The squandered potential double feature

In a first for my double features, I didn’t watch the films “9″ and “Avatar” back to back. Instead, I watched about a third of “9,” then “Avatar,” then the rest of “9.” In my defense, I was really tired.

Sure, maybe I’m violating some double feature rules, but these too films have a lot in common, which, in this case, is not a good thing.

Let’s start with “9.”

In a burnt out world, a man sits in his workroom sewing a doll together. Humans have been mostly destroyed by this point, but as our narrator says, “life must go on.”

A while later (minutes, days, or months) a rope holding up the doll breaks, and when it hits the ground, 9 (voiced by Elijah Wood) awakes. He’s alone, he can’t speak, and he only sees death and destruction around him. This abandoned newborn has stumbled into a nightmare.

The opening scene is one of the most moving pieces of film I have ever seen; I can’t even think of a time where I felt such instant attachment and concern for a protagonist, let alone one who can’t even talk. Eventually, he meets another doll, 2 (voiced by Martin Landau), and when 2 is nabbed by a mechanical baddie, 9 moves to rescue him and well, as my title suggests, the good times don’t last.

“9″ is an impressive looking movie; I watched it on my laptop, and when you see all the details of this world and the characters, I can see that this had to have been a labor of love. That love didn’t translate to the script, which is introduced characters so fast that I’m not moved when they start dying off (thank God they had numbers on their backs, or I would not have been able to tell them apart).

Don’t let the animation fool you; “9″ isn’t a film for kids, but it commits all the sins of bad kiddie films; there are too many characters, the characters are one note, and the resolution is both too quick and too neat.

“9″ began life as an Oscar-nominated short film, and there was so much potential here for something great; this could have been another “Wall-E,” but instead it’s just another impressive looking but empty film.

Speaking of empty films…in comes “Avatar.”

I’ve given “Avatar” a lot of shit without seeing it, and I even admitted that I was prejudging the movie based on reviews, James Cameron’s previous works and a general distaste for CGI extravaganzas.

But there will be no crow eating in this review.

I went in with low expectations, looking to see an okay movie with fantastic special effects and a moving motion capture performance from Zoe Saldana.

I didn’t expect to love it, but I did not think it would be so awful.

It was. Before, I was just happy it didn’t win Best Picture. Now, I’m pissed it got nominated over far superior science fiction films like “Star Trek” and “Moon.”

The story is without originality; the characters are straight-up white hats or black hats; the Na’vi were the embodiment of every primitive culture clich to nth degree; unobtanium!; when the audience isn’t watching things explode, they’re being bludgeoned with hackneyed dialogue and poor plotting (for a visual feast, I was pretty bored most of time); the film takes itself so seriously that I couldn’t help but laugh at it.

The list just keeps going the more I remember.

Even the supposed good parts, the effects and Zoe Saldana’s performance, weren’t really that impressive. Maybe you have to see the 3D to *get* the visual brilliance, but in the standard film, the effects were just effects, no better or worse than I’ve seen before. And Saldana did a lot with her minimal role in “Star Trek,” but here, she’s just not convincing.

Maybe that’s the whole crux of “Avatar” for me; Cameron never convinced me to care about anyone or anything going on in the film. He spent $280 million on special effects, but he forgot to include a soul into his creation. 

Just like “9,” “Avatar” is pretty to look at, but at the end of the day, it’s also pretty empty.