Avatar Revisited: Opening Pandora’s Box

Rita, il mio Avatar preferito!!!

Image by Roberto Rizzato ►pix jockey◄ Facebook resident via Flickr

I’ve been talking about James Cameron’s Avatar quite a bit recently.

Not completely by choice, mind you. MovieSucktastic co-host Joey and I did indeed see Avatar opening weekend, 3D and all, mainly so we could review it and get it out of the way. Our Podcast and Blog reviews were rather tepid and dispassionate: the story was bland and uninspiring, and while the effects were great, they didn’t push the envelope of 3D or CGI as far as the hype implied. Not completely bad, but nothing mind blowing, with a few good moments and enough eye-candy to make it worth watching. I personally filed my unimpressed opinion and moved on.

The all sorts of Hell broke loose.

People from far and wide reacted to my review as if I had individually emailed them and called them slack-jawed morons for even seeing the film, let alone enjoying it. Insults and personal attacks poured in as a flood of emails came to the defense of Avatar and its now billion-dollar box-office take. How dare I attack a genius like James Cameron. You critics hate anything that people like. Why don’t you go back to painting ceilings. You’re an idiot. The title of your podcast sucks. Why don’t you try something creative yourself instead of picking on other people? You’re just a Hipster Wannabe who needs to hate anything popular. Why must you destroy all that is good and decent in the world? God hates you.

Needless to say, I was mildly surprised. I went back and double-checked my review, just in case I had written a scathingly negative review and forgotten. Nope. In fact, I’ve read Three-Star reviews of Avatar more negative and critical than my own piece. Yet, here was a veritable mob of angry villagers ready to burn me at the stake for breaking from the herd. They backed me into a figurative corner, forcing me to either defend myself or succumb to their frenzied blows.

So, unfortunately, I’ve had to push back a little. I don’t mean this in an aggressive or combative way, of course. But what it all comes down to, is that I have been forced to reevaluate my stance on Avatar.

There is no denying that Avatar is now a runaway hit. You can’t take that away from the film, nor would I want to. I said from the beginning that the film successfully achieved all that it wanted to, and it ultimately succeeds at what it is, a hollow but dazzlingly brilliant special effects display. Everyone loves fireworks. Doesn’t make them bad. But as the mantra at MovieSucktastic asserts, just because you like a film, it doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. I like Twinkies, but that doesn’t make them a culinary masterpiece. But according to these vocal and rather inhospitable attackers, the pleasure they derived from the film means it must be great. It must be.

Delusional or not, there are simply way too many people singing praises and making excuses for this nearly half-billion-dollar remake of Ferngully out some apparently psychotic need to relive the magic of seeing Star Wars for the first time as children. And maybe that’s all this is: a bunch of world-weary adults squeezed so tightly by an overwhelmingly depressing series of political and economic disasters that they have clung to this overpriced epic in some drastic attempt to retreat emotionally to a simpler, more innocent time in their lives. A time when movies were still a magical gateway to a fantastic world of fantasy and adventure.

But here’s the rub: you can do that without lowering your standards, and standards have indeed lowered. It hasn’t even been a year since people were going out of their way to dump on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for being a lengthy exercise in shallow screen-writing punctuated with chases, explosions, and over the top special effects. Michael Bay was criticized by all for being an over-hyped hack who was all visuals and no storytelling, despite the film’s generous take at the box-office. But now here we are, with a director and film guilty of the exact same thing, and people are screaming for a sweep at the Oscars.

And here’s the big run: it isn’t the hardcore science fiction fans doing the chest-thumping. I recently voiced my general displeasure with Avatar while acting as a guest speaker at a recent science fiction group gathering, and while not all agreed with my criticisms, these die-hard fans merely engaged in a spirited yet friendly debate on the subject. No, the angry fans declaring the unquestionable brilliance of this film seem to be the casual film viewers, ordinary people who are not usually obsessive with their tastes in film, but have chosen this of all movies to claim as their own shining example of the pinnacle of film-making.

Is this what we can expect now? People spending all year bitching and whining about Hollywood cranking out expensive but poorly written special effects displays, only to inexplicably drop to their knees in awe at the first mega-budget cross between Dances with Wolves and Shrek that comes out in 3D? I was originally noncommittal in my reception Avatar, not willing to declare disapproval, but merely to state my lack of awe. But, as I say, I have been backed into a corner, and told that my disapproval is tantamount to heresy. I am to recant my disbelief, or face the Cameron Inquisition. So be it.

Avatar sucked.

Believe it. Or not.

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