Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Avatar Review

Wow! That movie had amazing special effects! I saw it in 3D, and there were times when this movie took my breath away. There were stunning vistas. Incredible action. Awesome battle scenes. There were times when I actually forgot I was watching movie (like when the forest is on fire, and there's ash everywhere, and I started brushing my pants off. Then again, I'm a smoker, so I'm particularly susceptible to fear of burning ash.). I wonder what this movie will be like in 2D when it comes out on DVD. Anyway, too bad all this amazing technology was used to tell the crappiest science fiction story of 2009.

The plot was hackneyed and tired. Some people compare it to Dances with Wolves. Kevin Costner should find everyone one of these people and sue them. Because Dances with Wolves at least kept me in suspense. I knew what was going to happen at every point in this movie. The script had to hit every beat, and it did so as efficiently as possible. Typically by pulling the simplest, most over-used plot point out of its ass.

Did anyone think that Sam Worthington's character, Sully, would not successfully ride the giant, red dragon-thing? Did you at any point expect the corporate stooge to listen to reason? Did you worry, for a moment, that the Na'vi wouldn't win the last battle? That's because there is no dramatic tension in this movie. The actors are basically moving scenery, a hook upon which James Cameron hangs his special effects. The plot decisions Cameron makes are so simplistic, which is sad because if he'd spent a minute on the plot this would have been a great movie.

Press reports have it that Cameron's been working on this script for almost ten years, while he waited for the techology to catch up to his vision. Maybe he should have given the plot another editing pass. Either that, or everyone around him was too scared to tell him his plot sucked. Examples abound.

The Floating Rock: Tell me, what does this rock do? Besides float, I mean. Why is it so important to Earth? It would have made the plot more understandable, and given us a reason to care, if we knew what we were fighting for. The story tells us that there's no green anywhere on Earth, and that we're a dying species; does the rock protect us from global warming? Does it power giant atmosphere processors, thus allowing us to breathe? (After all, if there's no green on the planet, we're not breathing). See, if you tell us why the rock is so valuable, then we understand the human's actions, and we might even find ourselves rooting for them at first (since they're saving our planet). After all, this is supposed to be an eco-movie; if the rock saves our planet at the Na'vi's expense, this makes us face the question "which ecology is more important?" The plot automatically becomes deeper. Cameron could have spent five seconds on this, and sacrificed a scene of glowing plants.

The Corporation: Ah, that hoary old science fiction chestnut, the evil corporation. Why is the corporation evil? Because they're a corporation. They have share-holders. They make money. They must be evil. This is tissue-paper thin movitation. Why spend any time developing a real motivation when all you have to do is make the villain a corporation? Remember when Coke wanted more market share in China and invaded with their private army? And how about the Great IBM War of 1985 in India? See, this shit doesn't happen anymore. (Some know-it-all asshole is going to bring up the East India Company. Once again, this shit doesn't happen anymore.)

Let's put it this way, if the Evil Corporation exterminates the Na'vi, I think the UN might have something to say about it. The 2154 versions of Hugo Chavez and Mummar Khadaffi would go apeshit, railing against Imperialism. Someone would be prosecuted. Because corporations are subject to laws. When they want to strip mine in Brazil, they get a contract from the government or buy the land outright; they may bribe lawmakers to change laws, but that's because board members understand they can be prosecuted. Moreover, Giovanni Ribisi's character acts unilaterally; he's so far away from home it takes six years to get to Pandora; it's his ass going to the Hague charged with genocide. You'd think his character would take that into consideration, but more on that later.

(Also, note to James Cameron: FOX is a corporation concerned with profits. You better hope this movie makes it's 500 mill back, or they'll have you whacked, if we're going to follow your corporate-bashing thesis). Unless the governments of the world all suddenly collapse, plunging the world into anarchy, corporations aren't going to do half the shit they're accused of in sci-fi movies. I think it's time we put the evil corporation plot device to rest.

The End: Sam Worthington's character spends much of the movie trying to learn about the Na'vi. He wants to help negotiate some kind of treaty or settlement. The Na'vi kick ass and take names, and what do they do? They banish the humans. What?! Sam, you wanted to negotiate on behalf of the humans. Now you're in a position to negotiate from a position of strength. You're human, too. So you can do the same thing you wanted to do the entire movie, but this time from the Na'vi perspective. Instead, you just exile everyone. Wouldn't it have been a more nuanced ending for Worthington to say "okay, you guys can stay, but you have to agree to stop fucking with us"? That would have been a nice message of tolerance. And would have set up a good sequel, as the Evil Corporation tries to break the deal. (Also, the humans already fucked up the giant treehouse to get at the floaty rock; so the Na'vi could have said "keep it, assholes" and used it to buy concessions, like leaving the rest of the planet alone).

Moreover, have you ever heard the word "hostages", Sam? See, the Evil Corporation is going to come back. And if they're smart, they'll stay in their spaceships and throw rocks at Pandora from orbit. It might be smart to be holding a few hostages. In the meantime, maybe humans and Na'vi could learn to work together in the six years its going to take reinforcements to arrive.

It's like at every point in the movie, if Cameron had a choice between the slipshod, hackneyed plot and something more nuanced, he chose the former. James, next time you write a script, write the exact opposite of what you're thinking.

Plot comes from drama. Drama comes from character. And it's on this level that the script really disappoints. As much as Cameron goes for the easy with his plot, he also goes for the single-dimension character.

Let's take the bad guy. Evil Marine wants to kick Na'vi ass from the minute you see him. You know that no matter what Worthington does to negotiate a settlement, Evil Marine is gonna break that treaty. In fact, this would have at least made for a more interesting plot. Can someone tell me why this guy is so unhinged? Because something scratched his head? At least give us some backstory on this guy. Maybe a Na'vi warrior gave him those scars, and Evil Marine wants a little payback. That at least makes this guy two-dimensional. See, James, without a clear motivation, the villain is just a cartoon. I knew what this guy was going to do at every step. That means there's no tension.

Giovanni Ribisi's character, the Corporate Douche, is similarly one-dimensional. (I didn't even bother learning these character's names; they were all stereotypes). There was a moment where you got the sense that this guy was conflicted about what he was doing. Let's see how we can make this guy interesting.... He doesn't want to exterminate the Na'vi for the shareholders back home, because he knows it's his ass going to the gallows when the folks at home learn about it; he makes an impassioned speech via video screen, but his corporate masters tell him to do it anyway. Now, at least you get a sense that he has some feelings. Maybe you even see him as a flawed corporate stooge. Cameron should have just given him a handlebar moustache to twirl...

The Gorillas in the Mist character was also your stock scientist from central casting. She resents Worthington because he's a jarhead. Okay. That's enough characterisation for you, audience. We gotta get back to showing you great CGI. It would have been much more interesting if they went the Gorillas in the Mist route, with her and the others finding a way to make peace, only to be thwarted by unhinged Evil Marine. There was that other scientist dude who seemed really pissed that Worthington is taken in by the Na'vi; I thought he was going to sabotage Worthington's efforts out of jealousy. There was even a scene with nasty, resentful looks being flung around. THAT would have been an interesting plot! The scientists don't want Worthington to steal their thunder, and they actively try to undercut him; it's not the enemy outside, but the enemy within! Oh wait, no. Everyone's on board now, helping Sully out. Time for more 3D...

For all the time Cameron lavished on the digital crap, he could have taken a half hour from it to spend on characterisation.

To summarize: Rather than give us interesting characters, with, you know, real motivations and shit, we got cartoons. And instead of giving us a plot with depth and nuance (and an occasional surprise), we got a hackneyed script right out of Sci-Fi writing 101. But man! Were those special effects neat! Now, if someone can tell me why I give a shit about CGI giant blue aliens and their magical floating rock, I'd appreciate it.

1 comment:

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