[This Article is SPOILER-FREE]
I making this statement because I truly believe it: Avatar is a classic Disney-esque adventure as imagined by James Cameron. In my head, that basically translates to "A cliched but endearing tale-for-the-ages, with claws, fangs and lots of big guns."
In the next few days, weeks (maybe even months) you're going to be hearing all about what Avatar is and is not (check out our own official review HERE). You'll hear the debate about whether it has lived up to the hype, whether the film has truly changed the CGI face of movies (it has) and whether the film is all that it could've been.
As far as that latter question goes, read on if you want to hear my breakdown.
The critical response to Avatar has generally been positive, if not similar: visually, the film is a spectacle that no movie-loving person should miss. You should experience Avatar - you'll likely be hearing that word, "experience," a lot - in theaters, in 3D, in IMAX if you can. What James Cameron has done, technically speaking, is truly worthy of the word, "magical."
However, the script and story have many critics shaking their heads. They (including our own Vic Holtreman) feel the story is a bit cliched, uninspired, two-dimensional, even naive and/or offensive in its depiction of humans as heartless militant oppressors and the Na'vi aliens as the proverbial "noble savages." I confess, the story of Jake Sully's (Sam Worthington) journey had even me joking to a friend that the only thing I learned from Avatar is that a century from now, you can still send one white man into an endangered indigenous culture and if he can find one hot native chick he likes, he'll manage to save the day.
Is Avatar's story perfect? No. Is the film throwing any worse stereotypes or simplistic morals at my young impressionable mind than Dumbo, The Jungle Book, Snow White, Aladdin, or The Lion King did? Certainly not. Fans keep saying they expected more from James Cameron - but then, Cameron himself has been saying all along that he wanted to make 'an epic fantasy adventure for the global audience.' And what has more appeal to people of all ages, from all over, than a simplistic Disney-style yarn?
Of course, a lot of people will argue that we're supposed to be past the kind of cringe-worthy missteps and outdated notions we see in old Disney animated features - and there is some truth to that. But then again, Pixar - the studio which has risen to become "the new Disney" of the digital age - has been trying to tell more sophisticated "human" stories for sometime now. Their latest feature, UP, was fantastic - but how wide was the appeal of that often-depressing story? I know firsthand that a lot of kids had trouble with it...
In the end, Avatar is an old-school movie adventure, for better or for worse. It's a bit simple in its concepts (good is good, bad is bad), a bit overly-romantic in its imaginings (earthy types are good, techie-types are - ironically enough - bad), a bit cliched in its story - man learns to love his enemy by seeing through his eyes - but then, your grandparents' heartfelt nostalgic stories are never that insufferable, are they? Well, neither is a heartfelt nostalgic adventure as told by James Cameron. And the experience of seeing this film - there's that word again - is undoubtedly worth the price of admission of ten other films with better scripts. So you tell me what's worth your time at the movie theater this winter.
The ironic part about all this is if Avatar had turned out to be more Dark Knight than Iron Man (read: morally gray, narratively complicated with morally complex characters), I truly believe a resounding cry would have risen up from the 'Net, with critics screaming, "Enough already with all boring stuff, we want to see the pretty pictures!"
"Deep story? I'm here so YOU can count the wrinkles in my CGI nose!"
Ah, the movie news business... Nothing else like it...
When the inevitable Avatar sequels are set into motion, then I feel like we'll all be much more justified in our demands for a more sophisticated depiction of planet Pandora and its inhabitants. For now, it feels more like a lot of people are criticizing a baker who has cooked up a delicious new form of bread, while simultaneously licking crumbs from their collective fingers. But that's just my opinion.
Don't be left out of this debate a second longer. Run out and see Avatar starting at midnight tonight, December 18, 2009. Then come back and join in our spoiler discussion to let us know what you thought.