The light posting today was due to my taking time to go see the new movie "Avatar", the computer-generated sci-fi flick from James Cameron. Here's my review:

It sucks.

Fuller commentary -- AND SPOILERS! -- after the jump. So don't read on if you haven't seen it yet and are planning to because I will totally ruin it just like that good-looking jerk ruined your prom by dancing with your date, then taking her home while you had to hang out with Billy from band camp.

Not that there's anything wrong with band camp. Or Billy for that matter.

On the other hand, there is something wrong with "Avatar" and simply put, it's that somewhere along the line, James Cameron forgot he was supposed to be telling an entertaining story.

As my buddy Dave said, when you have an animated movie (whether animated by hand or computer), you have to make the script even better than it would be with live action, because you have an additional hurdle of believability to overcome. With actual human actors and settings, you've got the benefit of the audience buying in at a fundamental level as to what they're seeing. But with animation, you have to not only make what are fundamentally non-real images seem real, but to make what is happening to them seem real as well (at least within the confines of the world you've created).

Cameron forgot that step in "Avatar". The dialog is as bad as has been reported elsewhere, particularly with The Colonel bad guy character, who chews up more scenery than a hungry Doberman. He's so over the top and stereotypical, he completely ruined every scene he was in, from his intro beneath a hulking weight set to his absurd personal fire extinguishing later in the film.

I don't know why they bothered animating all the big blue cat people with computers when they were going to use cardboard stand-ins for the human actors. Maybe it was a budget thing.

I'll say this, the film looks beautiful. But even there, I didn't see anything that I'd have been shocked to find in a top-end video game. Less so, in some cases.

The worst thing about this movie was that I never felt immersed. I never lost the sense that I was watching a movie, that I was seeing computer animated figures, nice as they looked. That's because a stupid story is stupid no matter how many millions of dollars you throw at it to dress it up.

And this, my friends, was a stupid story.

SPOILER ALERT: Look, no matter how bad the defeat of the first outpost was, no company or nation or world is going to give up a substance fetching twenty million dollars a kilo on the open market. Not gonna happen. They'd be back in bigger, more ferocious, nastier vehicles. They'd firebomb the entire surface. They'd nuke it from orbit and scoop out the ore when the fires died down.

Speaking of which, why the hell did they need to load a shuttle full of explosives to bomb the tree? Lob a few missiles at it. If targeting systems are a problem due to Flux, drop some asteroids on it from orbit. Problem solved. No need to get your tilt-rotor flying assault choppers dirty.

I was barely holding on to some sense of "Just let it be stupid fun" until the end when the Colonel bad guy pulls a giant knife out of his mechanical fighting suit. W. T. F. Are you telling me they strap f***king KNIVES to these things? That's just silly. I couldn't help it, I laughed out loud. And that's not the reaction they were going for, I feel sure.

Look, if you want to spend a couple of hours looking at gorgeous scenery to the tune of six bucks a head, go for it. But you'd be better served watching the Sunrise HD channel on cable. It would make more sense and you wouldn't have to put up with a bad story and bad acting in the service of James Cameron's wet dream over his latest technological toy.

25 Responses to Avatarocious

  1. Aulianas says:

    Few quick things I have to say:

    One, you were pretty much right. Too many cliches, too much focus on the look, not enough on the feel.

    Two, I had a few problems with how blatant he made the politics behind it. It was, just as District 9 was, about events in the past, about ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and the like. Wasn’t just a bad plot, it was a stolen bad plot.

    Three, the Avatars were, essentially, Human-Nabi hybrids. They said they were half-half…. so why did they look so full Nabi?

    Now for the few things I did like:

    One, at least they bothered to explain a few things, such as mentioning that the Nabi (sp?) had bones reinforced with carbon, thus explaining why they could block a knife swing by a giant robot with a bayonet.

    Two, the knife COULD have had a practical use, either for clearing jungle, or if they were disarmed, as the human-Nabi Avatar did. While it COULD have been placed there, however, it wouldn’t have been. For one thing, the bayonet could be used to clear away jungle. Second, why would you need to attach a knife as a secondary weapon to something that probably could have outright killed the Nabi with a single punch?

    Not to mention that the first person to look at that design would go, “You want to attach a giant knife… to a mecha…

    Damnit, stop watching anime!”

  2. Hammerknight says:

    You and Billy from Band camp is not an image I wanted to see this early in the morning. Just so much wrong about it. lol By the way can you tell us what you really thought about the movie Jeff, sounds like you were holding back a little. 🙂

  3. TopHat says:

    Yeah I hated it too. Am I supposed to be happy seeing my speies being slaughtered by a bunch of tree-hugging blue men?

    Speaking of, If this was supposed to have a moral of ‘saving the environment’ why didn’t Camoran just take the millions he spent making the damn movie and give it to an environmental charity. Goddamn hypocrite.

  4. TopHat says:

    *Species. My bad.

  5. Mr.MikeK says:

    Hm, let’s see if I get this right. Noble native peoples in touch with nature? check. Evil, greedy corporation? check. Evil, brutal military? check. A “hero” that switches sides when he falls in love with a native and her people? check. Able to figure out the entire plot from watching the trailer? check and check.

    Admittedly, there have always been cliches in movies. Some of them, I actually enjoy seeing from time to time, like the good guys always win. Remember when that was the case? How about when the people who are the good guys in real life (police, military, etc.) were the good guys on film? That time has passed for most of the tripe out of Hollywood with the exception of some of the better comic films out there.

    Avatar is just another in a long list of interchangeable films that are nothing more than winy political clap trap that exchange a good story for “making a point.” I’m all for making a point, but I happen to believe that it is better made when the characters and story are better and the message is more subtle. People are not stupid and do not need the point to be made in such a blatant and shallow manner. OK, I get it, after who knows how many films in several genres, you don’t like the military, corporations, and capitalism and you like getting back to nature and the environment.

    I have absolutely no intention of spending any money to see this load of garbage. The only spoiler was the knife on a mech. The rest, including the over-the-top villain, I got from the trailer. The effects are cool, but I guess I miss the old school. Knowing everything is done in a computer takes away some of the wonder. I remember seeing “Star Wars” as a kid and trying to figure out how they made it. For movies like “Avatar,” I think I’ll wait until it’s in the dollar section at the video store. My local place let’s you rent a dollar movie free when you rent a current one. From the sounds of it, free might be overpriced.

  6. The Doomed Pixel says:

    Actually, the cat-people are called Na’vi, which just makes me want to throw something and dismantle the up-C arrow button on all the Nintendo controllers in a 20-mile radius. Plus, what, the material these guys want is called Unobtanium? REALLY? Who let James Cameron name anything? It’s as bad as listening to something Ringo Starr wrote.

    Not that I’m bitter.

  7. Jeff Hebert says:

    I know, “Unobtanium” is awful. They should have called it “Handwavium” and the cat people “Cat People” and the world “Other Placius” and it all would have fit nicely. It’s like they weren’t even trying, and this is purely a vehicle for showing off fancy new technology and don’t bother me with thinking about anything else.

    I’m pretty harsh in this review, but having said all that, the fight scenes are pretty spectacular. And stuff does go BOOM. And … um … the first half wasn’t awful. Not good, but not awful like the, er, second half.

  8. vampyrist says:

    I agree that the movie was full of cliches and the plot was predictable but i would reccomend it for its beauty. The plot was crap but it looked amazing. The computer graphics made a world that is just made for visual pleasure and they did it well. I’d reccomend seeing just for the Pandora scenery and animals. If you do see it see it in 3D.

  9. Jeff Hebert says:

    I’d agree that if you’re going to see it, see it in 3D and preferably at an IMAX. The graphics are the best thing going for it, so you might as well maximize it.

    Having said that, I even had problems with Pandora. When EVERYTHING is a bright color, it’s just like a rainbow threw up on your tie-dye shirt. The jungle was as heavy-handed as the plot, more often than not.

    I did really like some of the longer-shot landscapes, with the big stone arches and the flying mountains. And some of the scenes in the jungle were beautiful, when there wasn’t so much of everything thrown onto the screen.

  10. The Imp says:

    I should have known after ‘Titanic’ that Cameron’s days as a legitimate film-maker were over, but ‘Avatar’ nailed that down for me once and for all.

    This was simply the worst movie I’ve seen in a decade. I think I’d rather watch a back-to-back showing of ‘Bloodrayne’ and ‘Alone in the Dark’ than see this piece of sh!t again.

  11. NGpm says:

    I haven’t seen it, and I don’t plan on it. None of the “spoilers” told me anything I wasn’t already expecting.

    @Tophat: didn’t you know that it was a better use of Hollywood money to call everything about the establishment evil and everything about revolt good, rather than spend any of that money on actually improving things?

    This plot screams Steven Seagal all over! “I’m just a human hybrid cook.”

  12. J says:

    I actually liked this movie as did the majority of the people who have seen it. However I thought the 3D was a waste with this movie. As for the unobtanium, that was probably supposed to be a temporary name for it. Kind of like on that stupid cop show my sister watches called suspects unsubs. And Imp dpn’t be so melodramatic. We all know you are just exagerating when you say its the worst you’ve seen in a decade. Because if it is then you plainly have not seen very many movies lately.

  13. Jeff Hebert says:

    My friend Dave and I actually had a discussion in the car about which movies we thought were worse than this one, in terms of geek films. Clearly, your Superman IIIs and IVs and projects of that ilk are much worse. I thought the last Raiders of the Lost Ark was worse, though Dave disagreed (he claims that film ruined a great franchise for a whole new generation, while Avatar has no pre-built base to disappoint).

    I actually don’t go to all that many movies, especially if they’re super-hero or comics related and they look like they’re going to suck. I like the genre too much to see it defiled by crap. As a result I did not see Transformers 2 or GI Joe, both of which looked (from the trailers at least) to be steaming turds and likely were worse than Avatar.

    It’s not the worst movie of all time or anything in my opinion, but it’s also not good. Some people seem to get their panties in a wad if you dare suggest you didn’t like something by pointing to all the things that are worse than it, but there are levels of suck, and this one’s on one of those levels.

    And yes, J, the majority seem to like it (84% on RottenTomatoes, 8.9 on IMDB). Which means nothing, because this post isn’t about what 80% of people like, it’s about what I like and what you like and what whoever else is commenting likes. A majority of people would think a crap sandwich was a culinary masterpiece if Miley Cyrus said so, but that doesn’t mean I’m downing it with a glob of mayo and some chips.

  14. Jeff Hebert says:

    Wow, I just spent a bit of time reading other reviews, and I am WAY out on a limb here. It’s gotten raves from pretty much everyone. I frankly don’t get it. They all seem to be dazzled by the newness of the format, but it didn’t feel terribly new to me. They all admit the story is “heavily borrowed” from other stories, and that the dialog is corny, and yet they still love it.

    I’m missing it here … maybe I am just too old, and have read too much good science fiction, and have been totally drawn in already by existing great CGI tied to fantastic stories (thank you Pixar!), but nothing about this movie was new or revolutionary. I don’t care if they filmed it on mental telepathy cameras with Unobtanium film, if the story’s lame, it’s lame, and no amount of flash can hide it. And this was a lame story.

    Someone even went on about how great the “larger than life” colonel was … I’m just aghast at that.

  15. Jeff Hebert says:

    OK, hopefully the last word on this from me for a while, but I thought this review from Cracked.com of all places was right on the money. Key bit:

    Your enjoyment of that last 40 minutes will depend on how much of the preceding 2 hours of shoddy storytelling, dialog, and characterization you want to hold against Cameron. Either you’ll be carried away by the man’s technical skill and naked enthusiasm to show you probably the most personal thing he’s ever created, or you’ll fidget uncomfortably and fight down inappropriate snickers. But he will grab you in that last 40, and he will remind you that yeah, he’s been away for awhile, and he may not have ever been the King of the World, but when he wants to, he will kick any other director’s ass at the art of ass kicking.

    The ending fight IS pretty amazing (well, up to the robot knife), I’ll give it that. For me, of course, it wasn’t good enough to overcome the preceding 2 hours of shoddy storytelling, dialog, and characterization, but your mileage may vary.

  16. The Imp says:

    ” And Imp dpn’t be so melodramatic. We all know you are just exagerating when you say its the worst you’ve seen in a decade. Because if it is then you plainly have not seen very many movies lately.”

    Damn, we’re lucky to have the keen, piercing intellect of J around! I feel so ashamed and yet strangely cathartic now that you’ve told me how my reality is actually constructed, rather than how I thought it was all these years. That’s so awesome! Where do I send the check for the therapy session, dude? 🙂

  17. Gero says:

    In support of Jeff and Imp, I thought it was a terrible movie. People keep saying how revolutionary the special effects are, but what they don’t seem to realize is that the only new technology Cameron is using is for the FACES of the cat people. All the rest of the 3-D CGI stuff is the same that we’ve seen in any of the latest movies featuring that stuff (Transformers, District 9, etc). I think it is getting such high reviews because people are basically being tricked into thinking its amazing. It’s sort of like those “special” stereo wires that are made of the exact same things, in the exact same amount, as the $2 version, but are heavily marketed as better quality. People rant and rave about how these ridiculously expensive parts really make things sound better, but in blind tests can’t tell any differnece. I think that if Avatar hadn’t spent the last year and a half saying it had brand new amazing graphics, people really wouldn’t have noticed…


  18. Xstacy says:

    As far as I can tell, sci-fi and comics geeks pretty much agree it’s a waste of time. Everybody else loves it. I’m not sure what to make of that.

    Fortunately, I love me some crappy movies, so I’ll probably enjoy it in any event.

  19. Loki says:

    ALL OF YOU STOP WITH ALL THIS ARGUING! YOUR TEARING THIS FAMILY APART!!!….hehe I’ve always wanted to say that!

  20. Connor S. says:

    I’m sorry Jeff, but I seriously have to beg to differ. I thought Avatar was a good movie, albeit full of cliches. It wasn’t the best acting, I agree, but I altogether liked the movie. And plus, the General dude reminded me of General Sheppard in COD6. (lol) The graphics were stunning, you have to admit, and the main character and Sigourney Weaver both did a good job in my perspective. I don’t mean to be an ass, but dude, I have heard ups and downs on reviews, but the people who give it downs are just assholes who only look at the bad things in movies.

  21. Jeff Hebert says:

    Wow, Connor, it’s a good thing you said “I don’t mean to be an ass” because otherwise, claiming that all the people who disagree with your opinion of this movie are “assholes who only look at the bad things in movies” instead of just, you know, normal people who happen to have a different opinion than yours might make it look like you were being, in fact, an ass.

    Phew, that was close! Well played.

    On another note, I re-watched the last half of “Incredibles” last night, and it just reaffirms what I’ve said above. That movie looks great, but it’s not visually “realistic” like the fancy new tech in “Avatar”. It is much — MUCH — more immersive, though, because you care about these very believable, very well-written, very convincingly-acted characters. The whole world fits together both in terms of its physics and its psychology.

    A good movie is helped by its visual storytelling tools, but good visual storytelling tools can’t help a bad movie.

    Although apparently, they can, because most of the positive reviews are basically the same — the movie looks good, so it is good.

  22. Disclaimer; haven’t seen it.
    A friend of mine who has commented that this movie was much like Cameron’s other flick “Aliens” only told with nice, blue, sympathetic aliens with whom you’d like to spend a romantic evening (slightly different from the H.R. Giger horrors).
    There may be something to that, though the politics of big bad corporation driven Western marines invading primitive backwater innocents seems most apropos to today’s liberal anti-war stance.
    My only wonder is whether the movie would have been such a let down if it had not had such a build up. I’ve found the graphics and plot in plenty of video games to be superior, and think that this movie might have been even better received had it not been hailed as the eschatological spectacle which it couldn’t fail but disappoint.

  23. Also just for comparison’s sake;

    compare this (expectant fan base easily pissed off)80%: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/star_wars_3/

    to this (no expectant fan base and thus easier crowd to please) 83%: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/avatar/

  24. Jeff Hebert says:

    That’s an interesting comparison, William.

    The big difference with “Aliens” is that the Geiger aliens were bred to be vicious, heartless, very-difficult-to-top killers. They’re more like a virus.

    Plus, “Aliens” is an awesome flick, completely absorbing, absolutely immersive, and extremely well-told with simple yet very identifiable and likable characters. The effects fit perfectly with the story and serve it well, not vice versa.

    Part of what is disappointing about Avatar is that Cameron’s shown repeatedly that he can tell a much, much better story than this. He’s not Michael Bay, from whom explosions and action are all you expect (and all you’ll get), he’s a really great director who’s capable of much more.

    I don’t know, as someone else said, either the last forty minutes of action will make you forgive the previous two hours of cliched story, hackish writing, and wooden performances, or it won’t. For me, it didn’t, but clearly for most it does.

  25. Hammerknight says:

    Okay time to add my two cents to it. I did like it. I look at things in life a little different then others do. If you all haven’t noticed by now. It reminded me of an old cowboy and Indian movie which I like to watch. Yes some of it was cheezie, but think about it what movie today doesn’t have bad parts. It’s like comics, I love the older ones but I’m not happy with the new ones. The Michael Keaton “Batman”, to me sucked more then a hoover, because it went against everything I love about Batman. Yes Batman is dark, but making him use four letter words doesn’t do it for me. The thing I disliked the most about Avatar was the language, but I’m that way about every movie. I did like the art and like other people have said it is not new, but it was still good. I not one that can tell you who the director was of most movies, and I don’t care as long as it is a good movie. The thing that I think that counts most in my book is that my wife and I both liked it and we spent the time together watching it. I at one time was a major TV watching person, but I find myself watching less and less every year. I hate the reality shows, want ever happen to good TV? I think the best way to see a movie is to clear your mind, don’t pay attention to what others have said about it, don’t dig to deep into it looking for the hidden meanings, and look at it as if you were seeing the idea for the first time of your life. It is time for people to enjoy life, but it seems like we are being told how to now days instead of letting us do it our own way. When you look at a blank piece of paper do you see what you want to see or do you see what you were told to see. Everyone has the right to say what they do and do not like, but it is up to you to decide what you like. Great art comes from blank pages open yourself up and see what a blank page can show you.