Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar

Yo, Space Monkees! Two posts in just a few hours! Isn't it great?

"Avatar" is probably the most-hyped sci-fi/fantasy movie of this entire year. It has been hailed as a revolution in pretty much everything: special effects, storytelling. This right here is supposed to be a landmark of science fiction - a "Matrix" for this decade. James Cameron has pulled out every stop in his hype machine, claiming basically that this is his magnum opus, a story so epic that he needed to wait no less than a decade and a half for the technology to catch up to his vision. Personally, I think he's full of shit. But then again, I think everything a creator says about their product is bullshit. You can't trust them. Their aim is clear: make their story and themselves look good. I've been waiting since mid-summer for this film; its basically the highlight of the 2009 autumn film season for me. So now that I've seen it, what is my ultimate opinion?

Before I start here, I know that this film is already pretty controversial, and not in the traditional sense. A normally controversial film will show something shocking and offensive to a group of extremely devoted people, like say "The Passion of the Christ". This is not that kind of controversy. I know a few people who got extremely angry - absolutely furious - at this movie, but that's only because they're neo-con loonies who can't stand anything that looks like a swipe on President Bush or the War on Terror. The thing here is that merely by reading the plot line, you can immediately dismiss this movie as being nothing more than a load of white guilt, preachy hippie environmentalist crap, and basically a pretty remake of "FernGully". I'm going to be honest here, the plot was completely predictable. There was not a beat in this plot that I couldn't see a mile away. In fact, there were a few points in the story where I saw directions that the plot could have taken that were much more believable and in fact interesting.

The plot is pretty much "Dances With Wolves"... IN SPACE. In the future, we Earthlings have come to the alien world of Pandora to mine for the McGuffin substance that is totally not a stand-in for oil at all, Unobtainium. Get it? Unobtainable-ium? I like to imagine that this movie is some kind of sequel to the ridiculous disaster thriller, "the Core", since the craft that movie used to travel to the center of the Earth was also called "Unobtainium". But Pandora is inhabited by a native population called the Navi, playing the Indians in this morality play, while I guess us humans are playing the Evil White Man. Our hero has to take on the body of a bio-doll Navi called an "Avatar". Of course, he's accepted into the Navi tribe, and is paired up with the chief's daughter purely in a romantic Contrivance of the Plot. From here, you can basically guess where this is going.

But even so, despite all of that, I really liked this movie. Hell, I better than liked it, I rather think I loved it. I mean, I can't call it the greatest movie of the entire decade, its not up to "Matrix" levels, but its still really good.

To tell you why I loved this movie, I first must talk about Pandora itself, the alien world where this movie takes place. 99% of this movie is pure CG, making it more of a cartoon than live action. I can live with animation - especially when it makes a world so unbelievably gorgeous and amazing as this. Every shot is a dream-like fantasy world; a magical place of whimsy and wonder that you'll only find in dreams, and a few video games. And by select video games, I mean Final Fantasy. I really don't think you could possibly go through this world without conjuring up visions of "Final Fantasy X" and the upcoming XIII. What we have here is a fully rendered alien world. The best way I can describe it is imagining our own sea creatures fusing with the land animals to create hybrid aliens.  It even has real Space Monkees!  As for the Navi, they're ten-feet tall blue-skin slender humanoids, and strangley sexy in the weirdest way. They're not exactly fairies, but its easy enough to see them as such when they're talking with some Mother Goddess (thankfully not called "Gaea" - if that word had been said once I would have left the theatre), riding dragons, and living in trees. Heck, they're even named after your Fairy companion in "Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time". As with everything in this movie, the Navi are a feast for your eyes. Their faces are expertly rendered from the human actors playing them. So when you're looking at the Sigourney Weaver Avatar, you see Sigourney Weaver. Its a little jarring, I'll say. Luckily none of the major Navi faces are so recognizable as Weaver's, so you're not distracted during the movie. If say, George Clooney were the main hero instead of a relative unknown like Sam Worthington, I think I might have lost it while watching this.

Interestingly, the Navi women march around completely topless except for a pit of feathers and other loose garbage. Amazingly, not once did you ever see a full breast. There's plenty of side boob, but no nipple. And trust me, I spent a good long time looking for them.

Despite having what is essentially a play-out and predictable storyline, the movie managed to keep me going for the entire thing. The Spoony One, who absolutely hated this movie, complained - amongst many other things - of pacing problems. I really didn't see it. For the most part, the characters managed to do their jobs acceptably, and despite the movie being two hours and forty minutes, I can't say the movie ever seemed to drag. The length worked here, it wasn't an arduous drag like in "2012", or far worse in "Transformers 2". It didn't all work, however. The bad guy, Colonel-Hardass-Big-Dick-Badass-Hoorah!-Marine-No-Nonsense-Kick-Ass-Motherfucker was such an unbelievably over the top stereotype that I couldn't help but find him more funny than anything else. In the final battle, I was actually rooting for him to keep on fighting, just to see to what extremes this guy was willing to go before being taken down. Man, he is hard to kill.

I went to see this movie in 3D, since that was the only version my local movie theatre was providing. I have to say, 3D really doesn't do much to enhance the experience here. Despite all the technical advancements, it still just seems little more than a novelty to me. Such a long exposure to 3D like this might give you a headache - bathroom breaks help your head a bit. Plus no matter how good the technology gets, it still just doesn't work. There's depth but no shape. Its like looking at cardboard cutouts. Worse yet, it will never work in a regular rectangular movie experience because the edge of the screen ruins the effect. If something that your mind interprets as being closer to you than the wall of the theatre is covered up by said wall, you have no idea how to make sense of what you're seeing. It tears you right out of the experience. So save your movie, it isn't really worth it. I mean, it was cool once, but I really hope this fad dies out soon. I don't want to have to wear those dorky 3D glasses every time I go to the theatre.

Honestly, it would have to take a real lot of quality film making to make me forgive such a tired storyline, and this movie actually managed to succeed. It really says something to James Cameron as a director to make such a mediocre idea shine like this. "Avatar" is the medium of film is all about at its core: entering a new world, seeing things you've never seen before, losing yourself in adventure of it all. See this movie, definitely.

Hell, if I can forgive Hayao Miazaki for environmentalist hippy crap in movie he makes, I should be able to forgive James Cameron.

Fanwank Corner: If I were going to fix the plot of this movie, and I do want to, a few changes have to be made. In the actual film, the main character actively betrays all of humanity to fight for the Navi. Couldn't we be able to find some kind of better solution to our culture clash woes than just calling one side evil? So my plan is to change the third act, where we would have a sudden shift to tragedy. Trust me, do this and you'll have the greatest movie ever made.

After the Navi home tree is destroyed by the evil humans [SPOILER ALERT], the main character is cast out by the Navi, and his girlfreind (I forget her name, I'll just call her "Pocahontas") turns away from him, seeing him as a traitor. The chief is dead, her home is destroyed, her life ruined, its natural that Pocahontas would hate humans as she does in the actual film, but why not turn to hate the main character too? Its love turned to hatred by this crazy culture clash situation. The Navi retalliate and destroy the human base, and while the place is burning, the main character as a human is confronted by Pocahontas. She kills him in rage, but only then realizes how horrible her actions have been. So while both tribes kill each other, Pocahontas takes her own life. And there the movie ends, blood in a lake of fire. Pandora is ultimately destroyed not just by human material greed, but also by the violent anger of the Navi. Nearly every major character is killed in the battle, leaving only one, a secondary character, to be left in the carnage and make sense of it all. Curtains.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting.....

    You reviewed a movie about ten-foot tall, blue people, and didn't make one Ronso joke.

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  2. i got a very strong pochahontas vibe from the film and your comparison to final fantasy with the world being so vast and impressive was the sensation i felt when watching it too.
    any ending would have been better than the one that they gave us though.

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  3. One year later, once the visuals have worn off, I absolutely hate this movie and its hippie bullshit. I saw it again and wow, this is one preachy piece of White Guilt crap.

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