$230 million worth of pretty emptiness; or empty prettiness
written by Jack Kentala
I, like many others, already had an opinion about Avatar before I stepped into an IMAX theater and put on 3D glasses. I had an opinion about how I could spend $230 million. That, as a nonplussed, nonfan of Titantic, nor Aliens, nor the Terminator movies, I could make a hell of a better movie with $230 million than James Cameron. That as an independent filmmaker going broke making a film with an out-of-pocket budget of $15,000, I don’t have the risk of having so much money and marketing out of a product (as Avatar is certainly more product than film) and, thus, can actually tell a story where the morality isn’t black and white; where one set of people are eulogized while dying and the others are mercilessly slaughtered; where one feels a growing sense of fatigue at every shiny, pretty thing.
I already had an opinion about Avatar. I already had an idea of what the movie would be like. And I was exactly right. And so will you, too.
The story, minus $230 million, can be summarized as thus: the director of Titanic has bestowed upon us lowly mortals the story of an ex-Marine who can, through some magical, not-explained device, take control of an alien body. He gets into some trouble and, because some magic tree seeds cover him, an alien woman decides that, instead of killing him, will take him into her tribe. (It was somewhere around here that my mother said it seemed a lot like a CGI version of Dances With Wolves.) Then, of course, the ex-Marine realizes the current Marines are bad, and then there’s a big war that goes on too long to justify the 162-minute runtime.
And yes, every part of the plot is predictable. It basically is a rip-off of the story of colonists settling American (an industrialized, earth-killing society murdering the shit out of a non-industrialized, earth-worshipping one) and the Iraq War (going to war for a resource [in the case of the movie, the hilarious-named “unobtainium”] and having humanitarian efforts basically getting their budgets cut in favor of pure military muscle). The latter is actually used to an uncomfortably non-clever degree, when one character makes mention of a “pre-emptive strike,” and then another saying the military is massing for a “shock and awe.” Not that I’m going to knock on liberalism, but the message is pretty obvious, and pretty grade-school, and pretty fucking dumb.
So yes, you will see pretty things, and yes, you will see dragons rushing down cliffsides in glorious 3D, and yes, you will see a hell of a lot of transparent computer screens. But that’s all you’ll get.
It can come down to this: Avatar, as the most expensive movie ever made, is not the best movie ever made. And that gives so much hope to filmmakers without $230 million.