Saturday, December 19, 2009

Avatar: Film Review

So how's the future of cinema shaping up?


Don't have a concrete answer for you. But I will say this. It's a lot more shapely today than it was yesterday.

Watching Avatar felt like the first time you had ice cream. Or the first time you tasted cherry coke. There were times where I had to scoot back and go, "Where the fuck am I? What the hell is going on?" Whatever my final opinion of the film was - and I'll be honest with you, I'm still not sure - there's no questioning the fact that this theater visit was a completely new experience. And how often do you go to the movies and feel something new these days? Not that often.


People were calling this Dances with Smurfs, or whatever clever name they were coming up with. The point was, this was supposedly the exact same story as Dances With Wolves. Well good for me because I never saw Dances With Wolves (I will never EVER see a 3 hour movie with Kevin Costner in it. Ever.). So I didn't have to worry about wolves or dancing. Instead, I got to watch what was, for me, a unique story unfold. Using clones of the creatures they were trying to excavate in order to understand the natives better definitely felt a little "90s" in its conception (not surprising since Cameron came up with this idea back in 93 I believe) but once we kicked into gear, I really liked it. I was actually so into it - and by "it," I mean Pandora - that I started getting aggravated every time we'd wake up back at the Marine base. Being with the Na'vi was way more interesting, so I wished we could've stayed there the whole time. This brought up one of my big complaints with the film. Which is that basically there were only two locations. The marine base and the forest. Despite the grandiosity of the film, I actually felt like it was quite localized because of this. Cold hard steel or lush green forest. Wished there had been a way to mix it up more. But as for the love story - the key to the film - I thought Cameron did an amazing job. The guy gets knocked as a writer but that's because most people focus on his occasionally clumsy dialogue. He actually understands structure and emotion better than most writers out there. He knows when you can slow down the script for ten minutes to just focus on your two main characters. Many writers/directors screw that up.


The CGI was definitely a weakness for the film. I bet if you cornered Cameron he would even admit so. From the very first moment when Worthington's avatar gets up and starts walking around, the movements didn't look natural, and the skin looked cartooney. Then when he runs outside, the movements looked even more unnatural. There were shots here and there where the creatures looked real, but for the most part they didn't, and it did take me out of the film several times. The good news is that the Zoe what's her name's performance (the main female Na'vi) was really good. She totally convinced me that her character was real and thank God she did because let's be honest : Sam Worthington is about as average as they come. From his monotone delivery to the strain you hear in the back of his throat anytime he's forced to emote, he is barely serviceable as an actor (and gets by by the nick of his skin here).


This is where Cameron became not just the king of our world, but of Pandora's. He obviously put a lot of thought into this and I absolutely loved the idea of a connection between the people and the animals and the earth. The trilly connector things that everyone had was such a perfect visual way to sell this point. From how you connected to the animals, to how you connected with the just felt obvious. So much so that when that fucking tree got shot down, I actually *felt sadness* *for a tree!!!* But what this ultimately did, was it made the love for these two feel bigger than ever. You felt a love not only between them, but between them, the rest of their people, the animals, the planet, everything. This was set up just right in the beginning, when the Zoe Na'vi gets mad at Worthington for having to kill a bunch of animals to save him. Cameron took such a gamble here with how far out he went, betting the house you'd come with him, you just have to admire him for it. I mean, if it didn't work, it would've been a spectacular failure. We haven't seen someone take that kind of chance in sci-fi since the original Star Wars.


Three-dee. I came into this about as skeptical as one could possibly be regarding the technology that's supposedly going to save the movie industry. I left feeling mixed about it. Here's the thing, when the first 3-D stuff starts hitting you, it's really cool. It's not perfect because there's a lack of sharpness due to the way the glasses work. But it was definitely a new experience. However, once you start getting into the movie, the eyes do what they're trained to do, which is to adjust. Once they adjust, it's like you're not watching 3-D anymore. What I mean is, you never go, "Ooooh, that's such cool 3-D!" It's just another set of moving images. I think part of the problem is that Cameron so obviously didn't want to go for any cheap 3-D moments, that the use of the technology almost didn't seem necessary. In the end, I didn't say, "I have to go see another 3-D movie." I did say, "That was neat. But unless another big time director is making a 3-D film, I ain't paying for the 3-D version."


I wish nobody had told me that the ending 30 minute battle was so amazing, because I went into it expecting to see shit I've never seen before in my life. Instead, I saw a finale that wasn't even the best sci-fi finale of the year (that distinction goes to District 9). I'm still kinda torn about it, because I wanted to like it so bad. But there wasn't even a single "money shot" in that final battle, like, say, when the mech machine catches the missile in D9. And even though I just propped up Cameron's writing skills, he definitely got lazy here. The vague indication that destroying the sacred tree would somehow end the war felt thin to me. I wish he would've tried a little harder.


But despite my problems and misgivings, Avatar is undeniably an experience that stays with you. The sum of its faulty parts is a groundbreaking whole, and I can't help but feel like I just saw what a real alien world looked like. I took a trip to Pandora, and it was awesome.

[x] impressive

Avatar scriptment: Avatar

What I learned: There are some things you can't write. No matter how hard you try there are simply moments that are impossible to convey on the page. There's a moment in Avatar where Worthington's Avatar and the female Avatar are flying on these dragon things for the first time, dipping and diving in and around trees and mountains and they're glancing at each other, smiling, and the music's swelling, and it's this shared experienced between them, and between the filmmaker and the audience, that I can't imagine anybody being able to convey on paper. It's just so unique to the medium of film.