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December 20, 2009

Avatar Review

I continue to find that I must have seen a different movie than other folks who saw Avatar this weekend, particularly the ones who are complaining that it is some kind of indictment of conservatives, or the Iraq War, or imperialism. It’s also apparently too pro-environmentalist and pro-feminist.

At least, that’s what they’re telling me. John Podhoretz pans it for these flaws and more, but one thing from his review made me certain they must be showing different versions of this movie in different places:

[T]he movie is nearly three hours long, and it doesn't have a single joke in it.

In fact, the movie has many jokes and some comedic gags, including portions where the audience I saw it with laughed out loud. I’ll give just two examples so as not to spoil anything and one of them is from the trailers. Both come from the scientist character played by Sigourney Weaver. In the trailers, she tweaks the main character, Jake, for being an idiot. It’s delivered like a joke in the movie because there’s more of a setup (she’d been ragging on him for being an idiot earlier and the “Jake is a moron” theme is used for more chuckles later). The other one I’ll mention happens the first time the protagonist is in his avatar. He’s inspecting the odd tentacle-y thing coming out of the back of his head. She quips: “don’t play with that, you’ll go blind.” Most in the audience recognized that as a joke.

So I think they must be watching something else altogether. (But not Ed. We apparently saw the same version.)

Anyway, the movie I saw was entertaining. Not outstanding, not great, but definitely entertaining. And it certainly is worth seeing it in theaters to get the full effect. Warning on the ticket price, though: because it’s in 3D, tickets are about twice what they usually are. This was the first movie I’ve seen in 3D and I was a little worried about that. Turned out not to be a problem. With two exceptions, Cameron didn’t do the abusive, gimmicky pop-right-out-at-the-audience shots that 3D filmmakers (and all those irritating theme park rides) have done. After the first 20 minutes, I stopped noticing the 3D glasses and just saw the movie.

The movie comes up short in the plot department. It has one serious plot hole (seriously, who has the high ground? hello McFly, they call the humans “the Sky People” for Pete’s sake). The real shortcoming is that the movie’s plot has been done to death. It’s your standard fish out of water meets going native meets noble savage story. It has no surprises at all, even though it’s also an everyone can die story. Finally, there are a few contrivances which make for a happy ending all tied up neat with a bow. Honestly, an excruciatingly sugar-coated contrivance ending puts me off a movie or tv show quicker than ten-foot tall Smurfs.

Otherwise, this is a very standard sci-fi fantasy actioner. I saw someone complain on Twitter that the movie wasn’t “deep.” No shit. It’s an action flick set in a black-and-white morality universe where no character has to face any tough decisions or do anything that might be misconstrued by an impressionable teenaged audience as “character development.” There is no surprise twist. Sorry to spoil that for you, but in the words of celebrated American statesman and noted cinema critic Thomas Jefferson: “GTFOOH, n00b.”

Now, as for the objections that this is Hollywood Leftism shitting on Right-wing imperialism, industrialism, capitalism, and the War on Terrorism, I kept my mouth shut ‘til I’d actually seen the movie. But I suspected that these folks were being hysterical he-bitches with gigantic chips on their shoulders and it turns out I was right.

I understand it’s possible to believe that a single disapproving reference to “shock and awe” (against a helpless village of women and children) and villainous calls for “fighting terrorism with terrorism” and “preemptive strikes” are indictments of the War on Terrorism. But you have to really, really want it. The villain of this film is so generic and the situation presented so far removed from reality, the connection between the film’s mercenaries, natives, and corporate greed and the real-world’s U.S. military, Iraqis, and War on Terrorism exists mostly in the minds of people desperately hoping to find it.

What I’m saying is that Leftists anxious to find moral support from a film will proclaim it has the environmentalist answer to 9/11. It doesn’t. It has some corporate types knocking down a tree that doubles as a dormitory (didn’t that happen in Berkeley?).

Similarly, those that make hay criticizing Hollywood professionally or as a hobby will seize on its simple color-coded-for-your-convenience assignment of “natives are good” and “mercenaries are evil” to claim the movie is making a statement about American soldiers. Except that the last time American soldiers went up against lily-white natives (morally white, I mean) was exactly never. And the movie takes pains in the first five minutes to emphasize that the mercenaries are, well, mercenaries hired by the Company and not part of any military. And the movie also notes in the first few minutes that the offscreen "folks back home" don't exactly approve of the Company slaughtering a bunch of natives.

So, the final verdict: Avatar is entertaining, but not a masterpiece of plot or characterization. In fact, the plot and characters are pretty dull. It has perhaps three leftist lines which may make individuals carrying some weird guilt over the colonization of the Americas upset. Otherwise, it’s gorgeous, loud, and shit blows up. Did I mention the Smurf sex?

I’ll see Avatar again when I’m visiting my brother for Christmas. If he pays.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:58 AM

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