Sam Worthington is the wheelchair bound twin brother of a scientist about to embark on a mission on the planet Pandora to get to know the natives by taking on their form. When this scientist dies, Sam is able to replace him inexpensively due to him being his twin. However while he goes into this mission wanting to exploit the natives for information in order to report back to his military commanders, he soon finds out that maybe the natives are not savages but in fact people as well.
OK let’s get it out of the way, Avatar is just Pocahontas in space. Only about twice the length and much less subtle. I know it’s the comparison everyone makes (that and Dances with Wolves) but the problem with Avatar is that this comparison isn’t just a lazy insult, it’s completely true.
Avatar is a cultural phenomenon in that it came in 2009, made more money than any other movie has ever made by a considerable margin and then disappeared without a trace. It made no impact on popular culture, it’s only influence on cinema in general is the 3-D “trend” which despite not being very popular anymore (since about 2010) refuses to die, and the only reason people talk about it now is in reference to how much money it made or how nobody talks about it. But the real question is why did it make so much money?
After watching it for the first time since seeing it in the cinema the other day, I’ve been left perplexed as to what people saw in it. It’s just not very good. The graphics at the time sure were impressive – although they haven’t aged very well – but that isn’t enough to sell a film, because if it was Jurassic Park would have killed Avatar. It’s completely unmemorable and to be honest just staggeringly dull. I’m no James Cameron fan and this film is one of the main reasons for this. I genuinely think there is a solid visually impressive 90 minute movie hidden in Avatar somewhere but it’s just lost within endless scenes of people eyeballs moving whilst asleep and people saying they are going to do something and then doing that very thing. For instance there is one bit where Sigourney Weaver say out loud “I’m going to tell the general bloke that I’m not best pleased” (I’m paraphrasing) and then we see her walk to the door, walk out from the door and over to the room where this guy is, walk across this room and then tell him that she isn’t best pleased. It’s like Cameron just doesn’t know how to make films properly, you don’t need to have someone telling the audience what you are about to do, if you are then going to do that thing on camera. It’s like the film is aimed at seven year olds the way everything is completely spelled out and spoon-fed.
However, my main criticism of Avatar is that I think it’s lazy. I know they spent a lot of time and money on the equipment but I just don’t think much effort has gone into either the script or the actual planet and alien design. All the creatures are just earth animals turned different colours and with extra limbs slapped one, and this in its self would be fine if the mechanics of the creature changed with the extra limbs but they haven’t. The limbs are superfluous and exist for purely aesthetical reasons, and if you spend 10 years designing an alien I want more thought than just “it looks cool” going into it. There is a short 15 second clip from Revenge of the Sith on the planet Felucia (a jungle planet) and for me it would appear that similar levels of effort have gone into the design of both. I think if the film was at all interesting this wouldn’t bother me so much, but because I wasn’t involved at all I just felt myself asking “why are none of these creatures suited to their environments? The six legged panther thing literally evolved to live here how come it can’t always move due to it not being able to fit through trees? Why are creatures as big as those rhino things living in dense woodland? How did that big bird thing get so big, what does it feed on, there is nothing substantial enough to warrant its size?” And I felt myself getting quite annoyed actually that a film that clearly has no effort invested in anything except the technology made so much money.
Avatar just kind of makes me annoyed at humanity for giving a film this frankly rubbish that much money. Yes at the time it was pretty, but that is not enough people. Sure it’s quite an honest message but I don’t see why people paid £10 to sit in a room and have James Cameron shout “deforestation is bad” at you for 3 hours. It’s not even a good enough message, if you have that worldwide platform I want a more interesting message and a more relevant one frankly. Save your time guys watch Princess Mononoke and Pocahontas instead. That turned into a bit of a rant didn’t it? Sorry about that.