Sexy Goat-Faced Ewoks Versus The American Empire: My Avatar Review

And by “review,” I mean, “hastily scrawled impressions.”

Let’s just get out of the way: fuck it, I loved it.

Is it great? Mmm, nehhhh, ehhhh, no. That’s perhaps the film’s greatest shame — it falls short of being truly great. Still, considering that my entry-level expectations were, “This is going to be a big dumb cartoon,” that’s a good-sized jump in regards to unexpected outcome.

I’m going to keep these scribbled impressions without spoilers as much as possible, but let’s be honest: you’ve seen this movie before. You saw it when it was called Ferngully, you saw it when it was called Return of the Jedi, you saw it when it was called the Phantom Menace, you saw it when it was called Dances With Wolves, you saw it when it was called The Iraq War On CNN.

With that in mind, let’s dive in.

The Effects…

…are fucking incredible. Jaw-dropping, pants-shitting, socks-pissing (as in, you pee so far down your leg, it soaks your socks). I’ll eat crow on this one. I thought they were going to be cartoony. I thought they were going fall beneath the lumbering, stumbling feet of the Hype Machine. I thought the 3D would be ill-instituted and make everything look washed out. Not so. Holy shit, not so.

See, what happens is this:

The 3D does soften edges, and it does wash out colors.

The CGI has too-sharp edges, and too-bright colors.

So, the 3D actually tempers the effects and makes them look real, not fake.

It’s actually an amazing trick. Cameron deserves big ups.

And the 3D isn’t just, “Hey, an arrow at your head! Oh, snap!” It’s jungles and labs and sky islands — all coming alive. It’s crazy.

Is this a revolution in Effects, ala Jurassic Park? Mmmm? Maybe? I’m not confident enough to say that. I think it’s close. Very close. It’s the next step, if not a whole other level.

The Characters…

…are solid enough. The protagonist, Jake Sully, is quite likable. He’s not really deep, but that’s one of his core traits. He’s kind of a lunkhead, and not very complicated. That’s okay. His Na’vi counterpart, Naytiri, is nice enough — again, not particularly complex, but you get her. You like her. You want to bang her sexy blue goat body. (What?)

The villain — a roided-out hillbilly Colonel — is one-note, but sinister enough.

Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Augustine has enough quirks to make her feel like a real character (though, look deep, and she mostly turns to vapor).

Everybody else… ? Ehh? They’re pretty much automatons carrying the ball forward. They do their parts and don’t fuck anything up, and none of them really go against who you believe them to be. But few of them really hit home, either. None of them really pop. Even in Spielberg movies, the lesser characters tend to pop, but here, they’re mostly vehicles for effect and story.

The World…

…is unreal. Unreal. This is an alien world that’s just enough like our own where we’re not disconnected from it, but Cameron brings it together with a delicate hand — or a heavy, unsubtle fist — when appropriate. (Though, I’ll call him out on one thing: I’ve seen far too often now the “Uh oh, we’re under attack by a big monster… that’s suddenly become food for an even bigger monster! Oh shitfuck!” And it happens twice in this sucker. Dude, Jim Cameron, buddy. Ecology is more complex than that. And surely alien worlds have weirder, wilder choices available? I digress.)

Part of the world’s rocksauceomeness might just be the effects.

The effects, in this way, are like Nutella.

You could spread Nutella on a leather glove filled with broken glass, and I would eat the shit out of it. It’s not a meal. It’s a horrible choice. But Nutella! It’s so good!

The effects are a big, creamy spread of Nutella all over this movie. I have a sneaking suspicion that, were you to scrape off that delicious delicacy, you might find a stenchy shitburger lurking underneath. But then again, who cares? Nutella. Nutella.

The Direction…

…is confident, compelling, steady. Hey, if Cameron knows one thing, it’s how to direct a goddamn action movie. Everything is fast, but clear — blurry, but crisp. It’s exciting as shit. He knows all the beats. He knows this dance, and it’s a new dance every time, and frankly? It’s his dancefloor anyway. This is the guy who, to me, really invented some of the big budget action aesthetic, and here he takes it to a whole other level.

The Story…

… is… fine? It’s o… kay?

Best I can say is, it’s passable. It makes sense. At no time did I roll my eyes, as I do quite often with big budget monstrosities. Sure, it comes together a little hastily, and yes, sometimes the plot is given over to conveniences if not contrivances.

But, it is the weakest part of the movie. By far. A little extra money spent on the script may have gone a long way. I’ve heard tales that Cameron is a famous egomaniac, and maybe that’s true. Generally, I’m a fan. Titanic aside, I love his work, I love his ethic, I love his approach. Would this have been better had he relinquished some grip and maybe let someone else take a crack at it? Possibly. The lines-as-written are good, so it’s not in the nitty-gritty of the dialogue. It’s more in the overall plot and story where it could use a little more juicefulness.

And, compared to some other big budget extravaganzas (Transformers, Star Trek), the story is practically War and Peace. So, there’s that.

The Message…

…is spraypainted on a shovel, and then is slammed into your skull.

Subtle, it ain’t.

The Na’vi are the noble savages. They are not a complicated species. They’re all shining examples of aboriginal life.

The humans are the invading American military. No, seriously. Sure, you don’t get the stars and stripes, but it’s the iconography of the American military-industrial complex.

You will hear words like “shock and awe,” and “martyrdom.”

The Na’vi are an insurgent force. They have something the humans want — the ill-named “unobtainium.” We can imagine an easy parallel to oil.

The humans become the bad guys at the end. They are killed. This isn’t a cozy, “Oh, these rogue troops are bad, but those guys are good.” Soldiers — basic grunts — get eaten by monsters, get arrows through the chests, get thrown out of ships, get shot by Jake Sully. It’s not bloody, but it’s brutal.

Further, the ecological language is uber-green. The planet is bound together in a kind of natural neural network; the Na’vi feed into it, while the humans are ignorant of it. A few references make note that the humans basically destroyed “their last planet,” and will then fuck this one up, too.

So, the message is clear.

No gray areas, here.

Spraypainted on a shovel, then — whang.

My Conclusion…

…is that I loved it anyway. Maybe I won’t later. Maybe I’ll sit down with it weeks or months from now and it won’t hold up. I’m prepared for that; it’s happened before. I watched The Phantom Menace that first (and second, and third) time and loved the unholy shit out of it.

Over time, that impression didn’t hold water. It was a bucket with a hole.

But for now, I’ll bask in the warm glow of goat-faced sexy alien love, if you don’t mind.

And I know. They’re supposed to look like cats.

Screw that. Goats. Goats. Goat love. Goat sex. All blue. All the time.

10 comments

  • HEY! Are you saying you didn’t like Star Trek? Cause if that’s the case, you have a date with Mr. Ipunchyourface!

    And he has expensive tastes. -_-

    …that joke went no where. Moving right along…

    I really want to see this film. Thanks for the review, I think it answered my concerns about it so I know what to expect when I see it.

  • It’s interesting, to me, that Phantom Menace is such a recurring touchstone in reviews of Avatar. (That and Transformers 2 keep coming up.) On a certain level that’s a clear and apt (even obvious, but not in a bad way) comparison. It’s curious, though, as I have little to no pent-up enthusiasm for Avatar. I’ll see it, sooner or later, and probably not in 3D, but I’m not jazzed. So much of Phantom Menace‘s relationship with its audience was about expectation, and I hear that I’m supposed to have game-changing expectations for Avatar, but I don’t.

    I’m left wondering if Avatar‘s competency is going to come off as something grander because of my lowered expectations. I really don’t know.

    That bucket-with-a-hole is a fine analogy. Though I’ve actually come back around to liking Phantom Menace just fine as a sprawling old-fashioned historical epic in space, complete with jokes that bomb and spectacles that drag. So what the hell do I know?

    • My expectations for Avatar were pretty meek. I like Cameron, but I really figured it would offer a reasonable, if mediocre, “event pic.”

      But I liked it quite a bit more than I expected. I loved it, really — hell, a three-hour movie should drag. No drag. No slowdown. I was along for the ride from word one. And the 3D is really quite something.

      — c.

      • Oh, and! Yes. Phantom Menace.

        As you note, an apt comparison. Two big budget movies. Two “game-changers.” Two respected sci-fi-action directors, also noted egomaniacs, also writing the scripts themsleves. Two plots about aboriginal species being taken over by an industrious military with rogue outsiders intervening. Two scenes with Big Monsters And Then Bigger Monsters. Two “vehicular journeys through alien worlds.” Two mystic magical worldviews given a scientific workover.

        Actually, that list just keeps on going.

        At present, Avatar is the far better film. But again, see earlier note: bucket, hole.

        — c.

  • “A stone’s throw from greatness” was an excellent way to put it.

    For my money, the unidimensionality of a few particular characters and their got-it-off-the-rack dialog, and the handful of time where the main characters came right out and said how you were supposed to feel about a few of the stronger emotional beats, were the weak links, rather than spine of the story.

    But, yeah, I was pretty impressed.

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