Mar 07 2010

One critic's feisty defense of Avatar

Airtalk had their annual roundup of critics at the Egyptian Theater to comment on the films nominated for the Academy Awards this year. I haven't yet seen Avatar, but I'm a pretty big admirer of James Cameron as a filmmaker. Most of the panel frankly hates Avatar, degrading it as a childish ripoff. This leads to the following comment by Henry Sheehan that I found interesting (Their audio was this horrible on the podcast. Not my fault.):

They're [the Avatar characters] are types. That's what Cameron likes to work with. Because among other things, all Cameron's movies are about movies, and the experience of watching movies. I can't go into everything that's good about Avatar right now. There's quite a bit. But, if you don't like the dialog, and you think it's silly: maybe it's not the film's problem. Maybe it's your problem.

This prompts a raucous response from some of the members of the panel, who snidely comment that the film is just a ripoff of Pocahontas. Sheehan goes on:

That's a typical problem regarding Avatar: that, at the real level, it's about indiginous people and about helping them out. And it's not about that in its final point. Yes, it uses that template. It's a consistent theme in Cameron's work. It goes back to the first Terminator film. And by the way, what most people don't like about the dialog in Titanic and Avatar is exactly what they did like in Terminator and Terminator 2.

"But no one nominated Terminator 1 or 2 for Best Picture or Screenplay", retorts one critic.

Right, because there's a bias against action films. But, Cameron started out saying that the survival of the human race is a real struggle, a bloody struggle, but it's a struggle worth taking in. And in a lot of ways what it has to fight is modernity, as represented by these robots from the future. Slowly over the years, film by film, Cameron has changed his mind. He no longer believes that the human race is worth saving. He doesn't think they've been good stewards of the world they've been given. He thinks, under those circumstance, they might as well go. It turns out that we are the robots. That's what he found out. We're not the flesh and blood creatures. Or if we are, we've expunged that from ourselves.

Unfortunately, the discussion has to wrap up at that point. (By the way, Charles Solomon is kind of an infantile horse's ass.)