Commenter Reuben asks a fair question:
Do you reserve particular contempt for the film out of its inverse popularity, or its inherent qualities? I mean, a LOT of bad films are being consistently farted out by Hollywood, and that without your comment (not that I'm expecting it).Kinda. It's not so much the popularity that bugs me -- you're right that plenty of unwatchable, insultingly stupid garbage pulls in large audiences without the grace of my always-thoughtful commentary. It's the critical reception of Avatar that chaps my bee-hive and kicks my hide -- currently it's scoring 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is a travesty. I am confident in saying the same film with merely Hollywood-blockbuster-average visual effects would be scoring in the teens among critics.
I will go beyond that and assert that no film with a blemish as ham-handed as "unobtainium" would score above 60%. "Unobtainium"? Even the creative minds behind Congo and Rocky IV knew better than that.
So trace my scorning of Avatar to a failure of expectations management spiced with moral hazard. In turn:
- Expectations Management: Jim Cameron is not incapable of making a decent film. Terminator was and remains a very watchable, even thought-provoking science fiction film, despite -- please note this -- its sometimes middling special effects. It took a terrible actor, Arnold Schwarzenneger, and put him in a role where his stiffness could actually work. Titanic, while far from flawless, managed to achieve what it seemingly set out to do, a thing at which many a film has failed, namely, give something to everyone in the audience. It's a romance and it's an action flick. It has suspense, layers of conflict, a pretty heroine, a dashing hero, a tear-jerking ending, even boobies and gunplay. Its special effects -- please note this -- serve the story rather than seeming like 100% of the reason anyone bothered to make the film.
- Moral Hazard: Jim Cameron, and the many who cite him as inspiration, can be trusted to see Avatar's positive critical reception as a green light to make yet more films where the whizbang visual effects absorb 100% of the effort. Because there has been an Avatar, and because people who know better have pretended that it isn't terrible, we are guaranteed to receive dozens of knock-offs that similarly combine fabulous computers, awesome cameras, and scripts with things like "unobtainium" left in the final cut.
On the other hand, this excuse has it somewhat backwards. A corollary is that a filmmaker gets only so many opportunities to make a film, so this should constitute a reason to step back and take the time to make it as well as possible: story, casting, effects, performances, directing, all of it.