Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Avatar Kinda Sucks

I finally got around to seeing the $2 billion success story that is Avatar. Went full out with the IMAX 3D.

Can I get the last 40 minutes back to do something that sucks less?

I'm fine with derivative storylines, movie clichés, and things being telegraphed days in advance, as long as those unoriginal shortcuts are superseded by something that makes the movie worthwhile. Avatar tried very hard to make the technology the thing that did this. It wasn't enough.

Not because the tech wasn't impressive, but because the story and some terrible acting got SO bad, that it overwhelmed the positive aspects.

If you can think of a cliché from any movie featuring nature-loving natives and evil white people, it's there. If you can think of one from a film with an outnumbered and outgunned army vs superior forces - it's there. If you pride yourself on figuring out how pieces fit together, you'll feel insulted by how obviously things are telegraphed. If you've ever written anything, even a to-do list, you've put more thought into it than was put into this plot and script. It was purely A leads to B leads to C.

And while you'd think Cameron would at least be able to wink at his audience for being so derivative, even the hackneyed use of "unobtainium" lacks the sly smirk that would get it past. For those unaware - it's an old sci-fi placeholder, often used when something impossible needs to be done. Unobtainium is the material that can do whatever can't be done. "The Core" uses it with a wink to the audience, Avatar doesn't. It's just lazy. Why not just call it Cameronium or something?

Nope, James spent 5 minutes thinking of the story and 30 minutes on the script, and then started inventing his toys.

And this is the movie's major strength. Avatar IS visually impressive. Think of every video game on an alien world where you went "woah!" when you saw the first cut-scene. Avatar took them all and made a world. Floating mountains, iridescent plants, giant trees, familiar-yet-alien creatures, unbelievable biologies, and the rest. It's a very pretty place. It's a shame the number of cute creatures is limited to... none.

It all lives to serve the new 3D technology developed for this. It gives the world depth, perspective, and a richness that does come through. THIS is why it's so popular, because people can't see past the pretty forest. Yes, Cameron excelled in the 3D. It's the best 3D I've seen in a major movie. There are nearly no 3D "tricks" like things jumping out of the screen or a finger pointing at the audience. Instead, there are subtle uses of it that immerse the audience. Ash falling in front of you, swooping shots through vistas that create a sense of wonder. Water splashing on the front rows. It's all very effectively blended into the viewing, without taking you out of the movie.

The motion capture is also fantastic. I wonder if Robert Zemeckis is cursing Cameron for doing in one movie what he hasn't achieved in three - motion-captured actors who aren't dead-eyed zombies. The movements, the facial expressions, and even the eyes are all alive and realistic. The uncanny valley looks to have been bridged, although it will take a movie with mo-capped human characters to be sure.

And for two hours, that was almost enough. I snickered at the worst parts of the dialogue and plot, but was so impressed with the visuals that I let them slide. Then came the switch from "sledgehammer" to "jackhammer" in terms of the message and the love story.

Sam Worthington was terrible in this. No charisma. No emotion. No personality. Nothing. He was an animated wooden plank. Problem is - he's the star. He has to make rousing speeches and convince us he loves someone. He fails in inspire. In fact, once he had to ramp up the drama, I ramped up the laughing. I tried to be polite and keep it to a giggle, but at least once I let out guffaws at the terrible lines I was being fed.

Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi were both solid in their roles. Weaver might have phoned it in a bit, but she's such a pro that even that performance is better than most. Ribisi offered the only depth to any of the roles, and the more I think of it, the more I feel that it was a choice by the actor, and not what Cameron had intended. It offers the only shade of grey (think charcoal) in a very black-and-white tale.

There is no doubt who the bad guys are. From 5 minutes in, we're shown, in no uncertain terms, that everyone is a cookie-cutter character and they won't breach those edges. I'm not asking for a lot of moral quandaries or character backstories, but I'd like SOME believability. Are we really to believe that the industrialists and military are THAT stupid? That the scientists just figured out the most obvious fact of the planet just at the climax? By making these characters so two-dimensional and stupid, you only insult your audience.

But hey, it's pretty. It's good 3D and mo-cap. The action scenes are well-directed, frenetic, and exciting. And it's made $2 Billion so far... so what do I know?

I know I won't be seeing it again.

And I know they're talking sequel.

1 comment:

Dawn Summers said...

You, sir, are much much kinder than I will be. I fear it's the Canadian in you.