Sunday, December 20, 2009

Do I have to remind you guys it's only a movie?

Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and Jake (Sam Worthington) in "Avatar."
It appears when you are James Cameron, there's only one way it's gonna go. Of course, the guy didn't help himself by declaring himself "The king of the world!" with an armful of awards when his last movie swept the 1998 Oscars. There's gonna be a backlash, and it's gonna happen before your movie even comes out.
Because of this kind of thing, I was a willing participant in the pre-release anti-"Avatar" bandwagon. After all, the first trailer didn't give us much of a clue as to what the film was about, and ended up bearing a more than casual resemblance to a dismal animated film called "Delgo." Check it out on Youtube sometime (it won't stay up here). It's eerie.
Then there was the hype itself. "The first fully animated characters ever featured in a live action film." Um, are you kidding? You're gonna hang your movie on a Jar Jar Binks? Good luck with that.
Fast forward to a couple months later, and the reviews started coming out. And they were good. My friend Josh Larsen at gave it 3 and a half stars, and he was as skeptical as I was (check his review out here). An 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. The same on Metacritic. Big budget action movies by popular guys like James Cameron don't usually do this well. So pretty soon I was done making fun and fully in the "OK, I'm checking it out" crowd.
"Avatar" is an astonishingly rich film, one that needs to be experience in a theater. The visuals are gorgeous, and it must be said immediately, the Na'vi are not Jar Jar Binks. But there is much more to this film than pretty pictures, although they are beautiful. The story is better than average for a film like this, which is admirable. So often the plot gets lost with science fiction and fantasy. Clearly this film was a labor of love for Cameron, who wrote it and spent many years on it, and he should be proud. It was also nice to see something that Cameron has always featured in his films, strong female characters, in particular Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), the Na-vi heroine.
The story is a classic one about an indigenous population and what happens when it is found that they have something valuable on their land. And that's where my headline comes in.
In the past week I have read everything from this movie being an inexcusable example of white guilt to it anti-American. What it is, is a movie, and a good one, with a good story, fantastic visuals and a nice message.
Let's not get all riled up now. Let's just have a little fun.