Sunday, 20 December 2009

Review: Avatar

James Cameron has clearly spent his time since Titanic both becoming a fervent environmentalist and working closely with the team at Weta workshop developing his new 3d technology, because Avatar both recycles the plot and characters from hundreds of science fiction stories and contains all of the nauseating overindulgence and none of the quirky characterisation of director Peter Jackson.

In this remake of Jim Henson's the Dark Crystal for the Harry Potter generation, any time this Jim is in any danger of expressing an original idea, he instead refers to the scribbled notes he copied as an angsty teenager whilst getting beaten up by seniors and reading Orson Scott Card. Actually, that's an offensive suggestion: the Dark Crystal had balls and something to say, whereas this movie makes Ewoks: The Battle for Endor read like Solaris. These skinny blue Ewoks with boobs set back the cause of science fiction - no, make that rational thought, by a decade.

The only person to emerge with any credibility is Sam Worthington, avoiding this train wreck of a film by managing to spend less than fifteen minutes on screen. Nonetheless, I have never punched the air quite as hard as when the protagonist dies at the end of the movie (spoiler warning), which is longer than any of the characters spend reflecting on the deaths of most of the supporting cast. African and Carribean traditional dress and accents are used as shorthand for alien, which speaks volumes about the racist sensibilities of the production and design direction.

Normally the special effects team would be commended in an otherwise lackluster big summer blockbuster, but they appear to have been lost in the collision of a truck carrying hyper colour t-shirts and a tanker of vaseline.

Ages 5 - 13 will find this movie an enjoyable and inoffensive rollercoaster ride.

1/5

26 comments:

Dirk said...

> (spoiler warning)

That's the most inconspicuous spoiler "warning" I've ever seen, and right *after* the spoiler :)

Madoc said...

Please don't do that ever again. When you publish a spoiler that huge, at least put a warning before it instead of after it. That one really made me angry.

Martin Törnqvist said...

Yes that was quite obtuse...

Arathalion said...

Dude, definitively uncool spoiler "warning". Not impressed, regardless of how you feel about the film.

kikito said...

I liked the film a lot, and so did the other 7 people in their 30s that came to the cinema with me. Certainly the plot isn't original, but I was prepared for that (the trailer pretty much summarizes the plot). I'd recommend taking the review with a grain of salt.

**** I'll talk about the spoiler here ****

It doesn't exactly happen as he says on the post. I mean, you know there's a war between humans and blue people - so some people is supposed to die.

**** end of spoiler talk ****

Andrew Doull said...

Madoc, Martin, Arathalion, anyone else offended by the late spoiler warning: You'll be happy to find out that I was lying. Having the protagonist die at the end of a film costing this much would in context be a brave and original decision, one I might have seen from a younger version of the same director...

I would never spoil anything deliberately and without forewarning. Unlike (as kikito points out) the trailer for the Avatar movie. I'd be interested to know if you were as angry at that.

kikito: I'd like the James Cameron who could tightly plot action scenes in movies like True Lies, The Abyss, Point Break, Aliens and The Terminator with a veneer of science fiction instead of fantasy back... actually, the idea-stealing James Cameron from The Terminator is back. Anne McCaffrey should sue...

Andrew Doull said...

Kikito: I unfortunately suspect on one level this movie is actually about a war between white people and black people, painted blue as to not offend anyone...

Arathalion said...

My ire sprang from the belief that you had spoiled what would obviously be a key point or twist to the ending, and a large redeeming feature of the (reportedly weak) plot. That is far more frustrating than many inklings of the general storyline, which, as most of my friends have reported, is predictable enough that you can see where it's going anyway.

So, thank you for not spoiling it (given your obvious understanding of gameplay, it did surprise me), but no thanks for making me *think* you had. The spoiler may have been fake, but the feelings invoked were not!

Ian said...

I like your spoiler warning, Andrew. Disappointing it turned out to be not real

Eric Burgess said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eric Burgess said...

That was not cool. I'm unsubscribing from your RSS feed and won't be visiting again.

Jotaf said...

No matter how bad you think the film is, and how true that statement may be, you fell into the trap that every "professional" movie reviewer falls -- the review is loaded with subjective remarks, some of them attempting to be funny (like a stand-up comedian picking on the movie...) and it *shows*. After realizing the level of subjectivity, bad feelings and desire for attention in a review I simply cannot take it seriously. Like with many other similar reviews of previous movies, I later found that the guy simply clung onto a few ignorable quirks and milked them to the fullest in order to provide an "entertaining" review. Don't be like that, it's not like you need it, try to be objective and present valid points that apply to the whole movie instead of one tiny scene, without humiliating the actors and trying to be all outrageous and funny and whatever.

Slashie said...

I liked the movie...

Also, I always avoid reading anything regarding a movie until *after* I have seen it, so that I can have my own impression :P

I dont see a readon to get mad at Andrew, it was everybody choice to read it.

Andrew Doull said...

Jotaf: you might want to read some of the other 'reviews' on this site... It also sounds like you're labouring under the misconception that there is such a thing as an objective opinion. Any reviewer that doesn't highlight the subjectivity of their review is being dishonest.

Andrew Doull said...

To be clear to everyone: I would have walked out of Avatar after 20 minutes or so if my wife hadn't bought me the tickets and was sitting next to me. The last movie I walked out of was Stargate. There's just something about fantasy dressed up as Sci Fi that gets to me...

Jotaf said...

I don't wanna go there, but IMO mixing fantasy with sci-fi doesn't necessarily make something bad. I didn't say you had to be objective, I said you'd be taken a lot more seriously if you at least tried, instead of giving up right away (since nobody can be objective, it seems) and wallowing in subjectivity. That's like the nihilist take on science in that it all branched out from some set of simple but unprovably correct observations (ie, logic) and thus all science is unprovable and it's all hopeless, oh noes. At least try.

Ken Oh said...

Pretty shitty review.

The movie may have been predictable, overly simplistic, an inaccurate allegory of the European conquest of the Americas (not sure why it pointed you to Africa) and needlessly anti-military, but it was still an enchanting experience overall.

Please start another blog if you want to write about this kind of stuff.

Andrew Doull said...

Jotaf: You can't mix fantasy and Sci Fi because by definition having fantasy in something prevents it being Sci Fi. I want to write a longer piece on this but unless the silent majority want to read it it's clear from the reaction here, readers don't appreciate a blogger actuallly having an opninion. (which is why I've resisted expressing mine as a rule). As for the tone of the piece, this movie is James Cameron's the Phantom Menace and I haven't read anyone calling out that fact.

Hmm... I sound a bit shrill in the previous paragraph. Blame the limitations of typing on the train to work...

And if you could point to an objective test to establish whether a movie was good (as opposed to e.g. Making money) I'd love to know.

Roger said...

I enjoyed the movie overall, but I'm sucker for 3D stuff. I don't mind turning off my brain for a couple hours while I enjoy the eye candy.

The plot was predictable. The environmentalist stuff was too preachy toward the end, and many elements of the story felt contrived.

For some reason I loved the Colonel. His character was ridiculously over the top, but he made me chuckle at just the right moments when the action sequences were otherwise starting to bore me.

*Spoiler Warning* Oh, and the protagonist *does* die at the end. Sortof. You'll probably see it coming from a mile away.

Andrew Doull said...

Roger: I found the 3D exciting and interesting for the first 10 minutes or so until my eyes adjust, and then I stop noticing it at all... I'd be interested in hearing if anyone else experiences this.

Andrew Doull said...

Ken Oh: Re: African. I suspect it was the casting of so many African Americans as aliens, and so few as humnas. See http://www.talkingsquid.net/archives/1172

Jotaf said...

Sci-fi and fantasy being incompatible because of their definitions is misleading, since obviously Avater did it, for better or for worse (and numerous films and other media did it before them), and the definitions don't say whether that particular mix will be good or bad, only if it will be possible. You'll have to judge each take on the sci-fi/fantasy thing to evaluate, individually, instead of over-generalizing.

Nobody minds your opinion here! The problem is just the way it's presented. I said its tone is similar to the one in many so-called professional reviews, because of the high subjectivity and the deliberate attempts at making fun of the movie. Many of the guys at IMDB are so full of themselves simply because they can snort at other people's work; I say, recognize them as a crowd not worth being a part of and have less uncalled for senseless picking in your day.

Arathalion said...

I actually find that 3d films give me headaches and dizziness after about 10 mins.

And I *do* appreciate your opinion, mostly on RL stuff, but I certainly don't object to a film review. It is less scathing than some of my friend's reviews. Keep up the good work, just don't pull that spoiler nonsense again.

Erik the Dead said...

Just wanted to post saying that I agree with your review, especially regarding the way "humans" were cast. While it's hard to get things like that right, it's easy to get them less-wrong.

I felt bad seeing Avatar because I didn't want to support the gigafilm industry, but I do enjoy seeing the 3D aspects and computer animation, which you really only get on huge budgets. I do think those improvements showed.

I haven't noticed becoming acclimated to the 3D effects--they still seem cool even late in the movie.

Nick said...

I am probably going to see Avatar some time soon - I will be interested to see for myself. If it is half as entertaining as your review, I will consider that money well spent.

Oh, and I am unsubscribing from your RSS feed and never reading your blog again ;)

nihilocrat said...

The movie felt like Fern Gully crossed with Aliens.

If you analyze the plot, characterizations, etc. I can see how you could be disappointed; this isn't a movie that's particularly mentally stimulating.

I don't really understand why some commenters are angry to see someone state his opinion about a movie, if I want a professional review I will look for one elsewhere. I also skipped this post before seeing the movie, assuming that it would have spoilers or even hints at spoilers.

*** spoilers below ***

I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I see a lot of the plot-stealing / trite racial politics you point out. I would have liked the film better if it tried to really psychologically explore the themes of having a doppleganger and the whole "connectedness to nature" thing. The enjoyment I got was more visceral; a sci-fi action movie that's done well, with plenty of lasers and explosions and all that jazz.

I wouldn't expect anything more from Cameron than lasers and explosions done well. However, plot-wise and character-wise I enjoyed Aliens a lot more because of a more interesting combination of characters and a more hopeless situation that really highlighted their traits and forced the plot forward.

The situation between the humans and Na'vi felt like it was forced into escalation more by plot device than by characters' real motivations. I would have expected more of a protracted, uneasy standoff than the genocidal assault the humans brought.

I find it kind of amusing that the showdown battle was an almost exact inversion of the showdown battle in Aliens.