Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

Last night I saw Avatar in 3D, and it made enough of an impression to merit a blog post. There was so much to say, that I needed to reach beyond my usual Facebook-status-review. :-)

-- The Downsides --
For all the astounding visual innovation Avatar nimbly delivers, the story was simply lazy. It's a plot we've all seen many, many times before, even for those of us who have not seen "Dances with Wolves". If Avatar had been a drinking game where we had to take a shot every time a cliché occurs, no one would make it through the 2.5 hour movie.

Moreover, the old cliché used aren't even good ones. Here are some examples:
  • Overall message of Avatar: "It shore is a good thing that them there white boy came along to SAVE all them noble savages!"
  • Military is BAD BAD BAD EVIL, all the time, and that's that.
  • The indigenous race is presented with staggering romanticism, with no mention or indication of any social problems, warfare, or other issues whatsoever. Given that all races HAVE internal issues of some sort, introducing something offhand would have made the Na'avi much more interesting and believable.
  • When the heroine is introduced, she kicks much ass. However, she becomes relatively submissive and useless the moment that our hero steps into the fore. Forget that she's had a lifetime of training, hunting and fighting; apparently in a mere three months, which includes him LEARNING TO WALK, he's better at everything! Blech.
  • Also, while said heroine is kicking ass, she has dreadlocks, which are generally found on black women. HOWEVER, when the inevitable scene arrives in which she needs to be "made purdy" enough to justify culminating the romantic subplot, her hair is straight and relaxed, like a white girl's. What, Cameron, are dreadlocked girls too far from our white-centred beauty ideal to merit love, too?
Unsurprisingly, the movie joins its action-movie brethren in failing the Bechdel test.

-- The Upsides --
Now, with the downers aside, allow me to elaborate on the positively incredible visuals of Avatar. Despite its obvious stylization, the CGI work blends seamlessly with the real-world portions of the film. I often forgot entirely that anything was animated at all. The CGI characters were beautifully expressive and well-designed; their world consists of a fantastical, fleshed-out ecosystem which actually borders on believability. The overall effect is dazzling.

Moreover, with the exception of SCTV's "Dr. Tongue and the House of ..." sketches, I've never before witnessed anything done in 3D. My gimmick-radars had made me skeptical, but Avatar succeeds in delivering a fantastic 3D experience. Several times, I found myself curbing my reflex to swat at the small mosquito-like bugs inhabiting the rainforest, which seemed to hovering right in front of me. It's those small details which show Cameron's undeniable technological adeptness with 3D; he knows that successful use of 3D is more about adding a subtle new layer, rather than having random things flying at the audience.

-- The Verdict --
Watching this movie occupied 40% of my brain, but commanded a full and deserved 100% of my visual and audio attention. Overall, Avatar is typical Cameron fare -- a richly-textured spectacle strung together with only *just* enough hackneyed plot to make the many, many action sequences make sense. Grade: B