Saturday, January 2, 2010

i see blue people

James Cameron has consistently delivered entertaining eye candy films that have pushed the boundaries of technological achievement (The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, and Titanic among them). His latest Avatar is another immersion into a visual fantasy-land. Yet, there isn't much in the material to separate this mawkish, horribly written sentimental sci-fi from any other films that the 2000s pumped out at the multi-plexes. I kept looking away, down at the plain-looking audience members around me, who were obviously enraptured with the film, but were such a far cry from the expensive, sugary nonsense portrayed on-screen before them.

Sam Worthington plays Jake (not Jack), an injured Marine who travels to the planet Pandora on behalf of the military for a special mission. There he is able to become part of the Na'vi tribe (Navi is interestingly enough Thai for Marine) and begins to fall in love with Neytiri (expressively voiced by Zoe Saldana). The illustrations of the Na'vi people are an unfortunate aspect of an otherwise interesting premise. Smurf-blue, with braids, dreads and six packs, and voiced with stereotypical black inflections, they come off as another Hollywood-ized primitive African tribe. The script doesn't tell us too much about them. The movie dissonantly moves from their lush, too-pretty Pandora surroundings to steely military bases (which to me, were more interesting) by using close-ups on eyes. Once the film decides to side with the Na'vi against the badass crewcutted Americans in fighter planes, it becomes unique social commentary. Is this the first American film in a while where we are rooting against the Americans? There are spunky, too-short appearances by Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez. Otherwise, there isn't much to the plot nor the love story between Neytiri and Jake.

Avatar is a mishmash of Cameron's other works but not nearly as assured. It lacks the grit of Aliens (Avatar is conveniently being marketed by McDonald's with flashy Happy Meal toys), not to mention that film's more exciting technical effects. And it tries to mimic a forbidden love story a la Titanic but without the charisma of strong actors to rise above a bad script. A James Horner hemmed Leona Lewis track tacked on the end credits is a weak attempt at "My Heart Will Go On." And there are plenty of cringe inducing dialogue moments ("I see you.")

Despite its formulaic qualities, Cameron's film is being hailed as breakthrough and a sure-bet Best Picture nominee. Smartly the production team rolled out this in the same anti-climatic way Titanic was released. But there were plenty of better films in the genre this year that worked against the grain on smaller budgets (District 9 among them). I think their rewards should be greater. *1/2


  1. I love your movie reviews! Have you considered being a film critic? I liked the movie, but a few things got on my nerves...all of which you mentioned. The Na'vi people looked ridiculous, the love story was stupid and unnecessary, and the script was awful. I also agree that Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez were shining stars. All in all...not a bad movie, but it's certainly not deserving of all the accolades that it's receiving.

  2. My parents loved it, but I'm not sure about the hype...Kori xoxo

  3. Ugh, this movie is yuck. I felt the same way about that Peter Jackson tripe, King Kong, a couple of years ago. Is it OKAY to portray native cultures so simultaneously naively and grotesquely still? Really? REALLY?! Because I don't think it is.

    I thought District 9 was a much more honest and startling exploration of a similar subject. Have you seen it? Really astonishing, actually. Even though i think that had Peter Jackson's name attached, too...Anyway, nice review!

  4. I agree completely! this was so unchallenging

  5. Well said. I agree. You brought up a very good point considering that such a big deal was being made out of Avatar's budget, but District 9 was a much, much stronger film made on a tiny fraction of what Avatar cost.

  6. i thought hte movie was quite entrancing. i enjoyed the fantasies that the story took me through of a planet that was so pure & beautiful. perhaps the story line could used some work on for more intricacy, but the setting, time, & theory of life was just an amazing dream to get lost in for 3 hours. I believe that they did in excellent job at creating a symbolic & metaphorical story line that represented the machines that people manipulate & live through, native & foreign species relationships, as well as following the whole 'Romeo & Juliet' rule where two loves are separated by highly influential yet superficial forces.