Thoughts on “Avatar”

December 30, 2009

After just having seen James Cameron’s new film Avatar, I am left enormously disappointed and intellectually insulted. And one of the most upsetting things is how positive everyone else is about this movie. This review, found via rottentomatoes, was especially disappointing:

The year’s most ambitious film is so breathtaking, it detracts you from the fact that Cameron’s characters are caricatures, and too much of the dialogue is stock. The good news? None of it matters.

-Christopher Smith from the Bangor Daily News (Maine)

None of that matters? Really, Christopher Smith from the Bangor Daily News (Maine)? It doesn’t matter that the characters are caricatures and the dialogue is stock? It still deserves an A-?


It’s not just that the characters are caricatures; they are horrific caricatures; and the protagonist, Jake, is too undeveloped for his growth/change to be realistic or for the viewer to even care. I disliked him throughout the whole movie. And it’s not just that the dialogue is stock; the screenplay is stock dialogue built around blatant political commentary that just doesn’t fit; it doesn’t work. Take, for example, Jake’s comment about getting surgery to repair his legs at the beginning of the movie (I am paraphrasing, because I don’t remember his words exactly, but this is close enough):

Not with today’s veterans’ benefits… not in today’s economy.

(Nowhere else in the entire three hours are the “economy” or “veterans’ benefits” even mentioned.)

What the charater Jake is basically saying here is “Not with those veterans’ benefits… not in that economy.” Of course Jake’s those and that mean our these and this. Clever, James Cameron. Very clever. (You are awful, James Cameron.)

I could go on. The whole movie was one problem after another. The sad thing is that people don’t seem to care that the movie is awful, because it looks so good. OK. It does look good. It looks amazing in 3D, or “RealD,” or whatever that was (Although if you see it, I would recommend seeing it in IMAX; the combination of “RealD” and a normal movie screen makes it seem like you are watching a diorama (although this is pretty interesting on a conceptual level, since the viewer is left with a very definite frame for the spectacle)). But seeing Avatar is like watching a fireworks show; it’s beautiful; it’s a wonderful spectacle. But it’s an awful movie.

Basically, Avatar is a film about a paraplegic ex-marine whose brother dies, and nobody seems to care except him. Or, at least he pretends to care… once. Then nobody cares about his dead brother. Said paraplegic ex-marine then goes on an ego-driven, opportunistic quest to get the use of his legs back–a quest that involves him infiltrating an indigenous population, gaining their trust, and then handing them over to the military who want to bulldoze for something called “Unobtainium” (ugh). At some point, he has a change of heart and realizes that said indigenous population should be left alone, and their nature-loving ways should be adopted, though it’s not clear when, because he says things like “I hope this tree-hugging crap isn’t on the final” and “you’re mine now” (to the winged beast he’s grappled with and is now supposed to unite with in spiritual harmony (or something)) well into what should be his growth as a character. Anyway, within three months he becomes nearly fluent in the native tongue and falls in love with one of the indigenous individuals, who is a blue space alien. Then, he joins the tribe and officially becomes “one of them,” even though he definitely isn’t. They all trust him, even though they shouldn’t. He doesn’t tell them that bulldozers are coming until it’s way too late, and then they don’t like him anymore, understandably. They tie him up, but the spiritual leader cuts him lose once they are under attack and begs him to save them. Later he returns on the back of a winged beast that only five individuals have ever been able to ride, and everyone is amazed. The white man then must use his U.S. Marine training to save the indigenous people. Oh, and somewhere along the way he and some other white guy fashion guns to fit their eight foot tall Avatar bodies. Wait, no they don’t. Unless they stole huge guns from somewhere (maybe the giant robot bodysuit things?), this is a continuity error doesn’t make sense. Oh, and none of the indigenous people get guns. The evil military guy says things that are really just political identifiers which the screenwriter made NO attempt to veil: “Our best chance is a pre-emptive strike,” and something about “shock and awe,” and basically the military is portrayed as part of an oligarchical system under which individual soldiers are manipulated as pawns to serve the wishes of the real boss, a money hungry corporation (Or government? Or both? Oh my God, the line is blurry!) It’s not that I don’t agree with the message(s) of this movie, it’s just that it’s all horribly constructed and ineffective. Oh, and the head of this corporation that is mining for Unobtainium is basically Ari Gold. As if this isn’t bad enough, when the indigenous folks begin losing the battle and all kinds of animals come to the rescue, it’s because the spirit of nature, which the indigenous people worship, has “listened to” said paraplegic ex-marine, elevating him to the status of a Christ-like intermediary between God and Man. Also, Sigourney Weaver dies somewhere along the way and the aliens try to bring her back to life, even though earlier in the film it is stoically explained that in their culture everything comes from energy and must return to energy. Or something. Then the paraplegic U.S. Marine miraculously becomes permanently a blue alien. Congratulations, white man; you are the Messiah of the Na’vi. Oh, and you have working legs now.

Mein Führer! I can walk!

-A good movie



3 Responses to “Thoughts on “Avatar””

  1. Dara said

    I agree with everything you said.

    Except for one thing — I totally liked it.

    We’ll have to discuss this in Busan.

  2. Derek said

    I agree too. As a movie, it had me rolling my eyes.

    But it blew me away as a special-effects showcase.

    And, the avatar-sized weapons were introduced early on; in Jake’s first excursion into Pandora, his avatar carries a rifle.

    The bigger question is where Sigourney Weaver’s character got an avatar-sized Stanford shirt. (maybe it’s just an XXXL?)

    • seoulpatchrickstewart said

      You’re right. I do recall the avatar sized guns now. Anyway, if Jake really wants to show solidarity with the Na’vi, shouldn’t he be using a bow and arrow like the rest of them? It just seems wrong that he’s using a gun. And yeah, I also thought it was odd how Avatar Sigourney Weaver must have at some point fashioned an enormous Stanford tank top. And what else is she wearing? I seem to remember khaki shorts?

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