Wednesday, January 13, 2010

*Avatar* Review

The best thing I can say for James Cameron's Avatar is that its technology and setting, the jungle moon Pandora, would probably make a pretty nifty EPCOT ride. But Avatar's three-dimensional assault, which lasts the length of almost three hours, not only tires the eyes, but numbs the brain. I walked out woozy, and not because I was overwhelmed by its splendor.

Let me first address Avatar's visual presentation, about which even the film's fiercest detractors begrudgingly admit is magnificent. I think the film's palette is monotonous, boring even. There are moments of cleverness, mostly with the imaginative florae of Pandora (the faunae were roundly hideous). The motion capture technology of the alien race manages to avoid the uncanny valley, but it still looks cartoonish. I admit I had an initial gee whiz reaction to the 3D, but it faded after 20 minutes (about the length of an EPCOT ride).

Then there's the MESSAGE of the movie, and it is a MESSAGE, in hollering caps. Cameron presents his MESSAGE like a club to the head, bludgeoning the viewer's brain with anti-capitalism, environmentalism, mysticism, anti-reason, Luddism, collectivism, and Pre-Columbian nonsense. The villains, all of the humans save five, are American in the way the Left views America: aggressive, ruthlessly greedy, and borderline bloodthirsty. (The glee Cameron exhibits in obliterating the humans in Avatar is sickening.) The Na'vi, the indigenous creatures whom we're meant to praise, don't only hug trees, but fornicate with them (seriously).

Many critics have noted that Avatar's very existence is ironic. After all, everything it disparages (modernity, capitalism, technology) was responsible for its creation. I agree, but "irony" doesn't fully capture the degree of this contradiction. Alongside Terminator 2 and Titanic (two other Cameron films that were hostile toward technology), Avatar shows James Cameron either doesn't realize his dependence on technological innovation clashes with the Luddism of his films, or that he's shrewdly giving people what they want (visual dazzle), only to advance his philosophical MESSAGE.

That Cameron, a filmmaker with a seemingly infinite supply of hubris ("I'm King of the World!"), produces films that ultimately condemn hubris, is more than just irony. It's a joke. And the joke is on us.