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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar...The Remake of the Decade

So, I finally saw it. The great spectacle that is James Cameron's "Avatar". And like all of James Cameron's spectacles, there are the side notes that accompany the project. The four years in the making, game-changing visual effects, the nearly $500 million dollar budget, the 3D. Any time this man releases a movie, it's the thing that EVERYONE needs to see, either because they want him to succeed, or FAIL miserably. And there's a lot at stake for a movie this big to do either or. People have been talking about the end of the days of the big-budget Hollywood films. No one other than Cameron could do a film this expensive. Hell, Spielberg couldn't even get $150 million for Tin Tin (they settled for $130 million, but Universal backed out right before post-production...uh oh). So, with all the money, all the was it?


It wasn't bad. In fact, it's one of those films that requires multiple viewings. There's a lot going on. Each shot is very rich, VERY detailed. BEAUTIFUL to look at. The plant life alone is astonishing.

I'll tell you, though-- I had NO IDEA that this would be a remake of Dances With Wolves. And it is a remake-- there is no denying that. You could do a point-by-point analysis of the two films, and see that that it's virtually the same. Even the narration is similar. It's Dances With Wolves, with a little bit of The Matrix, and shades of the American-led invasion in Iraq/Afghanistan/Yemen/Pakistan, or wherever the hell else we're lobbing bombs into. Is this a bad thing? Not at all. A new generation will have a visually-stunning metaphor to enjoy. Unfortunately, I fear that the next generation will be too undereducated to appreciate the parallels.


This was a science fiction film, through and through. I'm in fact a little surprised by how very sci-fi-y this film was. For those that read science fiction, there are a few familiar things going on here. The "I see you" motif reminds me a lot of "groking" from Robert Heinlein's  Stranger in a Strange Land. The tentacles in the Na'Vi's hair are practically pulled right from Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood saga. This is quite possibly one of the richest science fiction experiences I've seen on films. Sure, other films come to mind, like Enemy Mine, or 2001, or almost any film made by Hayao Miyazaki. But few films really take you to a completely new world with strange creatures. And that's why the Dances With Wolves thing works. You're able to learn along with the protagonist about who the Na'Vi are, and what kind of world they live in.

I should mention that this is my first time experiencing the Real 3D technology. For those of you that have no clue, you get these Rayban-looking glasses before you go into the theater. These are not the red/blue lenses that us old folk are used to using. They are like lightly-tinted sun glasses. The only problem that I have with it is that it takes the lighting down about half a stop (for you photog/film nerds out there). Other than that, wow! It was pretty neat. After a while, you kind of forget that you're wearing them. And there were times that I actually flinched! There are bugs flying around all over the place, and I kept having the urge to swipe them from my face. Every time the camera panned passed a plant, I wanted to put my hand up so the leaves and branches wouldn't hit my face. There are certain scenes where the sense of depth is awe-inspiring. Sometimes you feel as if you're looking though a window, and these people are performing right in front of you. I sh*t you not-- that's how impressive it was.

The good news is that Avatar didn't really need the 3D. It's a cute gimmick that works. But it's still a gimmick. And all the tricks in the world couldn't save a bad movie. Avatar was not bad at all. I was basically expecting a crappy story with mind-blowing effects. I walked away feeling that I got my money's worth. Is this film going to cure cancer? Not by a long shot. But it will change the way that films are made. I think Avatar represents, more than anything, a paradigm shift in filmmaking as we know it. But the great challenge in film is not the quality of the effects or the cinematography, or the stars, or the cool sh*t you can do-- I mean, anyone can make a quality effects movie these days. It's STORY. That's the only thing that matters, no matter how much money you spend. And what we have in Avatar is not necessarily a new kind of story telling...just a display of the latest tools available. It's a production reel of decent quality. I didn't expect anything more from it, and I was not disappointed.

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