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In the Na’vy

December 19, 2009

avatar na'vi peopleAs one of the few people defending James Cameron when the trailer for Avatar came out back in September, I just wanted to add my thoughts on the flick, too.

I’m here in Chicago scouting out apartments at the moment, staying with a friend (who recently informed me that he and his cohorts have dreamed up the most patriotic shot ever: Jack Daniels and gravy—they call it the “Abraham Lincoln.” The “John Wilkes Booth” is two parts Jack and one part gravy [and the only thing that can take the “Abraham Lincoln” down), and fortunate enough to catch Avatar in IMAX 3D.

Everyone who says this is an amazing visual experience is doing Avatar a disservice. It’s beyond that, and you don’t need to just mention it before getting on to the stuff you didn’t like.

This is the first movie I’ve seen where the CGI, color, and camera work fills in anything lacking in the script. Walking out of the theatre, I was one of the idiots you overhear after the show recapping a handful of my favorite sequences: “Did you see the part where the cat-plant-guy jumped onto the helicopter and took out all those marine dudes?”; “Awww, and that big dragon thing that he has hair-sex with had those creepy oyster eyes?”; “Did you see Sigourney Weaver’s blue nipples? Awesome.” Of course he saw them—there wasn’t a closed eye in the house.

Now some other things. First off, anyone who seriously thinks this movie has a message is kidding themselves. The plot is nothing more than the most base elements of a story strung together to serve the visuals. The many comparisons to Iraq, environmentalism, capitalism, or what-have-you people are interpreting are meaningless; the greed and bloodthirst spurring the action is so generalized that to attribute any sort of depth to it is akin to casually pointing at a crack in the sidewalk and saying it’s a moving commentary on the breakdown of society. Case in point: The reason for humans being on Pandora is to mine the resource “Unobtainium,” whose significance in the film is dwelled on for all of about the time it took you to read this sentence. Basically it’s a floating paperweight, but that’s all Cameron needs to justify his orgasmic explosiony-ness.

What does Unobtainium do? Why is it valuable? Would it be interesting if it served some important medical function back on earth, so you could sympathize with the humans and their struggle with the Na’vy people? Probably, but Cameron doesn’t care about that, and critics shouldn’t either. I didn’t like Sigourney Weaver’s character; I had a lot of problems with the Na’vy people’s drunken gibberish of a language; “I see you”? Give me a goddamn break—but who cares? It didn’t once make me bored because Cameron’s wise enough not to dwell on it. There’s a lot of groan-inducing moments, but Cameron keeps their screentime to a minimum.

And there’s an undeniable mastery here in that Cameron knew exactly what kind of film he wanted to make and made it. Which is where I disagree with Shannon in that the dialogue watered-down the movie: Quite the opposite: It makes the movie because it’s just enough to move on. Yeah, it’s cheesy and predictable, but in the same sense that the lyrics to a Madonna song are cheesy and predictable. I don’t find anything deep or moving in the phrase “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl,” but I do love that song (also, the “Ah! Ah! Ah!”s).

This is probably the most “Hollywood” film you’re ever going to see, and I mean that not as a criticism. You go in with high expectations of being captivated, and for 160-some minutes, with a paper-thin plot and even thinner characters, you won’t once check your watch. And that’s an accomplishment.



4 Responses to “ In the Na’vy ”

  1. Pancake on December 19, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    All right. I am going to see it, hopefully today, maybe tomorrow – but make no mistake, IT IS ON.

  2. Shannon on December 19, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I still can’t give a film a complete pass just because it is pretty. I am certain that James Cameron completely agrees that he is making some big political statements, otherwise why did he throw them in, time and time and time again?

    I think it is hypocritical to say that in this particular film doesn’t need to worry about story or characters, when critics are slamming the upcoming Nine for the exact same reason. It is visually beautiful as well, but it is getting ripped on for lack of story. I could say (and kind of think) who cares? It is, after all, a musical. But I will remain consistent when I review that movie as well, even though I really loved it.

  3. Paul Brown on December 19, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I’ve not seen the movie yet and allready I am deeply dissapointed. Jim was the one writer/director I thought we could count on for substance+visuals not visuals=substance. Le Bummer!

  4. Nat on December 21, 2009 at 10:52 am

    @Paul The thing is that the visuals are the substance. That may not be convincing, but we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of it in the podcast.