Feb 4, 2010

Avatar: movie review

Who needs Pandora?
Who needs a booby-trapped box?
Let's save this guy.

Avatar: B-

I finally gave in and went to see Avatar in 3D, expecting to leave after 15 minutes because of motion sickness or boredom or irritation. However, I had no problem with vertigo except for a couple of flying scenes, during which I simply closed my eyes for a few seconds. I must admit the movie was visually spectacular, and I never stopped wondering how anyone conceived of these images and techniques, never mind implementing them.

In the end, however, I’m afraid Avatar is typical sci-fi/fantasy fare—special effects, a lot of message, and caricature instead of characterization. Considering it for awards alongside genuine achievements like Hurt Locker, The Road, A Serious Man, and others is one more red flag about the quality of American intellectual life.

I don't really follow entertainment news, so maybe I've missed any uproar about Avatar’s offenses to this or that group, including the American military-industrial complex and mainstream culture. As always, those targets deserve to be examined by, and take some hits from, the art and science communities.

However, the pseudo-intellectual assault by Avatar is so hyperbolic and one-dimensional that it’s fatuous, yet bothersome. The movie would have us believe that, except for scientist Sigourney Weaver, hero Jake Sully and one female helicopter pilot, there are no good guys in the U.S., just psychopathic land developers and killers-in-uniform. I wonder how many of the film’s creators live in areas cleared--nay, ravaged—by precisely the unthinkable means portrayed in Avatar.

Oddly, I also found much about Pandora’s jungle people to be laughable in a way that could be insulting to native peoples of North and South America as well as Africans—or any non-industrial culture. In addition to their harmony with nature, the indigenous humanoids of Pandora have mouse ears, long tails, and noses that appear crushed by multiple boxing matches. I cannot be sure their language sounded more odd to me than any foreign language, but I found it hard to take seriously, I suppose in the context of their other features.

Like The Book of Eli, this movie owes much to the tradition of American westerns of the 1950s. “A stranger rode into town.” It offers native peoples about as much dignity as those old flicks did, or maybe less, and its heroes are even less believable and more one-dimensional than the old B movies, western or otherwise.

In short, Avatar is extraordinarily skillful and original in terms of technique, but in depth and complexity of theme and characterization, in creative uses of language, it amounts to just one more cartoon.

It’s also one more reason for the political Right to flap its feathers about a simplistic, laughable or even treasonous Hollywood Left, which is their way of flapping about creative, thinking people with legitimate ideas and axes to grind. Maybe Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh were secret partners in the production of Avatar. It's a flick that gives them ammo. (And you thought the Right had a monopoly on paranoia).

* *


Jeff M said...

Yeah, I can't seem to raise enough capital to afford a ticket to this film. No thanks.

gothpunkuncle said...

I think you're spot-on here, my friend. If we really NEED to combine Suess's Lorax with E. R. Burroughs's John Carter, Warlord Mars, well, it's not a bad effort, and I really like how those seed thingies floated right into the theater. However, this thing was so clumsy in its platform that it actually used the term "shock and awe" in its dialogue. For a different demonstration of and comment on the fine art of spectacle, I'm still hoping you take in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and give us your thoughts.

Barbaro said...

Rah, Rah! You've said what I expected I would have said, without the trouble of going to the stupid movie!

This is one of those movies that somehow has earned self-justification: if you demur from seeing it, people expect an explanation. So here's mine, or the outline thereof:

1) I prefer humans. Call me old-fashioned, but just b/c it's possible to do a whole movie with computers doesn't make it preferable.

2) It's terrible what we did to the Native Americans. One of the only things more terrible is pretending to rectify it through a silly movie.

3) Even if this movie were spectacular, it couldn't begin to justify the price. Spend the money on the Haitians, then make a really good movie with 3-4 zeros.

Banjo52 said...

GPK, you and your damned platforms (with which I usually can't disagree).
I also agree about the seed thingies--very pleasant.

I had never heard of The Imaginarium, so I googled it and found what appears to be a classical GPK attraction. Is it still playing?

Thanks, and quit working so hard.

And Barbaro, always a comfort to have you and GPK on my side. Glad to relieve you of a burden, though I repeat, the visual aspects are extremely interesting, for an hour or so in my case. As Jeff says above, depends on how much you're budgeting time and money for movies. And like you, I prefer humans (and woodpeckers) as the focus of my interest.

Lovers' Lane