Friday, February 26th, 2010

The Oscars are Next Week and Nope, I Still Haven’t Seen 'Avatar'

LOLVATARNo, I'm not some joyless prude. I was once like you, even. Remember when we were sitting around your apartment and decided to watch the trailer online? How we laughed! Someone had tried to adapt early 90s Trapper Keepers® for the screen! And they'd spent a small nation's GDP to make it happen! If, some months from that point, James Cameron Trips Over A Fanboy Wishlist Into The Uncanny Valley wasn't going to be the flop of our young century, jeez, it really should've been.

Then we went about our admittedly terrestrial lives.

Oh, we saw the commercials flit by while fastforwarding on our DVRs, and glanced at those posters in the subway. But it would take more than a shitty Papyrus font and skin colors by Van Gogh to get us on the bandwagon-otherwise we'd be going to stuff like free first guitar lessons and Blue Man Group on a regular basis.

Eventually a co-worker or blogger clued us into the nation's metastasizing fervor, and we didn't begrudge anyone this eager attitude: Obviously an epic 3D sci-fable would appeal to someone. It just wouldn't-by unspoken agreement-be us. Finally, the week it opened, you made an announcement that took my breath away.

"Welp," you said. "Gonna see Avatar. You in?"

When I asked why, you gave me a look of sternness and pity, as if we both knew this day was coming and my put-on ignorance couldn't stop it. As if IMAX theatres were wells of cultural gravity that we had no right to resist. As if you'd said, "Scientology's definitely a sham, but we've all got to join sooner or later. Wanna come?"

How the hell this sense of duty originated is a mystery in its own right, but it's only half as scary as what came next.

Here's a thought experiment. I'm aware that you've undergone a quantum cinematic evolution, so this may be difficult for you to imagine, but: try to envision a world in which you have experienced Avatar solely through hearsay. Through friends' reactions and zeitgeist-fondling articles. Through self-congratulatory Hollywoodese. Welcome to the surreal tangent universe I've inhabited for the past two months. Every day, someone gently prods me to see a movie I have no interest in seeing. I sense a blanket consciousness I cannot access. People are waiting for me to cave. There are times when, so help me Ebert, I feel like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, trying to blend in with a converted humanity, wondering whether that's better or worse than being converted, and keeping my outbursts bottled up lest I be pointed and howled at.

"There were flying dragon-things…" "…dude, the colors… " "…my heart was racing nonstop for two-and-a-half hours…" "…so intense." It doesn't sound like you're recommending a film; it sounds like you're walking me through a night on iffy designer drugs. Moreover, almost nobody actually seems to think this film is any good; most unwittingly describe it as an audiovisual colonoscopy, a firehose treatment that leaves your mind sparkling and evacuated.

And I can't name a single other instance of someone arguing, "Look, it's stupid, it's lame, but you hafta," except when it came to wearing a name tag at a catering job. From what stems this word-of-mouth obligation to a product that you acknowledge as inferior? Was the fact of your attendance so overdetermined that you must spend all of Oscar® limbo season finding stubborn Avavirgins to sacrifice upon the altar of steroidal and abused CGI?

I'm betting you didn't have to sign a street marketing agreement with 20th Century Fox to get those special glasses. The issue is probably a bit more personal, and even cute, albeit perversely. My poor, sad friend: You want to paint Avatar as too Big 'n' Important to ignore, because that's what you were convinced of when you bought that fateful ticket and ferried yourself across the digitally-painted Rubicon. When you realized, amid the explosions and allegory, that this Big Importance was a promotional fiction, and that you would've been better off watching old worn-out Disney VHS tapes with good company and good beer, you panicked.

You couldn't admit that you'd been had, not after this investment, this 180º, this surrender, because there was no way to rejoin the ever-thinning chorus of people murmuring "who cares." Because you cared, God damn it.

Look, I'm sorry it happened to you. This thing sounded bruising and disappointing and dumb. I certainly didn't expect you, of all people, to fall victim to it. One day, through arduous work, you will reclaim your dignity as a moviegoer. Just don't expect me to shed mine so easy.

Miles Klee really isn't going to see Avatar but he knows you're just going to ask him about it again tomorrow.

58 Comments / Post A Comment

Fredrick (#268)

I was you until two days ago (I fundamentally hated the idea that it sucked but was still awesome, that it cost more just to watch, that it was winning awards it probably didn't deserve…).

But then I watched it. If you think by simply viewing it you are losing something, besides money, then don't watch it. But I think the best way to judge Avatar (the best way to hate it, even) is to have actually seen it. I mean, I hated Titanic, but I still watched the shit.

It's like hating butt-sex but having never tried it. Just put it in and we'll talk about it later!

The visuals didn't "wow" me in the least. And the fire, like almost all CGI fire, looked completely fake.

Also, the movie itself was shit. But, man, do I wanna fuck Michelle Rodriguez.

MaryHaines (#3,666)

Thank you for saying what is in my heart.

barnhouse (#1,326)

You're a better man than I, Miles Klee.

I often regret my own tendency to stampede to practically every big-budget SF/fantasy movie that comes out. Not Transformers, though. Whew!

petejayhawk (#1,249)

I still haven't seen Titanic, either. And I'm not gonna.

ejcsanfran (#489)

Me neither… Always felt like I was taking some noble-but-doomed-to-fail political stand by not doing…

I did see Avatar – in 3-D… and IMAX. God, I've become so spineless…

Ken Layne (#262)

Haha, me neither. And I've never bought a Celine Dion record, or fucked a retarded child, and I don't see any reason to change my ways now.

City_Dater (#2,500)

Thank you.
I wasn't really that excited about it when it was much cheaper animation and called FERN GULLY, so I see no reason to jump up and down now.

Kakapo (#2,312)

It was actually called "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind" when it was something to be excited about.

Bittersweet (#765)

And even then it wasn't that exciting. Only Miyazaki movie I've ever fast-forwarded through…which for me is saying something.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I agree with this article 100 percent. Still haven't watched. Might get the DVD.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

RENT. I meant RENT. Damn you Cameron with your mind control!

Ken Layne (#262)

Other than on the Internet and yesterday on that "Fresh Air" public radio show before I turned it off, I've never heard a word about this Avatar. Nobody has ever mentioned it in person. I just hosted a birthday party, a bunch of five-year-old kids, pizza and ice cream, parents in their 30s, not a mention. I've been to restaurants, bars, museums, the grocery store, the farmer's market and one live theater show since this movie was released, and had a dozen relatives and another dozen friends (in small groups) visit my house over the winter holidays, and never heard a word about this movie.

I've bought Christmas toys for children in exactly the place where I thought you might encounter Avatar products: the aisle with the boys space-monster and superhero toys, where the Star Wars figures are sold. Nothing.

I'm subscribed to several magazines — Atlantic, Economist, High Country News — and the local small-town paper. No mention of Avatar.

Was this movie really such a big deal? It hasn't been at my local run-down six-screen theater for a while now. What I suspect is that it wasn't such a big deal, and not that many people saw it. But, like Miles Kree writes here, I bet some people *wanted* it to be a big deal so much that they decided it was, regardless of the movie itself. It's like the big Super Bowl ratings this year, and the theory that people are so alone and depressed now that they just want some event to share, even if it's idiot football or those blue cartoon deals.

As far as hearts and minds goes, I think District 9 won the year.

bong hitler (#3,233)

I know three people who've mentioned seeing (and liking) Avatar, none of them typically sci-fi enthusiasts. I think it's like with the popularity of the Nintendo Wii, the videogame console for people who aren't into videogames. Avatar is a sci-fi movie for people who aren't into sci-fi.

Well, it's literally made a billion dollars, Ken. So some people definitely saw it! (But I ain't commenting on whether that's a good or a bad thing!)

(And as far as "Look, it's stupid, it's lame, but you hafta," two words: THE ROOM.)
(Also, I actually own Showgirls, so it's not like you can trust my opinion on anything!)

Maevemealone (#968)

I should introduce you to my friend who's never heard of Lady Gaga yet is ostensibly a huge music fan/snob.

Kakapo (#2,312)

Oh, all of my comments need to be ended with the caveat, "I actually own SHOWGIRLS." For extra emphasis I can add "and I rewatched it immediately after seeing it the first time."

Tulletilsynet (#333)

I plead parenthood. I went and saw the shite last wknd with my son. After a while I took off the 3D Elvis Costello glasses and went on watching with eyes crossed and ears plugged with popcorn, quietly chanting verses I had memorized from the Mary HK Choi review-epic.

Kakapo (#2,312)

It was a tacky and badly-written, although involving, flick. I still expect published critics of it or published critics of the hoopla surrounding it to plunk down their 11 or 12 bucks to see it.

Jeff Carpenter (#3,752)

I haven't seen Avatar either. I've watched all the trailers and I can't see a single thing it offers that Lucas didn't give me tons of in his last 3 Star Wars movies. So, no thanks. I've had enough.

Brian Calandra (#3,753)

This sounds a lot like a vegetarian trying to ruin the steak you've just enjoyed by droning on about how he doesn't eat meat, can't understand why anyone else would eat meat, and won't be eating any meat, ever. Great! Don't eat meat! Don't watch Avatar! But please shut up so I can eat a hun of tortured innocent bovine and watch these eight-foot cyan quasi-felines f*** each other with their pony-tails. Thank you.

Asa (#1,055)

I agree with this comment.

Shut the fuck up. YOU ARE WRONG. Avatar is amazing. THE END.

ejcsanfran (#489)

I did not care for Avatar, but the visuals were absorbing and well-executed… And Sully's avatar was the first time I got a bone for an animated characer (well, I did kinda have a crush on Aladdin, but that was more chaste…)

But you know when I completely gave up on the movie as whole? At the first mention of "unobtanium." I mean, come on…

Asa (#1,055)

I thought the idea of "Unobtanium" was great. The ultimate MacGuffin!

Tulletilsynet (#333)

The great word "unobtanium" and The Awl's brillant review. Those two things.

Renate (#360)

I finally saw it last Saturday and thought it was a shit movie in a shiny box.

MaggieL (#3,424)

Well put. Still, I think that most people have given it a chance because we all want to be proven wrong about our knee-jerk dismissals:

Kakapo (#2,312)

I'm pretty certain you are saying "Well put" to be nice but that you actually agree with the article you linked.

MaggieL (#3,424)

I do think the post describes this feeling well: being on the outside of something, watching it all pass you by. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers thing makes sense.

But you're probably right.

migraineheadache (#1,866)

I haven't seen it yet but it was beating out the Whitney Biennial for what to do during the snow day today before I ended up having work to do. The Man Ray show and seeing if it would be weird to go to the Earth Room during a blizzard were ahead of it though.

Fredrick (#268)

It all reminds me of when the first Strokes record came out and I PURPOSEFULLY DIDN'T LISTEN TO IT just so I could say 'sorry, never heard it' when people tried to talk about it.

Waiting to see it on DVD, I promise you, there will be about 000.00% chance of you liking it. If you've got the extra change, I just say go for it, as you have never seen 3D executed this well. I hate pretty much EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ON EARTH, and I'm saying this all completely seriously.

Hirham (#1,709)

Well, be kind to those of us who drawn into watching this thing as part of a large, drunken mob on Boxing Day (when getting out of the family house was paramount). I and those with me have not exactly been evangelists for the film.

Congrats on not liking this movie you haven't seen?

emceegee (#2,133)

What a heroic non-story you've shared, Miles.

It made me so grateful that I generally am not subjected to tortured stories of avoidance.

Have a poopy weekend.

Anarcissie (#3,748)

The way to deal with things like Avatar is to say that you're going to see it real soon. Any day now.

Onjay (#2,679)

Went to see Titanic. A niece said it was the Best Movie Ever, and we stupidly gave her the benefit of the doubt. Hated pretty much everything about it. Only been to one movie since: Saving Private Ryan. Wife fell asleep during the Omaha landing; I found it about 2 hours too long. Haven't been to the movies since. Hope everyone loves Avatar. Could well be the Second Best Movie Ever. I may go see it real soon. Any day now.

HiredGoons (#603)

"try to envision a world in which you have experienced Avatar solely through hearsay. Through friends' reactions and zeitgeist-fondling articles. Through self-congratulatory Hollywoodese. Welcome to the surreal tangent universe I've inhabited for the past two months."

I am right there with you honey.

Atencio (#399)

This is like reading an article entitled "I don't have a television" as written by the asshole who spends all day at the coffee shop. Congratulations, you've successfully avoided taking part in a popular cultural experience.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Spends all day at the coffee shop doing what?

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Watching Hulu.

Mar (#2,357)

Thanks, bro. Keep fighting the good fight!

SorryStateFair (#1,521)

"Avatar" was a trite, overwrought, character-depth-free, boring piece of computer-generated scenery. The intended "message" about preserving nature and/or indigenous people was completely steamrolled by the utter shittiness of every single non-visual aspect of the movie. I checked my phone eight times, and like Tulletilsynet, took the 3D glasses off just for a break from the insipidness. If only I had memorized an Awl post to recite to myself!

I don't understand people who complain that Avatar is shitty "except for the visuals." Uh huh, and that last Muse record is great, except for the music. I watch movies with my eyes, what the hell do you use?

Tulletilsynet (#333)

You're clearly the intended audience of Avatar. Oops, I guess I ought to say vidience, since you only watch.

Oh, see, that's my thing: if a film has great visuals, I watch them. If a film has great dialogue, I listen to it. So far the only disadvantage is it gives me less to complain about on the Internet.

Rob Rousseau (#3,764)

No, you are definitely a joyless prude.

missdelite (#625)

Hang in there. No one's gonna give a fuck in a coupla months, anyway.

sightseemc (#2,771)

I haven't read anything so snidely simplistic, yet faux-intellectual, since Spy Magazine crashed the first time.

You are not a better person, or even a science fiction "tru fan," for not seeing Avatar? Not interested? No biggie. It doesn't prove you're somehow a better consumer of pop culture; it just means there's nothing in the thought of this movie that excites you.

Now get down off your high horse, wash it down, and put it away wet because you certainly rode it hard.

mcleodp (#3,579)

What sightseemc said. Well done, Miles, for having such conviction that you're smarter than everyone else.

PropSword (#2,870)


dailyny (#3,326)

Mm, yeah, but you're not realizing that shitty movies are actually cited in the context of film history *all* the time. Unless Al Jolson in blackface is actually considerably good art to you, The Jazz Singer doesn't have much value aside from the influence it had on every film after 1927 that wanted to use sound. (Hitchcock made a film called The Ring the very next year in which he could simulate the raucous crowd at a boxing match).

Avatar is a terrible film, but it tells me that people will refer to it in the future when they discuss the film that gave filmmakers the impetus to start using 3-D in ways that might actually be thrilling.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

There should be a tag:


CherithCuteStory (#3,801)

I believe this exchange yesterday morning sums it up: We're at the farmer's market, and I offer our table to a guy with a small child so they can sit. Someone in our group mentioned something about Avatar, and with this small nugget of a prompt, the guy who took our table said, "You know, I was a gaffer on Avatar and it's a great movie." Uncomfortable pause… "Well that's great. Good for you." I finally saw Avatar for almost $20 last weekend and I was bored through most of it. Great films should surprise you. This film, like this gaffer just tells you how much you should be enjoying it.

Dr_Pepper (#3,770)

Congratulations on not seeing Avatar. It's an accomplishment worth writing about. While the rest of us plebeian sheep gladly handed over our 12 bucks to ruin our lives by watching a movie, you were among the few left who were smart enough to see this ruse for what it was. I spend every waking moment wishing I could go back to the time before I went to see Avatar. When I was still among those few whose opinions were better and more important than everyone elses.

@peoplemissingthepointofthisarticle: The author is not saying he's smarter than everyone. He's simply asking "Why is everyone insisting that something that so obviously sucks is good?" and using that question to consider pop culture trends and group think. Reading comprehension FTW.

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