Time/place: 3:30 showing at Ocean Ranch 7 (w/Tex) with Scott
I’m a bit late to this party, but I was never that interested in the movie anyway, so the delay wasn’t too hard to deal with. So, what did the man with the ever-confusing opinions on movies think? Eh.
The most positively talked about aspect of Avatar is its visuals. Obviously, yes, I’d have to be blind or a fool trying just to disagree if I said that technically this movie wasn’t very impressive. The giant blue people, for as much as my mind knew that giant blue people aren’t real, looked photo real. The same goes for the environments and other creatures and effects. When James Cameron is behind a movie, it’s going to look good… and he’s topped himself again. That being said, though, I didn’t really care. I was amazed when I saw dinosaurs come to life in Jurassic Park as a kid, but other than that childhood experience, visual effects like this don’t mean much of anything to me. A movie review from some joe off the street that is centered around the "good effects" doesn’t do much to pique my interest. Of course it isn’t that great effects make a movie BAD, but for me what the effects were showing was a major factor in my dislike for the movie.
"What?? You FOOL! James Cameron made an entire alien world and it was BEAUTIFUL!" Eh, I didn’t think so. Sure, there was a great deal of work put into things, but I didn’t think the world was that great. Talking about it later, I realized why I felt disconnected through most of the movie. And, I did feel disconnected. Throughout the entire movie, my interest continually waxed and waned. I started off rather with it, and then I became very detached and nearly bored. What kept driving me away was the fact that I couldn’t connect with the world. This alien world is nothing that I’m used to seeing, so it takes me out of the moment.
What DID bring me back, though, is the story. It’s nothing new and that may have added to the boredom, but I personally respond very strongly to a group fight for survival. Even in the cheesiest and worst movie, if there is a moment with a call to arms or something else along those lines – I can feel it in my chest. The only problem was, that even though I loved the story, I didn’t love the movie. I wanted to, and I certainly didn’t hate it, but there was nothing very amazing or interesting about it for me. It was a very strange experience, having such an uneven reaction, because when I loved it, I could’ve cried or applauded, but for the rest of the time (and the majority at that) I just wasn’t that into it.
I’ll talk about James Cameron and other spoiler-ific things below, but the most important thing in a movie for me is story, and while I appreciated the ideas and plot behind Avatar (and, Nate, if you read this, I think you’re very silly for taking what you took out of it), the execution of it did little for me overall.
P.S. Is it wrong that I when I saw Sigourney Weaver’s avatar, I thought she was oddly pretty? Dang it.. yeah, I thought so :(.
Warning: There be spoilers below…
Let’s start with the man, himself: James Cameron. My favorite movie of his is The Abyss followed by Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Everything else, I could mostly do without. So, no, I’m not an avid fan. With how much I’d heard about Avatar, I was surprised to see that Cameron didn’t seem very on the ball for most of it. Sure, there’s never a lapse in the technical quality, but other things seemed to miss. One of the worst things for me, and almost made me feel embarrassed that this was a James Cameron movie, was a couple of uses of "fake camera shake/zoom." I’m not quite sure what else to name it. It’s a digitally simulated camera movement that sticks out like a sore thumb because it lacks a certain subtlety and realism. I’ve seen it in all-CGI scenes in District 9 or other cheap movies (it reeks of something someone employs because they just discovered it and it looks "cool"), but I was a little disheartened that James Cameron felt the need to use it to "spice things up." Also, while the final battle was well done, the first moment of action involving the monster chasing down Sully was completely hectic. I don’t think it was framed well at all, and again… it felt like so many other movies in which scenes that employ computer effects are unnecessarily disorienting.
On top of that, there were many things that felt like they belonged in the movie of a lesser director. Some of the lab sets felt too polished and colorful, as if Cameron had been influenced by too many recent movies during his long hiatus from movie-making. And, while I am a rather forgiving guy on many details (and I am, though you may not think it by reading all of this), I have to ask one thing – Unobtanium? UNOBTANIUM?? What the freaking HECK, James Cameron?? I know, I know, you got it from a scientific term used for something that doesn’t exist or is impractical to use, but people don’t know that. You can have great meaning and research for everything, but when the end result is naming your searched-for mineral Unobtanium it makes you sound like a complete moron. Un-obtainable-ium… oh, I get it… HILARIOUS. James Cameron, for that alone… I am disappointed.
Similarly, I thought the "villain" was horrible and extremely lame in his potential scope – another fault of Cameron’s. Sure the actor was great, but especially by the end he was just the classic, boring and flat villain that cackles in his enjoyment of being evil or strong. There wasn’t much humanity to him, and it really made him a horrible opposition to characters that were otherwise fairly decently developed. Now, granted, watching him get into the mech suit while his ship is exploding and his arm is on fire – that’s pretty awesome, but otherwise… it felt really lazy and uninteresting. Part of what makes The Abyss so great for me, is that the "bad guy" in that movie is only so because he’s losing his mind due to the physical stress. There are reasons for his actions, beyond being bad for the sake of being bad. I never saw that level of depth in Avatar‘s Colonel Scar, and it made me sad. It could’ve made for something great, especially as a contrast to what Sully becomes.
Actually, in mentioning decent bad guys, Giovanni Ribisi’s Parker was great. He not only has an interesting and believable method to his madness, but he arcs, too. Unlike the Colonel, while Ribisi starts as a very disinterest corporate stooge, once he is faced with the realities of wiping out a living species for the sake of the bottom line, his character not only shows an interesting reaction, but Ribisi plays it well, too. I suppose in this contrast, the Colonel fills the spot of the one who DOESN’T change, even in the face of horrible atrocity, yet since he has more screen-time I would have rather seen HIM with the arcing character traits.
Other than that major character complaint, I didn’t see much in the way of the cheesy dialogue and horrible acting that others have complained about. Maybe I was too disinterested to notice. I found great enjoyment in the lead gal’s performance. Dialogue and story aside, her portrayal was a very fun mix of animal and human. Whenever she’d begin to appear to simple and animal-like, she brought humanity, and vice-versa. Her subtleties were something that kept me interested in watching here, even when the story somewhat lost me. Another thing that didn’t disinterest me, though, was the music. Heck, that’s half the reason I enjoyed the parts that I did – it was very riling in its best moments. In these climactic scenes, the score was hitting an emotional level that the movie itself didn’t achieve very much. As I said above, it was an odd experience for me. A couple of times during the initial attack on the giant tree, as the natives were running for their lives and horrified with what was happening, I got a little emotional. It’s sad to see. Those moments cropped up in one or two other places, but for the most part I just wasn’t that attached to anything. I couldn’t connect with this bizarre world, since what I recognize is Earth, and anything else makes it a bizarre fantasy land – and that takes away from the realism for me. It’s like comparing the original Star Wars trilogy to the prequels. Obviously Avatar is technically superior to the prequels, but they both are filled with computer-generated worlds that are so out of context from what I relate to that it makes them more intangible, while the original Star Wars movies were set in locations that resembled more Earthly things: deserts, swamps, or forests. Because Luke Skywalker was running around in a desert, as opposed to a young Obi-wan Kenobi’s riding a weird computer-generated monster through bizarre caves, there was a reality to it that helps draw me in. It seems like a very minor thing in a movie starring giant blue animal-people, but as I thought about it, I realized just how major a factor it was in distancing me from the story. It was the moments based on character that brought me in close, but when the scope opened up to involve a world that means nothing to me, I found it more difficult to relate.
Speaking of giant blue people, when we first really enter the Na’vi society, I was surprised just how much I felt like I was watching a movie about painted-blue American Indians. I don’t like reading into things, but they were freaking whooping collectively in excitement – as has been heard in just about every movie with Indians I’ve ever seen. As the movie went on, they seemed to blend into a more general tribal civilization, but I was kind of thrown off by the strong initial similarities.
Of course, for me to go on and on about a movie like this usually means that I didn’t really like it – but wanted to. There are no surprises in the story, and that’s fine. It’s not fine, but I would have been okay with it if I had loved the movie… but I didn’t. During the end battle, when that one Na’vi (I’ll be darned if I’m going to be able to remember their names) lands inside of the ship and just starts throwing the mercenaries around and just generally messing them up – Scott and I both let out a collective, "Ahhh, yeah!" That was awesome! A movie had giant blue people and that was the only time we see them using their size against humans. That’s my biggest complaint about the story… there was so little interaction between the two species! This complaint has as much to do with drama as kick-butt action moments like the one mentioned. Yes, when the on-ground soldiers get stampeded by the giant creatures, it’s satisfying… but I wanted to see more between the Na’vi and humans. I wanted to hear about and see random native attacks on intruding miners, as the natives fought off these scary monsters from damaging their world. I wanted to enjoy more quiet moments with the human characters (both in and out of their avatars), and this movie just never seemed to want to stop and do that. Cameron seemed so intent on constantly throwing us through this "AMAZING" world he had created, that we never just got to rest and enjoy the characters in it. Again, I’ll point to The Abyss. That movie is set in one basic location, and it isn’t very fanciful, so I think Cameron was able to spend more time in quieter character moments instead of having to show giant blue people running along long, bio-luminescent tree stems (over and over and OVER).
I know, I seem to be giving this movie an extra hard time, but I don’t intend to. I never had ANY interest in Avatar from the moment I saw the first images and trailer, however after seeing it, NOW I feel as if there were missed opportunities. Obviously, it’s making a bajillion dollars (no fault of the higher 3D prices, for sure), and most people are raving about it, so James Cameron doesn’t have to apologize to lil’ ol’ Mark Mushakian… but, still, I’m disappointed. It was mostly enjoyable, and it was rarely horrible… but the fact that it sits in the middle, in mediocrity, almost makes it that much sadder for me. There were great emotionally engaging parts in there, and thinking about those moments being saddled with a movie that otherwise left me feeling rather indifferent really disappoints me.
I would’ve rather it be Transformers-bad. At least then, I wouldn’t have had the glimmer of hope for overall enjoyment that I did with Avatar.