Thoughts on James Cameron’s “Avatar”

Posted by on Jan 25, 2010 in Feature Articles | One Comment

In this Sunday’s Daily News, Jacob Osterhout spoke of the “Avatar blues,” whose symptoms seemed to be the vague depression avid fans of the film felt when the movie ended. I wondered if the article was a serious examination of the effect the movie has on the popular culture or another example of the efficient publicity machine that continues to ensure “Avatar” remains uppermost in the moviegoing public’s consciousness. “Sometimes,” Osterhout wrote, “a movie is so large in scale, so impressive in scope, so ahead of its time, that it becomes a cultural phenomenon.” Was he reviewing the movie or perpetuating its reputation as a watershed event? When something becomes so enormously popular so quickly, people tend to take notice. But “Avatar” has been promoted and scrutinized and analyzed and appreciated for the past year–long before it reached theaters last month. Reports of people having fatal seizures are macabre and of course compelling, but do they speak to the film and its impact or the kind of people who wait months to see such a film? Those who have started internet support groups for fans who find the “real world” a letdown after seeing the animated wonders of the movie’s fictional Pandora may be reacting to something new and elaborately different, or they may be the kind of disenfranchised “extreme fans” who found it difficult to function in the real world long before Cameron’s compellingly complex alternate reality happened on the scene.

Some fans (and bloggers) have criticized the film’s story as being “weak” or “predictable”. I’m not sure Cameron was trying to be as groundbreaking in his writing as he was in his visuals, which are undeniably impressive. I wonder if it’s even fair to criticize the film’s writing, since the experience doesn’t seem to have been created to draw audiences in from that aspect. I saw the movie a few weeks ago on the IMAX screen, in 3-D, which I was told was the best way to experience it. The audience I saw “Avatar” with was polite and appreciative, but as they left the theater, many were comparing it to earlier Cameron films they liked better, for whatever reason.

In his News article, Jacob Osterhout ends by saying “Experts believe that ‘Avatar’ will soon overtake Cameron’s earlier blockbuster ‘Titanic’ as the highest grossing flick ever. Even if it doesn’t, the film has already left a diverse and lasting impression.” I found that statement odd, unless one considers a “lasting” impression one that lasts a month. I wondered if people would remember “Avatar” in the same way they recall “Titanic”. It speaks volumes that industry wags have labeled the movie’s most diehard fans “Avatards”. It’s a cruel joke, perhaps, but it speaks to the kind of blind devotion some moviegoers have to anything so noteworthy, impressive, or powerful. I remember a few years ago seeing jennifer Hudson belting “And I’m Telling You I’m not Going” in the movie “Dreamgirls”. The audience broke into spontaneous, sustained ¬†applause for a moment that was the result of one woman’s impressive talent and delivery. In “Avatar” there are moments of true spectacle, but the film seems to be designed and executed for people who respond most favorably to the kind of energy that video games provide. On that level, it’s a smashing success, but I hope as time goes by that writers, fans, and other filmmakers can appreciate the film objectively. I don’t believe any film can “change the way people look at movies” but I admit that there are so few event movies that are worth that label. I’d be curious to see what people are saying ten or twenty years from now about Cameron’s impressive experiment. I think I’ll wait until then to consider it a classic…which it might be.

1 Comment

  1. David McGuire
    February 2, 2010

    I’d say it’s fair to judge any movie for the writing, as the main point of a movie is to tell a story. Just as it’s fair to judge a beautifully decorated cake poorly if it’s bland and dry.