Last time I talked about AVATAR’s 3-D ambitions and why I think the whole 3-D trend is a rip-off and act of desperation on the part of the studios to get you into the theater and away from your TV. (At least, until they perfect 3-D TV and can sell you more equipment along with a new library of films to supplant your existing DVDs and now Blu-Ray discs. Shades of vinyl, 8-Track, cassette and CD!)
Meantime, I fell a li’l ill for a bit and my wife had her wisdom teeth out. I wrote the column but didn’t have the pics put together; so unfortunately, our bossman Craig misunderstood and withheld the blog entry till now! My apologies.
Now let’s get to the film itself. I thought it was gorgeous. Visually stunning, graphically amazing and technologically incredible. For me it was more of a sci-fi “art film” than anything else. The floating mountains and other scenes were right out of various fantasy paintings by the great (former Yes album cover artist) Roger Dean and others. Thankfully, someone asked James Cameron about Dean and he semi-acknowledged the similarity and influence. (After what happened with TERMINATOR and Harlan Ellison’s lawsuit, I’m surprised he even said anything!)
Score one for another fantasy artist influencing pop culture! Writers have considerably more “clout” but the artists have carved a nice niche.
But will AVATAR become another STAR WARS? Or even TERMINATOR?
Yes and no.
It’s a blockbuster. A major influence on filmmaking, at least for the next few years. It may even be a franchise and one of those oxymoronic “instant classics.” But for the “wrong” reasons.
It cannot eclipse or even equal STAR WARS for two simple reasons: script and characters.
You can watch AVATAR with the sound off and still have a great time, still understand pretty much all of what’s going on. True, that’s good visual storytelling, but it doesn’t say much for the writing. While you can enjoy TERMINATOR and STAR WARS with the sound off, you’re missing a large part of the event, the souls of the pictures and what made them famous.
(For the record, I’m using STAR WARS because like AVATAR, it’s a wholly-conceived universe not based on a pre-existing work; TERMINATOR because it’s another wholly-conceived Cameron franchise. Apples to apples, more or less.)
Think of the memorable lines and catch phrases from the first appearances of those franchises (pardon if I paraphrase): “Help me, Obi-Wan, you’re my only hope.” (Granted, that was repeated a gazillion times in the film.) “I got a bad feeling about this!” “Let the Wookie win.” “Great, kid! Don’t get cocky!” “When I left, I was but a learner. Now I am the master”…”Only a master of evil, Darth.” And who can forget, “Come with me if you want to live” and “I’ll be back”? Or Cameron’s line for Ripley from ALIENS: “Get your hands off her, you bitch!” (I never even saw TITANIC but I remember, “I’m king of the world!”)
I honestly can’t think of one line from AVATAR. I guess the one that’s popular is “Make the connection” because I heard it on the SNL parody this weekend (hilarious if you haven’t seen it yet…Probably on You-Tube; look for “Laser Cats Cameron” and see if it shows up.)
And characters? Other than Jake Sully I couldn’t tell you anyone else’s names. (Not even his “Navi” name. Or is it “Na’vi”?) Literally five minutes after leaving the theater my wife and I could not recall the love interest’s name…Nefertiti? Nahiri? Nuremburg? Maybe Jolisa? I think it’s “Nat’iri” but I’ve no idea how to spell it. The main villain was one of the most evil in sci-fi history. But his name? Not a clue. Colonel something. (Or was he a general?) And what was the name of the jealous boyfriend? You think he’s on a par with Han Solo?
Yet I had no problem remembering Darth Vader, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi (admittedly hard to spell) even R2D2 and C3PO. I even remembered Alderon. And how hard is it to remember Sarah Connor, John Connor and The Terminator? I forgot Michael Biehn’s character name but I knew it after seeing the first film. I know Ripley and Lambert from ALIEN…heck I even remember Jonsey the friggin’ cat! What’s the name of the AVATAR creatures? No idea.
Even the merchandising seems off. I’ve seen barely a handful of AVATAR shirts and NO toys at Target or Wal-Mart. Maybe they sold out, but if they were that popular I think they’d restock them by now. (Iron Man and Transformers toys never left the shelves since their films’ debuts.)
I will admit much of this is anecdotal and personal. Maybe everyone else who saw AVATAR once remembers every character. Maybe every Target and Wal-Mart outside of my city is loaded to the gills with the toys. But I doubt it.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s a great film. I will watch it again and enjoy the visuals. But that’s mostly it. Will it become a classic, remembered for decades? Yes. But not for the characters or the writing. Purely superficial.
No way would I put it in the same class with Lucas’s brainchild, or even Cameron’s past creations.
And that ain’t no foolin’ around.