December 28, 2009 by Zack
James Cameron had this film in his mind for over 15 years, and it had been in the making for about 4. He wanted to create a world, a race of people, all designed through CGI. In 1994, this would have been considered groundbreaking. Indeed, when he was on “60 Minutes” this past fall, he kept using that word. But it wasn’t just the CGI. He invented his own camera to do the 3-D work. 3-D is something that I’ve always been very reluctant to sit through in a movie theatre. It can be overhyped and overrated, and sometimes it is just bad. But this entire movie was going to be filmed in 3-D, and that was going to be quite an accomplishment. Cameron even waited throughout the years, claiming that he wanted the technology to be ready for him when he made it.
I guess the wait was worth it. “Avatar” is one of the best visual achievements I’ve ever seen. The 3-D, while taxing on the eyes due to its 160 minute running length, is exhilarating and breathtaking at certain sequences when you actually feel like you’re on the planet with these creatures. The depth of the world is incredible, nearly on par with “The Lord of the Rings”–although some of the species of creatures are just a little too familiar and uninspired.
And speaking of that, the plot of the film can be criticized for being that as well. While the visuals will impress enough to get you through the film, it’s a shame that the narrative is drawn out and somewhat boring because the characters are extremely bland. Cameron brought a world to life, but he didn’t include a cast of characters to help it along. It is also needlessly complex. Cameron had said he wanted to make a film of “every science fiction story he ever saw growing up”. I guess he pulled that off, but there has to be a point where the creative process takes over. This has “Dances With Wolves”, “Last of the Mohicans”, “Pocahontas”, written all over it.
Although the characters are uninteresting, I do have to say that the performance by Sam Worthington, as Jake Sully, was exceptional. I think that at times the CGI took away from an emotional connection as well. Yes, we do see some impressive things–but we do still see that it’s CGI. And because some of the animation is just too computer generated, something is lost.
Cameron sometimes can really benefit, however, with some script doctoring; it’s a shame he doesn’t have a co-writer. Even George Lucas sought the help of people like Tom Stoppard when he hit a wall. Cameron’s dialog is on par with throwback comic book writing of the 50’s and 60’s. It’s just painful sometimes to listen to. This plagued “Titanic” at times as well. The main villain in this film is about as bad and one dimensional as I’ve seen Cameron create. He made Bennett in “Commando” look more realistic.
I will say that Cameron deserves credit for delivering where it mattered most, and that’s visually. But the film is still a film, and a film needs a great narrative in order to be considered a great film. It’s a great spectacle, but not a great movie. It is wonderful to look at, which makes it a worthwhile film to watch.
But it could have been one of our great epics with a great storyline and characters to aid it. It’d be interesting to see what a person thinks of this film while watching it on the small screen, with no 3-D. I think it’s pretty easy to determine that this film loses a lot of luster that way. And a great film is not something that should depend on what kind of technology in which you watch it.