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.
- 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.