A game changer in the same way color and sound were in cinema's infancy, Avatar has become far greater than the sum of its parts.
A technical marvel, it establishes the possibility of movies as immersive experiences. It's beautiful and enthralling and, despite a nearly three-hour running time, moves with a sense of urgency and efficiency.
It's just not very good.
Don't get me wrong. Avatar , which has made more than $1 billion at the box office and racked up some swell hardware at Sunday's Golden Globe awards (Best Director, Best Picture (drama)), will be talked about for years. Science fiction fans will expound on its philosophical importance, generations of filmmakers will cite it as an early influence and stoners will embrace the mind-blowing visuals for years to come.
But Avatar is a lot like getting a beautifully wrapped birthday gift that turns out to be a pair of socks. The characters are shallow, the plot predictable and the dialogue poor. It has aspirations of being an important message movie, but the metaphors are so heavy-handed that any sense of discovery is obliterated by ham-fisted, and slightly condescending, handling. I would like to believe that audiences are capable of understanding subtext without being bludgeoned with it.
It's possible that the goal was never art, but rather accessibility. This was a very expensive film to produce (some have estimated as much as $250 million), and James Cameron has been working on this project for five years. That's a lot of time, effort and money to invest in art house fare.
Obviously, the production team wanted this movie seen by as many people as possible and in that, it's a success. My daughter loves Hannah Montana, horses and hot pink costume jewelry, as a first-grader should, and she has been pleading to see this movie since the first previews aired. Saturation, it seems, has been accomplished.
It will be interesting to see what the popular perception of this film turns out to be. Audiences are enamored with it now because it is so very shiny and so very new. Certainly, it will garner some Oscar nominations and probably a statue or two. Also, audiences still seem content to continue flocking to theaters, even at $15 a pop. I just wonder if it will stand up to the intense scrutiny a movie like this attracts.
It will always be an important film. I'm skeptical if it will continue to be considered good.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.