All right, let’s deal with ‘Avatar’
Which…Avatar doesn’t get better, the more you think about it. I’ll warn you right now about that.
Rather than bother with a straight-up review of Avatar – spoiler alert, I thought the visuals were really nice, the CGI characters were so smooth I honestly forgot I wasn’t looking at real actors, the script didn’t have two braincells to rub together, and Sam Worthington can’t fucking act, as it turns out – I figure I’d just address certain issues I ran into with the movie.
Why is 3D making a comeback? Well, the obvious answer – because Avatar is a runaway success – but why was Avatar itself in 3D? I’m a little lost on that point. Was there a clamoring for it? I don’t believe so. The people I talk to are pretty split on the issue – some like it, some don’t. I don’t. At all. I always THINK I will, but every time, my eyes strain, the glasses are an uncomfortable fit (at least for Avatar ; during Coraline I felt like I was Roy Orbison – which is to say I felt awesome), every time I tilt my head the screen goes blurry, and – most problematically – I find I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be focusing on.
And that’s…kinda crucial for a movie. Particularly a movie that is full of things that aren’t really there. The 3D instead gives everything a bit of a free-floating nature (and not just the stupid damn fireflies in the foreground that audiences are supposed to swat at), so the brain has to do extra work interpreting the weight, placement and grounding of each object before it can get anything else done.
My point here: if you want me to get into the story, I have to accept the world presented to me as real. Which brings me to point two.
Not only is this story played out – it’s not even played out properly. Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Dances With Wolves in full, but one of the things they make clear to the audience is Kevin Costner is Dealing With Some Shit. He is clearly suffering from his wartime experiences, and it’s that sense of rootlessness and not belonging to his own people that makes him susceptible to a tribe-change. To a far lesser extent, that’s what happens in The Last Samurai , too – a mentally stable Tom Cruise would never have abandoned his previous life to wear bad-ass armor.
Contrast that with the Jake Sully character. His problem isn’t mental or emotional, like his movie predecessors – it’s purely physical. There is never any moment where you think his head’s not where it should be. In fact, his problem is actually very solvable. His reward for service – The Company (always The Company, eh Cameron?) will pay for his surgery. Reasonably speaking, this should give him more motivation to stick with his side.
(Especially since his only character trait is “He’s a Marine.” As I understand it, there’s a pretty solid bond among corps members that would exactly prevent this rootlessness. And by the way, screenwriters – quick lesson: “marine” is not a character trait – it’s a job. Now, it’s a job you can draw some conclusions about a person from, but it’s not a trait in and of itself. You still need to do some work so that we are invested in the lead!)
Maybe the problem isn’t with the script, so much as Sam Worthington’s blank expression. I don’t know. All I know is there was never a moment where I grasped why he was so quick to join up with the Na’vi. Which brings me to my NEXT point:
Jake Sully is just a poseur: The only other idea I could’ve seen for Jake’s loyalty switch – immersion with the noble savages – isn’t on the table since he can leave his Na’vi body and talk with humans he’s also spending close-quarters time with. These aren’t even particularly jerky humans – they’re Sigourney Weaver and The Guy From Dodgeball, and they’re caring and willing to teach Sully. But Jake likes being a Na’vi because his legs work in that body. He’s okay not learning their culture or anything about the planet, as long as he’s fully mobile. He’s not even all that curious about being accepted – that just kind of happens regardless.
In other words, he’s got the look, but he can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be Na’vi, because he can leave anytime he wants to. This movie isn’t Dances With Wolves – it’s “Common People,” by Pulp, the awesomely vitriolic kiss-off to a rich girl who wanted to play at being underclass.
“I said pretend you got no money
She just laughed, and said ‘oh, you’re so funny,’
I said ‘Yeah? Well I can’t see anyone else smiling here.
ARE YOU SURE?’”
Except, because the Na’vi are all groovy hippy love the earth people, there’s nobody in the Jarvis Cocker role, calling Jake out for his bullshit. Which leads me to maybe my biggest problem:
The Na’vi don’t really make any sense. For instance: What exactly did the Na’vi think Sigourney Weaver and Sam Worthington WERE?
She’s clearly not a native of the planet. She is wearing the clothes of the sky people. She is teaching them English. Meanwhile, Jake Sully looks like cat-person, but knows absolutely nothing about the planet or how his biology interacts with it.
They clearly – CLEARLY – have to understand that these are not “real” Na’vi. Maybe they don’t understand specifically that these are humans in na’vi suits or whatever, but they get that these two are just tools of the Evil Corporation they’ve already had bad dealings with.
So…when the shit goes down, why do they feel betrayed, exactly?
Because they do not make sense. They are a hunter-warrior tribe but you don’t actually see them hunt anything; they’ve been at peace with the other tribes for however long. Jake becomes their greatest warrior in the span of three months because he figures out if you fly above the thing that never looks up, you can wrangle it. Seriously. How out of it are the Na’vi, that this stupid human (and seriously, even by human standards, Jake is startlingly dumb and short-sighted) twigged to this before they ever did?
Their gender-politics are pretty baffling, too. The girl-na’vi is tasked with training Jake, and the tribe’s shaman is a woman, but when Jake’s inducted into the tribe – after three months, which means he got the correspondence-course level of na’vi training – he’s told he may “Choose any of their women,” except for girl-na’vi, who is promised to the future tribal leader. But then girl-na’vi beds down with Jake because “kind heart” or whatever, because she can choose her own mate, except…huh?
Which brings me to my NEXT point (I swear, I’m not even planning these segues!):
The movie doesn’t listen to itself half the time. Colonel Killpot (one of the lone sources of joy I had was in coming up with evil names for the evil colonel because I couldn’t remember his name) informs his band of mercenaries (not marines, conservative whiners – mercenaries, an IMPORTANT DISTINCTION) that the Na’vi are “incredibly hard to kill.” But during the big final battle? Bullets seem to work pretty damn well.
Or how Jake’s twin brother spent three years training and interfacing with the very expensive and complicated avatar to get it working properly, but when Jake plugs in and has immediate motor coordination. Which reminds me!
The entire story hinges on a gaping plot-hole. So, years of development and science and technology devoted to this human/na’vi avatar. And yet the first time someone piloting one gets lost in the woods, everybody starts freaking out that he’s lost and they can’t retrieve him. Why?
Because apparently they didn’t think to stick a GPS tracking strip in it anywhere. MY PHONE HAS ONE IN IT. MY PHONE.
There are many, many other problems with the movie, but I’ll let this guy explain it far better.