But then again, I can be an extremist about such things.
This is the worst movie I have ever seen.
Consider that statement. I have seen thousands of movies over the course of my lifetime. This is worse than any other film I can name.
Troll 2, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, Leonard: Part 6, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Battleship Earth, Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Glen or Glenda, Exorcist II: The Heretic,
Kazaam, even Kazaam. It is worse than an embarrassment starring Shaquille O'Neal as a genie who comes out of a magic boom box. Look at this:
This is better than Avatar.
How? Easy, no one within a thousand miles of Shaq in his hammer pants thought for one minute they were making a great work of cinema.
Everyone involved with Avatar has made it clear that this is supposed to be a game changer like Star Wars or The Matrix. This is meant to be one of the seminal moments in cinematic history. When future generations refer back to this time we're to believe that Avatar will be one of the cultural milestones.
I do think this film will go down in cinematic history. Hands down, it is the most self-loathing, insufferably pretentious works of human invention ever to be put before a paying public.
The film takes place on a planet call Pandora. PANDORA - get it? Astronomers, upon finding a planet that can sustain life, felt compelled to give it an ironic name warning of impending doom. Humans, after destroying the Earth's environment (this is mentioned a few times during the film), have shown up on Pandora to claim a mineral called Unobtanium. UNOBTANIUM - get it? Geologists, upon finding a valuable mineral, felt compelled to give it an ironic name warning of impending futility. The humans want the mineral so they can make money. One problem, on top the indigenous humanoid species known as the Na'vi live where the minerals are found. So, of course, the humans plot a pogrom against the planet's peaceful people.
Jake (Sam Worthington - no you don't know who he is), a paraplegic marine, arrives at the planet as a mercenary for the Resources Development Administration, the evil corporation who wants to displace the primitive Na'vi.
Jake is given an avatar, a body that looks like a Na'vi (meaning he looks like a big, blue kitty). He gets closed in a tanning booth and can control the body with his mind, or something like that, its not well explained. As one would expect, he meets up with the Na'vi, falls in love with the pretty one. Then the whole thing turns into Dances with Wolves in Space.
(Spoiler warning for the rest of this paragraph) Jake eventually becomes one of the Na'vi and after the humans attack a Na'vi's sacred site, he leads the attack on the marines. Yes, for half of the movie Jake leads an attack on his own species. Thus, everyone who would ever watch the film is his enemy. Jake and the Na'vi are victorious and send the humans back to their "dead world". Uh, doesn't that mean he sends his fellow humans to their extinction?
The story is a patchwork of other movies and various strains of the noble savage motif. Cameron provides the world with a shockingly unfiltered look at the modern, white liberal mindset. The primitive culture is idealized to the point of being laughable. Everyone is happily equal. The genders are on equal footing. Everyone is in tune with nature. Heck, they literally are wired into their world. The Na'vi have wires at the end of their ponytails that they actually link into dino-birds and trees so they can "talk" to them.
No, I'm not kidding.
Yes, this is a serious movie.
Back to the hippie stuff. The primitive culture is so perfect, so wonderful that every time they are on screen they are celebrated with sweeping World Music. Honestly, during every moment with the Na'vi, Cameron unloads the demo tapes for The Lion King. Now, when the humans are around, he plays the discount version of Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. Apparently, he couldn't get the rights to play the theme music for Darth Vader.
So we're clear:
Primitives = happy, natural, honorable and spiritual
Humans = destructive, greedy, violent and conniving.
There is not a moment in the film that isn't noticeably crafted. There is nothing organic. The dialog is self-aware and often corny "Why did you save me?" "Because you have a strong heart!"
No, I'm not kidding.
Yes, this is a serious movie.
Characters act completely against their history and/or better interest. My personal favorite is when a mercenary who is collecting a paycheck to kill aliens is ordered to kill said aliens yells "I didn't sign on for this!" and then leave the battlefield. This is done without any character development leading to the decision, it just happens because Cameron needs the character for later on.
You will hear many people say that you see the budget up on the screen. Yes, they put all $300 million up on the screen. Too bad they didn't put one dime into the script. The film is visually full. However, the imagery is too intentional. The environment of Pandora is full of flashing lights, day-glo plants and the grass glows when it is stepped on at night. It is like the whole place is paved with Michael Jackson's sidewalk.
The expansive scenery in all of its intricate glory is so forced that I never lost the feeling I was looking at created scenery. I can say the same about the animated figures. Cameron has managed to get beyond the dead-eyes issue with animated humanoids. There are emotions in the eyes of his characters but they still looked unreal. The visuals are entertaining, but in the end the movie looked like a real long video game trailer. I kept expecting the game menu to pop up.
What puts this film over the top in its road to crapville is that it is a self-loathing racist screed.
The Na'vi are all played by African-American or Native American actors (CHH Pounder, Zoe Saldana, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso). The Na'vi are blue, but their society is an idealized hybrid of African and Indian tribal cultures with some white, middle-class New Age mumbo-jumbo tossed in for flavor.
The humans are almost all white. There are a couple of minority actors who have lines, but almost all of them turn out to be on the side of the natives. Now, let it be known that I don't normally go counting races when I watch movies. I normally don't care one bit. But in this case it was so obvious, you can't avoid it.
The Na'vi are so transparently supposed to be minorities and the humans are blatantly supposed to be oppressive white Capitalists that it is unsettling. I haven't seen a more open case of white guilt casting since the last time I saw a Brinks Home Security ad. Don't believe me? Then listen to Cameron who tips his hand with his own self indulgent dialog. Jake comes clean of his intentions to try to save the Na'vi. Col. Quarich (Stephen Lang - no you don't know him, although you should) turns to Jake. Quarich squints his blazing blue eyes and snarls "You don't want to be a traitor to your race."* The guy in charge of military operations swaps out "race" for "species" when he's dealing with a society of alien humanoids who are a) blue, b) seven-eight feet tall, c) have carbon-binding bones d) look like big kitties. Cameron intentionally uses the word race because that is his point.
The casting and the dialog may not tag Cameron as a self-hating bigot. But this does. (Spoiler for the rest of this paragraph) At the end of the film, Jake (the white boy) only achieves wholeness and his full heroic stature after he leaves his white boy body and enters the body of a Na'vi. In other words, until he kills all the white people (by sending them back to their dead world, remember) and then leaving his own white body behind can he be complete.
No, I'm not kidding.
Yes, this is a serious movie.
Try switching the races around and see how comfortable you feel with this plot. Cameron was one step away from showing white people and then flashing images of rats on the screen. Why not just have everyone chant "kill whitey!"
If all of this isn't enough here are some other problems with this, a great leap forward in world cinema:
- A character leaves the battlefield against orders. The next time we see this character he/she isn't in the brig. He/She is smiling, casually walking around with a gun. No reason is given to how he/she managed to avoid being arrested or shot on the spot for cowardice.
- The film is loaded, LOADED with anachronism. The film takes place in 2154 but people still use terms like "bitch ass", "bitch", "come git sum!" and "he's got skills". One character smokes - INDOORS. Heck, I can show you outdoor parks you can't smoke in. It goes on from there.
- It is stuffed full of Mother Earth/Gaia nonsense.
- We are never told why Unobtanium is so critical. The only reason given is financial. What if it cured cancer? What if it was used to revive the dying Earth? This is an important fact to leave out because it gives a fuller context to Jake intentionally killing off his own species.
- The pretty Na'vi Jakes falls for and has sex with (yes, he has sex with a big, blue kitty) knows he is an avatar and really an alien. It is illogical she would allow herself to be taken in by what amounts to a big blue sock puppet sent by the enemy.
- All of the Na'vi and their animal friends are glowing bright colors. Which makes them all easy targets in the brown and green jungle world they live in. Yet, no trained marine can seem to hit them.
- Speaking of marines, (spoiler warning) we are asked to believe that after years of engaging with the Na'vi the marines are finally done in by a full frontal assault by the primitive warriors using spears and arrows. This is like asking us to believe the modern American military would be taken down by the Sioux.
- Every time Jake returns to the human world his avatar body (made of flesh and bone) drops like a discarded rag doll. This is shown a few times. When this happens the Na'vi are accepting of it. Sure one says he's a demon but other than that they're cool. This is a culture that hasn't invented the wheel yet, let alone any complex tools (which is why they still fight with spears and not catapults). They could not conceive of why he would keep dropping over. They never bury or burn his apparently dead body?
- Jake's avatar is left laying prone in a jungle for an extended period of time. No animals or insects devour the warm flesh of his dormant body laying on the jungle floor
I know you will feel compelled to see this in the theater and I don't blame you. It is a tempting flick to see. I will say that if you insist on seeing it you should do so on the big screen. I will also say that if you can find the will to resist its pull, of any movie I have ever seen, this is the one you want to miss.
* - I'm paraphrasing, I don't have the exact words, but this is dang close. The important point is the replacement of "race" for "species".