Review: Avatar (2009)

OK, I rarely write movie reviews anymore. But Avatar deserves a small rant after wasting 3 hours of my time.

It’s been a drought of a movie season this fall. I haven’t been to the theater in weeks, so the crop of December films had me pretty excited. (And I’ve not entirely given up hope.)  Yet, despite its 80-something percent “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Avatar bombed out. IMHO

James Cameron stole my soul when he wrote and directed Terminator (and T2).  Definitely some of the finest and most thoughtful sci-fi films ever made. Titanic raked in billions by showing us the predictable death of the unsinkable ship and an equally predictable love triangle; it’s basically female emotional porn. (Manipulation of the “love receptors,” no?) Having embraced the digital moviemaking techniques of the 21st C along with the ability to now show 3D movies practically anywhere, Cameron’s Avatar was supposed to give us the most incredible visual experience we’ve had yet.

Check.

avatar movie Indeed, Avatar is beautiful.  Blue stripey people in semi-African clothing run around a lush digital jungle stocked full of creatures any kid who plays Spore would love to claim as his own creation. The blend of digital and human is stunning….  this is not your older brother’s video-game animation here. The digitized figures are fully human, not that weird and awkward stage where even the best video game animation currently resides.

I went in to Avatar with a positive outlook (buoyed by its high ratings) and ready to see a decent story in lovely form.  Instead I got a visual overload (how many times can you say “ah!” before you just don’t care anymore?) and possibly the worst story I’ve watched on film voluntarily since Pearl Harbor.

In fact, you don’t even need to see Avatar to know the story.  Take Al Gore’s environmental doomsday theology, mix in your favorite Disney fantasy characters (preferably from a preachy film like Pocahontas), and fill in the rest from your knowledge of African culture and the US’s treatment of Native Americans. (Ken Burns did a great miniseries on PBS.)  Now delete any emotional interest you have in the characters, reduce all the “bad guys” to one-dimensional worse-than-stock villains, and you’re set.

In a word: Predictable.  Down to the last condescending implication that humans hate our Mother Goddess Earth, you can guess every turn before it twists, see every manipulative guilt trip line long before some character utters it.

It deserves to be a footnote in film history for its groundbreaking blend of computer and human … but I don’t read footnotes for 3 hours just for fun.

For the love of all that is Story, leave Avatar on the shelf.  IMHO.
Unless you are particularly in love with beautiful digital animation.  In that case, buy yourself the super-sized popcorn & drink before you settle in to see this on the big screen –it’s a full 3 hours long, and the story sure isn’t going to hold your attention by itself for 180 minutes.

Update:
Our friend & fellow movie fiend Brett went back to see the film in 3D (we saw it with a crowd who wanted the 2D experience, and that’s ok by me, because movies are expensive enough without adding $3.50 for the special glasses, I mean, really?!)…. anyway, Brett said the 3D version was 1,000x better than seeing it in 2D. He found the visuals to be very compelling, and groundbreaking enough to excuse the utterly pathetic plot.

I refuse to put my butt through those 2.5 hours of torture ever again, regardless….

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