The most vital question we must ask ourselves when watching a film like “Avatar” is: Would I rave about this film if not for its impressive visuals and pounding musical score? If the answer is yes, we have a film that transcends mere blockbuster status and is well on its way to classic status. If we say no, well you can probably figure out the rest.
There’s nothing remarkable or ground-breaking about the tale told in “Avatar,” that’s for sure. In fact, it’s safe to say the plot is a by-the-numbers exploration of corporate greed and the Great White Hope who will save the defenseless savages against exploitation. It’s Flash Gordon on a lush tropical world that is the ultimate eco-system. Yawn.
While “Star Wars” used archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s theories on mythology to tap into something that spoke to our inner children, Cameron opts to preach his not altogether incorrect belief in the sanctity of indigenous people and their lands. He does this by presenting the worst kinds of bad guy stereotypes; the greedy and unfeeling corporate bureaucrat and his violence-loving military stooge, both played with great effectiveness by Giovanni Ribose and Stephen Lang as they slum in under-written roles not befitting great character actors.
The plot of “Avatar” can be summed up in one sentence: Bother of dead scientist has suitable DNA to take over brother’s experiment pretending to be alien in hopes of getting them to like us so we don't have to kill them for some new metal resource whose purpose os barely discussed so as to avoid cheesiness.
Naturally, he goes native a la’ “Dances With Wolves” and tries to convince his new people, the “Navi,” to leave their Hometree, the source of their connection to their world and each other.
Cameron always gets good performances out of his actors, even in the stunningly awful “Titanic,” and this film is so exception. The visuals are wonderful, often seeming as if they will leap off the screen and enter the theater even in 2-D. The homeworld of the Navi is rendered flawlessly. Images of winding and twisting trees hurl past the eye faster than one can keep track and floating mountains fill the screen in a rich, lush tapestry. But again, without those visuals, what is “Avatar” really?
Sadly, it's yet another product of the Cameron Cliché Factory. There is absolutely nothing original in this film. Much like “The Terminator,” Cameron has again mined the ideas and concepts of science fiction writers and passed off things that were done twenty years ago as his own for people who don't know any better. Back when he wrote and directed “Aliens,” Cameron confessed a desire to make Robert Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers" into a film,” settling for that film instead. Since Paul Verhoeven beat him to it, he has instead made another version of the humans as aggressors tale, this time just in time for Earth Day.
Aside from the great visuals, it’s the same old story of the young, damaged hero in over his head who sees how things really are just in time to make a difference. Oh, and there’s yet another love story tacked on as well as the proud and angry native (or Navi) who initially hates our Great White Hope but then proudly stands with him in battle. Not to mention the crusadingscientists who are the only decent people minus one token military pilot and a bunch of complete dumb-asses in uniform acting like mindless lunatics. And of course, we have the virtuous and spiritual people of the land whose struggle culminates in a giant bloody battle.
That battle is necessary, contrary to some idiotic reviews I’ve read condemning it. After all that melodrama and speechifying, it’s the one pay-off that makes the film worthwhile. A more intelligently written screenplay might not have required an extended action sequence, but a more intelligent screenplay wouldn’t have preached at the audience for three houre either.
*** out of *****