Monday, December 21, 2009


"Knew this was one way ticket but you know I had to come."

A paraplegic marine is offered a slot in an experimental program designed to aid relations between human beings and an alien race called the Na'vi on a distant moon. He accepts, completely unaware that the experience will change him, and the moon Pandora, forever.

Watcher X and I saw Avatar on Friday afternoon. Less than 24 hours later we were in line to see it again. I haven't pulled a move like that since Jurassic Park debuted in theaters- I was 13 then.
Though perfectly paced, Avatar can't afford to waste any run time on pleasantries. It introduces itself like a child: "Hi, I'm Timmy. My mom says I have to shake your hand so, here....OK! Wanna see my fort?!" Quite frankly, Cameron has created an entire planet and he can't wait to show it to you. He's packed it full of bright, beautiful, flora and dangerous, intriguing fauna and by the time you find yourself among it you'll have forgotten anything the nay-sayers told you. When you go to see this movie, you spend 150 minutes on another world.
Among it's many amazing inhabitants are the Na'vi, a race of 10 foot tall humanoids indigenous to the forests the covered the planet before human beings arrived (Yup you guessed it, humans are jerks in this movie- who'd have thought). As you can imagine, among them is the main love interest for this piece. Beyond the nigh endless beauty of their culture, they are physically breathtaking. I haven't fallen so hard for a woman who wasn't human since The Little Mermaid. I'm sure it didn't hurt that her voice, (and through motion capture) her movements, her facial features and expressions all belong to the gorgeous Zoey Saldana- who delivers a spot on performance.
The same is easily said for Sam Worthington. If you'll remember, my first encounter with this talented Englishmen was in Terminator Salvation, and I spent a great deal of my review ranting about how impressed by him I was. Well, nothing has changed. He leads a magnificent (and star-studded cast) through a triumph of an adventure, albeit it a bit of a predictable one.
Avatar's story is one that will feel very familiar, and there's a very good reason for that: You've seen it before. I won't name the movies (that's something you can do on your own time), but I feel no shame in telling you the story here isn't groundbreaking. Some of the characters (especially Col. Quaritch) exist as such a stereotype that it's a wonder your willing to accept them at all, but you are.
I think this is what's so interesting about Avatar. By all accounts it shouldn't work. It should be hokey- but it's not. It should feel done-to-death; it doesn't. The reason why is this movies strongest attribute: the depth of it's creation. Here is a helping of characters you've seen before, in a story you already know- but they are delivered within a proprietary world unlike any you've seen in cinema. The Na'vi are all computer generated, but Cameron completely commits to them as characters, actively and effectively alienating anyone unwilling to prescribe human emotion and attachment to "cartoons". "If you can't accept it, this movie is not for you," he says. "Get out."
This is Cameron's world to be sure, and it suffers a bit for that. Some of his views come off the screen so pointed and hot that they nag at your imagination, never truly taking you out of the moment but scratching at the immersion none the less. With the more platitudinous characters come certain lines that just don't fit (though they're rare), and then there are a couple of obviously 21st century terms that forcefully roll your eyes. These are shoe-horned into the script as neon, flashing arrows for anyone not bright enough to decipher the thinly veiled metaphor. Though even with these the movie still works. Better then works really; the movie soars.
And then there's Avatar in 3-D. I've already had a few friends ask me (both of my viewings were in 3-D) whether it's "good". By good, they mean exactly what I wondered when I sat down to watch for the first time. In the past 3-D was always a gimmick, and one I wasn't very fond of. You would come watch a 2-D movie and have swords or other props jump out at you occasionally. When I gave Superman Returns a try in 3-D they didn't even bother rendering the entire movie, only certain action sequences.
Cameron has risen above this method. Instead of the obnoxiously throwing the occasional image at you, he's built the movie around the feature. The 3-D effect is used to give the entire film depth, and add to the immersion. Indeed, there are certain scenes where the insects buzzing around the verdant jungle were the only things coming off the screen. The point is to pull you in not shoot things out, and it works wonderfully.
You see, the hype machine was out to pound into our brains the thought that Avatar was going to revolutionize modern cinema. In terms of 3-D, I say it has. As for the rest of the movie I don't know that I'm willing to confer that title. For all the ground breaking creation and technology that brought us this beautiful creature, we shouldn't have to sacrifice originality of story. To revolutionize cinema- I think you would have to find a way to affect both sides of the coin.
Saying your not the greatest in history is far from a dig however (though for a guy with Cameron's accolades I guess it may not be). I see it in a very simple way: a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We've been eating them all our life with various results. Now imagine someone made you one with the best ingredients you'd ever tasted. Creamy (or chunky if you prefer) peanut butter made from perfectly roasted, flavorful peanuts. Jelly crafted from the sweetest, juiciest of fruit. All served on two slices of a whole grain work of art, and toasted to perfection. Some may argue that it was more than just a sandwich- that it was so good it deserved a new name. I would simply call it the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich I'd ever had, and that's more than enough.

Watcher X says: "Wow." (and then ten minutes later) "...Wow..." (and then ten minutes after that) "Seriously, that was awesome!"

Reel Deal Recommends:
Terminator Salvation: Feel free to ingore John Connor for Sam Worthington's sake.
Star Trek: Anywhere I can get a Zoe Saldana fix, I take it.

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