Saturday, December 26, 2009

Avatar (2009)

I am a sucker for James Cameron. He has made a couple of my all-time favorite movies, and created my favorite franchise of all time (Terminator).

That said, James Cameron has been making the same movie for 15 years. The spirit of nature overcoming the oppressive technology created by man. That's it. That is his formula, for 15 freakin years.

  • Terminator. Sarah Connor defeats the oppressive artificially intelligent terminator.
  • Aliens. The aliens take over the oppressive technology of the Weyland-Yutani corporation trying to terriform a planet.
  • Abyss. Unexplained undersea aliens save humans from their own oppressive undersea mining/nuclear technology.
  • T2. Terminator acquires more human traits in order to defeat oppressive T-1000.
  • True Lies. Ok, doesn't really fit the mold.
  • Titanic. Needs no further explanation. This could be the original "world's largest metaphor" story.
  • Avatar. Backwoods natives of planet defeat oppressive technology of men trying to rape their planet.
Oh, did I give the plotline of Pocahantas Avatar away? Let's pretend as if this wasn't the most predictable movie of all time for the rest of this review.

James Cameron is the only person who could have pulled this movie off. Technically, and in terms of production value, it's unbelievable. The digital effects are astonishingly good. This is the first movie I've seen since leaving the VFX industry that I've really wanted to know more about the techniques employed. The virtual acting is, hands down, the best ever. Their facial expressions are so subtle and meaningful. Perfectly acted. Hats off to the stereo done for the movie as well.

And yet it's the most empty, soulless $300 MM picture you'll ever see.

First of all, it makes no sense. The political message of the movie -- IMO, never done before by Cameron and strangely out of place -- is sort of an anti-George-Bush-Save-The-Planet message. And they nicely lay in some talk about how Earth is a brown, ruined planet. The humans have amazing technology for interstellar travel and yet, the audience is expected to suspend disbelief when it comes to the foundation of how Avatars work. So wait, they're genetically grown but have some kind of wireless control mechanism with no interference problems, etc?

This falls into the same trap as Wall-E -- suspend disbelief except when it comes to the filmmaker's politics, and poke holes in your plot doing it. They want to make a movie that displays how technology has ruined our planet and we have to move off of it. But if our technology is that advanced, and we have these unlimited power sources for spaceships or Wall-Es, why wouldn't we just save the planet with that same tech? It's just dumb. Entertainment movies are for entertainment. Don't put your politics into them. It's annoying. We don't care. Half the audience groaned when one of the characters was quoting George Bush about "terror"... in San Francisco!

BTW, there's a very 9/11esque scene in the movie that made me think that Cameron might have held off on making it. I had heard of Avatar in the 1990s, after Titanic had wrapped.

That's about all I have to say. The movie has a couple cool ideas, the story is absolutely predictably worthless and the movie looks fantastic. It's waaaayyy too long for what it is. See it once, in the theater in 3D, and never again.

JSS Rating: A Bad Good movie. It wants to be Gone with the Wind, but it's more like Transformers. A fantastic looking shell of a movie.