It's been a bit since I've seen a halfway decent scifi at the movies, and after seeing the Avatar trailers plastered all over TV, I was thinking that, yeah, maybe this was the movie to break that dry spell. With a production value exceeding that of some third world nation's defense budgets, one expects something besides a 3d parlor trick that will raise your ticket price by three dollars over the standard 2d showing; and that ultimately brings us to the three hundred million dollar question:
Is James Cameron's nine digit budget behemoth worth the three hours you'll be sitting in front of the screen or the higher price you'll pay for it?
In fact, save yourself the money and go rent Dances With Wolves; such is the state of this particular movie's plot. Fail runs rampant through Avatar from start to finish due to not only the heavily recycled plot, but a politically correct bludgeoning that is far too obvious for its own good and feels the need to beat the viewer with it at every turn. You have, in no particular order: Environmentalism, tolerance, evil corporations, the plight of war veterans and crimes against the Native American Indians all thrown into an ill-conceived hodge-podge that does little to endear any movie-goer looking for more out of their dollar than a shallow, regurgitated theme of guilt.
Not that this particular reviewer minds the themes of social responsibility or a well put together movie featuring said components, but this feels like Cameron's laziest work yet, frankly; so much so that it felt like he used a random plot generator to pull well used plots devices out of a hat to be pasted on to one another at random.
Mind you, the movie is pretty. Damn pretty, and it has to be one of the best so far in its attempts to merge a predominantly CG environment with live acting. That three hundred million went somewhere and it's obvious that it all went into make an immersive CG world. The acting was likewise solid, and it's really amazing how well the cast was able to work through such contrived material, saving Avatar in places it really had no right being saved in. While Sam Worthington (playing crippled war veteran Jake Sully) manages to play a merely passable Kevin Costner, Stephen Lang (as Colonel Miles Quaritch) makes an exceptional antagonist, and there are likewise a few surprises to be had in the peripheral cast.
Even so, there is little to make up for the fact that the entire plot is a throw away article. Social and moral brainwashing aside, a healthy amount of Aliens was borrowed for the human power base; so much so that you could easily wedge Avatar into the same universe and not even blink. To point, we have Sigourney Weaver (as the prickly Dr. Grace Augustine) and aforementioned Stephen Lang- who unsuccessfully auditioned for a role in Aliens, as well -to further reinforce the fairly stale plot.
There are a lot of things I wanted to like about this movie. Even with the heavily abused Dance with Wolves theme and subsequent flogging of Aliens, I loved the world Cameron managed to craft, if not its execution. Even though the vague association with his Aliens universe was completely unnecessary, it did fit the human contingent to a tee and likewise made for a fitting standoff versus the natives organic lifestyle. But for every moment I liked, sloth raised its ugly head.
How convenient that our hero should know nothing about the environment he was to be dropped into, but should encounter an English speaking native on his first life or death run through the jungle? And that's not nearly as bad as the "foreigner meets important native female/love interest, antagonizing native male warrior expecting to marry said love interest, friction ensues" theme you see in EVERY film along the same lines. Similarly, out of a base several hundred humans, only five have an attack of conscious over the mass killing of an alien species and damn those evil Native American Indian hating, pollution endorsing, rich capitalist, veteran hating, George Bush war mongering humans.
Did I mention the 9-11 Trade Center tower collapse scene thrown in as the blaringly obvious emotional impact segment? And you think I'm joking.
"Stale cliché" best describes this work, and while he's done great movies in the past, Avatar is probably the furthest thing from James Cameron's finest hour. I will applaud him on the visuals, casting and surprisingly, the length. This movie could have been a complete bucket of suck if he had caved to the voices of reason undoubtedly trying to fit Avatar into an hour and a half to two hour format. Anything less would have cut away crucial plot development- social responsibility themes non withstanding -and gutted the movie of any value what-so-ever.
Avatar is a rental at best, unless you're one of those, like myself, who are on a sci-fi dry spell and don't mind a liberal dose of Die Hard action sprinkled throughout. If you've watched Kevin Costner's flick at any time in a previous life, Avatar is likely to come through as derivative, though the alien theme might help stave off the slitting of your wrists until the two hour mark, where things finally come to a head.
Better yet, pick up a C.J. Cherryh novel. She does this sort of thing light years better than this wild stab at the stranger in a strange alien land plot.