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James Cameron’s Long-Awaited 3D Film

Above: "Avatar"

Audio

Aired 12/26/09

Film critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks discuss Avatar on the KPBS Film Club of the Air.

James Cameron hasn’t made a feature film in 12 years and hasn’t made a good one since 1986. But nothing I can say will stop people from spending their money on “Avatar” (opening December 18 throughout San Diego) this weekend. You can also listen to our Film Club of the Air discussion about the film.

I love the old James Cameron. The guy who made the gritty genre film “The Terminator” and then delivered a kick ass Hollywood film with “Aliens.” But then he faltered with “The Abyss;” tanked with “True Lies;” and got bloated with “Titanic.” Now he’s been given state of the art 3D technology and some $250 million to basically remake – as my friend said – “FernGully.” But I appear to be in the minority with my complaints as the film keeps racking up awards and good press (good enough press to make the studio lift their review embargo and allow critics to post their reviews before the film opened). But I feel like the guy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes” – I don’t see anything.

"Avatar"

20th Century Fox

Above: "Avatar"

“Avatar” is set in some unspecified future where we find Jake, (Sam Worthington) a paraplegic war veteran, about to enter into an experiment. He has been brought to the planet of Pandora (if you’ve read your Greek mythology then you might be tempted to think about the dangers that name implies). The planet is inhabited by the Na'vi, a tall blue humanoid race with their own language and culture. Jake’s job, according to Grace (Sigourney Weaver) the lead scientist, is to assimilate into the culture and learn as much as possible about the Na’vi, their ways, and their planet. The way he will do this is by inhabiting an avatar, a Na’vi alter ego of sorts and a body that’s no longer damaged as his real one is.

But the military – which of course is working in cahoots with a big corporation out to destroy the planet for its natural resources – has a different mission. It wants to know the best way to attack the planet and move the Na’vi off the richest deposit of a mineral called Unobtanium (pronounced kind of like "Un-obtain-ium," get it) that’s apparently a hot commodity. Of course Jake’s loyalties start with the military but soon shift when he meets a pretty Na’vi (Zoe Saldana). So in simple terms: Na’vi are good, scientists mean well, and the military and corporations are evil. And if you don’t know where this will all end then you haven’t been paying attention to movies in the last ten or twenty years.

"Avatar"

20th Century Fox

Above: "Avatar"

“Avatar” clocks in at 162 minutes and it feels even longer because you know exactly where the story is going so there’s no tension or suspense. Yet Cameron insists on dragging predictable events out. It’s like going to your friend’s house down the street but having someone drive you out of state first. No matter how you may insist there’s a faster, more efficient route, you are still forced to go the long way round. We have been through every scene before – outraged scientist confronting military/big business; tough gung ho commander with no sympathy for the natives or such touchy-feely notions as nature and culture; stranger in a strange land trying to befriend the natives; greedy humans pillaging natural resources; etc. It may all look more fancy here but it’s sadly familiar. And for the epic battle at the end, well let me just say it’s as believable as the Ewoks beating the Empire at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”

"Avatar's" final battle that reminded me of Ewoks fighting Storm Troopers.

Above: "Avatar's" final battle that reminded me of Ewoks fighting Storm Troopers.

There has been a lot made of the new state of the art technology Cameron uses. There are some amazing live action shots involving an incredible depth of field (most notably an opening shot on a ship). There’s also an amazing color palette on the planet of Pandora with some impressive creature renderings. But Cameron doesn’t really dazzle us with the technology. On a certain level that’s a good thing because he’s not merely using it as a gimmick. Yet he doesn’t really integrate it into the story or push it to its limits. In a sense, films like “Up” or even “Coraline” employed 3D to better thematic and stylistic effect. With the exception of that early depth of field shot and maybe one or two more -- Cameron never uses the 3D in a visually innovative way. Plus he can’t resist pointy sticks and arrows aimed at the audience.

Cameron lifts elements from other films including his own. The Stephen Lang character of Colonel Miles Quaritch feels like a rip off of the war vet in “Starship Troopers” with Lang trying hard (but failing sadly) to be like actor Michael Ironsides. But then Lang is saddled with such punchy dialogue as we’re "not in Kansas anymore." Wow! How did Cameron ever come up with that? Quaritch gives a speech to the young recruits much like Ironsides did in “Starship Troopers,” explaining how dangerous the planet is because the inhabitants want to kill you and, while it's his job to keep soldiers alive, he will not succeed in this task -- "not with all of you.” But the Na’vi got nothing on those killer bugs; in fact they don’t seem especially threatening at all once we meet them.

"Avatar"

20th Century Fox

Above: "Avatar"

Cameron also rips off his own “Aliens” by using the same gimmick of a human manning a robot to battle an alien. But this time around the alien’s good and the bot is bad. Plus Weaver sits this battle out so baddie Stephen Lang can get in the bot and battle Jake’s goodie Na’Vi avatar. But maybe what Cameron should have been looking to rip off is a film like “Princess Mononoke” in which the dynamics of good and evil are much more complex and interesting. As with “Avatar,” “Princess Mononoke” presents a newcomer to a foreign culture and has him try to mediate between two sides. But while “Avatar” provides black and white distinctions, “Princess Mononoke” allows for shades of gray. “Avatar,” ultimately, is a film free from subtlety and complexity.

If Cameron had tightened up the film and livened it up with some innovation, it could have been a fun action/adventure tale and one perfectly primed to be turned into a video game. As it stands, I think even those who like the film would agree that you could shave a good half hour off the film and only improve it. But Cameron has been unable to bring a film in under two hours since “The Terminator.” I think he just falls in love with his own material and can’t bear parting with shots or scenes.

Actor Sam Worthington seems to be the current go-to guy for action. He began the year with “Terminator Salvation” (he was actually the best thing in it), now adds “Avatar,” and will also be seen next year in the remake of “Clash of the Titans.” He’s an action star who shows some soul as well as a six pack, and it’s a pleasing combo. Weaver plays the stock scientist who realizes too late that her technology has been shanghaied for evil, and she’s matched cliché for cliché by Lang’s colonel and Giovanni Ribisi’s corporate honcho.

"Avatar"

20th Century Fox

Above: "Avatar"

Technically the film impresses intermittently. Some of the fast horizontal movement looks bad and the most impressive looking shots are ones that are fairly still. The creature designs are good but not particularly fantastical. And I’m not sure I buy that spears could really break through the ships used by the army to attack the Na’vi.

“Avatar” (rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.) probably suffered additionally from the fact that I saw it right after seeing Terry Gilliam’s “The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.” Now you could give Gilliam a piece of cardboard, some watercolors and $100 and he’d come up with an innovative film. But Cameron with his $500 million budget (if you add in marketing and such) and state of the art technology and it looks like paint by numbers. I’ll take Cameron’s “Terminator” over “Avatar” any day.

Companion viewing: “FernGully,” “Princess Mononoke,” “Starship Troopers”

Comments

Avatar for user 'IanForbes'

IanForbes | December 19, 2009 at 2:35 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

While I liked it overall more than you did, Beth, I definitely agree that Cameron didn't utilize his own 3D technology to the fullest. No, we don't just want things flung at us but the environments should be much more immersive. When I am able to stop and notice the depth of field in a jail cell, because nearly everything else before it was lacking that element, perhaps it's a sign that if you're going to play with 3D, do so enough to put the audience into the action.

Feel free to save the extra $73 a ticket and just catch this in 2D if you're interested. Or just rent "Aliens".

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Avatar for user 'alex853'

alex853 | December 19, 2009 at 6:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Out of all the reviews I've read, this one is by far the worst. I think you (Beth) need to open your eyes and look at the bigger picture, instead of fostering that dogmatic view of which your review reeks. Things like "Cameron also rips off his own “Aliens” by using the same gimmick of a human manning a robot to battle an alien. But this time around the alien’s good and the bot is bad". Why are you including such arbitrary details in your review? On top of that, you completely misunderstand the concept of 3-D and what it's purposes are in a film, which is to enhance and touch the film at key points. You speak of innovation, and Avatar's lack of it. Well I'd certainly love to see what you would have done. Films are about letting yourself be taken for a ride away from the real world, and this my dear is what you fail to do. You are too entrenched with analyzing every very minute details that you completely miss the point. This isn't an english essay, and you don't need to carefully scrutinize every last line and every last grammatical detail.

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Avatar for user 'jfahler'

jfahler | December 19, 2009 at 7:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

I have to agree with Alex here. What exactly would the author improve upon?

I do have to say there is perhaps too much easy-to-foresee dialogue. HOWEVER, Avatar makes itself different by matching the action with a message - unlike many recent action/fantasy/scifi films which have been so popular lately. It seems that Cameron is willing to hearken the days of older scifi genres with commentaries about who we are now.

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Avatar for user 'tks09'

tks09 | December 20, 2009 at 12:54 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

It amuses me to no end that you nitpick over details, and then go on to state that Avatar "is set in some unspecified future".
Did you not notice the time stamp on Sully's video logs, where it clearly states it's the year 2154? Seems pretty specific to me...

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Avatar for user 'Eccentricus'

Eccentricus | December 20, 2009 at 1:37 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Since we're nitpicking...

"And I’m not sure I buy that spears could really break through the ships used by the army to attack the Na’vi."

They're using bows and arrows, not spears. The only spear i recall in the movie was the one our protagonist made when he first got lost in the forest. If you recall, "they're fond of arrows, dipped in a neurotoxin that will stop your heart in one minute". Arrows would be moving through the air faster, projected as they are. The fact that they were launched while their bowmen were plummeting toward their intended targets didn't hurt neither.

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Avatar for user 'PuraguCryostat'

PuraguCryostat | December 20, 2009 at 3:34 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

This is a good review. While visually attractive this film is no Cannes/Cesar pretender. Perhaps it will score in the Oscars for technical achievement and that is noteworthy and praiseworthy however that does not make this film groundbreaking or a masterpiece. As said the story is weak and the eye candy is all there is to this film. This film is as forgettable.

People, watch Princess Mononoke and compare the depth of Hayao Miyazaki to James Cameron. Cameron is no Kieslowski, Miyazaki, Kubrick or Fellini - he is a hack, hype driven director.

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Avatar for user 'sepoy'

sepoy | December 20, 2009 at 5:49 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Actually, it is perfectly believable that the natives, united, could defeat a small expeditionary force (even one with advanced technology). When the British first arrived in America, they were highly vulnerable and only survived by the good graces of Indian tribes, who utilised the superior technology of the colonists to pursue their own tribal vendettas. This was also true of the Conquistadors, who exploited the fact that basically everyone who wasn't an Aztec hated the Aztecs to conquer and dominate large parts of South America. In the case of Avatar, the humans were basically facing down the combined wrath of every living creature on the planet (and were also handicapped by the loss of some of their advanced technology).

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Avatar for user 'DRaGZ'

DRaGZ | December 20, 2009 at 7:47 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Alex:

Have you ever made a film? Let alone made a film that took ten years to make?

Every lines, every moment, every angle, choice in color, style of dialogue, name, label, hell, with a movie of this level of control in post, the position of every leaf in frame was dictated by one man, James Cameron.

You spend ten years working on something you've said time and time again would be revolutionary, and yet you wind up with...this? Seriously? Something that could've realistically been made for less than a quarter of the budget with ten times as much cinematic creativity? Ten years? And for what? A rehashed sci-fi plot with a "message". Sci-fi is supposed to make you think and question status quos, not shoehorn moralism that was barely relevant 50 years ago.

And honestly, it took $237 million to make this? Two-hundred thirty-seven MILLION dollars? And this doesn't even count the marketing, which pushes the grand total towards half a billion. What a monumental waste of money.

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Avatar for user 'nastassja'

nastassja | December 20, 2009 at 5:27 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

after seeing avatar, i chanced watching 4 months 3 weeks 2 days and district 9 with some friends. these 2 films were so compelling i completely forgot avatar.

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Avatar for user 'Sproketz'

Sproketz | December 21, 2009 at 12:33 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

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Avatar for user 'Winkzy'

Winkzy | December 21, 2009 at 5:11 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

I caught, as the previous poster pointed out, that the year was 2154, not that it adds or detracts from the story. Also your statement that Dr. Grace wanted Jake to assimilate into the Na'vi is completely wrong, he was assigned as a security detail, the spying assignment was giving by the Colonel. You also state the movies message is "scientists are mean". In the film I saw the scientists were the only advocates for the Na'vi. This leaves me to believe you weren't paying much attention to details.

I also think you're off base with the 3D critique. Pixar's UP (which I found quite satisfying) has zero 3D impact at all. In fact viewing UP in 2D or 3D makes very little difference in the experience. Whereas Avatars floating creatures, plant tendrils, grand vistas, holographic computer displays and creative subtitles would be completely lost in the 2D experience.

Finally I agree with the other poster that you got too caught up in the minutia of the film rather than letting go and allowing yourself to be swept up in the world of Pandora. It's really is too bad (also a bit sad) you could experience what most people did viewing Cameron's latest effort.

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Avatar for user 'proteinstar'

proteinstar | December 21, 2009 at 8:36 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

I don't get it. Cameron has stated that he dreamed this thing up back around 1992 but the technology just wasn't there to pull it off. Kevin Costner did this exact same story in 1990. Yeah the special effects were great. But most of the concept work was timid or laughable at best. The creatures should have been outrageous, the military vehicles amazing. But they seemed to be limp copies. Heck I flew one of those Scorpions in Unreal Tournament 2003. I mean the man spent $250 million on this thing for a rehash of Dances with Wolves?! Spend the money on some kind of new (and not predictable) plot. This was honestly my first time with 3D and I was completely unimpressed. 3D is a Hollywood push to cut down on piracy and inflate ticket prices, nothing more.

It was pretty...but stupid.

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Avatar for user 'boredwithmovies'

boredwithmovies | December 21, 2009 at 9:46 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Beth!

I love you! Most honest review of a movie I've seen in years. No one's a caretaker... everyones an imitator!

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Avatar for user 'stooky'

stooky | December 22, 2009 at 12:17 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

I missed the press release wherein James Cameron promised that he was going to deliver a "Beth Certified" movie that was full of nothing but original plot, storytelling and characterization, not to mention the most stunning 3D known to mankind.

Is it alright to make a movie for the purpose of being entertained? The kind of movie that is better to watch at a theatre than on your own home theatre?

Did it leave me with the same feeling as "Slumdog Millionaire", "Jason and the Argonauts", or "Unforgiven" (to name a few)? .... No

Did I go to a Sci-Fi movie expecting to have my life altered and witnessing the holy grail of all films? ..... uh No

Did I allow myself to be entertained and appreciate it for what it was? .... Yup.

Do you go into a dark funk everytime you eat a meal and it was not twice as good as the last meal that you had? Do you consider ending it all when your conversations with friends/family are not more and more revealing and stimulating each time?

Dear God Beth....let's all take a moment to enjoy the simple things and realize that Avatar is something that can be enjoyed.

I guarantee you a 13 year-old watching that film is not going to get stomach ulcers because it had similarities to Fern Gully or Dances with Wolves.

I would be interested in reading your list of movies that are completely unique and are not based on any earlier works of storytelling in any form.

I went to watch the movie with my wife Renee and I feel that it is clean enough for my son to watch and I will bring him. He is going to be amazed and will tell his grandparents about it..and enjoy it for what it is. All I can hope is that he (and my other children) are able to hold on to their appreciation of things for what they are and that they do not become a Beth.

Millions of people love to listen to Mozart...and among those millions you will also find the same people listening to Metallica, Nora Jones or Joy Division...all arguably much less impressive musical works.....but are they wrong to enjoy them for what they are?

One thing you do deserve credit for is getting me to waste a good 5 minutes writing this response....I'm still not sure how you got me to do that.

In closing, I cannot think of any words more fitting than those of the immortal Charlie Brown......GOOD GRIEF.

P.S. I'm not sure if this came across as a personal attack...I certainly did not mean it to come across that way. I have re-read my response a couple of times and I do not think that it is anymore of a personal attack than Beth's original review of the movie (towards James or people who liked the film).

Cheers

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Avatar for user 'Birkenstock'

Birkenstock | December 22, 2009 at 6:54 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

It's unbelievable that pretty pictures for 2.5 hours can be conscrude by anyone as being the equivelant of a good movie.

With Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves and Star Trek Insurrection (and 10+ Star Trek episodes) having told the same story already, it makes me wonder how many seconds James Cameron wrestled with the script vs. how many years he spend on refining the technical aspects.

I can't believe I paid to see this expensive pile of good looking clichés.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | December 22, 2009 at 11:02 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Well it makes me happy to see people discussing a film, even if most of you disagree with me. But a few points...

1. I never stated the scientist were mean I said the "scientists mean well."

2. I love how people read one review and assume I've never liked a single movie or that I must have been in some dark mood to not like this film. I went into this film perfectly happy and hoping to be impressed but I wasn’t. Yes I can enjoy a sci-fi adventure with nothing on its mind or an action film with a message – but only so long as they are good. I love A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back as well as Princess Mononoke or LOTR. All of those share elements with Avatar but I loved all of them and don’t love Avatar. Some of you think that makes me Scrooge – so be it. Bah humbug.

3. I didn't demand Cameron be completely original but he sure could have been more original than he was. He was more innovative with sci-fi conventions in The Terminator. Shakespeare stole most of his stories from other writers but he always improved on what he took. Cameron just delivers one cliche after another. I did give an example of a much more inventive and original film -- Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. And originality can just be reframing the familiar in fresh terms -- like The Matrix mixing Hollywood sci-fi with Hong Kong action, or Shaun of the Dead blending zombies and romantic comedy. I also think District 9 is a far more interesting, compelling, innovative and effective sci-fi actioner than Avatar.

4. The reason I mention what may seem like trivial details in my criticism is because I was often bored by Cameron's film and that gave me plenty of time to look around to see all sorts of annoying things. And while each detail may seem insignificant they add up. You might not get a C on an English paper for misusing a semi-colon but if every paragraph has bad grammar and poor punctuation then your grade will definitely drop. If Cameron had streamlined Avatar and spent as much time innovating the story as he spent innovating the technology then I would have liked it more.

5. Spears were used in the final battle along with arrows. And no matter what anyone says the final battle still makes me chuckle like I did when the Ewoks beat the Stormtroopers.

6. Bottom line: I just didn't like the film. It didn't engage me although technically it was impressive. That's my opinion and like all opinions it’s neither right nor wrong. And the fact that a lot of people have spent money to see the film and have made it a financial success doesn't change my opinion. I don't form my opinions based on box office. But what I enjoy is sharing those diverse opinions. If we all agreed on films we'd have one type of movie being made and it would quickly get boring. So if I had to pick a favorite sci-fi adventure film for the year it would definitely be District 9 and Avatar wouldn't even make my short list.

Thanks to both sides for the lively discussion.

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Avatar for user 'Neophile'

Neophile | December 25, 2009 at 9:22 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Beth, more often than not I agree with your reviews, but not this one. No matter, but I do have one quibble. Your amusement at the use of the term 'unobtanium' was unfounded. The term is commonly used by physics and engineers to mean a substance which is poorly understood or secret. It's use was actually a nice touch and I'm sure many in the research community appreciated it.

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Avatar for user 'owl'

owl | December 26, 2009 at 8:28 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Beth is not wrong—the story was junk, the military men were caricatures, the animals and machines weren't really that imaginative, and the battle sequences got boring after only a short time. The movie could've been easily been 45 minutes shorter; I got the sense that it was only as long as it was because the money was already spent.

Avatar WAS entertaining, though, despite often being unintentionally amusing.

The comments here are really the highlight of this page, though. It's fun to watch people so vociferously defend something that is obviously a massive corporate cookie-cut effort to sucker people into being entertained into oblivion. You might as well be defending Microsoft.

All that said, count me in as entertained. Yes, Beth probably could've enjoyed it a little more if she'd wanted to, but there is certainly PLENTY to criticize about this formulaic, dumbed down, ultra-violent action film.

Side note: I had the exact same thought about the spear penetrating bulletproof space glass, so Eccentricus, consider your nitpick the Worst. Nitpick. Ever.

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Avatar for user 'beardgod'

beardgod | December 27, 2009 at 10:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

I have to agree with the anti-Beth crowd on this one. Of course, part of being a review-reader is that you have an obligation (of sorts) to "know" one's reviewer (or in the words of the Na'vi "I see you"). Look, I know that if I want to get a good sense for what to see when Ultrastar hosts the Latino Film Festival, I can rely on Beth. Same goes for most things they show at Landmark Theaters. However, what gives Beth enormous street cred with those categories, likely handicaps her in the case of a movie like Avatar. Avatar is escapism and technology to the nth degree. It was a movie to allow oneself to be absorbed into and immersed in. The sheer brilliance and fantasy that was Pandora was phenomenal.

However, there was substance beyond the prosaic, despite Beth's opinion. Foremost, the prolific use massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) has many living more of their life within the confines of avatar-styled reality, something which I believe was completely missed by Beth (and even most reviewers who enjoyed the film). There was tremendous depth in the context of this aspect of the movie, however, it was depth at a level that I think only appeals (and appears) to the tech/geek/MMORPG crowd.

There was likewise depth vis-a-vis the notion of what it is like to be embedded/immersed (in a military sense) in a foreign culture and how the interplay occurs between the invader and the local population. I saw the film with my brother-in-law (who is a jarhead and relishes being one, as well as a geek) and he was drawn in by the parallels of his experiences in both Gulf Wars and Bosnia.

Regardless, I think this comment board has made relatively clear...if you go to see the movie, literally to "see" the movie, you are highly unlikely to be disappointed. Sure, it's trite and worn and all of the stuff Beth mentions, but it was a hell of a lot more comfortable to watch then "Up in the Air" wondering how many people in the theater had actually lost their jobs in the last year.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | December 28, 2009 at 11:14 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

To Beardgod, I'm a little disappointed that you don't rely on me for zombie, horror and action films too because that's where my heart really is.

As to the MMORPG, yes I might like Avatar more as a game where I'm in control than as a movie where Cameron is in control. And films like GI Joe sidestepped critics and mainstream media and advertised specifically to gamers and jatheads and found a very happy and supportive audience.

But if I want a film that mirrors the gaming experience I'll take Crank High Voltage any day over Avatar and GI Joe. Crank High Voltage is the closest thing I've found on film to the gaming experience and it was a blast -- funny, action-packed, clever in its own sleazy way.

I'm glad I saw Avatar and I look forward to what others will do with the technology but for fun at the movies, I'll take District 9 or Crank High Voltage. I have seen each of those at least three times and still get a kick out of them.

Thanks for the continued discussion.

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Avatar for user 'HerbLash'

HerbLash | December 30, 2009 at 5:51 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Every critic cannot be a Pauline Kael – but if criticism has a purpose, it is to write about film in an interesting way. There would seem to be a lot of interesting things to write about Avatar no matter your critical judgment. Reading this review was like being asked to walk a long way down the street while listening to Beth’s particular bounty of likes and dislikes. For me, too long a path that ultimately leads to an easy and predictable: “I didn’t like it.”

I think the review has provoked such a healthy comments section because it was a massive swing and miss – no matter how you felt about the film, the review failed as criticism. Erroneous (“With the exception of that early depth of field shot and maybe one or two more -- Cameron never uses the 3D in a visually innovative way.”), misguided and highly personal notions (“The creature designs are good but not particularly fantastical.”), unfounded snark ("Un-obtain-ium," get it), wacky syntax (“Technically the film impresses intermittently”) and vapid aesthetic pronouncements (“Avatar,” ultimately, is a film free from subtlety and complexity”) are pretty blunt instruments to choose when lining up against a pop and cinema culture juggernaut like “Avatar.”

No matter the critical verdict as to story, Avatar is undeniably a highlight along the continuum of cinema-technology breakthroughs, one that includes Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and the original Matrix. Beth probably does not have the luxury of writing about only movies she likes, but for this outing she brought a lone homemade spear to a gun fight. Cameron is tops in Budget and Box Office once again. While one matters and the other doesn’t in Beth’s critical judgment, I would be interested in her opinion as to why exactly it is that the “new school” James Cameron is, predictably, King of The World, again.

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gabriel87120 | January 2, 2010 at 8:49 a.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

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Avatar for user 'Nathan Gibbs'

Nathan Gibbs | January 4, 2010 at 2:14 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Reminder: We do remove comments that violate our discussion guidelines when they cross into insults and personal attacks. We fully appreciate diverse opinions but expect users to keep it above the belt.

Discussion Guidelines: http://www.kpbs.org/about/terms-service/#rules-of-use

Thanks for understanding.

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Avatar for user 'IanL'

IanL | January 4, 2010 at 7:57 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

The passion with which some readers are attacking Beth's review is surprising. Owl's defense of her is spot-on. Given all the buzz, advertising, money, studio-backing, and hype surrounding Avatar, a critic is entitled to expect a movie that is at excels in every way.

Come on, people! Avatar is a great spectacle and a good popcorn movie, but surely you must see that it is so, so much less than it could have been. With the unprecedented budget and amount of time spent on this movie, the sky was the limit. Instead, we got off-the-clearance-rack story lines, tired stereotypes, and cliches. Even a very simple change, such as having a multi-ethnic cast of principal human characters would have at least freed this film from the well-worn path of "white guilt film" and left us with a more resounding and universal message about imperialism, exploitation, and greed.

With a bit more consciousness and intelligence Avatar could have become a real heir to Star Wars IV and V - a movie with timeless appeal that will be watched for generations. Instead, what we have is a formulaic blockbuster which will seem tired and dated in a few years.

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Avatar for user 'LaustonOzonee'

LaustonOzonee | January 4, 2010 at 8:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Beth,

As always, the effort and sheer exuberance you bring to your work are much appreciated. I think many people don't realize the sacrifice required of a film critic. While a lay person can exit the theater simply liking what they've seen, and most do, in so much as we tend to only go see the sort of fare that interests us, the film critic doesn't get away quite so easily. You're expected to be conversant in the particular genre, the filmmaker's complete body of work, compare and contrast their effort with every other film ever made, form and defend a strong opinion, and then sit back and smilingly accept the snide comments regarding your powers of perception, dubious lineage, preferred attire and degree of socialization. A surprisingly difficult way to earn a living.

Now, as for Avatar, in a word stunning. Stunningly derivative, stunningly beautiful, stunningly over-hyped and stunningly unexpected. It's almost as though Walt Disney, while on acid, commissioned a mashup of The Jungle Book, Jeremiah Johnson, and Doctor Dolittle. No wonder you didn't care for this movie!

I would like to propose a thought experiment: Would you consider writing another review of Avatar, but do so as if in a vacuum? Disregard everything you know about James Cameron, empty your mind of past remembrances from other movies and pretend this was the first and only film you've ever reviewed. I'm genuinely how you would rate it on its own merits.

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Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | January 5, 2010 at 6:36 p.m. ― 4 years, 3 months ago

Well if I saw Avatar in a vacuum and it was the only sci-fi film I had ever seen then I might have found it fresher but probably still too long. But that's cutting it a lot of slack.

Star Wars managed to work with all its cliches and references to old movies because it had a real exuberance and love for what it was paying homage to -- plus it was made on a much smaller budget with more of a DIY sensibility on the part of its FX crew. It also came out of nowhere to surprise people.

Cameron had a lot of money to work with, state of the art technology at his disposal, and in his reworking of formula elements I just didn't find that same sense of joy that made Star Wars so much fun.

Thanks to both of the last post-ers for bringing some differing points of view in.

I am sorry that one of the comments was removed. I enjoyed hearing that the reason I didn't like Avatar was that I had never been kissed. Maybe studios just need to hire people to kiss critics as they enter the theater so we are less curmudgeonly.

Thanks again to everyone for their comments because if we all agreed it would be pretty boring.

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