Sam Worthington tries to convince me that Avatar is indeed better than Titanic and True Lies. No luck.UC Riverside sent me an acceptance letter a few days ago. In addition, I received an endearing pop-up brochure of the different departments at the university.
Avatar in 3D is very much like that pop-up brochure. It's impressive for about five minutes, but then the fascination fades. But unlike that pop-up brochure, I can't just tuck it away. I still have to stay in the theater for two-and-a-half hours. I didn't pay $10 for nothing.
James Cameron is a master of cultural phenomenons. He hasn't been original since 1991, yet his films are hyped to a point where they're simply unavoidable. Case in point: Titanic and Avatar. But the difference is, Titanic is a better film, if only slightly. Avatar only proves that, with all the endless cinematic magic that can happen with modern technology, a film is nothing without a great story.
Avatar contains odds and ends of other stories. It's Pocahontas, Jurassic Park, Castle in the Sky, and Splash all rolled up in one big, blue package, though I would much rather watch any of those aforementioned films. Even as Avatar's credits rolls, a poor man's "My Heart Will Go On" begins to hum in the background.
So welcome to the future. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic and ex-marine who takes over his deceased brother's avatar since they share the same DNA and in return, Jake might get new legs. Disguised as the Na'vi (the natives of a planet named Pandora) in their avatar form, the humans are able to roam more freely in Pandora. The scientists, led by Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), hope to gain the trust of the Na'vi and study the biology of the planet. But Pandora also contains some sort of precious mineral that Earth needs in order to survive.
Jake thinks being an avatar is really cool! Without any formal training, he's surprisingly competent and comfortable in his new giant, blue body. Now he can walk! Feel the mud on his feet! And, well, fall in love with his Na'vi mentor, Poca--I mean, Neytiri (Zoe Saladana), who wants to kill him, until she finds out he has a strong heart--because some glowing plant organism told her so? I'm barely an expert on Earth botany, so I'm not going to bother to learn about the various supernatural-spiritual plant life on Pandora.
No matter. Jake is the chosen one. He befriends the Na'vi. When the humans decide it's time to destroy Pandora and get what they want, Jake goes into superhero mode and protects the Na'vi, and of course, the woman he loves. What follows is an unexciting series of action sequences. Just when one is about to end, another starts. And it goes on and on and on. Typical Hollywood.
There has been a lot of hurrah about the groundbreaking visual effects in Avatar. Sure, it's impressive, but 162 minutes is a lot of time to stay impressed. Lots of glowing flowers. The trees are kind of lovely. Cool CGI birds. The thought that the actors and their movements were eventually turned into the Na'vi is pretty awesome. Nice waterfalls. There is so much to look at, yet so little I held onto. Avatar feels like a forgettable, never-ending amusement park attraction.
While tech geeks might marvel at the dedication that went into Avatar's visual effects, I am a moviegoer. I don't like effects-driven films, but I still like to entertained, excited, enthralled, compelled, and captivated. I like a film that grabs my attention and never lets go. Avatar is not that film.
The most interesting aspect about Avatar, ironically, is when the film is not in Pandora. Weaver's tough gal scientist is an interesting character who should have had more screen time. She is the stereotypical no-nonsense genius but possesses a conscience that the power-hungry crooks are eager to ignore. The human characters (including Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez) are the film's most captivating bunch.
However, the script is weak. And while some might argue that Cameron's vision isn't about the script, the script should be the foundation for any film. To add insult to injury, Avatar is not fun. 3D doesn't elevate the movie-going experience at all. I don't think watching it in 2D would've made a big difference. While I did get a minor headache, it wasn't a major distraction. I was bored.
Here is a film that has already made box-office history. It may very well go on to win an Academy Award for Best Picture. What a shame, then. I wished I loved it as much as everyone else did. C