Avatar (20th Century Fox, PG-13)

film_avatar_sm.jpgAvatar resembles a commercial for a videogame. A bad one.

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For a while now media critics have been debating whether or not videogames count as an art form. I think it’s obvious that they do, though most, if not all, videogames (for the time being, anyway) are bad art, which is the problem. It seems that if videogames designers would take a cue from filmmakers in terms of storytelling, characterization, pacing, accessibility, insight into what it means to be human, etc., it won’t be to convince people that videogames are, indeed, a viable art form.

What didn’t occur to me is that it might go the other way; of course many dumb summer blockbusters resemble videogames in their senseless action, big-boobed women and lack of plot (I’m looking at you, Transformers movies), but now we have James Cameron’s Avatar, one of the most anticipated movies of the year by audiences and film critics alike, which is being positioned as a contender for all kinds of Oscar consideration, and which very much resembles a videogame. Actually, I’m being charitable; Avatar resembles a commercial for a videogame. A bad one.

As was culturally ingrained long ago, Avatar is a blend of live action and motion-capture technology to be projected in 3-D, concerning aesthetically displeasing blue things called Na’vi who live on a distant planet called Pandora in the year 2154, which planet humans want to mine within an inch of its life. Humanity’s first attempt to get at it is to plant humans in "avatars," which are essentially Na’vi grown in incubators that are physically controlled by humans implanted into them, whose physical human form is asleep in a larvae-type thing back on their home base. Our hero is an insufferable idiotic alpha male asshole named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic who loves that using an avatar allows him to walk again. When the humans in avatars fail at getting the Na’vi to move from their territory, they go in with tanks and fighter planes, as directed by the heartless Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) and led by the psychotic Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang). The good side is led by Sully, who has fallen in love with a Na’vi named Neytiri (a motion-captured Zoe Saldana, Uhura from Star Trek a couple of months ago), as well as a Jane Goodall-type character named Grace (Sigourney Weaver), who was on the side of not disturbing the Na’vi from the start.

Two and a half hours of bad dialogue, weirdly boring action sequences, 3-D that is technically accomplished but ultimately distracting, and thoroughly unlikeable characters on both sides is enough to wear you out, as you probably learned from Revenge of the Fallen, minus the part about the 3-D. Avatar tries to lend itself some weight and credibility with insultingly obvious allegorical notions about the way we treated Native Americans/the Middle East/the rainforests, which in theory is fine, if Cameron weren’t so ham-fisted about getting his message across.

You shouldn’t be surprised that there is already an Avatar videogame out for computers and five different videogame systems. You also shouldn’t be surprised if said videogame is more artistically capable than the feature film upon it was based. | Pete Timmermann

 

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