Avatar review by Rosie


What’s that? You say you’ve been cryogenically frozen in a homemade underground nitrogen chamber for the past twelve months after losing a Super Bowl bet on the Cardinals last year to your amateur mad scientist neighbor, and now you’re all thawed out and looking to get caught up on all the biggest news and pop culture tidbits you missed so you won’t be left out of all the small talk at your niece’s bat mitzvah this weekend? Allll-righty. And what’s that you say? You also brought your old fraternity brother along with you, who just received an early honorable discharge from the military for volunteering to take part in a classified research study on the effects of experimental sensory deprivation techniques and long-term isolation on human subjects, and he, too, is interested in getting caught up on all the latest dish so as not to appear foolishly out of touch to the prospective relationship partners at his big lunchtime speed-dating event for busy professionals in the Commodore Ballroom of the Downtown Clearwater Courtyard by Marriott Hotel and Conference Center two Wednesdays from now? Well, jerks, this is your lucky day. And mine too, really, because you’re looking for someone who, two months after its open still hasn’t written his requisite Avatar review yet and I’m looking for someone who, two billion dollars into the juggernaut’s run still hasn’t seen it or heard enough about it to form their own opinion yet.

Avatar is director James Cameron’s long anticipated big screen follow up to 1997 blockbuster Titanic (chronologically speaking, that is). The main plotline of the epic centers around wounded Marine Jake Sully’s (Sam Worthington) efforts to infiltrate an alien race of giant blue Jamaican sparkle cats in order to gain their confidence for the humans who want to either (a) learn about them and their rich, cultural heritage or (b) run them off their land – depending on which humans we’re talking about here. The former types, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) have worked for many years to pioneer relations with the Na‘vi (that’s the cats) through a project known as the Avatar program in an effort to establish ties with the mystical creatures and advance scientific knowledge about them and their planet. After a freak accident that I don’t remember the details of kills one of her top Avatarists(?), Dr. Augustine reluctantly entrusts our hero Jake with the task of replacing him and earning the Na‘vi’s trust. The latter human types, led by the pipsqueakerous Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) and the meatheadical Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) thinks there’s gold in them thar’ hills and wants Jake to get in ‘ere an’ chase the varmints out. Conflict, as you may have predicted, ensues.

At first, Jake is all like “Whatever, man. I’m a Marine and I ain’t got no legs ‘cause I’ve seen some stuff – I’ve seen some THINGS, man – so I’m all jaded and junk and I’ll go scatter those cats off their land if that’s what you evil military-industrial type cronies want, ‘cause war is hell and I’m a dog-guy anyway.” But then he gets there and meets super hottie cat princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and starts to fall in love with her and embrace her culture and have all kinds of second thoughts about the relevance of the NRA’s strictly literalist interpretation of second amendment rights in the context of a modern first world society in which the technology of modern weaponry has advanced far beyond what the framers could have ever foreseen at the time, or the shortsightedness of deregulating environmental resource consumption for unsustainable immediate term profits, and pretty much begins to regret altogether ever voting Republican in the first place. So now, all of a sudden, he’s like, “Wait! I was wrong! Dr Augustine, we’ve got to stop them! I’m in love and life is a precious flower petal glistening in the morning dew! We’ve got to save the Na‘vi!” And Dr. Augustine just stares at him for like five minutes, while he finishes painting his toenails blue and writing “Neytiri Sully” in big swirly letters all over his notebook, until he finally settles down and she takes one more long drag off her cigarette, stumps the butt out in a petri dish on her space computer and says, “Fine.”

The rest of the movie is pretty much all flying and fighting and plot gaps and really horrific dialogue, but as a pure escape from the swirling crapfest that is your life right now – it’s actually pretty decent. In fact, I should say up front that for pure, unapologetic escapism, Avatar is a nicely potent little opiate. (A fact that is probably in no small way related to the record-shattering profits it’s raking in across this country right now, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.) Any criticism I have of the movie here is probably more a backlash on my part to the fact that this very fine piece of action-distraction is now garnering serious consideration for a Best Picture Oscar as well. Slow down, America.

I don’t want to be a total crotchety old coot about this, so I’ll try to say my peace as briefly as I can about this and just leave it out there to do with as you may, but there are a few things that should be acknowledged here before we all get too crazy about this Best Picture idea. First of all, the story is about as formulaic as an actuary table. The characters are all completely (figuratively speaking) one-dimensional, and there’s not a single twist or turn in the whole shebang that isn’t straight off the Classic Story Arcs Assembly Line. Good vs. evil, boy meets girl, families object, love overcomes, hero saves the day, 0111100101111010…. It’s like riding a three hour roller coaster on a flat, straight track across the desert. Sure, it goes fast and takes you by a lot of breathtaking scenery – but that isn’t the same thing as actually being a great rollercoaster. Even the whole central concept of the Avatar program (humans controlling other bodies/entities/versions of themselves from a lab with their minds) is pretty much the exact same thing as what we’ve seen before in The Matrix and other movies like (so I’m told) Surrogates and Gamer. Not to mention the schlocky political overtones about war and colonialism and environmentalism and blahblahblah. Not that there is anything intrinsically wrong with having or expressing authentic opinions about those issues, but the way they were mushed in occasionally here just felt like a sophomoric, last minute effort to overlay completely uninsightful, boilerplate morality points over a skeletal storyline to make it all mean something, man. (So, blahblahblah.)

In addition to being overly cliché in the big picture, there are also some gigantic holes and glossed-over nonsense in the details that come off as irksome at best and plain lazy at worst. For example, after all of the build up by Dr. Augustine and her crew about how long it will take and how hard it will be to gain the Na‘vi’s trust, the whole tribe pretty much decides to let Jake into their inner fortress and let him train to become one of them within the first five minutes of discovering him. Debatably a plot hole, but a pretty transparent shortcut at least. Another devil-is-in-the-details kind of bugaboo for me had to do with how the Na‘vi trained their flying horses-dragon things with a weird mind-melding technique whereby the Na‘vi’s mind took control of the animal’s mind – but for Jake, whose own mind was already fully occupied controlling his Avatar body, wouldn’t his mind have been like two minds removed in this process? You would think once he started thinking for the horse-dragon that his Avatar body would just go limp and fall off it or something, or at least he wouldn’t be carrying on full conversations and directing complex air assaults while his mind was also thinking for the horse. Or – changing peeves here – how come the Na‘vis were supposed to made of some kind of super titanium-reinforced flesh that normal human weapons couldn’t penetrate, but then a bunch of them get speared through with wood splinters when a tree explodes? I don’t know, whatever.

Even if you overlook the many glaring points of confusion, or attribute it fully to my lack of understanding about how Na‘vi mind-melds or musculoskeletal systems work, you still have to consider the fact that the dialogue, including the narration and some of the made-up language for the movie was just awful. Every single line was dripping with melodrama smothered in melted mootzarell-. “One life ends … another begins.” - Thus Spake Jake Sully. Michelle Rodriguez’s kick-ass and chew-gum tough chick character was notably saddled with some particularly cringeworthy lines as well. Which – to be clear – I’m not blaming on the actors. No, I point these things out only to highlight my case against James Cameron winning an Oscar for this, a movie which he claims to have been writing for the past 14 years. Fourteen years to come up with lines like “They’re pissing on us and don’t even have the courtesy to call it rain.”, “Shut your pie hole!”, “I see you.” (whispered breathlessly in romantic ecstasy), etc.. Though my personal favorite bit of Pandoran has to be Cameron’s name for the precious natural resource that the humans are looking to drill the Na‘vi’s planet for: unobtainium. Oh, I get it – that stuff must be hard to come by! Apparently the first two terms they tried, “preciousmetalite” and “worthalotofmoneyinum” tested as “too abstract” with early test audiences.

Anyway, all of this is just to say that Avatar, while a fine piece of cinematic achievement that should lay waste to all of the visual effects awards categories they can make up, and which should be very proud of the joy and refuge it has brought to millions of people worldwide in these trying times, is just not a Best Picture. It’s a good movie, with a simple story, clear sides easy answers, and pretty pictures that happened to hit theaters at the just right time. And that’s not a bad thing. But let’s try to maintain some perspective about it here, sky people.

Also, it’s in 3-D.

Ok, fellas, so that’s about it for big news from the past year. There were probably a few other things – swine flu whatever, bailout stuff, earthquake something, black president, Tiger Woods quit golf, Tonight Show junk, ehhh, but really Avatar’s been pretty much the main thing. Good luck getting reacclimated to the world, boys. If you need me, I’m going out to check out this new little coffeehouse called “Starbucks”. Supposed to be the next big thing and, as you can tell, I like to keep myself ahead of the curve.

6 out of 10 Jackasses
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