Another Look at “Avatar”

This blog started with a series of notes on Facebook. One night, I had just come home from seeing the film Avatar, and I was raving. I needed a place to vent my frustrations, so I wrote a note reviewing the film. People seemed to like it, and I thought, “You know, maybe I could do this regularly.” So when I saw Sherlock Holmes, I wrote another one. And another one. A top-ten list of the best films of 2009. An Oscar predictions list. After a while, I found that the Facebook format was too restrictive, and it wasn’t allowing me to reach an audience outside of a few hundred friends, most of whom wouldn’t bother to read it anyway. So, I looked at some sites for blogging. After careful consideration, I found WordPress to be the best, and I set this up. Fast forward to today, and I’m looking back nostalgically at some of those original post. I read the Avatar one (complete with disclaimer that I was a raving lunatic at the time of writing), and I noticed that it was, well, pretty bad. Lots of CAPS LOCK SHOUTING, an obnoxious list of plot holes. I really never addressed most of the big problems with the film, and I hung my head in shame. However, I still strongly disliked the film, so I wanted to revisit it with new eyes. Since the original post, the film has become the highest grossing movie of all time, and was effectively shut out of the Academy Awards, only winning 3 trophies for technical achievement. Here’s the new review:

We all know the plot of the film, because every human on the planet saw it, so I won’t bother going into it. However, the plot was one of my problems with the film. I despise unoriginality. I hate remakes, reboots, and anything else of the sort. Avatar‘s plot is a blatant rip from Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Ferngully, and more. The term “Dances With Smurfs” became something of a meme before the film even came out, but it’s accurate. Now, I understand that taking elements of a story and putting them in a different setting, with different characters, is nothing new in Hollywood. Even plot theft at Avatar‘s level happens every day. But to see it from one of, if not the, most inventive storyteller in the business, is nothing short of shocking. I mean, this is the guy who brought us Aliens, The Terminator, The Abyss, and this is the best story that he can come up with? It was clear to me while watching the film that Cameron really didn’t care about the story. The film was meant to show off his shiny new toys, and that was all. (By the way, thanks a lot for bringing us this new 3D craze, Cameron. But that’s another rant, I’ll get to that eventually). It was sad to see Cameron stoop to this level just to introduce his new technology.

The performances were, on the whole, pretty bad. A lot of people were begging for Zoe Saldana to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. My response: “What?”. First of all, her performance wasn’t all that great. Second, it was little more than a voiceover. People can say, “Oh, but motion capture technology captures 100% of the actor’s performance!” all they want, but it can’t be true. How can I trust a performance when any hack with a computer could easily change an aspect of her performance with a mouse click, a brushstroke? Those human elements, twitches, fidgets, are the bedrock of good performances, and they may have been washed away by technology.

As I said last time around, Sigourney Weaver is one of the best things about the film. She plays a character written in such a way that a performance could have easily dissolved into ham, but she played it straight, and the results are great. I can’t say the same for star Sam Worthington. He delivers every line in a dull monotone, desperately trying to conceal his Australian accent. Maybe if he gets cast as an Australian character, we’ll see his true ability, but until then, we’re stuck with this. Oh, and speaking of ham, Giovanni Rabisi. Not because his performance was hammy, but because he didn’t trust himself enough to get to that level. Stephen Lang, on the other hand, went there so much that he looped back around, briefly became believable, and then went right back to the ham. His performance was probably my favorite. If Weaver was one of the best things about Avatar, than he was the other.

Now that all of the raving fans screaming about the “revolutionary” special effects have retreated to their caves to watch the film on DVD, I feel that it is safe to say that I did not think that they were that great. Yes, they were well-textured, but that’s about it. None of it felt realistic in the slightest. In a way, Cameron cheated by having his effects have the backdrop of more effects. I thought that District 9 should have won the Oscar for special effects because of the beautiful way that they weaved very realistic effects with a live-action backdrop. In the few seconds that the film chooses to put a Na’vi in a real set, it looks awkward and fake. District 9 managed to build an entire film around the concept that it didn’t have to, and they succeeded.

For the first time since I’ve been writing these, I feel as though this entire operation is pointless. So many people have seen the film that I feel as though this post is pointless. Or is it? You see, I have a theory. After Titanic came out and became the highest grossing film of all time, people praised it as being the best film of all time. However, five years after it came out, people began to deride it as “just a fad” or “a showcase for teenage girls to stare at DiCaprio”. There are two major differences. First, Titanic won Best Picture, which cemented it’s place in cinema history regardless of box office earnings. Second, Titanic was a good film. In five years, people will realize that Avatar really wasn’t very good after all. And this post will be proof that I knew it from the beginning.


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Josh Rosenfield

Josh Rosenfield is a Film Media major at the University of Rhode Island. He has been writing Popcorn Culture since 2010.

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