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January 3, 2010
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James Cameron's highly anticipated epic, “Avatar,” raises the question: Are special effects enough to launch a new era in filmmaking?

In terms of storyline, the plot offers nothing new: once again, greedy Americans are exploiting new lands for valuable resources, and disturbing the natives. The protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), works for a big corporation but soon finds himself befriending the natives, falling in love, and growing distant from his people because he identifies with the natives' way of life more than his own.

Sound familiar? That's because this story has been recycled time and time again. We see it in our history in the settlers' treatment of Native Americans, and it is the plot of the 1990 film “Dances with Wolves.” Cameron has acknowledged Avatar's similarities to “Dances with Wolves,” which won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Taking into account that Cameron's own “Titanic” won 11 Academy Awards, you can see where this is heading.

In Cameron's rendition, the natives are a species of alien called the Na'vi. Essentially, the aliens are a gimmick; aside from their sparkly blue skin, extreme height, and tails they are completely uninspired reincarnations of Native Americans. The Na'vi even dress like ­Native Americans, use bows and arrows, live in close-knit family tribes, are spiritually connected to nature, and are threatened by the imperialistic, capitalistic white men because they stand in the way of precious resources. With this story set in the future in outer space, Cameron had the opportunity to formulate truly new and creative creatures but instead opted for imitation and unoriginality.

“Avatar” deviates from its predecessors, though, in its simplicity, character development (or lack thereof), and tone. The distinction between good and bad is riddled with clichés and one-dimensional characters that make for a predictable outcome. While the film could have emphasized Jake's moral dilemma, he actually has no trouble deciding his loyalties, showing how “Avatar” sacrifices reality and the truth about human nature for the formulaic ingredients of a feel-good audience pleaser. At the same time, Cameron spoonfeeds the audience environmental awareness and lessons on the dangers of war, making “Avatar” preachy and, at times, tedious.

Of course, the film is not without its merits. Cameron himself modestly told The New Yorker that his special effects work is “the most complicated stuff anyone's ever done.” And he has succeeded in creating a new world of sparkling colors, fantastic creatures, and breathtaking landscapes.

Does a film this unoriginal deserve the accolades it is receiving from audiences and critics alike? Is it really a breakthrough in filmmaking? Filmmaking is an art with many aspects, special effects being just one. We will see come Oscar time what the Academy thinks, and only time will tell whether “Avatar” becomes a true classic.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 6 comments. Post your own now!

MusicLover2012 said...
Apr. 26, 2010 at 10:22 am
Someone said...
Mar. 28, 2010 at 10:51 am
I thought the movie Avatar was amazing
JacobMeeks said...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 6:43 pm
Ugh...this movie. It's basically Pocahontas with Aliens...
Karen(: This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 6:53 pm
Yeah. No originality at all!
Karen(: This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm
From the author: I know this film has a lot of fans, so before one of you posts about why Avatar is so amazing, just let me say that I've heard that argument too many times and don't need to hear it again. This is simply my opinion and I have backed it up with much evidence (however, the editors took some of it out).
I explained the overwhelming critical response with: "Cameron has been working on Avatar since 1994, and it is his first feature film since Titanic, so the hyp... (more »)
Karen(: This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Feb. 25, 2010 at 1:40 pm
*People who don't watch a lot of the classic and/or very acclaimed films are usually swept away by any new movies they SEE and are very easily impressed.
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