Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Inevitable Avatar Post, Part 2: The Review (spoiler free)

Let’s just say this right up front: Avatar will not meet the extraordinarily lofty expectations that have been placed on it. I don’t think that any movie truly could. But it comes close. Avatar is a beautiful, groundbreaking spectacle that instantly sets a new bar for computer animation.

It's clear that James Cameron’s main goal with Avatar is to transport the viewer into a new world. He does this through jaw-droppingly real looking computer animation. In the movie, we swoop over vibrant landscapes, crawl through jungles and soar around mountains. Cameron shows off the rich world of Pandora like a new parent would their baby.

I loved being in Pandora and basking in its phosphorescent glow. The animation is stunning and as the movie unfolds it keeps revealing surprise after dazzling surprise. There were many times I had to remind myself that what I was seeing was created by a computer.

To heighten the experience Cameron uses 3D very effectively to draw the viewer into the movie. If your only 3D experience has been at a theme park, you are in for a surprise. The 3D in Avatar is never used as a gimmick where objects are purposely aimed at the audience. Instead, 3D is used to make you feel as if you a part of this world. In 3D the movie envelops you. The scenery has depth. Objects like leaves, bugs, smoke or debris sometimes obscure your view. It’s a cool a subtle way to make the viewer feel like they are directly in the scene.

I’m not sure if the movie would be as effective in 2D. The visuals would still be eye-catching, but I’m not sure if it would pull audiences in the same way. If possible, I strongly suggest seeing the movie in a gigantic sized Imax theater, where this world projected onto a 30-foot screen is an incredible sensory event.

For all of its beauty, the film does come up short in the story department. The plot has a simple narrative that lacks surprises. It’s really only there to provide a clothesline over which shot after shot of gorgeous scenery can be draped. The story doesn’t ask a lot from the audience while making obvious statements about human greed, evil corporations and war-mongering military operations. Yes, war is bad and saving the planet is good. These are hardly controversial political stances. It’s great that the movie has a message, but it’s all just to service a standard good vs. evil plot where the bad guys are humans and the altruistic good guys come in the form of blue-skinned cat-like creatures, called the Na’vi.

The film’s biggest feat is how it brings the Na’vi to life. Cameron and company have created a detailed language, philosophy and culture for the Na’vi that is a mix of Creole, African, Native American and Wiccan. Though totally rendered in CG the nuances of the actor’s performances show through, making the Na’vi fully realized and sympathetic characters.

With a running time of 2 hours, 40 minutes it’s a long movie, but it moved along swiftly. The first half is definitely stronger, featuring most of the spectacular views of Pandora. The movie turns darker and suffers from a few cheesy moments in the second hour. But hang in there, because it finishes with an explosive action-packed climax that makes up for any indiscretions that may have come before it.

Speaking of action, the action scenes in the film are breathtaking. Cameron is a confident filmmaker who thankfully doesn’t need to hide behind quick edits or shaky camerawork. He uses wide shots and even slow motion to highlight the action and provide a sense of geography even in the most chaotic of fight scenes.

At the end of the day, Avatar is not a perfect movie but it is a landmark film that is going to revolutionize the way movies are made. It will give filmmakers more freedom to create exotic worlds and immerse audiences in them. For that alone James Cameron should be applauded.

As for me, my jaw was on the floor during most of the movie. Yes it has its faults but Avatar is way more good than bad. I totally dug my trip to Pandora and can't wait to travel there again.


SweetPeaSurry said...

I don't see movies in the theater very often. Harry Potter I go to on opening day. I have plans to see Sherlock Holmes over the holiday and I didn't plan on seeing Avatar. I was going to wait until it came out on cable. HOWEVER, after your critique, and seeing the extended trailer. I feel this is a Theater must see event. I'll be hitting the Cine-dine. (Who DOESN'T like a meal and wine with their movie?)

WannabeVirginia W. said...

All 3D does for me is trigger my migraine. In my world, a good movie does not have to have all the CGI but instead, a good story and great acting is what makes a worthwhile movie. Just sayin'

Daddy Geek Boy said...

SweetPea...This is a must see theater movie. Those don't happen very often.

Virginia...I know there are a small percentage of people who don't do 3D very well. As for CG and Avatar, think of it more like an animated movie than a live action movie enhanced with CG. I have long since stopped being impressed by visual FX. This movie impressed me.

VENUS vs. MARS said...

Now I'm totally excited. I'm seeing it ON Christmas Day WITH my family and we are going 3-D!!!

Now I'm chomping at the bit, I can hardly wait! :)

Thanks DGB!


Daddy Geek Boy said...

Shelle...I think you're going to dig it.

minmate said...

We saw it this weekend also. It's definitely a movie theater movie. I agree with just about every thing you said DGB.
There are ways the story could be improved. But even without the CGI it was a solid (albeit traditionally formulaic) story. Not only does the 3-D help immerse you into the movie but the surround sound audio effects were used to enhance that too. Some movie-makers have gotten a little lazy about maximizing that effect.
I really enjoyed it. It's not often I'll go see a movie in the theater at all. I can't recall the last time I saw a movie twice in the theater. This one, I would.

SciFi Dad said...

Sounds like exactly what I expected it to be.

I'll probably catch it in theatres once the buzz dies down a bit as I LOATHE crowds.

ZenMom said...

Getting to see a "grown-up" movie in a theater is a rare treat for us these days, but we are trying really hard to make the time to go see this one!

Thanks for the insights!

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Minmate...I would rather have a simple story that works than a disjointed, nonsensical one that has me working to try to figure out what's going on.

SciFi...Yeah, had to queue up a bit early for the Imax show...but worth it!

Zen...Trust me, I know it's tough to find the time. But you should find it to see this one big screen.

Vancetastic said...

It's weird ... even though I found the world enthralling, I did NOT leave the theater especially excited about a second viewing. Maybe it's just because the story was truly so much less than original that I didn't feel excited to see the visuals again, even just as a beautiful moving painting.