May 23, 2013
Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ Awes the Skeptics
Posted on Dec 15, 2009
At one point, Weaver declares that Pandora’s riches can be found in its ecosystem, not its lifeless minerals. We get it. We got it the first 10 times you said it. Life, good. Rocks, bad. The “Dances With Wolves” bit wears thin, too. Yes, we ought to respect native peoples, but is it really a cultural exploration to listen to a made-up language for nearly three hours? It’s just too hard to take some of this stuff seriously, and, as a result, the movie lags before the final act and while we learn the intricacies of Na’vi culture. This is how they learn to ride horses, this is how they hunt, this is how they brush their teeth in stunning 3-D! Can we get back to the part where my brain is exploding?
While they can be tiresome, not all of Cameron’s political efforts fall flat. There is something very powerful about the nature argument, the suffering of indigenous peoples is always upsetting and no one will walk away from this movie thinking a well-armed ignoramus is a good idea. Will moviegoers make the leap from “Avatar’s” Col. Miles Quaritch to Gen. Stanley McChrystal? Doubtful. Although there were some references that won knowing chuckles in the theater—the “hearts and minds” line, for instance. Quaritch also tells us that we must fight terror with terror and argues the virtue of a pre-emptive strike, which earned a golf clap from the presumably lefty Los Angeles crowd.
One might also quibble with some of the production design. The human stuff in the movie is all very slick, but the look of the planet was clearly inspired by a black-light poster in someone’s rumpus room. The flora and fauna of Pandora, it appears, evolved not to perpetuate the various species, but to inspire pot smoking. This is where “Avatar” has taken the most heat from sci-fi fans. Things just look too weird, they say. Maybe, but who cares? They’re supposed to be aliens—what are aliens supposed to look like?
It’s hard to tell whether “Avatar” is the future of movies or the past. Hollywood can’t really afford to keep making $300 million juggernauts, even if some succeed. And where exactly is Cameron supposed to go from here? Each of his blockbusters has been bigger than the last. Assuming “Avatar” does well at the box office, is there someone out there who wants to finance the $400 million Cameron movie? Probably.
There are going to be plenty of people who don’t like “Avatar,” but then Parisians at first thought the Eiffel Tower was an eyesore. “What does it do?” they demanded. It shows us what we’re capable of. “Avatar” is not a work of high art or substance. As a call to action, it is simplistic and awkward. But James Cameron has created a movie monument of unrivaled technical sophistication. Even if “Avatar” isn’t your bag, you should go see it. Spectacles can be dangerous distractions, but some demand to be witnessed. This is a moment in film history. It’s also an absolute thrill ride that makes skeptics shout “Yes!” in wonder.
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