4 days ago
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Avatar is not the shallow sludge of a movie that some negative reviews would lead you to believe. Nor is it the hyped "future of film" that, I'm convinced, nobody really fell for anyway. What it is is a mildly formulaic redemption story with more than its share of character, which uses its technology well and puts together some very coherent, enjoyable action that's as stylized as it is realistic.
What Avatar does well, most importantly, hasn't ever really been done before. This is the point, what people are saying when they call Cameron's latest epic the future of film. This movie's character comes primarily from its use of detail - the vast attention (and dinero) that went into the film is clearly apparent. For the first time, CGI creatures have quite literally the same personality and even charisma as human actors. I don't mean this lightly - in the massive scenes of congregated indigenous "aliens", you feel the same sense of organization and unity that you'd get from a crowd scene of dedicated extras, and the alien doppelgangers that the humans jack into Matrix-style mimic their facial expressions and demeanor with uncanny, blissful accuracy (the blue, CGI Sigourney Weaver in particular is incredible to watch).
It would be easy to dismiss Avatar as Pocahontas in space with a few technological gimmicks, but this would neglect the fact that all of the technology is being used in the service of the story. A somewhat predictable story in the hands of gifted cinematographers, animators who know what they're doing and some committed actors becomes as moving and involving an epic as any in recent memory. Even the actors playing sci-fi archetypes (the "bomb-'em-to-hell!" bulletheaded merc and the nerdy, ethical scientist) treat their roles with enough commitment that the movie is never shallow. This strong use of technology makes the film what it is, and the fact that none of this would have been possible even five years ago puts it firmly into the category of "modern" cinema. I fully understand why Roger Ebert cited the same feelings he felt watching the first Star Wars film in 1977 - this is an inventive, visually engrossing and, occasionally, moving film. The story is a couple of steps above mediocrity and the characterization more than a few.
The 3D effect, finally, is well-done, and never distracts from the story with flashy gimmicks (the kind that my oaf of a roommate insists upon). The main problems with cinema 3D, however, remain - a slightly blurry effect that makes focusing on quick motion or fine detail a little difficult - and your eyes may get tired for the first few minutes of the movie before you get used to using your muscles in that way.
In conclusion, I think that the film is well worth seeing, and since I'm not sure how well it will hold up on the small screen or second-run theater, I recommend seeing it now. It's nice to see a technological monstrosity employed for good rather than evil, and while the "plot" may be a little weak, the journey itself is handled very well, with action scenes that are not only fun to watch but actually matter.
[Note: Despite citing Ebert's review, I had not yet finished reading it when putting this together. Ebert makes his point regarding the film's action in a very similar way. The unintentional mirroring in my impressions review on that point is just that.]