Sunday, December 27, 2009

I can't possibly be the only one who thinks Avatar sucks...

Can I?

I told almost all my friends that there was no way I would willingly attend James Cameron's new almost-three-hour sci-fi spectacle (which reportedly cost a quarter of a billion dollars to make).

"I think you'd have to pay me about 50 bucks to see it," I said a few days before it opened. "A hundred sounds more like it."

There were all sorts of reasons why this was the case -- but the primary reason was that I thought Titanic was horrible, and I had no interest in exposing myself to something equally dumb.

Turns out my time can be bought for much cheaper.

A few days ago I got a call from my best friend who said: "Look, I'm going to ask you to do something -- and it's the kind of thing that you have to do as my best friend."

"Okay, I'm listening..."

"You have to go see 'Avatar' with me."

My BF's wife refused to see it with him. "I'll pay for your ticket," he pleaded, "but please don't let me go alone."

What could I say to that?

The movie was about as bad as I expected (maybe slightly better -- but only slightly). But I'm stunned that this film hasn't been properly razzed by the critics. (Dana Stevens: you ought to be ashamed of yourself!)

Yeah, yeah, yeah... the special effects were impressive. If you're the sort of person easily wowed by pretty pictures, by all means see this silly video game masquerading as a movie. But could James Cameron have really been working on this for the past 12 years? Did the studios really shell out a quarter of a billion dollars for this movie and not get some sort of screenwriter to make the dialogue less ridiculous?

James Cameron might have turned into an unbearable doofus after he struck gold with Titanic... but at one point the man had some talent. Sure, he stole almost every plot and device that he ever wrote -- but the end product was at least interesting, in a popcorn sort of way. I'll even go so far as to say that Aliens and The Terminator are legitimately great sci-fi pictures. (For an interesting take on T2, pick up David Foster Wallace's essay.) True Lies was legitimately funny. The Abyss might have gone far off the tracks by the end, but the first half showed some ability to develop character. (Although I haven't seen that movie in 20 years -- it might not hold up.)

But it would seem as if he unlearned all the things that once made Cameron a fun filmmaker.

You've probably heard the plot points already, but here's the brief rundown again:

1) There's a far off planet, populated by a race of blue giants, that has some sort of very valuable mineral humans need.

2) Human named Jake Sully is telepathically implanted into body of one such giant, which he controls remotely.

3) Sully becomes entranced with Avatar culture and life in the wilds -- goes native.

4) Sully's evil fellow humans attempt to destroy the Avatars. Fighting ensues.

Yes, it took more than two-and-a-half hours to get that far. And it reaches predictable climaxes in which at least one important character dies and the Avatars are saved. (Seriously: A screenwriting program could have come up with the scene-by-scene plotting. Schlock movies like Dances With Wolves and Return of the Jedi are heavily borrowed from.)

It seems a little absurd to address the broader themes of Avatar, but Cameron is also making a pretty angry (for a mainstream movie) critique of American imperialism. I wasn't sure whether he was trying to make the humans more like Europeans coming to the new world, or Americans in Afghanistan. But that seemed to be the basic allegory: The native setting is fine until the ugly humans (or Americans) swoop in and muss it up, destroying everything in their wake. (All the while protesting their "humane" treatment of the natives.) Probably best not to get too deep into this.

How is it possible that people aren't bored by this?

My niece told me that it was one of the best movies she's ever seen. I don't blame her for this. She's a 14 year old kid, and 14 year olds are impressionable. But why are real movie critics taken in by such nonsense? Are they worried that if they dislike a movie that the broader public likes that no one will listen to them? Very possible. I always thought that Janet Maslin will have a lot to answer for when Pauline Kael is standing at the pearly gates and asks her what, exactly, was she thinking when she called Titanic the greatest love story since Gone With the Wind? (or words to that effect.)

Maslin might not ever be able to give a good answer to that question on an objective level... but Maslin was certainly right in that most Americans seemed to feel that way.

I think it might also be the price tag involved. Yes, I understand that when something is quite so expensive, it's success is critical to keep Hollywood going. But, seriously, James Cameron should never be given another penny!