Friday, January 15, 2010

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The Incredibility of It All!

I finally caught up with the rest of the world and saw Avatar the other night, in glorious IMAX 3D. I had read great reviews and so-so ones. I had friends that hated it, friends that admired it but wouldn't see it again, and friends that loved it but hated the dialogue. So there we are, ready to see Daybreakers, when one of friends turns to me and says, "Walter. Avatar." She, too, hadn't seen it, and before I knew it, there were five of us with our 3D glasses and New Moon Collectible Large Cups, ready for either the style over substance, or the eyeball-fucking extravaganza I had been promised.

Yes, the eyeballs get fucked. Pandora is gorgeous, awe-inspiring. I got goosebumps several times. The Na'vi who live on Pandora are so realistically-rendered, I could have sworn they were people in prosthetic makeup. (Well, maybe not Sigourney Weaver's avatar, but the rest looked pretty damned good.) It's seamless and beautiful. The floating mountains took my breath away. The flying banshees -- my GOD the flying banshees!

And yes, we all expected that, but what of the story? Is it not just the live-action Ferngully, the three-hour Pocahontas?

Lemme tell you two things. Number One: There is nothing new under the sun. The only reason for people to crucify Avatar for using familiar themes and arcs is, in my opinion, wanting to bring it down. Because even after high school, everyone wants the popular kids to fail. Number Two: If Avatar does resemble these things, it's only in the most superficial way possible. Avatar is its own thing entirely. How one even dreams up Pandora and Jake Sully and Neytiri is beyond me, but it is original.

The performances are pure pulp, which can be attributed to the cheesy dialogue James Cameron writes. Lord knows his actors sell it, though. Sam Worthington still needs to work on that accent -- he slips back into Australian near the end -- but he's a good actor. I look forward to his future achievements, for while he is a passable leading man here, there are still moments that need work. Sigourney Weaver's ball-bustin' scientist is terrifically funny, while also the conscience of the film.

Stephen Lang's villain, ho-boy, is deliciously, charmingly awful, a sadistically intelligent war lord. Lang savors every gnash this role requires, yet I still kind of liked him in the beginning. He's a man who knows his job and genuinely believes in what he's doing. It's evil, sure, but at least you can see the sincerity. Zoe Saldana's heroine, the Na'vi princess Neytiri, is soulful and penetrating. A mo-cap performance this good has yet to be seen, and it's miraculosu when you realize it's all her. You love her, you're with her 100 percent. It's a game-changing performance, one that does more for the new technology than the landscape of Pandora.

I loved the movie, I really did. I don't know if it's better than Titanic -- for, rest assured, I am a huge supporter of that film's Best Picture Oscar -- but it's damn close. This is going to sound hyperbolic and melodramatic, but I am an emotional person. When my friend turned to me and asked, "What did you think?"

...I wept. I truly wept at the end credits. For the beauty and majesty of it all. It is entertaining while also emotionally resonant. It captures the imagination. It proves that anything is possible in this medium. This is, in many ways, the perfect film.

4 comments:

Caleb Strul said...

lol it's about time... that's some mighty high praise you're giving, but I agree it's a good movie. and it is messed up that people maybe don't like it cause it's "unoriginal"... but I can't imagine anyone not being impressed by the scope of it all... the whole flower layout is awesome. come on! animals that obviously evolved from the same organic properties as their plant brethren and perhaps were even a stage of that evolution its self at one point. damn fine imaginations at work here for sure. very glad you've caught up.

TomS said...

I was not as enthusiastic about "Avatar" and it's not because I wanted the successful kid to fail. First, with the amount of resources committed to this project, I expected something profound...not just original. And yes, it is imaginative, and yes, there are some beautiful visuals...but I disagree that there is nothing new under the sun...because there is so much in our world that beautiful and breathtaking that we don't even know...and I would like to see some imagination, and technical innovation, and marketing muscle, brought to bear on what is yet to be discovered in this world, whether it be uncharted natural phenomena, or the landscape of the human heart.... with cinema that not only entertains us but gives us something to take away from it.. I like fantasy, but don't you think it can be taken too seriously?

Walter L. Hollmann said...

Duly noted, TomS. I admit I can get a little "fanboy-ish" sometimes. Such a generalization should not have been made. And I do think fantasy can be taken too seriously (Doctor Parnassus), but Avatar had cojones. Jake is realizing the beauty of nature, and on Pandora, all the living organisms are connected. It's message, obvious though it may be, is that we are all connected -- not just the people, but the trees and the oceans, and destroying these beauteous wonders destroys a part of us, too. That's what I get it out of it. To me, it *is* both profound and original, but I apologize for poo-pooing those (like you) who may disagree.

As for imagination, technical innovation, and marketing muscle for uncharted natural phenomena: does Planet Earth count? We play it at parties all the time, ostensibly as background, but eventually as the centerpiece.

I'm glad I caught up too, Caleb. ;)

TomS said...

Walter,
I admire your passion as well as your gentle rebuttal. I will re-visit Avatar soon... You have convinced me to re-view it.
Oh, yes, see Single Man fron the beginning...and if you can get hold of the book and the time, it is a fabulous read.
Keep up the great writing. Hope you visit again soon...
Tom