The plot is ludicrous.In a year, when James Cameron's Avatar appears to be no more than an overlong bit of interstitial video-game narrative (perhaps literally so, as the game-console tie-ins roll out), the critics who hailed it as a technological breakthrough are going to look mighty foolish. To be fair, it is hard for me to imagine the New York Time's Manhole of Darkness goofing off with an afternoon of DragonAge, and so I'm willing to call this sort of oversight an error of ignorance. This is not to say that Avatar wasn't pretty, prettier even than I expected. Although his magical blue planet is as under-realized a fictional world as a magical dolphin dorm poster . . .
. . . it is fair to say that it's nonetheless superficially well executed, which isn't just faint praise. I mean, I can't draw a still picture of my last psylocibin experience, let alone animate the fucker.
That said, it was hardly revolutionary. Yes, it captured in higher resolution and with more convincing textures the looks of both organic and inorganic material, but that is a difference of mere degree, not of kind. Jurrasic Park was revolutionary. Avatar is merely refinement a couple of decades later. I am routinely impressed by the graphics today's games afford, but when was the last time you were really overawed by the realization of what a computer-contained world could be. The Miller brothers in the nineties? Anyway, I digress.
The story, as elsewhere noted, is basically blue Pocohontas having sex with the blue Dances with Wolves, and it does drag on. The ultimate outcome is never in doubt. Of course, it never would be. I am actually quite all right with the lousy noble natives defeat rapacious paleskin narrative; I am fine with the marine falling in love with the native girl and leading her people to victory. Yes, there are colonialist overtones; yes, the shit is all over the noble savage mytheme; (yes, it is preposterous to imagine that an insterstellar human civilization would commit ground troops when they could just dump a spacemissile from space); but these are hardly new stories. I mean, hello, The Aeneid anyone?
But as there are no stakes for the crippled marine who eventually goes native to enjoy a fully abled blue existence, there is never the slightest tension. Though glancing reference is made to an ecological catastrophe on earth, all the humans are motivated either by cartoon-capitalist money-hunger or by goofily gung-ho militarism, and so there's never a choice, an agonizing fork in the road where, even though we may guess which path the protagonist will take, we still feel the wrench of his decision. With a few more lines of throwaway dialogue, Cameron could easily have established a scenario in which the survival of human civilization itself depended upon the successful extraction of the miracle mineral from the alien world, thus rendering the nobility of the natives more heroic and the violent hubris of the humans more tragic.
Now. As completely inane and absurd as was 2012, it actually created a compelling antagonist (you can't call him a villain) in Oliver Platt, by giving him the firm conviction that sentimental morality had no place in seeking the survival of the species itself. This point was of course undercut by the plot's insistence on a highest-bidder mode of access to surviving the apocalpyse, which was in turn a narrative conceit to justify saving John Cusack (why, oh why, did they save John Cusack) and giving The Black Scientist a sentimentally moral speech about giving everyone a chance because Rawlsian fairness must hold even unto the ends, literally, of the motherfucking earth. But still, Platt's character was a thousand times more compelling than the corporate hacks and military contractor-manqués of Avatar. He was animated by a realistic--within the context of the story--belief that had merit. Imagine, Avatar fans, if the battle-scarred colonel were not merely a casual racist and blood-thirsy goon, but a brutal realist willing to contemplate terrible things, including xenocide, because he believes it necessary for the survival of his own people.
Well, that would have been another and better movie, but perhaps a less popular one, as it would have required that the audience consider, if only briefly, that it is possible to confronted with a circumstance in which clarity is elusive and there is no plain right and wrong, in which necessity dictates heinous acts and victory in a righteous cause may yet spell disaster for one's enemies, who were themsleves impelled to act evilly by forces beyond their individual control. Oh well. Flying fucking dinosaurs! Fuck. Yeah.