FROM 3D TO 1D: Review of Avatar

Everyone says Avatar is based on/or inspired by Dances with Wolves, that drama about the white man (played by Kevin Costner) who goes to live with the “noble savage” right after the Civil War. I disagree. I think the inspiration is more Little Big Man in which Dustin Hoffman goes to live with the Native Americans and ends up involved in the Battle of Little Big Horn and General Custard’s ignominious defeat. Here the Custard character is played (just a tad over the top) by Stephen Lang and the Hoffman character is played by the appropriately named Sam Worthington (whose underplaying is very effective at times). Avatar is one of those movies that is critic proof. If every single review was negative, it still wouldn’t matter. Hell, even a major snow storm on the East Coast didn’t stop people from going out to see it. Avatar is brilliantly directed by James Cameron and the 3D is a marvel to behold. From a technical standpoint, the film can’t be faulted. It’s a beautiful, at times exquisite, example of film art. For me, the image I will remember are the flying sea anemones, delicate little flowers that float like dandelion weeds. And like the end of Titanic where Cameron is able to make you feel the horrific tragedy of that boat’s sinking, here he also is able to gear up the emotions of the audience when the solders go after the aborigines, killing men, women and children with no remorse. But though the technical aspects of the movie are 3D, sad to say the rest of it is rather 1D. The story is not particularly original enough to be involving (script also by James Cameron). It’s about a soldier with no legs who can control an Avatar, a genetic creature modeled on the natives of a planet that has a particularly hostile environment (probably a bit too hostile to believe that humanoid creatures could evolve as they have here). The locals live a satisfying, if not particular interesting life; Cameron does the usual job of making the natives noble and suggesting their way of life superior to the invaders (in the way that revisionist westerns tended to over romanticize Native Americans), though the new age religion of the locals is a bit hard to take seriously. And have you noticed that whenever someone does this, they never give up their house in Beverly Hills and go live on an Indian reservation? Worthington plays Jake Sully, the soldier with no legs, who can connect to an Avatar of his now dead twin brother. He gets legs and the corporation doesn’t lose money. His goal is to find a diplomatic solution to the corporation wanting to take over the planet and mine it for an element that can save a dying Earth. But Quaritch, Lang’s character (the Custard Avatar), wants him to report to him and tell him how they can most easily wipe out this primitive and inferior race. Guess what happens? No, really, guess. The rest of the acting is perfectly fine with Sigourney Weaver and Giovanni Ribisi coming off best. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the script isn’t a great work of art. It’s not unusual for films that introduce new technology to come up short in other areas (The Jazz Singer with sound; Becky Sharp with color; The Robe with Cinemascope). It will be interesting to see whether other motion pictures will be able to use this technology with a more effective script.

So tell me what you think.

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