Monday, December 21, 2009

James Cameron Doesn't Date Ugly Chicks

Wow. I've been away so long, I feel like the unfrozen caveman. You're... ways... are... strange... to... me. This... blogging... thing...

And to think the one thing that brings me out of blogging hibernation is James Cameron's Avatar. That's not really the case though. I've been meaning/wanting to write for some time, I just haven't had the time. So let's get started.

Movies really are like dating when you think about it. At first, everyone is attracted to the pretty ones. The ones that wow and amaze and that don't challenge you too much. The problem is, they're like trash. You use them up, throw them away and never think of them again. There really isn't any longevity to them.

The ones with a lot of personality get a little lost. They take some time to get to know and fall in love with, but once you're hooked, you're hooked.

Once in a while you get brains and beauty and watch out when that happens.

James Cameron's Avatar is all beauty. And boy is it beautiful. The ships, the robots, the scenery, the action. It's all there, but that's really the price of entry with James Cameron. You expect that, and he always delivers. But as of late, his beauty comes with a lot of baggage in the form of lousy storytelling and even worse dialogue. And if you look at Cameron's filmography, it starts to make sense why his more recent movies don't deliver. He co-wrote Terminator 2 and Aliens, however he was the lone writer on The Abyss, Titanic and now Avatar. There's a big difference between the former and the latter and it shows big time. There was a scene early on in Avatar where Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) pulls Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) aside and explains why making contact with the "Na'vi" is so important. The "Na'vi" have settled on large deposits of a precious metal that needs to be mined. As I watched this scene I couldn't help but roll my eyes. The Avatar program had been functional for some time. And I'm sure this wasn't the first conversation Parker and Dr. Augustine had ever had. So what's with the 101 on why they're doing what they're doing? Oh wait, I know. Bad storytelling. A much defter hand would have written that scene in such a way as to not be so obvious.

But hey, it's a James Cameron movie and I should just shut up and enjoy it, right? Right. Only I can't help but call bullshit on all these reviews I'm reading. They say it's visually stunning, but that the story is bad and the dialogue horrible. Then they give it 3 1/2 stars out of 4 or they give it an A- rating. Seriously? Last time I checked, a good review was reserved for films running on all cylinders. You can't give good reviews to movies that just look good. Right? Man, I wish that was right.

And let's briefly talk about how visually stunning the film is. It is. I would say that there were one or two scenes where I found myself noticing just how well-done they were. That said, I'm just not that impressed by special effects anymore. I've seen Orcs storm castles. I've seen incredible space battles. I've watched people morph from one character to another. I've seen it all, so I'm looking for something more. And truthfully, was there really anything about Avatar that was more stunning than something in Star Wars? Or Lord of the Rings? It's like comparing flat panel TVs (which I did recently). You can't really tell until you look really close. And how many people really do that?

So here I am, out from underneath the rock that has been on top of me for the past couple of months to say that for what it's worth, Avatar is a sexy picture. Just don't plan on much pillow talk after.


Rick "The Hat" Bman said...

I haven't seen this yet but I probable will soon. I have been waiting to see a review that didn't just drool all over the movie though. It seems like every review I have read so far, even from really intelligent people, is pretty much "ZOMG the special effects are awesome but the story is kind of lame A++++++." I couldn't make sense of it either.

Chris said...

I've definitely seen worse dialogue. Much worse. And I'd say the plot was simple. Kind of like fisher price version of a movie. it got the job done but was more of a vehicle to move the visuals along. It was all CG, but not in a transformers way. It wasn't grounded in a middle fingered insult to the audience. It just feels like Cameron didn't really respected our ability to think. Or maybe he gave it a broader, dumbed down appeal for a wider audience.

Greg said...

Pat, welcome back! I too am dismayed by a good review emerging from a critic liking only one aspect of the film, its visuals. I mean, what the...? Excellent review Mr. Piper.

I can hardly wait for your next post in March. Boy I bet it's going to be a good one!

Moviezzz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PIPER said...


Glad I could bring a little sanity. Last word I read was that Avatar was the leader in best picture category. God help us.


Thanks for the welcome back, I've got an incredible tan from my time away. I'm configuring blogger so that even if I post before March, you won't be able to read it until then.


Thanks as well for the welcome back. I think people are so desperate to claim the next big thing so they do it prematurely. Remember everyone saying The Dark Knight was the greatest thing ever? That has kind of gone away. It's the flavor of the month reviewing.

Burbanked said...

Good to read you, Piper!

If I can take your dating analogy a little further, I'd say this:

AVATAR is a stunner. You kind of can't believe she agreed to go out with you. You have a blast; you impress all your friends; you snap a few pics so you've got proof. The romance doesn't bloom - and you knew it wouldn't - but the memory of that one amazing night remains.

With all of its clunky faults, I still loved it quite a bit. I guess I'm just tickled 1) that I managed to get out to the movies once this quarter and 2) that a master director, the king of action setpieces/editing/movie physics/coherent razzle dazzle can still bring the wow.

I would certainly have liked AVATAR to be better, and it's certainly not Cameron's best. TITANIC's story and dialogue are easily as dorky, and very few people - at the time of its release, anyway - seemed to notice or mind.

And I'd say that there's plenty in AVATAR more stunning than SW - but that movie exists untouchable in the vacuum of my 10-year-old self.

Sammyray said...

Oh Piper, how I've missed you!!!

I completely agree with you. The visuals are stunning, but there are a lot of problems with the storytelling.

And Burbanked makes a cute and accurate analogy about the situation. Of course, the stink on my finger continues to remain because I'm not washing it off. And lemme tell ya ... Na'vi smells awfully nice.

Sammyray said...

Ya know, what gets me about this film being called a "game-changer" and a "cultural milestone" is that this isn't even Cameron's best film, let alone the best ever made.

I created a best-to-worst list of Cameron's films ... it's weird how low AVATAR really seems to fall in comparison to his other films.

PIPER said...


Thanks for your kind words. I agree with you that this isn't his best stuff. Like I said in my post, you can really tell the stuff he wrote, versus the stuff he co-wrote.

brian said...

It took James Cameron, who you loathe, to bring you back to the keyboard. There's great irony in that.

I must admit I came out of the theatre ranking Avatar an "A," based on mind-blowing effects. But after time and common sense kicked in, I knocked it down to a "B." Dialogue and storytelling are big Cameron weaknesses. Thanks for exposing him for what he is - an effects guy.

Anonymous said...

I have seen the future of movies, and it is Avatar.

r4 dsi

PIPER said...


if that's true, and I have no reason to believe it is, then we're in a lot of trouble.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

According to the calendar, Avatar is already the past of movies.

Agreed. I gave it 3 stars. There were times when I was on edge, completely wowed by what was in front of me. Then people started talking. Then I started noticing that you could turn the CGI off and start plugging the scenes into just about any movie you wanted. I mean, the "It was my mission at first, but then I fell in love with you!" bit is in every single rom-com. All of 'em.

But still, man! DRAGONS.

PIPER said...

I am posting this because Brian has demanded that I do.

I watched Avatar the second time and enjoyed it much more. It is truly a visually stunning movie. Technically, this movie is an achievement. Watching it the second time with my 11 year old son really made it worth it. For what this movie is, it's a good one. It's just not Oscar bait and if it becomes that, I will plot against it with every power in my being. James Cameron can fool us once, but surely not twice.

12XU said...

you are so right.
who watches titanic these days? that pretty girl got old fast.

more importantly, what flat panel TV did you go with?

PIPER said...

I went with a Samsung something or other inch. 1080i, baby for Hi-Def.