as I did about Titanic; that I didn't like the film and thought it was lame, but it was technically very well done. I don't think there was anything all that great about the production values in Avatar, despite some impressive CGI, which I can see in a lot of other films that are easier to sit through and not be subjected to pseudo-bestiality "bonding" rituals with big pterodactyls and faceless horses. (Seriously, I'm not even kidding.)

Oh, James Cameron. You and I have a love-hate relationship. You love to make mediocre blockbuster movies that make a bajilion dollars and, well, I hate you. I am genuinely bewildered at the success this film has had, and all of the accolades it has received, because even looking at it from the most solicitous, outside-the-box point of view, I don't see it, and I especially don't understand all of the repeat viewings, unless there is a new form of masochism in town that I'm unaware of. In the case of my assessment of Avatar, I'm happy to be the iconoclast and go against the grain and say that it's a complete waste of time and money, and I'll have to seriously consider boycotting the Oscars next year if it wins Best Picture this year, because that would be a sad state of affairs. The only positive thing I can say about Avatar is that it reinforces how good most of its competitors in the Best Picture category are. (Go Team Bigelow!)

1 3/4 stars out of 5
(And only because I couldn't give it the same rating as The Lovely Bones and have a clear conscience, no matter how much I disliked this movie!)

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