In the many early raves for James Cameron’s Avatar, one critic compared the film to the first major talkie, ‘The Jazz Singer.’ Not a bad comparison. The 1927 audience for that film was undoubtedly astounded by that first magic sprinkling of sound onto film. Yet 1927 happens to be the greatest year for silent filmmaking. Few would think of ‘The Jazz Singer’ as being artistically in the same league as ‘Metropolis,’ ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc,’ ‘Sunrise,’ ‘the General,’ ‘Eisenstein’s October,’ etc.
It is undeniable that ‘Avatar’ is a stunning three-dimensional showcase that may well be ahead of its time. Nor is it mind-numbed-–it has something to say. Cameron’s Noble Savage fantasy is too deeply felt a mindset to deny it springs from a personal ideology. Yet Avatar is so miserably written and so far off on its own merry Marxist moonbeam that it becomes a challenge to entirely give your heart to. I left wishing that this staggering technological advance had accompanied a story that didn’t need excuses made for it.
Avatar is a sort of space-age ‘Dances With Wolves,’ with one eye beautifully open to painterly excess and one ear closed to its atrocious third-grade dialogue. With its three-dimensional CG effects, every inch of the theater seems to be in play with something new and stunning to see. Unfortunately, though, we must hear, too. It’s not that the dialogue is badly written. It’s that it is calculatingly idiotic, betting on exactly how low the international lowest common denominator goes.
The plot can be (and is) diagrammed in the first ten minutes, which it then executes like a battle plan for the next two and a half hours. Wheelchair-bound Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) volunteers for a mission to far-away forest moon Pandora. A human military outpost has been scraped onto the surface. The planet’s natives are the 12-foot blue Na’vi, the sort of eco-friendly inhabitants that only exist in the minds of the Hollywood Hills.