Saturday, January 2, 2010

The obligatory Avatar post

What has not already been said about Avatar, James Cameron's new SF/action/3-D money magnet?

Visually stunning? Check.

So predictable I could have diagrammed the entire story based on the trailers? Check.

Noble savage nonsense cranked up to 11? Check.

It's almost pointless to ask if Avatar is a good movie or not, which is the first thing most people want to know, the first post-theatre question they ask each other. "Did you like it? What did you think?" The answer has to be broken down into parts.

Well, as a visual spectacle, it's of course staggeringly good. The Na'vi make Gollum look like a paper cutout being waved on the end of a stick (much as Gollum made all previous CGI characters look like finger puppets).

As an action movie it's also quite strong, and I think not enough is made of this. It's actually not that easy to make a good action movie. A dozen or so big Hollywood action flicks come out every year, and most of them contain terrible action sequences. The virus of quick cutting that infects everyone from Michael Bay to Peter Jackson annoys the crap out of me.

The dialogue, I was impressed with, even if only because I had very low expectations. There are no really memorable lines, except from Colonel HeadScars, but I'd say less than half of them were actually painful to the ear. Compare and contrast with Transformers, for example.

How about the racism? Well... if I were being very charitable, I'd say that of all the possible forms of racism that still show up in genre films, noble savage condescension is probably one of the least toxic varieties. At least it wasn't also misogynist in any notable way; Grace and Neytiri are clearly the strongest characters in the film.

I knew about the Dances With Smurfs thing going into the movie, and that didn't bother me nearly as much as the blankness of the main character. Jake Sully literally arrives in a box and is popped out as though he's an action figure being unpacked. He has about that much personality. He also seems dumb as a brick, and that's difficult to reconcile with him having an identical twin who was an accomplished scientist.

My final question about Avatar came about an hour after leaving the theatre: would this movie have pushed the buttons of my inner 10-year-old?

After I saw the original Star Wars films, or Indiana Jones, for the first time, I'd run around my back yard with my friends for weeks pretending to wield a light saber or a whip. I'm sure there are 10-year-olds out there now playing with toy wands and shouting "Expelliarmus!" or swinging wooden swords through a band of orcs. I can see my 10-year-old self wanting to be a giant, blue half-naked monkey man. On the Star Wars Kid Inspiring Scale, I give Avatar a 7 out of 10.