- 'AVATAR': Sam Worthington stars.
I know my little review of “Avatar” ain't gonna make for a hill of beans in this world. James Cameron's Groundbreaking and Triumphant Return to Filmmaking™ is already well on its way to making a bajillion dollars, and theaters are packed.
The good thing about being a critic, however, is that you're given license to say what you feel, mob be damned. And what I feel is this: “Avatar” is a hot, steaming, three-hour mess. The dialogue is the consistency of Howdy Doody's head. It physically looks like the time my dog ate a box of crayons and yurked them back up on the rug. The plot isn't much prettier.
Whew, that feels better. I've been waiting to write that down somewhere since about 15 minutes into the movie.
Sam Worthington plays Jake Sully, a paralyzed Marine who — 140 some-odd years into the future — travels to a pristine jungle world called Pandora, where evil military-industrialists are busily figuring out how to strip-mine the planet for a mysterious mineral called Unobtanium. The problem is there's a ridiculous-looking tribe of giant Smurfs called the Na'vi, who live there.
The military advisors of Evil Inc. just want to go in and blast everything in sight with giant, mechanized robot suits. But the corporation decides that the best way to get what they want from the Na'vi is to grow human/Smurf hybrids into which the consciousness of a researcher can be temporarily transplanted.
Sully, who has been brought in to replace his dead twin brother, is inexplicably accepted into the tribe, which agrees to teach him their loincloth-wearing, Pandora-worshipping ways. Before you can say “ ‘Dances with Wolves' meets ‘Starship Troopers,' ” Sully has fallen in love with the Smurfs' high-priestess-in-waiting Nevtiri (voice of Zoe Saldana) and is getting all Kevin Costner on his old bosses, leading sorta-horse riding Na'vi armed with bows and arrows against squadrons of missile-bristling helicopters and battalions of giant, machine-gun-toting robo-suits. Am I going to spoil anything by saying that Sully and his Stone Age compatriots somehow manage to win? Jeeze.
The problem with “Avatar” for me — other than its fourth-grade-level dialogue, its ham-handed love-the-earth message; its nearly three-hour length; and the fact that, no matter what universe you're in, like it or not, guys in giant robot suits ALWAYS beat guys with bows and arrows — is that there are long stretches of screen time when simply nothing you're looking at exists in the real world. It all feels a little soulless. It's a failing within myself — one that I'm surely going to have to learn to deal with as CGI circlejerks like “Avatar” become more commonplace — but unless I'm watching a Pixar product, I have a problem with movies where everything I'm looking at is created in some geek's computer. Even if I put that aside, however, there are holes in “Avatar” big enough to sail the Titanic through. Why, for instance, did Cameron spend so much time creating this completely new world, only to populate it with a race that is — other than the color, a tail, and a nice stretch — basically human, with 10 fingers, 10 toes, two eyes, same basic facial structure, a bellybutton in the same place as ours, etc, etc, etc. It makes the Na'vi more accessible for human audiences, sure, but — given the infinite complexity of evolution — what are the freakin' chances? It's the original “Star Trek” series all over again, with Capt. Kirk bedding female aliens who look like Hooters waitresses, with a coat of green house paint.
Anyway, I could go on and on. I know I'm likely in the minority about my distaste for “Avatar,” but in the end I felt like it was just more about spectacle than plot. In a Big, Stupid Summer Movie, I can abide that. In a movie which I've heard people seriously talking up as a contender for Best Picture, it's unforgivable.