In defense of hating ‘Avatar’
James Cameron’s “Avatar” left the Golden Globes last Sunday as the show’s biggest winner, taking home the Best Motion Picture – Drama and Best Director awards. These accolades have propelled the sci-fi epic closer to Oscar gold than ever before. From this point on, a Best Picture loss would be seen as a massive upset.
And that makes me sick, because I cannot understand how “Avatar” is a quality movie.
I don’t think “Avatar” is a horrible movie—it’s decent. But with its big explosions, wincingly bad dialogue and a simple, underdeveloped story, why is this getting more praise than, say, “Fantastic Four”? Or “Transformers 2”? Or “Monsters vs. Aliens”?
Honestly, it feels like “Avatar” is receiving all of the compliments “The Dark Knight” should have received a year ago. Both films took venerable franchises (Batman and the Cult of James Cameron) and pumped up the commercial appeal. The only difference is that “Avatar” was released in December and “The Dark Knight” came out in the summer. During awards season, “The Dark Knight” had to fight to shed the “summer movie” stigma, a taint it would never fully lose. “Avatar” was anointed after its first weekend, despite the fact that, according to Rotten Tomatoes, more than 100 movies received better reviews this year.
Oh yeah, there is also the 3-D. The new technology that will transform films as we know them. Look, I know the technique Cameron used is groundbreaking, and I look forward to seeing the technology implemented in countless romantic comedies and documentaries about penguins. But while everyone I’ve talked to has praised “Avatar”’s visuals, I have not found a single person who actually enjoyed “Avatar.” They say the story was vanilla, and the action was formulaic and forced. But another trend emerges: Everyone agrees that the 3-D effect was simply amazing—which it was, but should that make it Best Picture material? Did “Slumdog Millionaire” win Best Picture because of its fantastic editing? Did “Shakespeare in Love” win for its elaborate costumes? Of course not. Those were distinctive qualities of two movies that contributed little to the films’ overall excellence, and moviegoers everywhere are saying the same thing about “Avatar”’s 3D.
That is, unless the viewers are the people who run the awards shows. For some reason, they love “Avatar.” It didn’t make sense to me until I remembered that every movie awards show is just a way for Hollywood to pat itself on the back while raking in high ratings, of course. In this sense, the Academy got incredibly lucky this year. It has stumbled onto the highest-grossing decent film to come out during the awards season since, well, “Titanic.” If “Avatar” wins Best Picture, the ratings for the ceremony will be the biggest they have been in years, and from a financial standpoint, it would be absolutely foolish for the Academy not to ride “Avatar” all the way to the bank.
But if the Oscars mean to represent film excellence, as they purport, then “Avatar” will not win Best Picture. Come on, guys. It already won the Golden Globe (and the broadcast’s ratings were way up this year, by the way).