by Ken B.
There’s a film critic named Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (He writes for mubi.com, look him up, he writes well.) who gave a speech a few months ago, and I recently viewed in on YouTube. He referred to cinema itself as a tree. Anything that comes out of it is merely a branch which will soon grow into another branch. Basically, any ecstatic new developments in the world of cinema won’t be that new for long, as it will purge into something else. That analogy can be used here. Avatar, in all its technical glory, is simply a branch, but people were referring to it as a new tree of its own.
Frankly, there’s nothing new about technological developments in $200M+ movies. Avatar has all the makings of that. Plenty of spectacular visuals, thorough enjoyment for all, but like most James Cameron blockbusters, a simple lack of a detailed story or well fleshed out characters. Avatar, like Titanic, is visually revolutionary, but simply the summer blockbuster released in winter.
Let’s take a look at the plot. In the 22nd century, we have drained all of the Earth’s natural resources, and we must mine for a valuable substance on a faraway planet known as Pandora. This planet is inhabited by ten foot tall blue human-like creatures known as the Na’vi. They are extremely skilled hunters and don’t take too kindly to visitors invading us from other planets (we don’t either, check out Independence Day).
The only way around being killed instantly is for humans to become controllers of a Na’vi like creature, or an “Avatar”. Paraplegic former U.S. Marine Jake Sully (SAM WORTHINGTON) becomes an operator of an avatar after his brother, the original operator, dies.
That’s it. No, seriously. That’s the entire setup for a nearly three hour movie. Far from impressive script-wise, kind of like Cameron’s own Titanic, where the words “Jack” and “Rose”, are said over 120 times by the end of the movie (Most of which, I imagine, happens in the last forty minutes).
As soon as Avatar starts, its magnificent visuals sweep you away, and do so repeatedly for the next 162 minutes. It’s engrossing special effects are well enough the price of theater admission (afternoon matinee, no snacks, no drinks, plain ol’ 2-D… okay, maybe it’s worth a small popcorn, too). But it’s exempt from a deep story. The Blu-Ray release essentially is a $237 million demo disc to sell home theater systems.
Let me try this a different way. The executives at 20th Century Fox probably thought “We take a weak, knobby-kneed script, splash it in a couple of coats of motion capture brilliance, cover it in CGI goodness, dry it off a bit, and then hand it to the public in hopes of $18 per person for a (fake)IMAX-3D release. In a big multiplex. On a Friday night.”. And you know what? Two billion dollars later, you got that.
Even though it was held up by a twig, I still have a soft spot for Avatar. It was still a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It set the mood well, it had mind-blowing scenery, climactic fights (although they didn’t convince you why you should root for the blue guys) and that was enough to keep me going through the end credits.
But I doubt it will be looked upon with the same technological brilliance it has now in 20 years, 10 years, 5 years, or even one year. Why? Because it’s hopeless to think that out of the hundreds of films that are released theatrically each year, that even one of them won’t top Avatar. To think that is just plain stupid. You can’t hold on to movies like this. You know how when Titanic came out, the box office records prove that almost everyone saw it once, but it’s generally accepted now that the teenage girls that went all googly-eyed over Leonardo DiCaprio saw it five or six times, and so it made a billion worldwide and stayed in theaters for ten months? Only when it was re-released fifteen years later did the theatrical hype jump back over it. (Or maybe people appreciated visual cinema and saw it multiple times, but for now, you’re grouped into the “Leo-Mania” category).
I’m fully convinced cinephiles will not include Avatar in 2020 when they look back at the past two decades of movies, because it’s not anything in the ballpark of a memorable storytelling experience. Quick, someone tell me what the name of Billy Zane’s character in Titanic was… see, that took you a second. If anyone tells you that Avatar will be forever burned into the cinematic cityscape (no, it’s NOT a landscape) for years and years to come, punch them in the face for me. Why? Because I have no time to negotiate with people who pretend to know what they’re talking about. Don’t believe me? Look at the iMDB right now. Avatar is only in the top 500 most viewed film entries. That’s not very impressive.