Friday, January 07, 2011

one word—unobtainium

Unobtainium. Really? Unfortunately this "major plot point" of Avatar is also symbolic of how dumb as a stump the movie is at times. It's been a year since it came out in theaters and was considered a phenomenon—was it truly "groundbreaking?" Has it held up? I watched it on-demand the other night and was not so sure.

According to Wikipedia,
"Development on Avatar began in 1994, when Cameron wrote an 80-page scriptment for the film. Filming was supposed to take place after the completion of Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, for a planned release in 1999, but according to Cameron, the necessary technology was not yet available to achieve his vision of the film."
Necessary technology not available? Did he mean computers? There were so many similarities in this movie to Starship Troopers, which came out in 1997, and to Disney's Pocahontas, which came out in 1995, that I'm not completely sure what he was waiting for, except maybe boatloads of money. Avatar was (and still is) full of stunning visuals, but I'd hardly call them new, or liable to change the future of movie-making, or whatever else was hyped when it first came out.

There were so many cinematic plot cliches, which I (and I'm sure most anyone) could see coming from a mile away. The psychotic drill sergeant. The Corporation trying to bulldoze Nature. The native people forced out by the evil white man. Religion vs. progress. Of course the argument for the defense is that Avatar's not about plot, it's a visual feast. But once you get over the first ten minutes of oohing and aahing over the pretty pictures there's still two and a half hours to go, and a lot of the imagery has a sameness. I didn't see it in 3D, but I imagine that added level of visual bombardment would wear thin quickly, too.

There were many plot points that still bother:

The minute Michelle Rodriguez showed up, you knew she would have to die. How many times have we seen that before?

The "amazing" floating mountain with the remote Avatar lab—practically a carbon copy of the truly amazing Hayao Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky. Somehow it seemed a pale copy rather than a tribute. It's a fine line, but it didn't work for me at all.

This REALLY bugged me this time. Why did all the Native Americans, I mean, Na'vi, look exactly the same? No matter how old? No one was even a slightly different shade of blue. No one was skinny or plump or tall or short or anything other than elongated blue tatooed ETs.With all the money spent, couldn't they have come up with some slightly different illustrated body types? A few different hairstyles don't do it.

Why was the "evil corporation" even letting Sigourney Weaver & Co. do her Avatar experiment? Why would they want to let her create some rogue 10-foot tall aliens? Didn't they get that might be a security risk down the line? Why was she so oblivious, yet fascinated, by the Na'vi? Why was the hero? Apart from the fact that his Avatar-self got to use his legs again, he didn't seem to really connect with the people. Take away the feel-good nature-loving aspects of the Na'vi and the harsh truth of the film is that the hero wanted to join a cult. A cult with blue tails. Why?

Also, blue tails. Why?

I was really bothered watching it on the small screen that I had no sense of the geography of the planet. No matter how many talented people listed in the credits worked on creating those images and backgrounds, they gave us a bunch of "sets" with no sense of place. An overview of the land before it started would have helped. How about a map? Too cliche? Ha.

Watching Harry Potter's chase with the dragon in The Goblet of Fire (which I rewatched recently in preparation for HP Part 1) was way more thrilling than any of the flying beasts here, I'm afraid. Maybe because in HP the audience could focus on one person, Harry, and get really involved. Maybe Harry's CGI crew just did it better. It was hard to care about anything going on in Avatar. When the hero was Matrix-ed in, you knew it would just take a quick unplug in the remote lab and over he'd flop. That was a real plot weakness that hovered too long and then was finally addressed, but not satisfactorily.

The look of the animals still didn't do much for me, except maybe the "horses." The whole ponytail/plug-in thing was kinda cool, but also kinda creepy.

Why was Giovanni Ribisi talking like that? Could Cameron not afford Paul Giamatti?

But enough complaining. Avatar was still interesting to watch, even on a television screen, where it will have the most shelf-life. To be fair, we've been watching a lot of great animation lately, so I'm watching it after seeing some superb and tough competition. With all the publicity talk of the actors being part of the creation of the special effects, blah, blah, blah, Avatar is actually an animated film. And while that animation is first-rate, I wasn't blown away. I didn't once feel that the Na'vi or anything around them was real or solid. I had no problem with that. It just felt like animation, not an amazing new human/hybrid future of movies, etc., etc. The only scene where Avatar mixed the real and the animated that worked for me was when Sigourney Weaver was being carried by the hero in his Avatar-form. That was a pretty short scene.

There is already talk of two sequels. I'm not really sure where they would go, if they intend to keep up with this "real" CGI fiction. There isn't really anyone's story from Avatar that I would care to see continue. New characters, new stories are called for. If they cut the "new" crap and just make some good animated films, set in that universe, that would be O.K. But hire some writers. Maybe Cameron should produce and not direct.


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