Avatar!

So I went to see Avatar last night. It cost me 13 dollars.

I will try not to spoil any of the movie, and hopefully this is useful info for those on the fence about seeing a $230,000,000 movie in the making for more or less two decades.

The movie is gorgeous. They used a new kind of camera (Pace Fusion) to film it in 3D and if you thought motion capture was cool, they developed and used FACIAL MOTION CAPTURE (picture a McDonald’s drive-through headset that is actually a camera recording EACH actor’s facial expressions in real time, to then be farmed out to special effects companies who can tweak them [set the eyes farther apart for the Na’vi people, etc.]) The whole movie is like playing Halo on a console that won’t be released for 10 years. Also, kudos to Cameron for constructing a whole world. Usually movies of this scope are based on a book because the imagination required to develop an intriguing story-universe and the vision required to translate it onto the silver screen are simply too much for one person to embody. But Cameron clearly had this story stewing in his head for awhile and apparently with enough money and talented people behind him, he was able to bring that story to life.

There are problems with this constructed world, of course. Mysterious floating islands that follow different laws of gravity than the rest of the planet, for example. Also, little aliens who move by spinning in circles from a big propeller on their back (picture a whirly-gig seed with a little bug attached). It just doesn’t make evolutionary sense. Finally, while some of the creatures in the movie are absolutely incredible fantasy creations, there are others (namely the horse-like and panther-like creatures which are basically horses and panthers with 6 legs and more teeth/bigger manes).  There should have been a bigger leap here to detach us from earth, since the whole point of the movie is to draw us into an ALIEN world. Speaking of ALIEN, if you haven’t seen the Alien trilogy, try to watch it before this movie because there are unbelievable parallels (the least of which is Sigourney Weaver as a lead character…though interestingly, in this movie her stance on alien diplomacy is completely reversed). There is also the pervasive stank of terminator throughout the movie, which is fine for the most part, as long as we are thinking of Terminator 2 and not every abortion of a movie that followed in that series.

As far as the plot/script/casting and acting go… it is clear that most of the money in this film went to fat geeks sitting in front of 40 inch monitors rendering female Na’vi body parts. The plot is the same-old story and predictable for the most part, but we’re getting to a point it seems where any epic movie has to follow the same sort of guidelines. An unlikely hero. Everyone doubting said hero. Said hero finding courage in a people not his own. Overwhelming empathy with others. Inclusion/exclusion ensue. blah blah blah. The script was just not subtle enough. This movie could have easily done with 1/2 the lines. A lot are just superfluous character-defining quips which challenge our intelligence, as if we couldn’t tell the entire backstory of the overbearing, jacked-and-tanned army general without his going off on a needless tangent about how he got the clawmarks on his face. DUH he got them from a native animal. DUH he’s going to hold a grudge and want to kill everything on the planet. Why does he have to waste time (in a 3 hour movie, nonetheless) telling us these things? Leave us a LITTLE mystery for crying out loud. In my opinion, the movie would have fared much better if it had taken an approach similar to the first half of Wall-E. The visuals are gorgeous enough to support the storyline. If the movie had been completely silent, all the better. What’s the point in rendering every hair on a native plant and mapping exquisite digital facial expressions if all that detail can’t get the story across? Cameron missed a rare opportunity here to create a technologically-advanced piece of art which could reach millions of people who are brain dead from a market saturated with poorly-scripted shoot-em-ups.

There wasn’t much of a soundtrack to the movie as I recall, but the ambient SFX where pretty incredible. The crunching of snapping trees and hiss of machines were really well done. I can’t even imagine how amazing the movie would have been if the Na’vi didn’t have a spoken language and these background noises were the only things we heard throughout the movie.

I wish the douchey guy from Grandma’s Boy wasn’t in the movie. I just don’t like him.

This brings us to the final point of race in the movie. The Na’vi are basically a mix of Native Americans, Africans, cats, Smurfs, and Grayliens.  Or…Nightcrawler. This brings up the point again of a lack of imagination. They are humanoids, fine. I realize they need to look somewhat like humans for us to empathize with them. But if, on a daily basis, they fly through the air leaping onto vines and giant leaves like lemurs, why aren’t they more evolutionarily-adapted for such things? As is, they seem more like a bunch of humans who were banished to the planet a long time ago and have only adapted a few helpful traits for living in the biggest f***king tree you have never seen. Also, if they only have 4 fingers, why do they have fingernails identical to ours and not claws? Eh, I’m getting picky here. But the point is they are too human-like to convince me that they are an alien race. And this is an important critique, I think, because not only are the Na’vi a central part of the movie, every detail of their anatomy can be scrutinized in this movie like never before since the level of digital rendering here causes every anatomical design decision to go under the microscope. When creating a whole new world at this level of detail, these are the things that will make or break our suspension of disbelief.

That about sums it up. Sorry this is written like a rant, but I’m on break so don’t expect organized paragraphs and theses. Lemme know what you think after you’ve seen it. And I encourage you to see it, if only for the experience.

– Jon

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Avatar!

  1. I’ll definitely check it out. Not sure how I feel about smurfs cross-breeding with anything. I think they sap down the story line on purpose ‘cus they expect most of the audience to be partially brain dead. And yet, somehow they’re surprised when well-written movies like District 9 do well. Oh well…

    Have you seen The Road yet? I’ve heard it’s wicked good.

  2. Great article. I like what you wrote here.

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