“Avatar” Review: “The Words Are Like Stones in My Heart”

Image copyright 20th Century Fox
Image copyright 20th Century Fox

Thanks for clicking on this review today. You could’ve gone anywhere on the internet for an opinion on Avatar, but you’re here with me. I appreciate that.

Still, if you’ve been following the emerging critical consensus on James Cameron’s new space-Marines-vs.-aliens epic then you pretty much already know what I’m going to say. Yes, the visuals are amazing. Yes, the dialogue is awful. The hype surrounding this film has been so aggressive and omnipresent that you’ve probably already decided whether or not to buy a ticket regardless of anything I say.

But you’re apparently still reading, so I’ll elaborate.

The special effects are indeed breathtaking. Pandora, the alien planet on which the movie takes place, is a fully realized fantasy landscape of lush jungles, mist-enshrouded floating mountains and colorful sunsets. If that all sounds a little too feminine for you, there are also the action sequences, which are well-choreographed and engaging but, to Cameron’s credit, used sparingly enough that the viewer doesn’t get numb to them. The CGI is still too shiny and clean to look real, per se (as the intermittent use of live actors jarringly reminded me), but the world it’s used to create is credibly real on its own terms.

As for the 3D, I still have trouble seeing the effect as anything more than an added bonus which audiences will eventually get sick of paying for. Cinematographers have always used lighting and focus to create the illusion of depth, and Avatar in particular would look great in two dimensions. Nevertheless, there may never be another film which applies 3D technology to such beautiful imagery.

And then there’s everything else.

To be fair, the movie’s basic story is intriguing, if derivative: In the 22nd century, a crippled ex-Marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) has his consciousness transferred into an alien body so that he can infiltrate a group of extraterrestrial, cat-like humanoids called the Na’vi, whose community is sitting on top of a valuable reserve of natural resources. Yeah, it’s basically Dances with Wolves meets Aliens, but still, there’s potential there. And the film could be forgiven for occasionally coming off as campy; that’s a risk any sci-fi production has to take.

But the dialogue. Ohh, the dialogue.

“Good observation is good science.” “I didn’t sign up for this.” “The words are like stones in my heart.” Indeed. Every line is so clichéd and melodramatic that it would sound right at home in Team America: World Police. At one point I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from bursting into laughter; I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The acting is equally bad, even taking into account the quality of the material. Worthington’s attempt at an American accent is particularly horrendous. This just proves what the Star Wars prequels should have taught us a long time ago: Actors have a tough time being convincing in front of a blue screen.

Again, though, there are plenty of sequences that basically eschew live actors and dialogue by focusing on Jake’s training as a Na’vi, or on the Na’vi’s battles with the human invaders, and these scenes are as impressive as the wordless opening half-hour of Wall-E. If you’re just looking for colorful sci-fi spectacle, Avatar’s got that in spades.

The only question now is whether or not it’ll earn back its investment, and what effect its success or failure will have in the movie industry. This New York Times article offers a clue, saying that the money Avatar’s midnight screenings pulled in was “on a par with movies that are not built around pre-existing brands. But it falls short of expectations for such a buzzed-about picture…”

Got that? From Hollywood’s perspective, Avatar (again, Dances with Wolves meets Aliens) might fail because it’s too original.

God help us all.

About Matt Hoffman

Matt Hoffman (COM/CAS '10) is a film writer for the Quad, and is currently majoring in Film and International Relations at BU. His writing can also be found at Pegleg Spinners, Super Tuesdays and Mania.com. He grew up in Connecticut and is not a pro BMX biker.

View all posts by Matt Hoffman →

11 Comments on ““Avatar” Review: “The Words Are Like Stones in My Heart””

  1. Star Wars dialogue was lame (buzz, tweet). Rings Trilogy had a tired plot line. Neither of these series was about the plot or the dialogue.
    They were showcases for technical advancement. And they were block busters. Say it; block busters. Moola makers. This one is too. Every kid over 8 will go see it. Every geek, nerd, techy and artsie will go see it. Everybody that would have waited to see it in a cheaper venue will go see it. This is big. Whoever says it’s not is no critic or overly loyal to the Screen Actor’s Guild.

  2. As for the reviewer this must just be another movie. The message in the movie which are many have it seems unnoticed by Matt. I could guess that Matt thinks that we are our mind and body and nothing more or perhaps…

    Or that we are all connected in this dimension or not…

    I am surprised that Matt missed the part about they have destroyed their planet and now they want to destroy ours… (oh yea we still have greenery) now.

    I for one don’t go to many movies yet after your comments will go see it again. Never have done that before but there is always a first time.

    Wall-E, Matt’s comments about it, I take he did not like it either. Wall-E was an incredible movie and fun and cute While Avatar was Awesome!

    So who was Matt rooting for in this film? Perhaps the home team money? The stockholders who were ripping up the planet? Seems like this planet has a history of ripping up the indigenous population in the name profit and besides we could rip it up and have.

    Well one thing is for sure that if this movie were real you weren’t being paid by those aliens for a public relations boost.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year Matt.

  3. I am not interested in sci fi or aliens or fantasy usually but I went to see this movie simply because of the graphics, not thinking that I would enjoy it. I ended up really liking it and would recommend it to anyone- you don’t have to typically enjoy fantasy to appreciate the plot.

  4. @Matt: i wasn’t all that bothered by the accent in either avatar or star wars, however the plot was just Pocahontas with blue natives, helicopters, and well…more helicopters.

    @Druid: Star Wars episode I was NOT lame…i mean…who doesn’t like a plastic Yoda?!

  5. i saw this movie and i was less than impressed. i basically agree with this review though except for one thing: this is pocahontas meets the iraqi war.

  6. To say this movie was not an original idea is to say “Come Together” is not a great song because its a simple blues progression. Maybe we should rethink Bob Dylan’s music because he never left the first position. OF COURSE we know the foundation of this story line,we (Avatar fans) understand Christopher Columbus,pochahontas,the fricking iraq war for crying out loud. The point is it evokes imagination. The finer details critics (Usually a failed artist that needs a funnel for their cynicism,looking to blame someone else for the faults of their own failures.) so we all just “don’t understand” because we are not as “deep” as him.

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