Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Avatar: biggest. movie. ever?

I don't go to the theaters to see many films twice, but Avatar is an exception in many ways. Although its primary impact is as a visual spectacle and technical achievement, and it may be more heavy-handed than sophisticated, it's still pretty effective in making its points. This is what SF (of the H. G. Wells school) is supposed to do.

My friend Steve Hirby notes that it's a shame Cameron couldn't have come up with a better ending than redemptive violence. I agree. But as the the excellent AV Club Blog review noted: "Cameron has never been a blindingly original storyteller, and Avatar is no exception to the rule." I think his most original feature, which was decidedly nonviolent, was "The Abyss", which I loved even if the ending lacked drama.

Avatar's redemptive violence is (alas) pure standard Hollywood, but I did enjoy the irony of the giant alien female defeating the human in the armored walker as a neat reversal of Sigourney Weaver's victory at the end of his "Aliens." The stefnal value of the redemptive violence is that it was largely ineffective until the planet itself took sides, in away that the Earth had not. It was noted of the humans that “there is no green” on their “dying world” because “they have killed their mother.”

This is sort of where the sociology of the movie broke down for me. Having “killed” the earth, human have clearly learned nothing and our best chance on a new world has only a few scientists who have no sway over short-sighted corporate profit-seeking. Seems like the plausible SF has yielded to the very heavy-handed metaphor, which leaves us again at Cameron's weaknesses as a story-teller.

Avatar may be on-track to become the biggest-grossing film of all time, and deservedly so. Flaws it has, but it's still a terrific & worthwhile film.