My Review of Avatar
22 Jan 2010   Reviews

My Review of Avatar

I finally gave up. After all of my friends nagged me to watch James Cameron’s Avatar I finally let my rejection flow away and go to my cinema of choice.

Since everyone is praising Avatar as the new holy grail of movies I will take my time here and rip this thing to shreds talk about my humble impressions and why some elements just don’t live up to the hype. (Be aware of spoilers (see flag on the left of the title) and length of post)

Avatar is a visually extremely impressive movie that at the same time feels strangely empty and hollow. I don’t think it’s only one big reason but many smaller ones which give me this feeling about this movie.

When I went to my cinema of choice I went to it while not expect much judging by the various reviews I’ve read on the internet. I kinda knew what was coming to me. Yet – in review – it is shocking to see how bland and unbelievably predictable Avatar turned out to be. There was not one single big plot element I didn’t see coming miles ahead. For example, in one scene they were briefly talking about some legendary men who united all people by riding on the back of the most dangerous dinosaur-flying-thingy you can find. It took only two sentences long but I immediately knew that Jake would be the one to do just that. When the scene finally came…it was only ten seconds long.

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To call the love story of Avatar ridiculous would be an understatement even by the very low love comedy standard established years ago. James Cameron follows the cliché formula by the letter with the boy gets girl, boy looses girl and boy gets girl back. While the first two plot elements were done rather nicely it’s the boy gets girl back moment that I cannot stand. After the destruction of the tree and the dead of her father, all you need is just to become a legendary hero and everything is forgiven. The double play, the deaths and the destruction of everything holy to her. Hey, no problem, because he lost her only because she had fear!(?) This scene was a truly and mind blowing WTF moment.

Besides the love story the overall plot in many parts was waaaayyyy too cliché. That Jake was the “chosen one” or at least a “special one” is one such story element I’d be glad Cameron would have cut. It would also have been better if Jake wouldn’t have been written as a guy who seems to be perfect for the Avatar-program – without training or exercise. He simply wakes up in his new body and voila, everything works perfectly. You know, there are many bad anime which utilize just such a story archetype and Cameron’s name on it doesn’t means it starts working now.

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It is truly sad how shallow the character of Jake Sullan turned out to be (the rest of the cast unfortunately are simply walking cliché cardboards). In those 162 minutes we almost learn nothing about Jake or his past. Sure, there were some hints here and there but come on: anyone could write those tidbits of info about your usual standard cliché marine with some traumatic events in the past. As a result it was inevitable that the change of heart in Jake felt too shallow and unimportant. Why did he change? Did he learn something about himself or his life? No – which is a shame.

Imagine what a cool story Avatar could have been if Cameron would have done something else, for example interwoven both main elemts of the movie: the planet Pandora as well as the inner demons of Jake. The Navi could have shown him a way out of his own grave with their teachings and their kindness. They could have shown him something about life and living, letting go and so on. But since Cameron didn’t do this, we more or less get some borderline esoteric blabbering of your standard good natives accompanied by some impressive visuals.

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This leads me right to the next point: Avatar overall felt too simplistic for my taste. James Cameron didn’t even try to avoid this kind of black and white painting of the good Navi and overall bad humans (with some usual good guys to counter the bad impression).

You know what would have been great? Just imagine a story in which the humans still act as assholes, but instead of doing this for money, they do this for their own survival. The stone material could have been a crucial element to save Earth which is not found anywhere else. This way we would’ve got a perfect moral dilemma and a story way more powerful because it would’ve naturally avoided your cliché ending of the bad humans leaving the planet instead of trying to work together. You know, something like this. The 162 minutes would have been enough time to flesh out such kind of plot.

All of these points above don’t necessarily mean that Avatar is a bad movie. Somehow far from it. With the exception of the end perhaps which is really bad. Sorry dear friends out there, but as I really don’t like this let-me-become-a-navi-moment, I really laughed out at the scene beforehand when Jake Sullan rides flies with his dinosaur-flying-thingy into the sun while telling us that the hero wasn’t needed anymore. Ugh!

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Well, but I can understand why so many people forgive little Cameron for what he did with the story because of the effects. And those are truly fucking impressive as Hell on AfterburnerTM, there is no question about it. Just like the Lord of the Rings some years ago and The Matrix before that Avatar is raising the bar to a new level for the movies to come and I am quite sure it will take some years until other production will start to come close to this. Cameron managed to bring a whole planet to life and I almost never felt I was watching some CG renderings. In fact, I often wondered if they shot some elements live or did that in post. The visual result is that impressive.

On the other hand, I often felt that the visual impressiveness is just the trap James Cameron fell into while filming/rendering Avatar. Some scenes gave this feeling of that See-What-I-Can-Do-syndrome (or in short: The George-Lucas-Syndrome), like the flying scene in the middle of Avatar or many smaller moments in which I thought “Okay I got it, could you please continue with the story? Thanks.”

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But on the yet other hand I am also quite sure Cameron knew what he was doing. He probably absolutely knew that some scenes felt too long but still went on with it. Why? Because he knew that the environment of Pandora with its lush alien vegetation and esoteric mysteries was enough to fill the time and please the viewer. Heck, even I didn’t get angry by watching the pseudo documentary because of those very reasons. When Titanic was a perfect exploitation of a love-catastrophe, then Avatar is your perfect exploitation of lush, awesome looking, wallpaper-like backgrounds and vivid environments – with some added people here and there to create some kind of “story”. Remove all of that and you basically get nothing we haven’t seen dozens of time already.

It’s really sad that James Cameron, the guy who did Aliens, couldn’t or didn’t want to achieve more. This doesn’t mean that Avatar was a horrid movie. It means that Avatar is okay but definitely doesn’t deserve this praise and this mesmerizing amount of box office.

Conclusion

So, what is my final impression? Well, this fact is driving me nuts: I simply don’t know. As I said Avatar is not bad but also not great. Avatar is a movie that wants to be loved but to me fails on way too many occasions. I want to love Avatar but I can’t. I could hate Avatar but I can’t. Avatar is “meh”, is “I don’t know”, is “perhaps I know it one time in the future”.

And you know what? I hate this kind of feeling.

Rating
Avatar is 'Meh' in glorious 3D.

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