With this online art community, we have a unique opportunity to connect with our kindred. We must avail ourselves of this experience, for it may never come again.
All righty, then... Welcome to 2010. As we all embark on yet another spinning orbital loop round the sun, I thought maybe I'd weigh in on one of the most talked-about movies in a while. Why not, right? I mean, it's about a planet... and we live on one of those... so... I got nuthin' better to do at the moment. Okay, here we go...
I think AVATAR is certainly an event movie, a worthy follow-up to James Cameron's TITANIC, and helping to atone some for the director's twelve year absence from the Hollywood mainstream (It's a better follow-up epic than KING KONG was for Peter Jackson on many fronts). Cameron always throws every expensive cent up there on the screen in earnest labor and love, without distracting his audiences with crassly offensive A.D.D. camera moves like the Michael Bay wannabes of the day. No doubt, Cameron makes enough friends in the Hollywood labor community with all the jobs he generates, as much as he worries his investors. Yes, it's mandatory that AVATAR be viewed as intended, in 3-D, on the big movie screen (even though the competitive home theater market is quickly moving to snatch this advantage as well). IMAX is optional.
However, the film is indeed predictable, and derivative to any who have been around the cinematic block a few times, as I have. So, although I was entertained, it didn't quite blow my mind, nor inspire me to want to watch it repeatedly and religiously, as other screen epics have. There are nagging problems with the plot, and I don't feel that Sam Worthington has quite enough screen charisma as a leading man (but then, neither does Kevin Costner, star of DANCES WITH WOLVES). It helps to have a protagonist be played by somewhat of an identifiable cypher, but I much prefer the melodramatic presence of a Russell Crowe, or a young Harrison Ford for a splashy epic. It was great to see Siggy reunited with Cameron, and I think Zoë Saldana's star is shining brighter all the time. I'm not crazy about the overall character design, which, to me, too closely resembled gelflings from THE DARK CRYSTAL. The creature design didn't thrill me either, though I understood the necessity for keeping them instantly relatable for the sake of story (wolves, fireflies, horses, rhinos, bears, pteradons, etc. Got it.). There were other areas where I felt more originality would have benefited, chiefly in sound design, and music score (Sorry, James Horner.). Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives. For me, the grandest epics manage to tell an unforgettable tale, with compelling characters brought to indelible life, and with heroic themes that resonate as much as the memorable music long after I've left the theater. This is usually accompanied by a jolt of inspiration, and a jubilant warmth radiating from within, a magic that makes the adult into a child again. Cameron's films seldom fit this paradigm. Most often he presents a heavy-handed (some would say, "ham-fisted") message against the evils of cold corporate avarice, warmongering militarism, or, ironically, the terrors of rampant technology. His films tend to be a bit dark. But I'm okay with that, too. The cautionary message here clubs down with a relentless fist, demonstrating nearly as much passion as was felt with TITANIC's eulogium. What's important to me is that Cameron rarely sets out to appease the lowest common denominator with his movies, pandering to the crowds eager to shut off their brains in a desperate quest for dumbed-down escapism. His messages can be simple, but never stupid.
I do not consider AVATAR to be the greatest thing to come along since the original STAR WARS. Not close. That 1977 film experience forever changed the cinematic landscape, and became the quintessential icon of pop culture. But AVATAR is pivotal for its advancement of digital characterization. The giddy marvel is how immersive the film is, successfully managing to blur the boundaries of reality and illusion enough for the story to override the spectacle. It is a very big jump forward, if not a quantum leap. Personally, I'd put it on a scale of film wizardry and spectacle above THE MATRIX, but a tick below JURASSIC PARK. Even though the scope of CG is not comparable, I think that 1993 dino flick caused more of a groundquake in the film world, and with audiences, proving the legitimacy of Digital as a viable storytelling entity, beyond mere dazzling effects and environments. JURASSIC proved Digital had evolved to create more convincing "characters," helping pave the way for all the wonders since. I am not a big proponent for green-screen filmmaking at all. I think a mix of old and new Hollywood is best. And I still believe they have a way to go in solving completely realistic simulations for the complex life forms with which our imaginations are intimately familiar, or at least knowledgeable. In many instances, motion-capture continues to look a tad stiff and weightless to me, insubstantial, and not consistently interactive with those elements which are real. It doesn't hold up under scrutiny, but this is a quibbling concern most moviegoers won't begrudge in AVATAR. I think Cameron was shrewd in staging his latest epic on an alien world where such issues are more easily forgiven. Suspension of disbelief is already so vastly stretched out that fantasy has become more of the rescuing ally, as is the case in Jackson's THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and as was the case with stop-motion technology for 1933's classic KING KONG.
But, as always, story comes before spectacle, and the fanciest stage and costumes cannot save a terrible play. This happens to be a good play. I can't say that it enchanted me as much as Cameron's other fare. He does borrow heavily from his own films here as well. Without giving away details, I actually like that he went with actress Michelle Rodriguez for his "Vasquez" upgrade. HaHa! Somehow I figured he might someday, and it's pretty cool. Rodriguez looks better and better.
Kudos to James Cameron for refusing to compromise, and for continuing to make the thrilling movies that he wants to see as much as the rest of us do. Instead of returning as "King of the World," he decided to create a new one.