When I sat down to write this, I thought for sure I was the only one who loathed Avatar, but then I found this website, which proves I am not alone. I don’t dislike Avatar because it’s a mega-hit blockbuster. Some of my favorite movies of late were giant blockbusters—Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, the Harry Potter franchise. It’s not because of the painful dialogue. I love Road House, which as all about bad dialogue. And it’s definitely not because of the SFX, which really are mind-blowing.
Avatar sucks because it’s a bad movie.
I know, right now, there are those of you who are gasping in shocked outrage. How dare I say Avatar is a bad movie?! It is the greatest filmmaking undertaking of all time!!! It is a visionary’s masterpiece!!!!!!! It is the biggest movie EVER, in EVERY WAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!
It’s still a bad movie.
Why? Because once you get past the visuals—which are arresting, I do not fault Avatar’s visual design at all—you are left with a tired, used plot, bad dialogue, and flat performances. If Avatar had been cut without the exposition and no dialogue and set to a symphony a la Fantasia, it would have been a bloody fucking work of epic genius. But James Cameron, one of the most unlikeable people in Hollywood, forced upon us his shitty script instead. Or rather, he forced upon us Michael Blake’s script for Dances with Wolves but changed all the names first. Avatar is pretty much a Dances with Wolves/Ferngully mashup starring blue cat people.
And this is why I didn’t like it. Because the whole time I was watching it, I was aware that I had already seen this movie many, many times. Dances with Wolves, Ferngully, Pocahontas, The New World, Land Before Time—the list of movies that tell the exact same story is long. It’s one thing to say, “Nothing is original anymore,” and something else entirely to have this happen*:
Man: Avatar reminded me of something, but I can’t think of it. I mean it was almost exactly like…
Me: Dances with Wolves.
Man: Yes! It was exactly like Dances with Wolves! …Wait. Avatar wasn’t very good, was it?
*This actually happened
And that’s the thing about Avatar. Once you get over the visuals and the 3D and the “OMG, it’s motion capture!”, you’re left with a very stale story. It’s a rehash of a rehash of a rehash, and it’s very thinly concealed. Cameron’s arrogance truly knows no bounds if he thought he could push Ferngully 2: Ferngully in Space on us and no one would notice. Another essential story problem is that the first half of the movie spends all this time setting up characters that cease to exist once they become avatars. The main character, Jake, is identified as a paraplegic soldier with a haunting past, but once he becomes an avatar, he is no longer paraplegic and suddenly his past is irrelevant, too. Thus ends my interest in Jake. There’s a massive disconnect between the humans and their avatars and Cameron simply did not care to even try to resolve it. I feel like Avatar would have been better off if Cameron turned his original story idea over to a different screenwriter—one who is actually interested in conveying real emotions. But James Cameron is arrogant. So we got his shitty script.
Then there’s the acting, which is bad. Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) stars as Jake McSomethingINeverQuiteCaught, and he has almost no discernable personality. I do not understand Worthington’s sudden role as a leading man. He is not charismatic, or engaging, or even particularly talented. He is perfectly suited to motion-capture, however, because you can just draw over his expressionless face and let the CGI emote for him. Ditto for Michelle Rodriguez (Lost, The Fast & The Furious). She is also largely without charm or talent, and is much better for being replaced by a CGI blue cat person. Sigourney Weaver, however, actually has talent and a personality and so it was a shame to see her replaced by the blue cat people.
And as for all that motion-capture… Well this is one of the reasons I hated Avatar, honestly. I hate mo-cap. It’s creepy, and empty, and everyone always ends up with gummy freaky faces, and no, James Cameron did not fix that shit with his “marvelous new technology”. The blue cat people Na’vi are all freaky weird mo-cap cats people with creepy empty eyes. And like all mo-cap/CGI creations, they don’t quite fit in their environment. I will give Avatar credit for getting closer than anyone has before, but still the mo-cap characters seem to slide over surfaces, instead of interacting with them the way actual people do on a real set. Given the talent of makeup artists and costume designers today, I see no reason why Cameron couldn’t have just hired WETA to do his SFX and let them create the Na’vi with real people, just like they did trolls and elves and hobbits in Lord of the Rings. At the end of the day, the mo-cap wasn’t absolutely necessary, which means it was gratuitous and a complete waste of time and money.
Despite being largely ignored at the BAFTAs recently, Avatar won big at the Golden Globes and will probably take home many Oscars in a couple weeks, too. Of course Cameron is in a snit because his script wasn’t nominated for Best Original Screenplay (it wasn’t original), and none of his actors have received any recognition (because he replaced them with giant smurf-cats). Avatar received no writing or acting nominations from the Academy, which doesn’t bode well for its Best Picture hopes, but it will clean house in all the technical categories, just like Cameron’s first epic-masterpiece-virtuosic-soap-opera Titanic did. But unlike Titanic, people aren’t even pretending that Avatar is about the story. It’s just about the visuals. And visuals are only a fraction of what makes a movie good. Everything else that makes for a good movie sucks in Avatar.
Avatar sucks. It really, really does.