Sunday, January 31, 2010
James Cameron Hates Me
Enough has been written about Avatar in the past two months that I don't need to go and give my review for it. One, I'm too late to the game for anyone to give a crap. And two, regardless of what I think of it, it's already the highest grossing movie of all time making a cah-chillion dollars at the box office. So it would seem that people have made up their mind about it already. But I can't help but throw my voice into the discussion, if for no other reason than to get under James Cameron's thick and weird blue alien skin.
At one point in Avatar, the main character Jake Sully goes to a Navi prayer tree to ask for some sort of divine intervention from their goddess Eywa with the crazy CGI battle they are about to fight. During his prayer, he says something to the effect of "Where I come from, they have destroyed all green. Please help us battle the people who hate green."
For me, that's when the mask slipped off. When Avatar went from just a story with some eco-friendly message to an agendized piece of garbage that I feel is truly anti-human.
Let me back up here. I went to see Avatar with an open mind. I had read enough about it online to now what the basic story was about and I knew there were some political overtones to the story that were causing a stir. I can usually look past that stuff and what I told myself was that perhaps some conservative critics were just overreacting. That they were making connections with the story that really didn't need to be made. That if they really took the story at face value, it was just a simple story of good vs. evil and underneath, the movie and its story could stand on it own. Before we went into the theatre, I told my eldest son that we needed to watch for a few things. One, to view the story as just a movie on its own. Was the story good? Or were the visual effects the only thing that kept the movie afloat. Also, could the movie be a good movie if it weren't in 3D or did it rely on it as a crutch to bad storytelling.
I'm here to tell you that the story of Avatar is so thin, my two year old daughter could have punched holes through it. While wearing her mittens. While taking her night night nap. The characters were simply drawn and incredibly one-dimensional. Ironic for a movie that visually has such depth. (The humans are mining for "unobtanium". Did you catch that? UNOBTAINIUM. UNOBTAINABLE. Pretty heavy stuff, I know.) And the takeaway, for me at least, is that I'm a terrible person. I live on earth, and all I want to do is find beautiful things and then stomp on them. I felt like Frankenstein leaving the theatre waving my oversized arms at the townspeople's pitchforks and torches. Don't you get it? I am bad for being human. The more I thought about it. The angrier I got. I was just forced to watch nearly three hours of a movie that essentially was anti-humanity.
At another point of the film the main bad guy, Col. Quaritch makes an impassioned speech to his crew about the Navi who have drummed up their forces to combat the humans and their dull, brutish ways. Quaritch sneers and tells his crew that the Navi believe that their hometree is protected by some "deity". Everyone, and i mean EVERYONE in the briefing room laughs in disgust. As if everyone in the world thinks that because the Navi's have some sort of religion they are goofy and stupid. You mean to tell me that there is no one on that task force that believes in a higher power? That may even have some sort of inkling or this thing called religion and spirituality? Maybe one of them accidentally walked into a church? Maybe walked by one? Ugh. It's a total straw man scenario. It's that kind of vapid insight that Cameron forces upon us for the whole movie. Human = stupid and clumsy. Human see pretty thing. Human must kill pretty thing. Blah blah blah.
What kills me is that that scene was Cameron's way of showing cultural ignorance. Yet the most ironic thing is that Cameron is probably closer to his evil character than he thinks. Cameron thumbs his nose at traditional ideals and he uses his straw man characters to make his points about blind idiocy when he himself is guilty of that same viewpoint. Plug Christians in for the Navi and then play that scene again. It's okay to laugh then, but not when their blue-skinned? If Cameron is going to make such overt political statements with his movies then I think it's only fair to invite overt comparisons. Goes with the territory.
On a positive note, the 3D was pretty damn amazing. It is hands down the best 3D I've ever seen. If you can stomach three hours of someone basically calling you a jackass, then it might be worth the 12 dollars you'll plunk down to see glowing objects hover before your face. A few times I took the glasses off to view the film as just a film. And while I was only doing that less than a minute at a time, I'm pretty confident that without the 3D, Avatar wouldn't have kept my attention. The technology is what drives the film in a big way.
The visual motion capture, while impressive, is probably one click above what Lucas accomplished with Jar-Jar Binks. The mocap acting was just as good as Andy Serkis as Gollum in Lord of the Rings. At some points, I felt like I was watching an extended version of the Naboo fight from Phantom Menace, and not in a good way, either.
In the end, what does it matter? Cameron got my money. Shame on me for buying into the hype.
At the very least, I got a cool pair of glasses out of the deal.