James Cameron, a director who previously could do no wrong in my book, takes a giant step into a big blue turd with Avatar, a movie packed with super visuals but sorely lacking in good writing.
Look, I have no problem with big, vacuous entertainment. If it looks good, and the principals make it fun, then I don’t really care how stupid it is. The worst thing about Cameron’s latest epic is that he wants—practically demands—for you to take it seriously, with its environmental message and “war on terror” parallels. It’s a nearly three-hour message movie that could’ve been written by an eighth grader. No, make that a fifth grader.
Set somewhere in the future, evil earthlings have set their eyes on Pandora, a big jungle planet rich with expensive minerals. Scientists have conjured a way to supposedly make nice with the planet’s inhabitants, the Na’vi.
The Na’vi are sort of crosses between Rastafarians and Wes Studi’s character from The Last of the Mohicans. They are a shiny blue color, and their fashion consists of thongs and big ear piercings. They are a quiet, kind species, although they will hiss at you like a cat if you piss them off, and will shoot you with toxic darts if you go near them without an invite. OK, maybe they’re not that nice.
Here’s the scientists’ idea: combine human DNA with alien DNA to create Human/Na’vi hybrid bodies that can be controlled by humans from sleep chambers fashioned with neural net devices. This essentially makes the sleeper a real life participant on Pandora. Oh yeah, that’s just the sort of thing to make an indigenous species feel comfortable. Make freaky, half human clones that can mix right in with you and your neighbors.
When one of the hybrid drivers, a paraplegic Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), crosses paths with warrior princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek’s new Uhura), she takes him under her wing and shows him the ways of Pandora.
Meanwhile, Jake has a behind-the-scenes shady deal with a nasty Marine commander (Stephen Lang) to get his legs back on Earth. Will Jake help to remove the Na’vi from their land and get evil Earth its precious mineral? Or will Jake turn against evil Earth because he prefers being blue and wearing a thong? Gee … I wonder which way this thing is going to go?
Cameron infuses the film with lame dialogue like “terror on terror” and bulldozers knocking down “spirit trees” to conjure up parallels to current real-life troubles with war and rainforests. He does it in a way that is so insultingly obvious, it kills any chance to be emotionally invested in the film.
I was impressed by fleeting moments in the movie, such as winged beasts flying into canyons strewn with waterfalls, and the wonders of Neytiri’s 3-D blue ass. Actually, do not go to anything but a 3-D screening if you decide to take this one in. God help those who opt for the 2-D version. That must be a slog through hell!
Earlier this year, Bruce Willis starred in a clunker called Surrogates, in which he played a detective in a world where people stayed in their apartments while robot versions of themselves ran around living their lives. It’s essentially the same gimmick as Avatar, although the robots aren’t light blue and they wear pants. Avatar is, essentially, a very rich man’s Surrogates.
Sigourney Weaver plays a head scientist occupying one of the hybrids, and it looks enough like her to give you the creeps. Her avatar is dressed as if it’s in the Peace Corps, wearing cargo pants instead of a thong. And boo to James Horner, whose score for the film often rips off the one he did for Cameron’s Titanic.
Without a doubt, this is Cameron’s worst film since Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, and that film may’ve actually had better character development than can be found in the bloated Avatar. Not a nice way to cap the decade in film.
Charles Harbutt, Departures and Arrivals continues through Sunday, Jan. 26. Visitors may examine unframed photographs chosen around… More