Sunday, December 27, 2009


The first part will be very general, then I'll give a spoiler warning before I get specific.

First the obvious. Avatar is a beautiful movie. I saw it in 2D. Once the crowds go down a bit, I might back and watch in 3D, as I've heard it might actually be worth it and not just distracting.

But I wonder if seeing in 2D allowed me to pay more attention to the plot and characters. I wasn't impressed. I found the story to be very predictable. Since there are many scenes in which you are just supposed to look at the scenery for several seconds, there are many scenes which allow you to stop and think. I guessed at what the upcoming plot would be. My guess was pretty much the whole movie.

I was disappointed by this because I thought I was predicting the first half of the movie, not the whole thing. In reviews, I avoided specifics. I read only the headlines or just the first few lines. One of those was Harry Knowles from Right at the beginning of his review, he states that he loves the movie "because of the story."

I like the website because it does (or once did) give a good heads up about what's coming up in movie news. But Knowles isn't the brightest guy. His writings are grammatical nightmares, yet he has been accepted as a "writer." I know the stuff I write is garbage, but no one is taking me seriously. With Avatar, the story is good enough. It isn't bad, but it isn't great. It's good enough. To love it because of the story? Eh, that's somebody who is trying not to say "I like the pretty pictures" but is afraid to do so.

And I don't understand why. It's a technological masterpiece. But the story is slow, and not for the right reasons. Usually story takes its time to allow ideas to develop or, more importantly, to allow characters to develop. Avatar is almost devoid of characters, so this didn't happen. James Cameron could have cut 45 minutes or an hour out of this movie. It would have cost less. It would have more screenings in theaters. Everyone who has seen it still would have. It would have made more money.

Should you go see it? Yes. See it in the theaters. It won't have anywhere near the same impact on your small V or even your big TV. See it in 3D (I think).

And now, spoilers.

These aren't big spoilers, but since some of you are still planning to watch in the next week, this might give away a couple things.

Characters, characters, characters. It's a bad thing when the most interesting character is CGI. It says a lot about the technology of the movie. But making the humans interesting should be easy.

The human characters were as flat as the 2D in which I watched it. The two "villians," if that's the right word, were a corporate guy (Parker Selfridge, played by Giovanni Ribisi)and a military guy Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang). Wow. How creative. And guess what? The corporate guy acts - wait for it - out of greed! Weren't expecting that twist, were you? And the military guy wants power.

Here's another way they could have saved some money. They could have simply put an action figure of a guy in a suit on the screen. Pull his string and have him say "I want money! Let's do things for money!" Then simply put an action figure of a guy in a military uniform on the screen. Pull his string and have him say "I want to blow up things! Let's take over everything!" You wouldn't tell the difference.

And then there's Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington. There was such an opportunity with this character to make him interesting. There could have been some real character development if anyone had cared enough to try.

Sully is in a wheelchair. I think that's about as far as anyone went with him. But the plot requires Sully to go through a transformation. He needs to go from being a military follow orders type of guy to someone who completely turns around and fights against his own people.

There were three reasons for him to turn. The first is that he falls in love with Neytiri. I think the movie makes this part clear, and chooses to focus almost completely on this part. But there's more to it that could have (and I believe should have) been developed more).

The second is that he is a paraplegic. In his Avatar, he gets to walk and to run. When he first enters his Avatar, we see this as he goes off running. his excitement is so great that he doesn't follow orders for those couple minutes (which should have been a foreshadowing of things to come). Later on, Colonel Quaritch offers him a procedure to fix his legs if he follows orders. This should have turned into another layer of the moral quandary, but it isn't developed.

The third reason for turning is the most important. But it isn't really mentioned. He should have turned and sided with the Na'vi because it's right. Sully is a military guy. Military guys don't get to question whether things are right or wrong. They get to follow orders. He was dedicated enough to have become a paraplegic, we must presume in battle somewhere. For a military guy to go against orders and do what's right is a big deal. It wasn't here.

The turn for Michelle Rodriguez's character was even more sudden. She suddenly decided that she "didn't sign up for this." And pulls away. That moment was very out of place.

Honestly, what hurt my viewing the most is that I kept waiting for something great to happen. It didn't. I guess I wasn't as impressed with flying mountains as everyone else. It's a cool concept, but I didn't need to stare at them as long. Flying on a dragon type thing was cool for a few seconds, but not for as long as we had to watch it. So the movie is like 90% CGI. Wall-E was 99% CGI (pretty much everything but the Hello Dolly! shots), but it also had more character and heart.

I've only found a small handful of people who agree with me (here is Peter David, who stated some of what I said but much better than I ever could), so I'm probably totally wrong. I'm guessing that when Avatar makes it from the big screen in 3D to your TV in 2D, a lot more people are going to agree with me. And that makes me a bigger visionary than James Cameron.


Lance Christian Johnson said...

I don't disagree with your analysis. I guess that I was just more forgiving. But you might be right - I may be less forgiving once it's on home video.

Anonymous said...

I know you're saying to see it in theaters, but I'm not sure after that review. Though I suppose it's no different than seeing movies like Die Hard, Batman, Spiderman, i.e., *any* action movie in the theaters b/c of the bigger impact of the special effects and/or action sequences. The difference with the other movies I mentioned, however, is that I will still watch them at home. Seriously going to debate this one lol.