Remember twelve years ago and that rather obnoxious guy who held up those two inexplicably won Oscars high over his head and proclaimed himself King of the World? Well, in case you haven't heard (and I cannot possibly think of any way, short of being locked away in Biosphere VII for the last several years, that one could not have heard), that particular blowhard baffoon is back - with a vengeance. A nearly half a billion, CGI-riddled, green-hearted, blue-skinned vengeance. It's called Avatar. As I said, you may have heard of it.
James Cameron's crazy uber-production has taken the world by proverbial storm. Becoming the all-time box office champ in just a few weeks (though not even in the top twenty in overall ticket sales - damn you and your inflationary numbers-crunching!) and causing more debate (from both the right and the left - each side claiming the film disses the other) and pseudo-scientific criticism than any movie in recent history, Avatar is, in essence, nothing more than a brightly colored piece of pop-sensitized eye candy with delusions of genre greatness. Much like when a baby is mesmerized by a spinning mobile over their crib or the dangling of Aunt Sally's car keys, Cameron's big ass cartoon (and well over half of the movie is CGI) is pretty to look at at first. The look of Avatar, though intriguing in its own otherworldly fashion, is mostly ripped off from the posters and album art of Roger Dean, most known for his work with Asia, Yes and Uriah Heep in the seventies and early eighties - so much so in fact, that perhaps Mr. Dean has a lawsuit percolating in the wings.
Be that as it may, for no artist is wholly an island unto themselves, Avatar does have its fantasmagorical moments - no denying it. The floating mountains. The cryptozoological menagerie of imagined bestiary. The pseudo Pagan cumbaya'ing of a thousand natives who themselves look like the geneological outcome of a tryst between Bagheera from The Jungle Book and a smurf with a pituitary problem. Granted many of these images are borrowed from the aforementioned classic album art (with a purposeful bent toward Tolkien at times) but nonetheless they are indeed pretty as a picture, as they say, but in a very shallow paint-by-numbers sort of way - much like that mesmerizing spinning mobile or those jingling keys of old Aunt Sally. To get these images, Cameron must rely on the m ost advanced computer-generated technology out there today. The film has its over-CGI'd moments - and how! - and these moments, state-of-the-art technology or not, bemoaningly becoming graphically annoying at times, almost as if Jar Jar Binks suddenly turned into one of the overgrown Smurf-creatures of Pandora (Cameron's cheesily childlike movie realm) and is parading around on bespeckled dragons preaching the dangers of environmental danger and manifest destiny.
Though Cameron is, at heart, an old fashioned filmmaker - and I think he really is in essence - his over reliance on technology along with his perpetual inability to write interesting characters (even the director's champions must concede the fact that writing is not the man's strong suit!) makes this already shaky shallow ditty wraggle in the wind like the most insubstantial of motion pictures - or whatever one calls such a 3D, digital concoction as Cameron has created here. Pretty to look at? Yes - perhaps like staring at one of those aforementioned Roger Dean album covers and dropping a couple hits of acid. Earth-shattering and genre defining as many say? Perhaps in a way, but when one thinks back over the other films of the genre that have changed the way we thought of said genre - 2001, Star Wars (before Lucas gummed up the works), Blade Runner, the original The Day the Earth Stood Still or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, even King Kong (before Dino De Laurentiis and Peter Jackson gummed those works up) and Jackson's own Lord of the Rings cycle - they were more than colorful doodles drawn on the screen. They had a substance to them that just isn't here in James Cameron's ultimate doodle.
But what do I know? The damned thing is going to take over the world and no one will be listening to my little corner of dissent anyway. They'll be too busy painting themselves Na'vi blue for Halloween or going to support groups for those who've fallen so far into Cameron's Pandoric imaginarium as to have slipped into a state of depression over the fact they live here on Earth and not in the CGI environs of Avatar (and I am not, sadly, making that last part up!). So jingle away Aunt Sally - I surely can't stop you. Can we just stop with all the hero-worshipping of the inordinately mediocre directional skills of Aunt Sall...er, I mean James Cameron. Now where's my copy of Sea of Light and that acid I mentioned? [01/19/10]