Back in December 2009, my husband and I went out to dinner and then strapped into three hours of 3D mayhem with James Cameron’s overrated Avatar. In no way do I encourage the 3D movie industry that has plagued theaters recently, but I am lucky to be one of those who is not hindered by the 3D experience. Clearly, I see that in 3D films, everything is dimmed and colors are not nearly as bright, but it does not give me headaches or makes me queasy in the slightest. The effects, 3D and otherwise, of Avatar were appreciated. However, the recycled plot really brought me down.
In a way, I have to applaud Cameron’s technique on making a 3D movie not look so dingy. The use of bright colors and contrast went a long way in the theater. It was still saturated, but the contrast makes it more difficult to detect. And with so much action constantly going on, my eyes were glued so well that they vetoed my begging bladder for the last half of the film. Damn that 32 ounce soda.
Oh yeah, there was a plot to Avatar right? Somewhere between all the visuals they snuck in some Dances with Wolves meets FernGully: The Last Rainforest story set on the futuristic planet of Pandora. Don’t open that box, you don’t know the power of unobtanium!
Sorry, let me start at the beginning; seems that military forces from Earth have come to Pandora to learn about its inhabitants, the Navi, and drill its natural resource, unobtanium. On the Earth base, there is a clash between the military personnel, lead by a scar-headed, G.I. Joe action figure model, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), and the “egghead” scientists lead by Grace (Sigourney Weaver). It’s your typical brains vs brawn approach to how to handle this new planet.
Plot structure dictates that the protagonist must be able to have his foot in both courts, so bring in Jake (Sam Worthington), a disabled marine whose recently deceased identical twin brother was a scientist on the Avatar program. How convenient. Rather than toss out the Na’vi body government money has made for his brother, Jake simply replaces him, with no training or scientific knowledge of Pandora or the Na’vi to aid him. Grace isn’t happy about bringing a jar-head in to do her research, and Quaritch is excited to have a man he can trust on the inside. Jake quickly gets a sort of double-agent agenda, do the Avatar program, but report to Quaritch about how to overrule the Na’vi. When Jake gets lost in the jungle and eventually becomes accepted by an entire Na’vi tribe, falling in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the king’s daughter, and learning that unobtanium is the life force of the planet, his agenda changes. He has to help the Na’vi defend their planet.
There is no doubt that all the astounding visuals are huge technological achievements for the film industry. Huge kudos to Mr. Cameron there. But honestly, after that first viewing it becomes a novelty. Once I’m over the pretty colors and flying mountains, I yearned to feel like I have for some real movie moments that were naturally beautiful. There is sense of adventure I always feel watching the helicopter first land in Jurassic Park, with the jungle and waterfall behind it. The buffalo stampede in Dances with Wolves is a heartpounding experience that leaps off the screen without 3D. The sprawling deserts in Lawrence of Arabia have this majestic feeling of vastness and being that I just don’t find in Avatar. Even Peter O’Toole’s camel ranks higher than that neon pterodactyl.
It is not enough for a film to be a wonderful visual overload and leave me hanging for that emotional connection or sense of adventure. I knew the plot structure too well, therefore the only surprises were for my eyes and not my mind or heart. In the climatic battle, I had a moment in the theater where I stepped back from the action and asked when the chick with the helicopter would make a surprise attack for the good guys…and there she was. You’re not supposed to let me be able to step out of the moment and predict that Mr. Cameron. Big no-no.
“I see you.”