Well, James Cameron's $300 million+ science-fiction epic is here and its predictably entrancing with its visuals. Long touted as the benchmark for the currently thriving 3D format, Avatar supplies pretty substantial visual evidence. It's a marvel to behold, a wondrous feat in the pantheon of movie history - the way Gone With the Wind exemplified Technicolor, the way The Jazz Singer implemented sound.
But not all landmark films are without their share of setbacks, and Cameron's latest colossus of a film (and his first since 1997's Titanic) is as epic in scope, setting and budget as it is in overindulgence, cliche and cheese. Mr. Cameron isn't out to reinvent the cinematic narrative as we know it (he's never been a dynamic screenwriter), but Avatar is so dully conceived and lazily executed, not even a digital dream-like immersion and a pair of 3D glasses could cover it up.
Avatar's pro-ecology, pro-indigenous narrative, with its evil, greedy and blood-thirsty, bare-muscle baddies hiding behind corporate weaponry and new-age technology is just a retelling of classical history (not to mention film history) of human nature's need for expansion, which can be dated all the way back to a time when the Jamestown settlers flexed their horsepower and gunpowder over the Native Americans. Heck, it even translates to the United States' current involvement in Iraq - which gives the film a slight edge of topicality.
But to hint at any semblance of depth is to give Avatar too much credit - this isn't a $300 million lecture, and it doesn't pretend to be. The problem clearly lies in Cameron's chameleon-like script, which borrows, steals, blends and expands (length-wise) on countless films before it - Dances with Wolves, The Matrix, The Last of the Mohicans, Pocahontas, etc, etc.
Not to mention the blatantly dull characterizations - which stretch the gamut from beefy, block-headed military scene-chewer (Stephen Lang) to indigenous, bare-skinned daughter of the tribe leader (Zoe Saldana) to the snappy, cold, corporate stockholder (Giovani Ribisi).
The film is a living, breathing, cinematic contradiction. Its anti-industrial, pro-preservation viewpoint is laughingly presented under the guise of one of the most technically bombastic productions of all-time, and for all of Avatar's pre-loaded anticipation of futurized filmmaking, it feels curiously stuck in the past. How can I be in awe of something when I feel like I've seen it before?