The emerging consensus on Avatar is correct: really stupid movie with great 3-D special effects. I don’t think it will wear well. Do you know anyone – besides film-studies majors – who has actually sat through The Jazz Singer of 1927? Once the novelty of talking pictures wore off, people demanded better scripts. Citizen Kane, too, was hailed in its own time, 1941, for its technical innovations – e.g., deep-focus cinematography that had equal clarity in both foreground and background – but that’s not why people watch it today: It survives because it’s a riveting drama of political power struggles and a failed marriage. A few years from now, technical strides in the direction of even more realistic 3-D (and maybe even a virtual-reality version of what Aldous Huxley called “the feelies”) will make Avatar look primitive, and all viewers will see is the dull story.
Knock a hit movie for being dumb, and you can be sure some faux-populist will call you out for snobbery; so let me inoculate myself against the charge by confessing that I love one of James Cameron’s earlier films, the one that the movie intelligentsia especially love to hate. Titanic, in my view, was a lovely epic, a very effective romantic tearjerker in which the two main characters rise almost to the level of archetype. That movie will probably be watched a hundred years from now – when the paint-by-numbers Avatar will be consigned to dusty shelves and a mention in film-history textbooks.
Travis Kavulla and John Miller have discussed the PC ideology at the heart of Avatar. In this regard, I think I can justly bestow on Cameron the insult that might sting him the most: He has taken some ideas obviously dear to his heart – pantheism, nature monism — and made them look bad through his plodding presentation.