Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Film Friday: Avatar (2009)

Avatar, a.k.a. Dances With Smurfs, is a crappy movie. There is no other way to say it. If someone tells you they liked this film, punch them in the face. Not only is this the most politically correct film ever, but it’s poorly acted, poorly written and deathly dull. I feel like I’ve lost a portion of my life watching it.

** I would insert a spoiler warning here, but you can’t spoil this film. **

The "Plot"
Oh where do I begin. An evil corporation has invaded some planet (the unoriginally named “Pandora”) so they can mine something called “unobtainium” -- a word stolen form the infinitely better yet still crappy movie The Core. This unobtainium does something. We don’t know what exactly because James Cameron wasn’t smart enough to come up with anything, but just take it on faith that it’s important.

The main character, Jake Sully (we’ll call him “Lifeless” in honor of the acting non-talent of Sam Worthington), is a former Marine who lost the use of his legs. . . probably from sitting through this film. He takes a job on planet PandaOdor where he will be an avatar operator. What's an avatar you ask? Basically, Ripley from Alien came up with the idea that if you want to exploit a native people, you gotta look like the native people, then you can trick them into trading their land for your beads. So she invented these body-suit things that look like the locals. We aren’t really sure how the suits work or how they’re made because Cameron didn’t care about this aspect of the film. But don’t worry about it, you won’t care either because your mind will be numb by this point in the film. . . ten minutes in.

Lifeless’s job is to operate his avatar in such a way that he endears himself to the locals, a tall blue race called the Na’vi, who look an awful lot like Smurfs who’ve spent time on a Medieval torture rack. After a boring, boring, boring 20 minutes of watching animators try to make Lifeless emote as he runs through the forest of this standard videogame world, Lifeless comes up with a plan. He decides to get himself attacked by wild animals in the hopes that some borderline-retarded princess of the Na’vi happens by and saves him. Of course this works because you can’t swing a dead panda on PandaOdor without hitting a Na’vi princess and because chicks can’t resist a dude who is helpless, rude and stupid.

After a few more minutes of scenery and some pidgin English, these two fall in love and the Smurfs make Lifeless a trusted member of their tribe. Retarded-Princess then mates with Lifeless’s avatar. . . somehow. . . before we are “treated” to another thirty minute scene where Lifeless runs through trees and learns to fly on the backs of creatures on Smurfback Mountain as the other Smurfs learn to accept him and see him as the chosen one.

Suddenly, it’s back to the plot. For reasons Cameron never bothers to explain, the evil US Military decides that since they can now succeed with their plan of gaining the Na’vi’s trust, now would be the perfect time to ditch that plan and instead start killing them for fun. What?! Those aren’t the US military, you say? Well, you could have fooled me. Then the “plot” stops, a fight ensues, a lot of people die, as do many Smurfs, and forty minutes later the evil military loses and Lifeless becomes the leader of the Na’vi. Roll credits.
The Characters
Now that you know the plot, let’s talk about the characters. The characters are awful.

First, you have Lifeless. He’s a pointless character with little to add to the movie despite being the main character. His role is clearly a copy of Kevin Costner’s role from Dances With Wolves, but Worthington comes across more like a mental patient whose thorazine wears off every once in a while. Indeed, he seems incapable of displaying any emotions, despite suffering wild mood swings -- “I hate this place,” “no, I love this place, it’s paradise,” etc. etc. His character also is prone to saying really stupid things, but that’s ok because the other characters aren’t listening. In fact, one of the first things you’ll notice about this film is that none of the characters speak to each other, they deliver speeches to the audience. If it weren’t for the fact they do touch each other once in a while, you’d almost swear they filmed their parts separately and never met. Even simple lines, like "good morning fellow capitalist oppressor," seem to be spoken past the other characters.

The main bad guy is Colonel Cliché, who has a severe disability which prevents him from saying any line you haven’t heard in another film. He loves to kill. Sigourney Weaver plays a woman who occasionally uses scientific terms and then dies. She likes to be rude to people. And there are a whole bunch of other actors too, who presumably do something plot-wise, though it’s not really clear what. Finally, there are the Smurfs, whose main job is to speak like cliché American Indians, while pretending they aren’t American Indians. Not much more to say about them.
The “Writing”
The writing is awful. In fact, there wasn’t really a single line in the film that didn’t make me cringe. Every sentence was cliché-ridden and predictable. The word choice was around a fifth grade level. There was nothing subtle in the writing either. If they want you to know a particular character can’t be trusted, they will literally have multiple characters come on screen and say, “You cannot trust Character X.” And the only memorable line in the film was “The End,” words for which I was truly thankful.

The Political Correctness
Now that we’re done talking about the good parts of the film, let’s talk about the most serious problem with this sucker: this film is pure leftist propaganda. Every single line delivered in this film is crawling with politically correct bullsh~t. Seriously, these people can’t say good morning without making some leftist crack. These characters don’t speak, they make speeches. And here’s what they say: corporations are evil. The military is evil. Scientists who do the bidding of evil corporations or the military are evil. The American Indians are noble creatures who lived in an ideal world where no one died and their gods literally existed and everyone was a vegetarian and loved each other until whitey came along and killed them all and herded them into casinos. Save the environment from capitalist whitey and the military. The war on terror is evil. The American military are terrorists, shock and awe is evil. Shave the whales! Down with whitey!

The anti-white message in this film was particularly obnoxious. All the bad guys were white. In fact, the only minorities on staff (the Indian dude and the Hispanic chick) quickly changed sides and betrayed whitey to aid the Smurfs, as did all the women and the handicapped guy (what, no gays?). Whitey Colonel Cliché even asks Lifeless how it feels to betray his race, which may have meant “human” in this instance, but sure sounded like "white."

But before James Cameron goes patting himself on the back for being a full-blown worshiper of oppression theology, let me point out one irony. Why is it, James, that the only person who can save the backwards Na’vi is the white dude? And why would these peaceful people make him their leader, as they apparently do at the end of the film, when his only qualifications are being a solider and being a white dude? Are you saying that a moronic white dude is the best and brightest on their planet? That seems kind of racist. Seriously James, it’s amazing how easily your screed against white oppression seamlessly morphs into the noble savage fantasy that was so popular among empire builders in the late 1800s. I guess you see yourself as the man who would be king?

The anti-military message was obnoxious as well. All the soldiers are drawn entirely from the paranoid Hollywood clichés of soldiers. They are bloodthirsty and irrational and long for nothing more than subjugating the scientists and businessmen who run the show, just so they can kill the Na’vi because. . . well, just because. Sounds to me like James Cameron must have had a bad experience with a solider at one time. . . in a mensroom.

Unfortunately, these messages permeate everything you see and hear in this crap-fest. Indeed, there wasn't a line of dialog that didn't push these ideas. And that was a big enough turn off to anger me, whenever I awoke from my periodic movie-induced comas.
To sum up this film, all I can really say is that it swings wildly between boring and offensive, with a pretty lame videogame thrown in between. I am glad this turkey will be forgotten in a couple years, but saddened that James Cameron made any money. Maybe he’ll get robbed. . . now that is a happy thought!

Check out the new film site -- CommentaramaFilms!


Tennessee Jed said...

This one was labled for what it was early so I lost interest in a hurry. I won't spend a cent to support it or waste time watching it.

AndrewPrice said...

Good for you Jed. I had little interest in it (non actually after the first few minutes), but I was asked by a couple people to review it, so I put myself through it. You can see how much I "enjoyed" it.

Ed said...

Now that was worth the price of admission! Lol! Very well done. This is exactly what I saw in the half of the movie that I watched, before I turned it off. What an awful film.

wahsatchmo said...

I was treated to this movie in the theater by my family. After watching it, I felt like I was still owed some compensatory damages. I’m surprised I wasn’t kicked out for all of my exasperated sighing at the general corniness of the dialogue. Red Letter Media did a review of this some time back, which I really enjoyed for his breakdown of how cynical the character design and plot elements actually are.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, I all but had to tie myself to my chair to keep from walking out. Seriously, even if this wasn't pure leftist garbage, this movie was HORRIBLE!!!

AndrewPrice said...

wahsatchmo, Great way to put it -- compensatory damages! That about sums up the experience!

Thanks for the link! I didn't realize they'd done a review, but their other reviews have been excellent! I'll definitely check it out.

CrispyRice said...

We rented this at home. I kid you not, I left part way through because I had laundry to fold and that sounded more appealing.


AndrewPrice said...

Crispy, I'm noticing a trend here. I'm thinking this was not as popular as we were led to believe perhaps? I take it you won't be buying the DVD box set?

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

I'm out now but I'm sure I'll have more to add later. Needless to say, while I enjoyed the film for what it was [dodges your fist], I didn't love it and I would rank it at the bottom of Cameron's filmography.

I saw it in Imax 3D and it was quite a spectacle. However, I think we all know that if the film had been shot in 2D without all the wizardry on display, we wouldn't be talking about it now.

The script is horrible and I really wish Cameron had hired a co-writer. I remember before the film was released, one of the movie geek websites posted a clip from the scene where Sigourney wakes up, asks for a cigarette, and goes to visit the golf-playing company man (shades of Peter Boyle in Outland). I posted the clip on Facebook with the comment "If the rest of the film is as badly written and badly acted as this, we're in trouble!"

What's interesting is that I've encountered a handful of people around my own age who are quite uninterested in the film. "Sure, it looks great," they say. "But the story was so unoriginal."

As for the purpose of unobtanium (the writers of The Core didn't invent the term - it dates back years) and other details, it may not be in the film but Cameron did come up with explanations for all this stuff. The Blu-Ray has an extensive encyclopedic section with entries for everything seen in the film. I doubt you give a rat's ass at this point (I wouldn't either) but I'd be more than happy to look some stuff up for you when I get home.

(That sound I hear must be your eyes rolling out of your head.) :-)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I have to ask, are you insane? All kidding aside, I wonder if you enjoyed the film or if you enjoyed "the experience"? I see that a lot where people love being a part of something and when they look at it again without the hoopla, they realize how little they really liked the actual product. Here's a good test, watch it again now and see if you find yourself wanting to turn it off.

I do my best not to be turned off by a film's politics, so that wasn't the main issue with me -- though the film was downright offensive from that standpoint. My real problem with this film was just that it was so bad that it was painful to watch. . . story -- nonexistent, characters -- cardboard, writing -- 5th grade level and insulting. The effects? That's about all this film offered and even that didn't impress me. Sure, this was the first big 3D film, but the world he created wasn't all that different from things I've already seen in some of the better videogames like Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy. There honestly wasn't a moment of the film that I could enjoy.

In terms of Cameron having ideas or backstories or whatever, I honestly don't care. Those are the sorts of things that are for franchises that develop fanbases that are interested in "what happens outside of the episodes." In a film, if you can't find a way to put it into what goes on screen, it's just not there. And he never managed to get any of this into the film. A better writer would have used these things to create depth, add plot, and make a decent movie. Cameron just ignored them, as if they would have somehow distracted from what he was trying to do.

Nice catch on Peter Boyle too -- Outland is one of my favorite movies.

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. Scott, If you want to update people on the things Cameron left out -- like the unobtainium, feel free.

Tennessee Jed said...

Scott - you needn't do that on my account ;-)

Outland good, however!

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Outland is one of my favorite films with some of my favorite quotes. . . very useful quotes!

Anonymous said...

Andrew (and Jed)...

I realize no one cares but I'm kinda curious now about unobtanium. :-) According to Cameron's treatment, it's a room-temperature semiconductor which can transmit electricity with zero resistance.

I don't want to go further since I don't feel like reading through a hundred pages of papyrus- and courier-font text on my TV!

A few additional thoughts. For starters, I get the whole "part of the experience" thing and I've used that to describe other films but this was a huge blockbuster, not some cult film where I'm one of the "lucky few" to have been there.

You also uttered the magic word: "franchise." What offends me (and I use that word loosely) is that Cameron - and I'm a huge fan but not an apologist - sees this as his Star Wars, his Star Trek, his Lord of the Rings, etc. But it won't work because no one cares about these people. The tech, the gear... yeah, it's all awesome and one can admire the design and craftsmanship involved but considering Boba Fett made more of an impression 30 years ago than Jake Sully did last year, it doesn't bode well.

And I think a sequel (Cameron wants to make one) is a bad idea. Write a novel, write a comic... but like Titanic, this was a once in a lifetime event. You can't replicate it.

P.S. I'm not crazy - the NASA shrink said so!! :-)

Anonymous said...

And I liked the film but if I had to take one Cameron film to a desert island (or even four Cameron films), this wouldn't be one of them.

My expectations were set appropriately. I knew what I was getting into: a visually-stunning spectacle with cardboard cutouts for characters, the depth of an elementary school essay, and politics that might offend the folks sitting next to me. I was more offended by the "on the nose" aspect of it all.

Compare that with, say, the last Indiana Jones movie where my expectations were quite high and I walked out quite disappointed. That was a movie that, for all intents and purposes, should have been great but Lucas and Spielberg (and Lucas) dropped the ball.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Having NASA certify you sane is pretty a good reference. How many people can make that claim?!

On this being an event, that's exactly what most blockbusters are -- they are selling an event as much as a film. And those films are always highly rated and widely seen, and everyone says this is the greatest film they've ever seen, an instant classic, and they will watch it over and over and over. . . and then it gets forgotten when the next blockbuster comes along because most blockbusters are crap that rely on the excitement of the event to get people to enjoy it.

It doesn't surprise me that Cameron wants to turn this into a franchise, look at how much money he made. He sees the possibility of a permanent income stream of a couple billion ever two years and the fame that comes with having a big trilogy. But this film is no franchise. I honestly predict this thing will vanish very quickly and we won't hear much about it again. And if he does make a sequel (which he probably will), expect it to "under-perform".

On unobtanium, I like the version in The Core better. And not to nickpick but, scientifically speaking, what Cameron suggests wouldn't help create energy, so it wouldn't really be worth very much, i.e. it's just a better copper wire.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I see your point about expectations, but I honestly went in with very bad expectations and it still managed to blow those away -- in a bad way.

Don't get me started on Crystal Skull, that one was so bad I try to blank it out of my memory.

Pittsburgh Enigma said...

Andrew, can you tell us how you really feel? :-D I couldn't agree more with your review. I was shocked at how bad Avatar really was. After all the hype, I thought it might be at least mildly entertaining. I'm glad I didn't waste money on it at the cinema. And after seeing how bad it was, I was also shocked at the stories of how people went back again and again to see it or how people pined to live in the so-called utopia of Pandora.

AndrewPrice said...

Pitts, I felt the exact same way. I knew it was going to be politically correct and kind of clunky and weak, but I had no idea how horrid it really was. Even if you strip out the politics, it just stunk as a movie... there wasn't a good moment in the film.

And I agree with you entirely about the people who became obsessed with this film. That's just the classic example that some people have mental problems and that they want very badly to escape their own lives. That's kind of sad.

In terms of wasting money, I like what wastchmo said -- "compensatory damages". . . even thought I didn't pay to see this, I still feel robbed.

Tam said...

I didn't give in to the hype when it came out, even though my husband wanted to see it for the effects. He has some computer nerd friends that he went with. I doubt I'll be the last holdout. Somehow, I think I'm in good company of people who never had and never will have any remote interest in this "crapfest." (I'll use your term, since I haven't actually seen it.)

AndrewPrice said...

Tam, Congrats on being a hold out! If I could un-watch this film, I would, it was that bad. It pains me to think that valuable brain cells are storing parts of this film in my brain. :-(

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Hi Andrew,

I admit, I almost skipped your review, but in the end, I figured "hey, Andrew went through Avahell to watch this...for us! He took one for the team. Least I can do is read it."

Now I'm glad I did. This is the funniest and most deservedly scathing review I have read thus far.

There was many lol moments! I doubt even the Mystery Science Theater guys could do a better job of panning this piece of Pandemoniumorian Na'vidoodoo.

You deserve hazardous duty pay, that's for sure and a medal, for going above and beyond what any sane person could ever be expected to do.

In a word: sacrifice, duty and honor. You now know what those words mean at the deepest levels.

I hope one day to shake your hand, sir, 'cause you went where few dare to tread. You persevered and you conquered.

Seriously, thank you for the laughs, 'cause I know it cost you bigtime. But you're tough and resilient. And you're a survivor!
You're a hero! A toast! To Andrew! Hip hip hooray! :^)

AndrewPrice said...

USS Ben, LOL! Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it! I assure you that I had a lot more fun writing the review than I did watching the movie! "Avahell"... isn't that the truth!

I'm a huge fan of Mystery Science Theater by the way, and am always glad to hear others mention it! It would be interesting to see what they would do to this film, though I'm not sure I would want to sit through it again -- even with the MST3k treatment.

Joel Farnham said...


Good review. To me, Avatar is standard SciFi fare, which means it is pretty bad. I have read better drek. :-)

I take two exceptions to your review. Avatar is more comparable to a little known novel, Midworld by Alan Dean Foster.
Wikipedia actually has a fairly accurate summation of the story. The differences are very small.

The other exception is your problem with how the avatars work. In Matrix, the humans are "hardwired" into a computer and can run around in a made up world. Is it too far a leap of faith to have the humans "WiFi'ed" into an avatar and can run around on a world? I liken it to Faster than Light travel in Star Wars and Star Trek. We are never told how the engines in Star Wars works, just that they do. In Star Trek, many an episode was devoted to explaining how their engines work. Now, when the story requires the heros to travel faster than light, they do. :-)

Andrew, you can take schadenfreude for Cameron will lose most of his money from the sequel.

AndrewPrice said...

Joel, I will take tremendous schadenfreud when that happens! :-)

My point on the not explaining how they work isn't that I don't believe it, so much as it's just another example of how he really doesn't care about his story. In both The Matrix and Star Trek they give you just enough to feel that the writers actually had an idea of how the things worked and it added just enough depth to make the world feel real.

In this case, it's like he just says "oh, yeah, here are the Avatar-thingys, don't worry about those." To me, it's symptomatic of the whole storytelling process he undertakes. We don't know anything about the people, we know almost nothing about the planet or the corporation or why this stuff was so important or why they couldn't find it elsewhere on the planet (ok, so it's a rich deposit, but why pick this fight except to have a plot point?).

I'm not saying I wanted technical schematics, but I wanted a sense that this was a real world, and I never got that from him, not in any aspect of the film.

Thanks for the link to Midworld, that does sound very close to his source material -- though, like I mention, everything he did seemed stolen to me.

BoilerRoomElf said...

Well, Bossman, we'd be lying if we said we weren't humbled by the size of their trees!

We wonder about their cookie-making ability, as well.

AndrewPrice said...

BRE, I suspect their cookies are probably pretty nasty. I didn't see anything edible on their planet.

As for the tree, it looks like it could easily be a whole apartment block for elves!

rlaWTX said...

I know I am late, but this review made me laugh WAY too hard not to comment!! Excellent discussion of Smurfs...

A 3D comment, I was miserable (yep, saw it at the theater), miserable - massive headache & nauseated. I watched more than half w/o the glasses, which added to the headache, but evened out the nausea. This is why I think that I thought the movie was "ok". After reading your review and thinking about the movie in those terms - you are right it was awful!!!

(watched Tron this weekend after taking Drammamine - double dose. No nausea. But half of it is 2D)

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I'm glad you enjoyed the review! I did enjoy writing it, even if I didn't enjoy the movie. Blech!

I've heard that a sizable percentage of the popuation (I've heard 10%, 15% and 30% so I don't know which is accurate) get sick watching films in 3D, so I have to wonder how successful this will ultimately prove as a technology?

Was Tron any good? I enjoyed the original, but haven't seen the new one yet.

T_Rav said...

Since other people are posting late, I'll just go ahead and do the same, and say that I almost died laughing reading this review. I thought "Dances with Smurfs" was a good one, but "Smurfback Mountain"? I don't usually do these abbreviation things, but that deserves an LOL!

And you're right about Worthington. The guy is incapable of expressing emotion, and was in my opinion 50% of the problem with "Terminator Salvation" (the other 50% being the script).

AndrewPrice said...

T_Rav, I'm glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, Smurfback Mountain made me laugh too. :-)

I agree about Worthington. I thought Terminator Salvation was really missing a lot plot-wise, but even beyond that, he's the real problem. He plays the role so woodenly that it felt like he was a stand-in, just reading the lines of dialog right off the page. That made it really hard to care about what was going on.

(P.S. Feel free to comment late at any time, I always check back to look for older comments.)

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