Avatar: The Last Farebender?

As you probably have heard (and seen) by now, the success of James Cameron’s most recent “epic” Avatar has given him yet another seat in the $1 billion clubhouse. But is this accolade well-deserved and more than just the result of hiked theater prices for the sake of 3D? (Ticket sales certainly have nothing to do with this axed sex scene.)

First, it was Titanic that brought the combined talents of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet to the surface and scored James Cameron the top-grossing movie of all time. And now, it is his “revolutionary” magnum opus that has rewarded him for all his hard work, fifteen years and $300 million later. But despite its boastful numbers, Avatar has been getting a lot of flack, for trying to feign political correctness and racial awareness, infantile dialogue, and unoriginal plotlines. With supporting performances from Sigourney Weaver (respect) and an Undeclared Marshall doppelganger (no respect, especially from Art School Confidential) who don’t really do much but serve as the obligatory “good guys” alongside Sam Worthington of the “Jarhead clan,” it’s hard not to categorize Avatar as just another style-over-substance vehicle.

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(Chart generated from data provided by Box Office Mojo)

Like an homage to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and its idiosyncratic inhabitants (inhobbitants?), Cameron achieved this other realm of virtual realism with his performance-capture stage and 3D camera tricks. Don’t get us wrong, it’s aesthetically pleasing. But so is looking through a kaleidoscope. Sure, it is human nature to blindly denigrate something automatically for its outright success and our individual lack of involvement in its success. However, this is not the case, for we are solely responsible for allowing Cameron yet another ego booster seat, while we’ve been blinded by his 3D glasses. Yes, it is but a small fee to upgrade to the uncomfortable one-size-fits-all alternate-reality lenses, which more and more trivializes the medium of 2D, but it’s justified because of the visceral experience, isn’t it?

The most accurate review thus far has been on Cinema Styles, where the reviewer offers credit where credit is due with its stylistically shot action sequences and Zoe Saldana’s turn as a blue giantess, but there the “accolades” stop. For the main problem is that, Avatar is nothing more than CGI. Aside from minimal scenes displaying the size difference and the obvious similar facial construction between the Na’vi and humans, the whole motion-capture aspect is useless. The “tails and skin color could have easily been taken care of with the age-old Hollywood craft of makeup which would have instantly Made. Them. Real….So what we’re left with is the fact that, to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum’s famous declaration from Jurassic Park, James Cameron was so thrilled with the idea that he could create CGI Na’vi that he never stopped and asked himself if he should create CGI Na’vi.” Word.

Furthermore, as should not be expected from the same composer as Titanic, James Horner, the Avatar theme even takes (err borrows) its cues from the chorus of “My Heart Will Go On,” better known as the Titanic theme. If you heard it and thought it sounded vaguely familiar, now you know why. James Cameron is clearly banking on the success of past films (one of which is his own) to fund his next two blockbuster hits. However, with the ridiculous success of Avatar, it is safe to say that James Cameron’s latest will not be the last farebender raping your eyes with technology. Protect yourselves.

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On a related note, M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender has been chugging along full-steam, despite glaring differences in the aesthetic of the antagonist and the obvious reliance on starpower. But why should Shyamalan be held responsible to abide by source material? He writes, directs, and makes whatever may have high potential his, until any high has completely worn off. Funny how two projects of the same title will be at opposite ends of the box office spectrum. Look out for this on July 2 but in the meantime, watch the trailer here and decide for yourself.