If Avatar were drawn like a regular cartoon, or had been made on soundstages with sets and the like, would it be interesting? Would it hold our attention? The answer is, unquestionably no. There’s no chance anybody would even have put it into production, no matter that Cameron made the box-office bonanza Titanic. So the question is: Does the technical mastery on display in Avatar outweigh the unbelievably banal and idiotic plot, the excruciating dialogue, the utter lack of any quality resembling a sense of humor? And will all these qualities silence the discomfort coming from that significant segment of the American population that, we know from the box-office receipts for Iraq war movies this decade, doesn’t like it when an American soldier is the bad guy?
Podhoretz’ review is chock full’o’spoilers, but when something is as apparently ridden with PC cliches as this, it’s pretty hard to spoil it. Let’s hope they can apply the film-making technology to a good movie soon.
[Monday morning update]
Kurt Loder over at MTV has similar thoughts:
Cameron is a great action director. There’s a lot to look at here: the luminescent glow of the jungle in which the Na’vi live, the ancient Tree of Souls with which they commune, a spectacular range of mountains hanging high in the sky up above Pandora — and there’s a lot going on. The director and his battalion of digital technicians have cooked up a fantastical bestiary of Pandoran creatures — futuristic hammerhead rhinos; dogfighting battle dragons; and, in one virtuoso sequence, a vicious six-legged thingy that chases Jake through the jungle and off the edge of a cliff (see trailer). The meticulous detail in which these creatures have been rendered, and the complexity with which they’re arrayed in the film’s exotic environments, are undeniable marvels of moviemaking art.
Unfortunately, whenever the action lets up and we’re returned to the piddling story, the picture slumps like a failed soufflé. It’s also heavily laced with political instruction of a most familiar sort. Cameron, who’s now 55, is a self-acknowledged aging hippie, and his boomer worldview is strictly by-the-numbers. Quaritch and Selfridge are evil Americans despoiling the Na’vi’s idyllic planet in exactly the same way that the humans have (we’re told) trashed their own native orb. The invaders are armed with deplorable corporate technology (an odd animosity in a major-studio movie that reportedly cost more than $300 million to make), and they speak the familiar — and here rather anachronistic — language of contemporary American warmongering. (“We will fight terror with terror!” “It’s some kind of shock-and-awe campaign!”)
The Na’vi, on the other hand, with their bows and arrows and long braided hair, are stand-ins for every spiritually astute and ecologically conscientious indigenous population ever ground down under the heel of rampaging Western imperialism. They appear to have no warlike impulses themselves, and they live in complete harmony with their environment. (They even talk to trees.) Why, the movie asks, as if the question were new, can’t we be more like them?
No one argues that it’s not a brilliant technological feat. It’s just a shame that it seems to have a cliched, politically infantile story line.