Avatar. One word: Blah.

In 900+ words:

If you want to make a film completely based on visual effects and decide the story isn’t important, don’t take yourself too seriously.

I watched “Avatar” in 2D, so maybe I wasn’t able to get all of its beauty. But if the movie is completely ruined for you if you don’t watch it in 3D… Then, it’s the movie’s fault, not yours.

I was never overly impressed by Cameron’s work. Sure, “Terminator” was good, but “Titanic” was… Well, “Titanic”. “Avatar” suffers heavily from the Titanic-like problems, but it takes them to different levels. Just for the record, my main problem with “Titanic” wasn’t cheap story, Leo DiCaprio or even (even!) Seline Dion. It’s the fact a tragedy- a real life tragedy- was used for romantic intentions and cheesy emotions. Making Titanic tragedy into a date movie was a bit disrespectful, to say the least.

“Avatar” suffers from the same problems, with a few additional ones. It doesn’t treat its (supposedly deep and profound) message with respect. Is it wrong to invade other cultures, kill people and take their land? Is it wrong to destroy environment? Is it wrong to spread military terror on others? Yes, yes and yes. The mere idea we need James Cameron, of all people, to inform us about it is insulting.

A very Noble Savage problem

But even more, the way he treats all these issues is offensive. The guy obviously never heard of Noble Savage stereotype, or the fact is a harmful one. Sure, it does show you criticize wrongdoings of your culture, but you are still unable to understand other cultures or really respect them. Seeing them as “exotic others” doesn’t change your superiority complex, nor the belief those cultures need you in some way (true, problems on Pandora started only after humans Americans came, but Na’vi were also unable to defend and free themselves- they needed a help of a person coming from our western culture).

Competent marine that he is, Jack Sully learns all there is to know about Na’vi in 3 months and becomes not only a skilled warrior, but one of the best in their history. He becomes their leader and gets the hottest chick as a bonus. In other words: natives are pure and close to nature, but the good guy of our (western) culture is still better than them and they need his help to survive. Not a good message.

History for dummies

The other huge problem is Cameron’s need to dumb everything down to the point one wonders if “Avatar” is actually aimed at 8 year old kids. New flash, kids!: destroying nature is wrong. Invading other cultures is wrong. But if there are other cultures in danger, it is OUR job to help them, because we are superior and they are unable to defend themselves. They need us, kids.

In this aspect, “Avatar” reads way too much like Paulo Coelho, Dan Brown or good ol’ Stephenie Meyer. Just like Coelho is good for those who never understood philosophy, Stephenie Meyer for those who don’t like vampire stories and Dan Brown for those who don’t have any education in art history/history/anything at all (example: people who didn’t find blatantly obvious that “an ancient word of wisdom, 5 letters” is Sofia)- “Avatar” is for those who never thought about colonization and history (not even on Disney “Pocahontas” level). To the rest of us, it’s simply insulting to watch such a predictable story.

But it’s not about the story!

No shit?!? So, what is it about, then? Visual effects? If it’s really about it, then fine. Honestly, if Cameron meant this to be Pocahontas/Dancing with Wolves in space, I am fine with it. But “Avatar” simply takes itself way too seriously.

I don’t personally have anything against people who believe they are great and responsible for major achievements. If you’re good, be aware of it all you like- nobody likes false modesty anyway. But you have to have something actually great to back up your feeling of self importance. “Avatar” isn’t that great, James Cameron. In fact, apart from visual effects, it’s not great at all- it’s below mediocre. It’s predictable, it’s childlike in a bad way, it’s insulting both to non-western cultures AND your audience (for estimating their intelligence and education as pretty low).

Random annoying things

  • Even with all the beautiful visual effects, the world building itself is weak. Humans still look like humans, horses like horses and wolves like wolves- only blue. And there isn’t any hint that it’s intentional analogy.
  • Pandora is Jupiter painted blue. Just take a look: here. It even has the Great Red (well, in this case Blue) spot. I mean, WTF?!?!? They couldn’t even make an original planet design?
  • It’s so predictable that is insulting.
  • Those poor noble savages wouldn’t be able to do anything without the compassionate marine Jack.
  • This wasn’t aimed at kids. If it were, it would, perhaps, make some sense.
  • It’s a box office hit and got so many Oscar nominations. And it deserves only one.
  • People like it. People actually like it! They like it so much that I really wonder if I was giving humans way too much credit when it comes to education, intelligence or a taste.
  • And the good things…

    • Visual effects. Convincing, almost realistic. CGI will (hopefully) never be the same again.
    • USB hair.
    • Sam Worthington’s voice. He does have such a beautiful, deep voice. Too bad he can’t act.

    Interesting links

28 thoughts on “Avatar. One word: Blah.

  1. Calítoe.:.

    I didn’t like it that much either. Great effects (thank heavens I didn’t see it in 3D because I basically cannot see in 3D, it makes me sick) and great actors but for a pathetic script. I agree with pretty much everything you said here. I started fearing I was the only one. I honestly liked Titanic much better, at least you knew from the beginning it was going to be a romantic boutade with dramatic effects, but this, THIS? I WANT MY MONEY BACK (yes, for once I go to the cinema and actually pay…). :(

  2. Mira Post author

    I didn’t see it in 3D because my husband has similar problems like you do: 3D makes him sick and dizzy. And I wasn’t that desperate to watch it in 3D.

    I watched “Titanic” when I was 17. I hated it at the time because I dislike both Leonardo and Seline Dion, but later I realized it was disrespectful to all the Titanic victims to make it a romantic story. Would they make story about, say, September 11th romantic? There was NOTHING romantic about Titanic horror.

    Still, I do agree: it was a slightly better film. Visual effects here are amazing, but after first 5 minutes you know everything what’s going to happen- and I mean everything (even before you meet Na’vi princess). In “Titanic”, although you knew about the tragedy, and the fact you’re watching a love story, you couldn’t predict absolutely everything. Here, you can, even some less important details.

    And yes, it amazes me how many people really liked it. Not in a way “I liked the effects so much that the lack of story isn’t that important”, but honestly like it!

  3. Mariana

    I watched it on 3D – luckly my father was paying so I didn’t waste MY money – and well… things are pretty much impressive but the film just does not worth the money unless you are a geek crazy about special effects.

    I was bored to death at the theatre, it’s so uncreative, so blah…

    Gosh what kind of kid was I? (You know I read Paulo Coelho) I watched Titanic when I was 9 and I believe I watched it over 30 times. Still, the movie is less boring then Avatar. I re-watched Titanic again last year (because my father gave me the DVD – I only had VHS) and the effects still great. I mean when I watched Spider Man 2 for the first time the effects were awesome but if you watch it today – only 4 years later – they aren’t that good. James Cameron is really a master in putting new tecnology in movie but when it comes to writing, gosh!

    But hey! Who cares about containt when you have awesome appearence?

  4. Hugh

    This is silly and pathetic. Why do you people always complain about race? This was a touching story and effects were just a plus. Stop seeing ugliness in everything and be more open minded. And you liked that SH crap that has no value and completely disrespects great stories about Sherlock Holmes turning him into a an action hero and a boxer and Watson in a hot guy for girls to droll over.

  5. Sigg3

    But it’s not about the story! No shit?!? So, what is it about, then?
    It's about the experience. A shitty story can still make a great experience.
    There's this little movie I know of called Pulp Fiction....

  6. Yoira

    @Sigg3 Ahh yes! Pulp Fiction is definitely a great example of great shitty stories.

    I never did catch Avatar simply because the hype was a little overwhelming.

  7. zek j evets

    i agree with hugh, sigg, and yoira. avatar wasn’t the best story, but it was a great movie. it was an adventure that did a good job contemporazing – via sci-fi – the pocahontas myth. (with a couple of other race-meets-imperialism stories thrown in for good measure.)

    i saw it opening night in 3d… as well as slightly stoned, so maybe my perception is/was skewed, but after repeated viewings, i still enjoy the movie, even in 2d.

    it seems with avatar people either love it or hate it, and the middle ground is basically a nonexistent no-mans-land of cinematic opinion. for my part, i loved the movie mostly for its effect, but also for its style of retelling a story i know very well. it updated the myth, the legend, and gave it new meaning, new importance… it got people talking about imperialism again! and that’s significant, at least in america where we tend to invade countries at random.

    altogether: avatar = 4 out of 5 stars.

  8. Mariana

    Great movies can come out from shitty stories, of course and I think Sigg3 gave the best example. But Avatar really bored me and I’m usually fond of these “water with sugar” stories. – I don’t know the right expression in English so I’m translating from portuguese -

  9. Mira

    @Sigg3

    Yes, great experiences (movie, book, etc) can (and surprisingly often, does) come from shitty stories.

    But this shitty story wasn’t executed well. I really can’t forget about the fact everything is so dumbed down, and yet, it takes itself way too seriously.

    On the other hand, I respect what you said- if it was a great experience for you, then it’s a valid point. And, at least to me, it makes more sense than many other reasons for liking “Avatar”.

    @Yoira

    Yes, the hype can ruin many experiences.

    @Mariana

    I agree. I respect “Avatar” for its visual effects, and I guess it does make a great cinema experience, but I was disappointed and bored, almost offended at times (do Cameron really think we’re that stupid?) On the other hand, I could listen Sam Worthington’s voice for hours, so at least there was something good about it. The guy does have an amazing voice, and it’s a shame he can’t really act (apparently, he’ll be a new Dracula… I don’t want to see that).

  10. Mira Post author

    @Hugh

    What’s pathetic and silly is to call other people’s opinions pathetic and silly if they’re different than your own.

    Being open minded is great. That’s why I didn’t like “Avatar”- it completely fails at any open mindedness, don’t you think? Oh, sure, it does say it’s wrong to destroy other cultures… But it does without any understanding or respect for those cultures. Sure, motives might not be important if people decide not to invade others, but calling that a profound message isn’t a good thing. This film only repeats old stereotypes some people (or, should I say, people from some cultures) like so much. Fine. But it’s still disrespectful.

    Also, you seem to think there’s some sort of competition between “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes”. It’s perfectly ok to like or dislike both.

    There are so many things about SH that deserve a critique. But ones you chose to address only show you haven’t read any of Doyle’s books. Holmes is a skilful boxer, and Watson is somewhat a ladies man. While Ritchie’s version certainly takes a new direction, those things were, in fact, canon.

    @zek j evets

    Nothing wrong with Pocahontas myth (thought I’d love to see it deconstructed). What I dislike is the fact Cameron tries to make us believe what we’re watching isn’t “Pocahontas in space”, but something else (better, deeper, etc).

    it got people talking about imperialism again! and that’s significant, at least in america where we tend to invade countries at random.

    This is actually very scary. If it takes a popular 3D flick to get people talking about imperialism, than it’s not a good thing! I mean, if “Avatar” would make people think, then great. But I was under an impression we all know the story very well, that we all know imperialism was wrong, and that it’s, finally, time to move on a new level of understanding. People in 18th century knew about “noble savage” myth. Let’s move on, please.

    It’s not that I disliked the film so much; what I hated was its creator’s attitude.

  11. zek j evets

    it is scary, but unfortunately most of america is middle america, which = small towns with only a high school education, blue-collar jobs, walmart shopping, consumer-advertising fed on fox news and bullshit. the coast has some idea of what’s going on, but only because they’re where all the other people of the world are.

    americans don’t think of themselves as imperialists. they think we’re coming into places and democratizing them, giving them the free world (whether they want it or not) and then… exploiting their resources =P

    but i digress. in america, pop culture is often more influential than education or politics.

    and i still think avatar is a good flick!

    but so it goes.

  12. zek j evets

    it is scary, but unfortunately most of america is middle america, which = small towns with only a high school education, blue-collar jobs, walmart shopping, consumer-advertising fed on fox news and bullshit. the coast has some idea of what’s going on, but only because they’re where all the other people of the world are.

    americans don’t think of themselves as imperialists. they think we’re coming into places and democratizing them, giving them the free world (whether they want it or not) and then… exploiting their resources =P

    but i digress. in america, pop culture is often more influential than education or politics.

    and i still think avatar is a good flick! haha

    but so it goes.

  13. Mariana

    He’ll be the new Dracula? I didn’t even know about a new Dracula movie after awful Dracula 2000 (that I liked when I first watched and now I think it only worths because of Gerard Butler)

  14. Sigg3

    Of course I should add that the reason we found it a great experience, was that everyone was slagging it off:)
    I had no great expectations to speak of.

  15. Mira

    @Sigg3
    You’re right, that IS a very important thing. Having no great expectations can make you pleasantly surprised (for example, me and Sherlock Holmes). But all the people around me praise “Avatar”, and I expected more (and better). Visually, it is an amazing film and a great experience, but story sucks a big time. So, +5 for visuals and -5 for the story, and that leaves me with “blah”. It’s exactly it: Not a greatest crap in history, but not a good film either. Just blah.

    @Mariana
    I am afraid it’s true- Sam is our new Dracula. While I do appreciate new interpretations of the old stories and like to see them deconstructed in a new style/vison- I don’t think I’d like this movie. Sure, there’s only one Dracula for me anyway, but still… Sam Worthington? I don’t think so. (I predict he’ll suck a big time, but not as much as Keanu Reeves… Now that level of suckness is not easy to achieve).

    @zek j evets

    I understand what you’re talking about. And I agree: it IS a good thing to wake up people and make them realize, at least a bit, what is going on. I know much about American imperialism (my part of the world was at the receiving end after all), and that’s why I’d love people- ordinary American people- to realize what’s going on and what has been done in their name. So yes, exploring the charm of Pocahontas myth once again might sound like a good idea.

    Still, is Cameron really sending the right message? Sure, he shows imperialism is a bad thing, but those poor natives were, once again, saved by the white American guy. Who is, after only 3 months of training, better than any of them. Are you sure that’s a good message?

  16. Jack

    i think the problem comes about when people find racism in things that aren’t necessarily racist.

    you could argue a lot of this discussion is racist and has turned to white bashing. everyone blaming a white guy, for making a movie with a white protagonist, who saves an entire race of sexy blue cat people? it’s not like the Na’vi are supposed to represent any one race.

    besides i believe the movie says that the Na’vi are superior to humans in most aspects. The Na’vi are physically superior, spiritually superior, they’re practically immortal(when they die, there consciousness is stored in Eywa), and are equal in terms of intelligence.The only thing they need Jake Sully for is to kill other humans … does that really make him superior?

  17. Alex

    I liked the film! Dont hate me. lol

    I liked both SH and Avatar, so it’s not like you must hate one or the other.

    Avatar was a great experience. There’s more than just visuals, imo. The story might not be original, but it was very emotional. And it makes you think. I dont think it was dumbed down but made into essentials.

  18. Mira Post author

    @Jack
    i think the problem comes about when people find racism in things that aren’t necessarily racist.

    Well, I’m not saying the film is racist- it’s more disrespectful towards other cultures. The way I see it, it’s more ethnocentric in its hate than racist.

    you could argue a lot of this discussion is racist and has turned to white bashing.

    Well, the way you see it- there’s white bashing. Isn’t white bashing racist as well? Does that mean you, too, see the film as racist?

    it’s not like the Na’vi are supposed to represent any one race.

    True, they don’t represent any other race, but they DO represent colonized nations, that were never white. Now, if Na’vi were similar to, say, people of Ancient Greece, it would be a different matter- but they weren’t.

    besides i believe the movie says that the Na’vi are superior to humans in most aspects. The Na’vi are physically superior, spiritually superior, they’re practically immortal(when they die, there consciousness is stored in Eywa), and are equal in terms of intelligence.

    Yes, because that’s the Noble savage stereotype. Noble savage stereotype IS all about making others “exotic” and “special”, but not for true understanding of their culture, but for the sake of criticizing our own. The people who created noble savage stereotype (in 17th and 18th century) didn’t really care about those noble savages, they didn’t really event try to understand them. Furthermore, they didn’t see those savages as fully human in all the aspects- because they thought they were “spiritually better because they were closer to nature”- because they were closer to animals and primitive beings than normal, fully humans are.

    The only thing they need Jake Sully for is to kill other humans … does that really make him superior?

    What makes Jake Sully superior is not his ability to fight humans (after all, he is human and it’s understandable he understands his culture better than Na’vi do). The problem is- Jake is not a superior human (he is, btw, disabled human)- he is presented as SUPERIOR Na’vi. He learned all there is to know about Na’vi culture in 3 months and he became not just a warrior, but one of the best in THEIR history. In other words, what those silly noble savages can do, we can do better, only if we try (because we are superior, no question about it, the only problem is that we don’t care).

  19. Mira Post author

    @Alex

    Of course you are entitled to your opinion, and of course there’s no a real race between Avatar and Sherlock Holmes (apart from the box office). You can like or hate both, or any of those. It’s not the point.

    If “Avatar” was a moving experience for you, I am happy for you. It’s not easy to find movies that would make you think these days. However, my education (archaeology, anthropology, history) and everything I know about the issues presented in “Avatar” (namely, Pocahontas myth) completely prevents me from liking it.

  20. Sira23

    @Mira

    I’m super, super duper LATE, but I stumbled onto this from another blog. In your original response, you ask if they would make a romance out of the September 11th tragedy. The answer is yes. It’s called Remember Me and it stars the male lead from the Twilight films.

  21. Mira Post author

    Sira,

    Never heard of that movie, but thanks for letting me know. I guess I was wrong: they DO make romantic movies out of recent American tragedies. So I apologize for assuming they’d never do something like that to their own tragedy.

  22. Student of the World

    Please. I saw it in 3-D and it was basically:
    James Conrad’s
    Heart Of Darkness
    IN SPAAAAAACEE!

  23. Student of the World

    Sorry that should read

    Joseph Conrad’s
    Heart of Darkness

    IN SPAAACEE!

    (*Cough* but we still use African aesthetic to make the metaphor/homage even more obvious, for the slooow people *cough, cough*)

  24. Mira

    You know, I haven’t read “Heart of Darkness”, but people claim it’s pretty racist.

    Avatar was… Just the newest update on mighty whitey trope. What is sad is that so many people liked it.

    (And racism aside, it was still a bad movie… Visually stunning, but that’s all).

  25. Student of the World

    Okay you know the part where they make love?

    Was I the only one thinking: “When are they going to touch their braids together? Is that the intimate part that we aren’t supposed to see?”

    Remember they did that whenever they wanted to communicate with something?
    The trees and those flying horses.

  26. Mira

    Oh, I remember that! I called it “USB hair”.

    It was a really banal and lame metaphor (or was that an analogy?) on people being virtually connected with the world and all the living things.

    Like I said elsewhere, Cameron might be an ok director, but he sucks as a screenwriter. Same could be said about Nolan.

    But Cameron is worse, imo, because he manages to disrespect various groups of people with his work (non-whites in Avatar, Titanic victims in Titanic, etc).

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