Since it recently came out on DVD and BluRay, and since I’ve had some people ask my opinion of this movie, I’m going to review it. So here goes.
James Cameron. Avatar. A movie that was eagerly anticipated and has been consistently praised by many. Who cares what I think about it? Well, I do, for one, since sitting in the theater watching the nearly three hours of Avatar left me slightly nauseated and bad-tempered. And no, I did not watch it in 3-D. (If I had, I almost certainly would have gotten sick.)
The movie is beautiful, although the lushness of the jungle can feel oppressing at times. The special effects were amazing. There were moments that looked or felt false, but considering the visual scope of the movie some leeway is definitely allowable.
I think it was about halfway through the movie (I felt like I lost track of time while watching the movie, as though I were in isolation) that something a former professor said occurred to me. This was a man who understood cinema to a depth that I hope to be able to attain someday: I think he watched everything. He had seen the range from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" to everything Alfred Hitchcock. Anyway, he said that a movie could have the best of everything–effects, music, actors, setting, costume–but if it didn’t have a good story or plot, it was nothing.
Even most people that like the movie say it is lacking in plot. Lacking is a kind way of putting it. In the heat of the moment, after leaving the theater, I told someone that Avatar was one giant cliche from beginning to end. That might be a bit of a stretch, since Cameron manages to use a number of cliches. "Going native?" check; evil outsiders taking over indigenous people? check; big bad industrial corporations? check; evil military? check; ‘scout’ sent in to infiltrate group turning on those who sent him? check; pantheism? check; noble savages? check. And the list goes on.
A cliche can be turned around and made interesting and new, and maybe Cameron was trying to do that by setting his story on a alien planet in the future. But it really didn’t work, since his story was predictable and his dialog was sometimes mind-numbingly painful. The whole idea felt set in stone, as if it were a preconceived notion, rehashing of old ideas. Oh, wait, it was.
There were no surprises in Avatar, as there are in another movie, The Book of Eli. That movie also takes ideas that have been done before (post-apocalypse survivors and a quest to help humankind), but the Hughes brothers manage to make their story innovative and fresh, and even throw in a surprising twist or two.
Would I recommend Avatar, even if only for the special effects? Keep in mind the professor I quoted earlier; if it doesn’t have a plot, it’s nothing. So if you feel like spending your time and money for three hours of nothing, by all means, go for it. I wouldn’t recommend it though, since it nearly made me ill.