Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver
Doubting James Cameron’s ability to produce at the box office would be a noble yet folly sentiment to have. No matter the occasion, he knows how to produce something that will have audiences running to the theaters. Avatar did just that and changed the way 3D filmmaking expanded the years that followed. Unfortunately, this film relies far too much on its flash and has nothing of actual substance.
After having depleted all of Earth’s resources, a group of humans has traveled to Pandora to mine a precious material that would serve as a strong energy source. Their only deterrent happens to be this native tribe of blue creatures named the Na’vi. Through the Avatar program, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) gets tasked with infiltrating the Na’vi to learn about them in order to help the humans mine from the precious Hometree.
In full transparency, it took me a very long time to come around and actually watch this film. Ever since its debut in 2009, I have put off watching the film because I missed the opportunity to see it in theaters. I was assured by everyone that watching it on IMAX 3D had to be the way to experience it. Not until 10 years later that I tried to sit down and watch it, only to discover that it must have been spectacular in that premium theater setting because the story is so incredibly bland and unoriginal. I had to take the DVD out to make sure I was not accidentally watching Ferngully: The Last Forest or Kevin Costner’s science-fiction adaptation of Dances with Wolves. I figured Cameron would have something up his sleeve, but it all came from the visuals and that ultimately demonstrates that while this film made tons of money, it left no cultural footprint.
Rarely do you hear anyone say that Avatar is their favorite film and that’s because those picks come from films with good stories. This film had its unprecedented run of being a non-franchise movie catch lightning in a bottle and being the highest-grossing film of all-time, but once the IMAX 3D option no longer became available, audiences seemed to care anymore. The film industry certainly cared, as they saw the profit margins in the premium theater formats and started to pump out their blockbusters in 3D, which most had no real need. It quickly oversaturated that market and has proven to be a trend that has mostly gone away. Avatar does not have any memorability factor and it certainly does not help when the leading man has the charisma of a loaf of bread.
Hollywood has shown that they will take a guy and try to make him a star, despite the track record they leave in their wake. Sam Worthington undoubtedly has become one of them and in my attempts to watch this film, I felt like I needed to fast-forward through his parts because his line delivery made any conversation unbearable. The character written for Worthington was basic, but he did not do anything to elevate it. The rest of the cast was fairly good with Sigourney Weaver as the scientific lead of the Avatar program and Zoe Saldana as the Na’vi that Jake falls for because the cloning of the Dances with Wolves script would not be complete without it. Those two characters became far more interesting than the protagonist, who happens to be discovering this would for the first time.
For what it’s worth, the film sells itself on the visuals and even when watching it on television, the effects look first-rate. Cameron knows what he’s doing from the creature creation in Pandora and the world-building. I’m certain that I would have been amazed by the IMAX 3D experience, but in the end I care more about the story and Cameron obviously invested more time in the visuals rather than the content of the narrative. It’s not like he constantly fails in this way either, as he has blended the two in spectacular ways before in both Terminator films, Aliens, and Titanic. He got far too enamored with the new technology this time around and it came to the film’s detriment.
When the closing credits arrived, I just sat there and shrugged wondering why I spent nearly 3 hours watching this film. It’s not something I will ever revisit and I certainly will be in no rush to watch the upcoming sequels whenever they finally get released. It was good to watch only to cross it off the list of having seen all of the highest-grossing films, but once again, time shows the true quality of a film. Avatar does not remain in popular culture discourse and it left no real impact in people’s minds for something that almost made $3 billion. It baffles me, but after watching the film, it makes complete sense. The visuals did not have the same impact when you watch it at home, and all you’re left with is its incredibly bland and unoriginal narrative that could put you to sleep.