What were they thinking? Further evidence of the decline of newspapers arrives with this morning's Washington Post, in which some doofus editor decided that film critic Ann Hornaday should tell us about the eagerly-awaited, gazillion-dollar science fiction spectacular Avatar in the same review in which she dissects the modest little period drama, The Young Victoria. We get not a review—of either movie—just a bunch of lame and left-wing middlebrow movie critic mush.
I like the Post's new Friday format, in which the opening of a big movie gets a ton of space and a nifty full-color graphic on the front page of the Style section. When I saw Avatar's space ships and monsters and catlike blue aliens splashed across the page, I was intrigued, and settled in with my morning coffee to read the review.
Silly me. Here is what I found:
"The Young Victoria, a sumptuous period drama starring Emily Blunt as the teenage girl on the verge of assuming the British throne in 1837, will swan into a couple of art houses Friday, just as Avatar, the multimillion-dollar special effects extravaganza thundering our way for more than a decade, will swamp the nation's multiplexes."
Reaching for a connecting theme, the Post notes oh-so-cleverly that the producers of the movie about the young queen of England include "film royalty (Martin Scorsese) and actual royalty (Sarah Ferguson)," while "Avatar was made for a king's ransom."
OK, that didn't work. How about this one? Each movie, you see, "swiftly and completely transports viewers into another world." Yeah, but that's a generality. Don't all movies try to do that? In trying to say something about both flicks, the Post says nothing about either.
The real reach comes after the jump, though, where the Post declares that the two movies mark either end of a "continuum through culture and history" because (follow me here) Victoria was courted by Prince Albert, in a match made by King Leopold I of Belgium, who "viewers familiar with the next generation may well recognize...as the father of King Leopold II, who as a contemporary of his British cousin, and with the aid of his vicious private army, established a colony in Congo, where he enslaved millions in order to extract valuable rubber and ivory" and emerged as "the worst villain of a colonial era characterized by the systematic oppression of native peoples in Africa, the Middle East and India, where the Victorian East Indian Company plied its trade in textiles and tea"—which (ta-da!) is sorta like the plot of Avatar.
Except that, as the Post admits, The Young Victoria is not really about Leopold II and imperialism. All that about the ivory and tea and the native peoples is an ad hoc history lesson offered by the paper. The evils of empire actually appear only as "subtle whiffs" in a pretty little movie that is "all about cooing and courtliness."
We are halfway through the review now, and finally the newspaper consents to tell we poor readers what the plot of Avatar is, and what those blue creatures are until....zoom....off we go again on the Victorian imperialism tangent, of which The Young Victoria is not about, but The Heart of Darkness is, and if you really had any brains, you lowbrow Post reader, you would recognize "the supreme irony" of James Cameron spending so much money to weigh in against imperialism when in fact he himself is an imperialist "on a grand geo-cultural scale." Whatever that means.
Naturally, this misbegotten review has to end on a final stretch. We're getting to the end of the piece, and we still don't know much about either The Young Victoria or Avatar, when the Post offers an "invidious comparison" to still another picture—director John Woo's Red Cliff which, "financed entirely in Asia, represents just the kind of indigenous cinema that, relegated to a few screens and given modest marketing support, is routinely out-shouted by bigger, snazzier, better-armed Hollywood productions."
Avatar, the Post concludes, is itself a form of imperialism, forced on the world to create a "Pax Cinematica" by the American empire at the expense of "indigenous" filmakers. I am not making this up.
Well. I guess I'm not as "attuned to subtext" as the Post says I should be. I'm still trying to figure out if Avatar is a good movie. Anybody seen it yet?