Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Avatar’s Worldview

I resisted seeing Avatar for as long as humanly possible, as much out of sheer contrarianism as anything else, but ultimately I too succumbed to the phenomenon, and got my eyeful of James Cameron’s latest mega-blockbuster, now the highest-grossing film of all time. Cameron, I must confess, is one of those directors I have never known quite what to do with. His technique is impeccable; his technological innovations known to all; and his capacity for tapping into the collective cinematic unconscious, somehow knowing what people want to see before they do, undeniable. And yet, I have always felt that there is something missing from Cameron’s films. He is a Spielberg without the sense of wonder; Kubrick without the burning, uncompromising intelligence; Scorsese without the pervasive sense of Catholic pity. Often, he seems to be a mere sketch of a great director, calculating, obsessive, utterly in control, and yet oddly and persistently empty. Avatar, it must be admitted, is no exception to this.

Everything its admirers and its detractors have said about it is more or less true. The visuals are extraordinary, the action scenes stunning, the special effects flawless, and the pure splendor of it all at times transporting. At the same time, the story is absurdly derivative, the characters stick figures at best, the dialog lamentable, and its politics painfully didactic. There is no doubt that it is enormously effective on its own terms, but one cannot help feeling that everything about it except its special effects is oddly cursory and even amateurish.

Continue reading at The New Ledger.