Monday, January 18, 2010


I expected to dislike AVATAR, which I saw last night at an IMAX theater. It is James Cameron, who made the dreadful TITANIC. It is an SF movie, which meant character would be neglected in favor of special effects that make no sense (i.e., KNOWING, 2012, etc.) It features women with the proportions of Barbie dolls and perfect make-up even when dropping through trees. And the tickets were over-priced.

All of these things turned out to be true, sort of. And yet -- I really liked this movie. The three hours went by without a moment of boredom. And although the character development is predictable, it's both heartfelt and appropriate. The plot, too, is predictable, and very old. A man from a more technologically advanced nation joins a low-tech one, falls in love, eventually stakes his future with his adopted people against "his own kind." The blue natives of Pandora could be Cheyenne, or Carthaginians conquered by Rome, or any number of other exploited peoples in Terran history. And yet, plots do not have to be new to be appealing. How much did Shakespeare crib from Hollinshed?

And the visuals of AVATAR are ravishing. I say this even though I am not a visual person, and even though I watched fully 1/4 of the movie without the 3-D glasses, which were hurting my ears. From the tech aboard the human ship to the plants in the Pandora jungle, everything is detailed and exciting. One reason the three hours went by so fast is that there is so much to see.

I did, however, walk out of the theater with some objections. The floating mountains, on a planet where everything else obeys gravity, are just ridiculous. More seriously, the two villains are complete caricatures: the corporate representative who is not only evil but stupid, and the Marine colonel mostly interested in killing everything in sight. Nor are the natives very interesting characters except for the heroine, but then, she's the only one we see much of.

And in the end, these objections didn't matter much. AVATAR gave me back my childhood sense of going to the movies: all disbelief temporarily suspended (or at least ignored) because one is caught up with what is happening on screen. Frankly, I didn't think Cameron had it in him. I'm glad he did.


Chris said...

My reaction was similar - yes, the plot was predictable and the characters simplistic, but none of that mattered because the world Cameron created was so beautiful and absorbing. It was very hard to come back to the real world and for 15 bucks, really, what more can you ask?

bluesman miike Lindner said...

The flick was visually stunning. (Yeah, for $300,000,000 it should have been!)

The story, I did not care for.

Why didn't Cameron get a real sf writer to help him?

Oh, yeah, Nancy--HAPPY BIRTHDAY on Wednesday!

Lou said...

Happy Birthday!!

I, too, saw the movie as I was the only one in my household (three kids no less) who was interested.

And, yes, I had to use the glasses as well. Gave the movie a depth that I truly enjoyed.

I agree with the silly plot and the lack of a substantive writer to take an ages-old story and make it fresh.

Notice the feathers on the arrow shafts? Notice, further, that there were never any feathered anythings shown? Just silly.

But, to use 3D to show depth, rather than something poking out at you...THAT was refreshing.


Carl V. Anderson said...

Allow me to join in wishing you an early Happy Birthday!

While I didn't hate the movie, I did find it to be too long and was briefly bored a couple of different times during the film. Could have done with about 45 minutes of trimming in my opinion. That and the skills of a good story teller.

I cannot argue that it was beautiful in 3D and that for all the cliched story it was still entertaining. Its biggest disappointment lies in what it could have been.

I was disappointed to see it win best drama at the Golden Globes. Not that it is the first film short on substance to win, but it still feels like a very shallow movie to be winning a 'best' award in anything but technical achievement.

And as ridiculous as they were, the geek in my loved the floating mountains. :)

Alex said...

Yes, the floating mountains were silly.

For me it wasn't just that the visuals were pretty, but the way they were designed to be larger-than-life. In other words, this film bypassed the usual suspension-of-disbelief filters and poured itself directly into the emotion centers. That's what made this so awesome, and the story and characterization issues trivial.

Cameron deserves commercial success with this. But I came out of the theatre thinking how great it would be to use this cinematic technology to present a real story with meaningful plot and credible characters.

Chris Riesbeck said...

I think this will change moviemaking the way Star Wars did (for good and ill) but not endure as long.

The floating mountains turn out to have at least a pseudoscience reason clued by several parts of the movie: they're full of superconducting unobtainium over a strong magnetic source.

shirts4freedom said...

I'd rather be blue.