Taylor Jones Taylor Jones, 1/13/2010 [Archive]

Avatar Schmavatar


By Taylor Jones

Yes, I've seen 'Avatar,' and I really wasn't that impressed. Neither was my youngest daughter, who is not quite 10. Unlike me, she had every reason to love 'Avatar.' She's both a sci-fi fan and a student of myths and legends. She knows her Greek myths, gods and goddesses backwards and forwards, which is more than I can say. Yet, by the time 'Avatar' reached its 'thrilling' conclusion, we were both laughing at the film's silliness.

Think about it, Mr. Cameron -- my young daughter was laughing derisively AT your new blockbuster movie. And this, from a child whose favorite movie is 'Titanic.'

Let's start with the 3-D animation. I always drop my 3-D specs in the bin outside the theater, so the cineplex can profit from 'recycling' them for other moviegoers. My children, however, bring them home to add to their growing collection. The funny thing about 3-D is that the effects wear off pretty quickly. The only three-dimensional thing I remember about 'Avatar' now are the jellyfish-like creatures floating to and from the 'Tree of Souls,' and seemingly in front of your eyes. Woop-de-doo!

Next up, the movie's dialogue. The English dialogue, I mean. It sucked! I gritted my teeth whenever any of the nefarious humans opened their mouths. The script consisted entirely of empty clichés. The hand gestures were equally banal. Will humans a hundred years from now still be giving each other the thumbs up, fist bumps and high-fives? I thought we were an evolving species?

Please note that I specified 'English' dialogue. When it comes to the Na'vi language, I give James Cameron the one ovation 'Avatar' truly deserves. The director enlisted the help of Professor Paul Frommer from USC to come up with dialogue for the Na'vi. Professor Frommer designed a sophisticated language that seemed totally foreign yet entirely credible, sometimes even beautiful. More believable than Klingon, in my opinion, or even Esperanto. To my ears, it was the most 'realistic' invented language since the guttural grunts by the cavemen in 'Quest for Fire.'

Then there was the matter of Sigourney Weaver's gratuitous smoking. Fans of 'Avatar,' who've seen the movie multiple times, may correct me. But I believe Weaver's first line in the movie was something like, 'Give me a goddam cigarette!'

Why emerge all crabby from a virtual trip to the gorgeous Na'vi forest and demand a cigarette? None of the other human characters were smoking, not even the wicked Colonel Quaritch. I saw no ashtrays on the set. The entire home base seemed like a smoke-free zone to me. How much did the tobacco companies pay the director, or Ms. Weaver, to light up? I'm surprised the smoke didn't set off the base's sprinkler system!

...Hey, if Sigourney Weaver's character, Dr. Augustine, craved nicotine, you'd think the hip director would have had her puff on one of those new'e-cigarettes.'

However, as a caricaturist, I paid rapt attention to Mr. Cameron's blue creations, the Na'vi. I didn't quite see the point in having them 10-feet-tall, but I suppose their tails were an evolutionary adaptation to assist with balance as they scampered through the trees. But if the lithe and essentially naked blue bodies, disguised only by decorative paint, feathers and braids were meant to titillate, it fell flat. I kept wishing for Neytiri to be as lovely as the actress who portrayed her, Zoë Saldana. But I could never get past the massive bridge of her nose. Examining the still photos now, I see but the vaguest resemblance between the two.

In fact, the only actor who genuinely looked like her avatar was Sigourney Weaver, and comically so. Her Na'vi version had weirdly Sigourney-ish eyes. She looked like a badly-drawn caricature of herself -- a ten-foot Smurf. I've wondered about this resemblance and surmised that the director was concerned that viewers might not connect the sarcastic, no-nonsense Dr. Augustine, at the home base, with her compassionate Margaret Meade-type avatar studying the wise and gentle ways of the Na'vi in the field.

As for the point of 'Avatar,' its 'message' for humanity, and how it stacks up against other fantasy blockbusters, you've come to the wrong place. You'll have to read a real movie review, by a REAL movie critic, to find out. I'm just a popcorn-eating cartoonist.

But remember: When 'Avatar' is over, and you've left the theater and are trying to find your car in the parking lot, there's a whole world of 3-D to discover out there -- right in front of your eyes!

Taylor Jones is a cartoonist and caricaturist based on Staten Island, N.Y., where he spends his free time fidgeting, breeding North American giant silk moths, vacuuming water out of his basement, and pretending to be a good dad.

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