Friday, January 8, 2010


After ten years of waiting, James Cameron's follow up to Titanic finally came out at the end of last month. Just a few weeks later, it's already the second highest-grossing film of all time, right after Titanic. The Oscar-winning, self-proclaimed King of the World can now crown himself King of the Universe. But does he deserve it?

Sure. I guess. Why not? Even before the release of Avatar, James Cameron was one of my all-time favorite directors. Titanic is one of my most-watched, guilty pleasures, True Lies is the best action/comedy film of all time, the Abyss is a science fiction masterpiece, and T2 and Aliens are the two best sci-fi/action films of all time. And now he has Avatar, which was a pretty entertaining movie, as far as these things. I liked it. I imagine it's the kind of film that will grow on me after repeated viewings, but I don't know if I'll be able to verify that theory because, at the end of the day, I really have no interest in watching this movie again. But, you know, I liked it.

Visually, this film delivered on every promise it has been making for the past ten years. If the uncanny valley every actually existed, this film filled it up and paved it over. For all I know, this film was actually filmed on some other planet and featured actual aliens playing themselves. If you had told me there was no CG in this film and that all of the actors were wearing incredibly realistic suits, I would've believed you. The CG in this film was simply, without any doubt or fear of exaggeration, flawless. The planet was perfectly rendered and the characters seemed real and full of life.

I will admit that, as realistic as everything looked, I didn't actually love the visual design of the film. Everything was just too... psychedelic and trippy, like the dorm room of that one friend we all had in college who had too many black light posters and lava lamps. It was just garish and unattractive to my eyes, with far too many sparkly things falling here and there. Also, I had already seen it before in World of Warcraft. The Na'vi and Avatars look like Night Elves and the Planet Pandora looks like their starting location Teldrassil.

Whether or not the 3D added to the visual splendor or took away from it is a matter of opinion, but after sitting through three hours of this film in 3D, it's a gimmick I don't think I ever need to repeat. First of all, I wear glasses already, so having to wear a second pair of glasses in front of my other pair of glasses is incredibly uncomfortable and awkward. The glasses also made the picture dark and murky, which was a striking contrast from the vibrant, bright colors I saw when I'd peek out from under my glasses here and there. And let's be realistic here... this isn't really 3D in any literal sense. All this gimmick does is present different layers of 2D pictures. That is to say, in any given scene, there will be two or three different 2D images that seem either in front of behind the others. Given all that, it's hard to recommend paying more money just to suffer through something that can best be described as, "kind of neat."

About the story, there is very little to say other than that it was even more cliched, derivative, and boring than Titanic. Can somebody tell me what happened to the man who wrote such brilliantly creative films like Aliens and Terminator 2? It's hard to compliment a film's script when the story has already been told dozens of times already, and dozens of times better. You've already seen this film if you've seen Dances With Wolves, Little Big Man, or even Return of the Jedi. It follows the same tired cliche of the white man who becomes disillusioned with his own people so he joins the noble savage race that is about to be wiped out. It's a fine story to be sure -- even an important one, that should be told over and over again -- but at least tell it in such a way that allows for some kind of suspense or surprises or excitement. It was just boring.

And, please, stop making films where I have to root against human beings. I'm a human. Most others in the audience were humans too. This would've been less of an issue if there had been even one Na'Vi who was kind of a jerk. They are really all wonderful, charming, lovable creatures? Couldn't they have thrown in a few Na'Vi who were just dicks for the sake of being dicks? James Cameron certainly had no problem writing human characters who were dicks for the sake of being dicks.

So the movie was boring, until the climactic battle at the end, which was phenomenal. James Cameron may have lost his touch as a screenwriter, but he certainly still proved that his is the best action director of all time. The set pieces in this movie were all incredibly well done, but the final battle was amazing, and the fight between Jake Sully and Colonel Quaritch had me on the edge of my seat. That fight was awesome.

And that brings me to the best thing about this movie: Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch. It's not exactly a name that rolls of the tongue, since I certainly can't pronounce it nor did I remember it until I looked it up just now on IMDB, but he was one of the most over-the-top, bad ass villains ever. Seriously, this guy was awesome. James Cameron started strong by creating the Terminator so early in his career, but he has been trying to top that villain in every movie since. He never will top the Terminator as the greatest movie villain of all time -- nor will anybody else -- but he came close with this guy. Every scene with Stephen Lang brought the film alive, even though he was also ridiculously cliched and completely unbelieveable, and as soon as he died (SPOILER!!), I lost all interest. James Cameron must've lost interest too, since about five minutes after the final fight, the movie ended. Which is good, because I was ready to take those damn glasses off and leave the theater.

So... that's Avatar. It was an ok movie that I don't recommend not watching. I certainly found myself entertaining for most of it, though never completely engrossed or moved or completely won over. But I'm glad I saw it, even if I still have a bit of a headache from the terrible 3D glasses.

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