Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review Avatar

Like many people in Arizona, I was beginning to wear my ignorance as a source of pride. As if I was in state of constant innocence and bliss, I knew nothing about Avatar. Oh sure, I knew that a bunch of blue-cat humanoids were involved, and that a scene involving cross-species coitus were to occur, but I tried to navigate the shoals of all things James Cameron with a sense of mental dexterity. After missing the proverbial boat several times (I was ditched on two occasions), I thought: Fuck it, I am not going to watch it. It was a state of blissful ignorance really. I didn’t have to engage in the prattle about 3D effects; nor, did I have to participate in the water cooler talk of a new found environmental evangelism. But one day, I bit the proverbial blue apple. I saw Avatar. Where many have commented about how Cameron was the founder of a new renaissance in movie making, I see something much more apocalyptic. My prediction, we are going to have more movies with cacophonous explosions and scenes that will assault our eyes. Our visceral reaction will be to watch agog as our senses are assaulted with CGI, but unfortunately Dear Reader, our souls will be unfed, because the characters and script are empty. As one of the last lines in Avatar ends with two star-crossed lovers mutter in a nauseating way “I see you.” It is most unfortunate because all we see is a blank fancy canvas.

I will try to reduce the story into three lines. Corporation wants ore on land that indigenous people lives on. People won’t leave, so corporation takes the land with violence. Flawed character becomes a messianic character and rallies the peoples; consequently defeating the venal corporations and ignorant military. If you think you have seen this script, well you have, think: Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Star Wars, Star Trek: Insurrection, Hero, Underworld, and X-Men. Instead of spending all this money in generating every brick and branch, Cameron should have spent some time in not plagiarizing Disney or every other summer blockbuster.

With a generic plot comes the dreaded generic-character. I hate stock characters, and Avatar is filled with them. We have the stern environmentalist who becomes the matron figure of the movie. There is the love interest that initially approaches the hero with open contempt, but ends with open loins. Let us not forget the craven corporate suit (played by Giovanni Ribisi out of all people) willing to kill for all who stands against him in his pursuit of a promotion. Cameron would be remiss to omit the Jesus figure. Oh, and let us not forget the real villain, an ignorant military general who is willing to destroy an entire civilization because he has some masculine desire to engage in cinematic masturbation.

What a villain he is, so evil – oh the horror - that he is drinking coffee when he blows up a tree. It is the villain I take most cause with. Oh sure, Cameron wants us to get mad at Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. and we are suppose to leave the movie with a certain disgust over our involvement in the Middle East. But the problem with the villain, is that I don’t hate him – at all. In fact, I am just really annoyed. He is a loud-mouthed frat boy I would punch in the face, but I don’t hate him like I do other classic villains. Dear Reader, I posit, there are only two good archetypes for villains. One is the purely evil. And what I mean by this is essentially the Biblical sense. We are talking about Satan, or the Antichrist, some character that really exemplifies the destruction of not just what we believe in, but the obliteration of ourselves. Three years ago, Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal made an interesting point, not since the Exorcist have we had a real villain. He pointed out correctly that even Emperor Palpatine, and Sauron were not really evil, they just wanted to take over the world thinking their form of government was vastly superior. Now, I do take some cause with Morgenstern’s article, I thought Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List was evil enough. Regardless, the audience needs an evil character, because it makes the triumph of good all the more satisfying. A similar vein of the absolute evil archetype, is the “Entertaining Evil, the one we like more than the hero, such as Heath Ledger’s “Joker.” I concede that one could make an argument that the Joker is evil personified, but what makes him different than say Satan in the Exorcist is the level of entertainment the Batman villain provides. Nobody roots for Satan, but I know many who wanted to see the Joker kick Batman off the building in the end. The villain in Avatar, was neither, he might not have even been evil. If he entered my parent’s restaurant, I would tell him to leave. If the Joker came in, I would run.

The villain is exactly what is wrong with Avatar. The audience would be bombarded with scene after scene meant to make us awe in wonder. But where is the awe in the story telling? I fear that more movies are going to be like Avatar; just a bevy of fancy empty vessels. “I see you.” God, how I wish I didn’t see.

Grade: C-

Last weeks grade for Sex and The City 2 was a D.

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