I Hate Avatar and Give it Four Stars Anyway

Avatar broke all kinds of box office records and won three Academy Awards. Many of my friends really liked this movie. I saw it three times, but still I hate it.

Avatar-QuaritchEven while hating it, there are some great things going on here that I recognized from the beginning. Visually, this is a stunning work of art that advances the whole field of movie-making. It is also the complete vision of the director, not compromised in any way. The action is gripping, and the finale is as good a use of the tense ticking clock as anything since the first Star Wars.

I also loved the character played by Stephen Lang, who is a truly compelling presence in whatever he does. Even though I thought the story pushed the character towards stereotype.

The story itself is well-trodden and built on simplification and stereotype, but it isn’t a bad story. We have bad imperialists and good natives. Of course the more we tell stories like this, the more actual imperialistic behavior is forgotten. But never mind all that. Audiences loved this story because it appeals to our inner hippie AND our inner war-monger.

The down side is when people get caught up in the story, as if there was anything original or compelling about it. We have been telling this story over and over, and we don’t actually change our carbon-consuming, consumption-worshiping ways as a result. We basically hate the Evil Colonel but love the iPads and low-cost textiles he makes possible.

But back to the film. I hate it. I hate that it broke all the box office records, hate that it has such a big following. I hate that it has distilled a complex tale into a simple moral fable with “unobtanium” and “Pandora.” I hate every mis-step and poor use of science fiction tropes.

But it is a well-done, ground-breaking movie. It is full of really good actors who aren’t allowed to give their best work (except for Stephen Lang, of course), but they aren’t bad, either. So, in spite of my feelings about Avatar, I’m forced to give it four stars.

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