//console.log("Anon"); _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Session Type', 'Anon', 'Anon', undefined, true]); _gaq.push(['_setCustomVar', 1, 'Session Type', 'Anon', 2]);
Posted on 12/05/10 12:37 AM
I am the last person in the world to see "Avatar". Okay, maybe not, but I'm probably not far off.
So what do I finally think of the biggest (non-adjusted) money-maker in the history of film?
It is, as has often been remarked, a great achievement in the realm of translating real performances through cgi 'Avatars' so to speak. The uncanny valley has never been this close to being breached before, and that's no small achievement.
Also to the film's great credit is the deft way in which complex action scenes are handled and choreographed, shot and composed. In an age where scatter-shot visuals supplant real action, Cameron always keeps a wonderful sense of space and place - something all good action directors know and live by.
This is all wonderful and fantastic stuff. It's just not the underlying reason I go to the movies. I go first and foremost for the story
I can hear it already: "Can't you just sit back and enjoy the EXPERIENCE?" Of course. I loved Cloverfield. That was a textbook roller-coaster ride, and it really did try to do something different from a narrative perspective by taking up the point of view of what it was like to be under Godzilla's foot instead of following the scientists, generals and other important folk from above or at a distance.
Here, all the innovation is technical and visual. The experience is not unlike watching the most visually stimulating Saturday morning cartoon you're ever likely to see. You'll remember that you enjoyed the experience at the time, but the story leaves your head as quickly as the (tin) dialog enters your ears. It's strictly paint-by-numbers. The good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black, and while I am speaking metaphorically, they could've literally had wardrobe make that call and it wouldn't have felt any more or less heavy-handed for it.
It's the "Noble Savage" stock storyline which ultimately harms "Avatar", or rather it's strict adherence to it. Taken at face value, this storyline sets up the main conflict as being between a race of near saints with a race of near devils. Oftentimes, this runs as an excuse to dispense with character development. And this happens in spades with 'Avatar'. Why is Col. Quarich and 99.99% of the rest of the marines so enthusiastically eager to commit genocide? They're human, and what's worse, they're military so of course they're blackhearts why should we expect more? Because it's flat and lazy characterization.
On the flip-side, what we learn of the Na'vi is that they have little internal conflict to speak of, and no predominant or significant flaw throughout their culture. While one may argue that their physical connected-ness makes them more harmonious, it also makes them less relatable. A perfect character is a dull character.
Lastly, though it has been mentioned elsewhere, I can't let it go when I see yet again a situation which could have easily been avoided, or at least put-off with more plausibility, a character keep quiet with CRITICAL information which might actually give the saintly species a moment of self-reflection and self-searching.
The whole purpose of Jake's original mission is to get the Na'vi to peacefully grant access to the mineral which we find out later might save the earth and untold billions of lives. But telling them of that sympathetic (or at least pitiable) plight might cause divisions. Some Na'vi still might refuse aid and that would make them less than perfect. Others might want to offer assistance, and the possible rejection from their peers and the risk that represents can carry weight which translates into more fleshed out characterizations.
All of this is left on the wayside. Instead, we have marines shouting "git some" which was more entertaining when it was Bill Paxton's Pvt. Hudson shouting crazy talk and was allowed a small amount of characterization. In fact, much of what Cameron has chosen to recycle from his previous films was done better the first time he did them.
Of all the narrative aspects of the film, the one that showed the most promise of actually reaching above stock and formula, was that of the performers themselves really throwing themselves into their roles (with the odd exception of Sigourney Weaver, who is the last cast member I would have thought would resort to uninspired line readings). Zoe Saldana offers probably the most heartfelt performance - through pixels no less - in Neytiri.
The merger between her physical performance and it's translation to film (as is the translation of all the other digitized characters) is the real star of the film. It's just disappointing that I caught myself thinking rather of what other directors could do with this advancement in CGI rather than the film I was watching. The future of storytelling holds so much potential from this and I sooo want to see this stuff put into a film that cares as much about engaging the audience on a character and story level as much as the visual level.
Yes, films are visual experiences, but not solely visual. They are audio-visual narrative experiences. The most beautiful painting in the world can only hold the attention for a few minutes, and even a painting can generate a narrative connection with the viewer. Films being of much longer length need to work a lot harder at developing that narrative element because that's what keeps people coming back. That's what separates the special from the average.
In summation, Avatar was a frustrating experience for me. Aesthetically brilliant, but hollow in so many more important ways.