Don’t Bogart That CGI, My Friend

Avatar is a ridiculous movie that should never have been made. For all the vaunted technology it’s boring. *The* cardinal sin. It’s stupendously overlong, bludgeoning the audience into a slack jawed quiescence. And this is the short version. They cut out 40 minutes. One can only imagine OLC justifying using *this* as an enhanced interrogation technique in 2002. ACLU, start your engines.

True, it’s periodically spectacular and beautiful. And most disagree with the Stiftung’s view, apparently. Some but not all of this we suspect is the XBox-Live Generation embracing familiar eye candy. The decidedly AARP-membership demo that filled the theater tonite gave it polite applause – perhaps simply for concluding.

The plot? Imagine the Warlord reading ‘My Pet Goat’ to hapless kids. The protagonists are cardboard stereotyped beyond Uwe Bolle’s most infernal hackitude. Cameron’s narrative ‘arc’ and ‘conflict resolution’ are both excruciatingly drawn out and then perversely rushed. Supposedly heroic deaths are blips. Emotional pay off? Zilch. The Twilight Vampire movies have more gravitas.

This movie really isn’t about movies at all. It’s about Cameron with his toys – new fangled 3D. And so we get something closer to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within than real drama. Cameron clearly learned one lesson from that misfire: his animation avoids the ‘uncanny’ valley – the reflexive human recoil away from almost life-like animation that fails just short. He realized the trick is making the eyes seen alive. Cameron then forgot the other lesson: avoid a meaningless plot with mumbo jumbo.

At his best Cameron epitomized the director capable of reducing a script to its essence. His most successful films have character demonstrated through action. Exposition tucked between fast cuts. The Kyle Reese introduction to Sarah Connor is a classic sequence showing his skills at his apex. It’s no accident that this genre defining work benefited from his then wife Gale Ann Hurd ramroding him as a no-nonsense budget watching producer. Hurd famously refused to allow Cameron now iconic use of the lasers in Aliens’ opening as they scanned the sleeping Ripley for salvage. No lasers. Not unless unless he could find offsetting cuts elsewhere. The now divorced Hurd probably couldn’t have saved Avatar. Aliens had a script about characters in a situation that audiences cared about. Avatar is just a kid run amok with an overclocked Wii. Here, Cameron with no discipline joins Spielberg in that elite group American directors who have forgotten how to make movies.

We can’t close without saying there are spectacular sequences that have nothing to do with the plot or characters. Some are awe-inspiring. They stand out from more pedestrian footage that look like staple cut scenes from a video game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. When Cameron offers moments of poetic beauty then this alien world really is alive. For those who remember Roger Dean and his psychedelic album covers, Cameron at his best literally brings those scenes to life. Astounding touches upon it. In an earlier age one would trek to a local planetarium for a Pink Floyd or Zepp laser show. How Model T in concept and inefficient in execution. Cameron gives us all of those imaginary vistas in true 3D with multi channel sound. Magic.

How Avatar will save Hollywood escapes us. Forget the ridiculous budget. Hollywood squanders the GDP of small nations all the time. Cameron developed and farmed out the special technology to WETA in New Zealand. (ILM was brought in at the last minute for the traditional guns and ammo ‘Aliens’ reprise). Hollywood’s disregard for local production and talent is no surprise. Studios morphed into mere intellectual property managers instead of storytellers long ago. Much scipted ‘Hollywood’ TV product is already shot abroad (Vancouver or Toronto) and movies in Australia with jobs and technical expertise following suit. Kiwis shouldn’t be shut out of the outsourcing trend. (But if all that is left are a bunch of Hollywood suits, who needs them at all?) Still, while it lasts, Hollywood’s all about numbers and IP. And a movie that should never have been made now will be a trilogy: have to leverage and recoup the investment. Plus the licensing streams from tie-in games and action figures.

We are disappointed. Cameron was among our favorite genre directors (his famously difficult personality aside). We hoped Avatar would be a home run. It’s a huge, expensive, drawn out single.


  1. Comment says

    “John McCain being challenged in senate primary by far right winger not a pretty sight. What ever happened to straight talk express?”
    Sally Quinn, Tweet

  2. RedPhillip says

    @Dr Leo Strauss
    Not that Mr Emmerich hasn’t richly deserved this for many prior acts, if he seriously dares to sully The Foundation he should be taken into the Mojave and set upon about the head and shoulders with ball peen hammers (minimum 2 lb) until he forswears any such ambition. For said prior acts, he should be left in the Mojave to his own devices, and that of the coyotes and vultures.

  3. Comment says

    Joe Klein just wrote a reasonable critique of the left bloggers overuse of the term “villagers” – We have no idea if Janet Napolitano is doing a good job or said the wrong thing etc. But we suspect those who are crying for her head so as to preemptively look tough have no idea either.

  4. Comment says

    We are amused to see the Conrad Black fan club, of all people, think that non citizens deserve no civil rights. Would be a pity to see Tony Blair or some other non citizen fall afoul. Next up Bibi.

  5. Comment says

    Btw – this idea that non citizens don’t get legal protection in the US is really pretty recent no? Even though it has been shot down by the courts, it’s still a favorite talking point for Dixie pols and Movement types. Do they think an American in trouble in France should be denied protection accoring to French law, such as it is?

  6. Comment says

    We think Pat lost the exchange – mostly because he is at a disadvantage in that he has to pretend his premise is stopping terror – IMO, Pat is smart enough to know that torture is just used for Cheney and neocons to shark up some bad intel for propaganda purposes, but Pat sees torture as an end in itself – for Franco-ist/Junta reasons. There is also some SCOTUS denial going on too – pretending the court has not ruled on rights for detainees.

  7. Comment says

    What was so bad about Lieberman’s moralizing against Clinton was the absence of a political wink – Rather, he was sanctimonious when he was really just political. He took a dive against Cheney. Cheney just spent the whole debate tilting his toilet bowl head and cracking his grimace while spouting bs – Lieberman just sat there and let him win.

  8. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Lieberman could well have made a speech before the new Committee on the Super Present Danger. Akin to his Senate floor speech condescendingly moralizing over The Affair. Dim and perfidious are a toxic combination.

  9. Comment says

    Al Gore can never be forgiven for naming Lieberman as his VP – Had 9-11 happened on Gore’s watch (as Mary Matalin dreams), Lieberman probably would have encouraged the GOP to impeach him and we’d have a President Lieberman dropping bombs everywhere in the Arab world. Gore was already too sanctimonious in tone so the addition of Lieberman was just too much. We voted third pary that year. Gore further disqualifiedh himself by letting himself be smeared so easily and not being tough during the recount. Yeah – we think it would be great to see Lieberman lose and losing to a Kennedy would be extra sweet. Al Franken, imo, became a folk hero when he shut him up.

  10. Comment says

    Joe Lieberman now wants to attack Yemen. God save us from these people – Personally – or shall we say wesonally, we’d like to see Ted Kennedy Jr. drop kick Lieberman and take his senate seat and humilate him with the kind of loss that Ned Lamont was unable to deliver.

  11. Comment says

    Another thing about Tucker – He just does not seem like a very nice guy and that’s sort of unusual because most TV personalities and politicians are basically good folks. Olberman’s is not really a nice guy but he has vast sports knowledge and pretty good broadcasting skills. R. Novak was sort of a misanthrop, but that was part of his brand – But Tucker is sort of seems like a prick, who trie to pretend otherwise.

  12. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Changing topics to something serious and somber:

    Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tony Judt. Did not know the extent of his condition.

    We’d volunteer to at least try and keep him company for a night debating European rise and fall but suspect he’d see through our A.J.P. Taylor role playing as deliberate provocations. Perhaps we could read aloud the Stephen Rosen AIPAC indictment as a fall back.

    God’s peace.

  13. Comment says

    Yeah – kilmeade is a meathead – but there really is a demo for his type. Carlson is someone with no demo – He even lies about his libertarianism and the fact he supported attacking Iraq. It’s funny – on Tina’s site, they still describe Tucker as bow tie wearing — as if he is not scared to wear a bow tie least it remind everyone of his downfall.

  14. Comment says

    Jonah and Tucker are both intellectual lightweights – somewhat clowns. Both are sort of symbolic – of what, not sure. Just decay. Fatuous and flatulent.
    Yeah – there must be some reason Tina B wants to promote him – maybe some family connection or something.
    Jon Stewart should have won a Noble prize when he put him out of business – Lord knows, we are pathetically in the tank for Obama, but Stewart deserved the Noble more than Barack. Though we enjoyed Obama’s winning just because it po’d the right people. small pleasures.

  15. Comment says

    So we see with Jonah and his fellow c-hawks demanding resignations when an attack is stopped, but refusing to accept responsibility when Cheney and company failed to protect the nation. It’s a congenital problem – and a character problem with the decayed right.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      re Jonah, well, after all the no longer young guy wrote a book entitled ‘Liberal Fascism’ and owes his career to the fact his mother was friends with a friend of a fellatrice. Par for the course.

    • Dr Leo Strauss says

      Carlson’s continued (if marginal) presence in the public eye is an absolute mystery. Tina Brown famously would step over a wounded pedestrian to hail a cab yet shows him more mercy. Such icy calculation of self interest and regard doesn’t simply melt away after a few career stumbles; she must see some benefit for her site. We can’t imagine it is empirically based, i.e. web traffic, etc.

      The dumb fraternity jock market Kilmead has covered. Is there really a market for a dumb fraternity pseudo liberterian mimicking jock posings? It seems the evidence on that is already in.

  16. Comment says

    Time for that loudmouth congressman from LI – to shut his face. He is not credible against terrorism

  17. Comment says

    You mention losing track = this reminds us of talking to someone a while back about the scandal in Argentian where clerics were directly implicated in torture of prisoners in the dirty war. Yes, and we heard someone defend that behavior. Yes – but cognitive dissonance kicked in when we brought up the Fallklands war. Since supporting Thatcher was the pro Reagan thing to do, it sort of undermined the case for the Junta. So ultimately the religious war too second place to the needs of anglo american politics. But ofcourse – the irony is that the French were secretly more supportive of UK in the Falklands, than Haig et al.

  18. Comment says

    Yes – the NYT did overplay the story – the headline looked like it was designed to provoke the pink faced sweaty Donahue.

  19. Comment says

    What makes much of the paleo cath politics so odd, unnatural, and hard to understand is that they want to make the church smaller, rather than larger.

    Btw – Newt was clowning around on MTP today – trying to sound ‘serious’ as a worked Iran into just about every talking point. Newt obviously sees war and the potential for war as an elixer for our dying civilization – Like many chickenhawks, he exempts himself.

  20. Comment says

    Yes, that ratline is pretty problematic – It seems
    that Donahue et al who defend Pius role in the war have not really
    been able to explain the ratline – the role in assisting nazis fleeing justice. Is it because, like Pat, they don’t think they were criminals?

    The Bishops would be wiser to let others make the arguments – It’s a simple fact that some bishops caused tremendous harm by putting deranged people in positions of authority over the helpless. In fact – it was their role – that has been understated.

  21. Dr Leo Strauss says

    We’ve lost track of the arcana which differentiate the Catholic political factions and thereby miss alot of dog whistle signaling. When we were paid to feign interest we were more alert. Complicating matters is the Catholic political actors themselves are confused now about who sent whom to do what. Factions come and go, often furtively.

    The NYT it seems may be overplaying the story for its own political purposes. A minor Catholic trade association endorses the Senate mish mash because of the moral blah blah blah and it reduces their member institutions’s costs. Simple advocacy like that is what associations do. They take the hit for the members. A trade association hardly counts as a polar contradistinction to long standing Catholic ideological cant.

    Moreover, because a trade association is such a thin reed, the NYT’s play could well backfire. There is a fearsome barrage of Catholic thought police that can be and likely will be brought to bear. A single association with a narrow mission can offer almost no cover in such a maelstrom because its mission is to say only what it’s member hospitals want, not engage in full scale Catholic identity polemics. They will need allies. Fast.

    The Bishops who are wholly unfamiliar with financial, criminal and moral realities can afford to hurl down thunderbolts demanding that reptilian brain DNA propagation at all costs via the captive uterus continues. It’s not bad institutional politics. More believers helped survive Rome’s repression. Breeding uncontrolled enabled the Catholics to fight the hated Protestants to a stand still in the ruins of civilization during the 30 Years War. The massive influx of Hispanics will give Catholics (such is the hope) heretofore unimagined political influence and repopulate desolate dioceses.

    If only the Catholics had such *moral clarity* when the Vatican helped so many SS and Gestapo escape to South America. What’s a little genocide between men who don’t wear protection and who both want the women pregnant and in the kitchen? (We’ll skip the hilarity of that flatulent blowhard Bill Donohue bloviating all over Faux News that the Catholic Church ‘has always been pro-science’ as well).

    What’s funny is to see Hudson as a flea lying down trying to pick up a dog. His own entrepreneurial rehabilitative compulsion adds additional flavor. How lovely to see Hudson and the Bishops bring the message of compassion, life and love that is in The New Testament Leviticus. We are not in the loop there any more but suspect Deal’s sun has set.

    Still, expediency trumps alot. Perhaps some of the Catholics in the House will see the light and announce on CSPAN Channel 1,356 that Health Care Reform Is Worth A Mass. And Compromise.

  22. Comment says

    re the Bishops – Recall how Nixon’s Ehrlichman said: “put a termite in a block of wood and you expect it to do its job without supervision.”

    Surely Deal Hudson knows that Bishops placed a number of termites – and then feigned surprise when they acted out a predictable fashion.

  23. Comment says

    Avatar looks like one of those movies that we don’t like but feel compelled to see just to be in the know. We do want to check out Invictus. There’s lots of schlock out there.

  24. Comment says

    Wouldn’t it be sort of hilarious if McCain lost his primary to that anti Mexican meathead JD Hayworth?

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