26 Jan 2010


Matthew Kleebauer, a man who grew up suckling on the film teets of James Cameron gives his review of the countless award winning and box office record breaker Avatar.

Sigh. I really wanted to like this film. This is a film my close friends and I have been following for a number of years with a degree of anticipation matched only by, I think, The Dark Knight. How could this not be good? Do you know how many times I watched Terminator 2 growing up? What could possibly go wrong? James Cameron, one of the most visionary directors of all time, working in a genre (Science-fiction) that he has helped define, utilising some of the most cutting-edge technology in the history of the movies. I gleefully rewatched Aliens and rubbed my hands in hope of a film to rival its greatness. And then that first trailer came out. That was when I suddenly started to worry about Avatar, though even that couldn’t have prepared me for how awful it is. This truly was one of the least enjoyable cinematic experiences of my life. Please, before it inevitably becomes the most successful film of all time, do not go see Avatar. Do not give this film your money.

There is so much to dislike about Avatar, and most of the blame has to lie at Cameron’s feet as Director/Writer/Editor/King of the World, but when something as truly diabolical as this comes along a lot of people end up with blood on their hands. Not only does Avatar contain some of the most ear-splittingly dreadful dialogue I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter, the performances are truly horrific. The legendary Sam Worthington continues to redefine what acting means. His revolutionary Sulk and Stare technique perfected in Terminator: Salvation is back again, only now he’s added Grin Like You’ve Just Been Lobotomised to his repertoire. Honestly, it’s a good thing Marlon Brando died before Sam could embarrass him any further. Giovanni Ribisi’s businessman (at least I think that’s what he is, he comes from “Corporate” and likes to play golf) is possibly one of the most pathetically underdeveloped characters of all time. I don’t even know if he had a name in the script, or they just put “Corporate guy” next to his lines of dialogue. That Cameron could help create a monster so slimy, so despicable and so utterly compelling as Carter Burke in Aliens (thanks in no small part to Paul Reiser’s masterful portrayal of course) and then rattle off a character cribbed directly from the Big Book of Shit Movie Clich├ęs makes my head hurt. And what the hell has happened to Stephen Lang? Last year he was quietly busy being the best thing in Public Enemies by a country mile. Well apparently he’s spent the whole time since munching steroids because he looks completely mental. For a minute I thought his Hulk-like marine might be the only entertaining thing on display, but even he can’t do much with dialogue like “Shut your pie hole!” Honestly, if (like George Lucas claimed with his diabolical Star Wars prequels) Cameron really wrote this film twenty years ago and has been waiting for technology to catch up with his ‘vision’, could he not have had a couple of people check the script out for him at some point? I’m no expert so maybe the deep political subtexts of lines like “We’ll fight terror with terror!” and “Lets shock and awe them!” went over my head. Did I mention that the fuel that the Army/Government/Corporation/Whoever the fuck is trying to get from the Na’vi people is called Unobtainium? Jesus wept. To paraphrase Harrison Ford on the set of the original Star Wars, James, you can write this shit but you sure as hell can’t say it.

My anger is so profound concerning this cinematic stillbirth that I can’t even begin to review in a traditional way, so I’m just here to rant. What a turd. My head still hurts just thinking about it. I pray 3D does not become the norm because this is no way to watch a film, particularly one that runs to almost three hours. It is disorienting and nausea-inducing, particularly when the film in question is as unevenly paced as Avatar. It was that bad. One of my biggest issues is that it simply isn’t fun. It’s boring and pretentious and has its head stuck up its own arse. Maybe I’d appreciate Pandora and the Navi people a little more if Cameron had injected one single percent of humour into the script, but it’s all so f*cking reverential. I genuinely believe he thinks the film has a cultural and moral significance that is almost Holy, while in reality his sixth-form, liberal, let’s-all-go-to-the-common-room-and-talk-about-Apartheid philosophies are weighed down by their own smugness. When did Cameron lose his balls and become so touchy-feely? Avatar is a two hundred and fifty million dollar film about the joy of yoga, or at least that’s the impression I got from scene after scene of Na-vi rituals. People might get a bit carried away about the feminist subtext of Aliens for example, but back in the day Cameron could provide intelligent, exciting, action cinema that actually meant something. When Ripley takes on the Queen Alien I want to stand up and cheer. When the big fight over a tree (I wish I was making this up) happens at the end of Avatar I prayed some 3D friendly fire would leap from the screen and put me out of my misery. I was actually jealous of all the characters that died. Every time someone started another speech about “Our land” and “Our people” I felt like putting a bullet between the eyes of every Na’vi I could lay my hands on. I wanted to open the dump valves on oil tankers and smother the Tree of Souls. I wanted to breathe smoke.

Maybe I’m taking this all a bit seriously. So Cameron makes the most successful film of all time, disappears for a decade, and returns with a severe case of The Emperor’s New Clothes. I guess we can forgive him that. Nobody expected Citizen Kane right? The only reason anyone is going to see Avatar is the technology right? If the 3D made any part of this experience worthwhile I might be able to get over the vast, vast, vast (vast) number of problems with Avatar, but that isn’t even the case. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be: meh. Seriously, the film is so preposterously dull and overblown that the only thing you really feel is apathy.  The world of Pandora really isn’t that impressive, or immersive. According to my calculations you could make Pan’s Labyrinth 20 times for the price of Avatar. That film was a look inside someone’s imagination. This is a look inside someone’s ego, and it is a horrible, ugly place to be. Someone smarter than me said that Avatar is like watching endless cut scenes from a video game you don’t want to play. For me that sums it all up.

Matthew Kleebauer


  1. Can you say "overreaction" ?

    I see expectations that were too high... and I see a bias & personal sense of betrayal or something that developed during the film that you were unable to shake to suspend your disbelief a little.

    I just can't see how anybody could be that worked up (in a negative sense) over this movie.

  2. Cool review but the word 'Unobtainium' has been used by scientists for decades. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unobtainium#Aerospace_and_electronics