Oscarthon: Best Picture- Avatar

A ten part series on the Best Picture nominees, structured around four basic questions.

PART 1: Avatar

Was It Any Good?

Well...I guess it was. If that seems reluctant, it's because I'm not sure if I saw it because I wanted to, or because I knew the rest of the world was going to see it, AMPAS included.

It's entertaining, sure, if overlong, stilted, cliche-ridden and stuffed with weird racial undertones. For all the cynicism with which I watched it the first time, I was noticably rooting for the good guys in the climactic showdown- mostly because the under-mentioned Stephen Lang played such a greatly cartoonish villain.

But "good"? Meh. Since comparisons to Titanic are clearly impossible to avoid: the second half breakdowns of both films are impressive, but Avatar manages to make Titanic's first half look like a master case of nuanced storytelling.


Would I See It Again?

Full disclosure: I saw it twice. Once, I snuck into a 2D showing after I saw Sherlock Holmes around Christmas. Then, after weeks after record paying grosses and everyone saying how the 3D effects were the BEST THING EVER OMG, I went out to AMC and caught the IMAX 3D "Experience."

Do I plan on buying it? Not at all. Would I watch it again on cable? If there were nothing else on. For all the wow-factor of the effects (even if 3D someday becomes commonplace in a home theater setting), the story is only as compelling as any run-of-the-mill actioner.

What Did It Acheive?

I'm not going to argue with the momentousness of the work that went into Avatar. They created an entire virtual world, revolutionized motion capture, Jim Cameron invented a new type of camera or something and grew six extra arms over the course of shooting.

I guess my real question is: how impressive is all that measured against the current field of CGI ubiquitousness? It's everywhere, and pretty soon 3D is going to be everywhere too.

To use a sports anaolgy, is Avatar Babe Ruth, head and shoulders above the field, or is it Barry Bonds, hitting home runs only slightly more often in a juiced-up field? Clearly it's paving the way for hugely successful 3D block-busters to be commonplace, but in 2D it didn't impress me in any unusual way.

I wish the Special Effects artists well at the Oscars, and I hope they're working on speeches already. But all the bells and whistles in the world don't make up for weak storytelling, not when it's Oscar-time.

Will I Remember It Years From Now?

I will, but for mixed reasons. It's visually striking and technologically memorable, but it has some easy pop-culture punchlines that will follow it, from the "Pocahontas with blue people" plot to (sigh) "unobtainium."

I'll remember the Avatar/Hurt Locker, Cameron/Bigelow Oscar narrative more than Avatar itself, especially watching Cameron give speeches and self-implode any goodwill he might've had brewing.

But Avatar isn't going to be treated well in my memory, and sadly, it's making Titanic look better and better all the time.

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