Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar

James Cameron's Avatar was absolutely breathtaking. When I first heard about this movie, I really didn't give two shits and decided not to look into it at all. I just assumed that it was just another attempt to cash in on the video game craze that is mysteriously sweeping the nation. However, about a month ago, I saw a trailer for the film that made me commit a full 900 degree turn. I went from thinking that what I knew about the movie sounded stupid to not being able to wait to go see it.

So I went and saw it today. In 3-D. I was a little skeptical at first, because every 3-D movie that I've ever seen has been disorienting and fuzzy and dizzying. Avatar was pretty impressive, though. The 3-D was pretty smooth, and after about twenty minutes or so, your eyes adjust to the concept and it actually becomes pretty cool. I'm still not sold on the concept, though. I don't know why 3-D has become such a huge craze over the last year or so. It was cool in avatar, but I don't feel like the movie was any better for it. It's just a cool added bonus. I just prefer watching movies in normal 2-D. I feel like I can absorb the story and the meaning of the film better when I'm not distracted by things exploding out of the screen towards me and when I'm not trying to cross my eyes just enough to counteract the terrible, generic 3-D glasses that never work quite perfectly on any given face. As I said, Avatar's 3-D was pretty solid and didn't suffer from the typical problems that other 3-D movies do, but I feel like it would have been just as good in 2-D. I also respect the film for not pulling any of the cliche "guys-are-sword-fighting-and-someone's-sword-gets-swung-out-into-the-audience" bullshit in this film. Nothing rockets out of the screen toward you and there's not a chainsaw/flaming torch/motor boat rotor being jammed into your face every ten minutes. The 3-D is just for overall effect.

With that out of the way, onto the actual movie content. As far as the story goes, it's pretty traditional. It's the typical epic story archetype. These elements usually consist of huge battles, gigantic sets, scenes shot to have very large scale, and a hero who starts strong, falls to a low point, and makes a comeback, usually returning stronger than he was when he originally set out (the rise-fall-rise hero structure). I know that this is going to be the main complaint with this movie, but the thing about filming an epic is that your story structure is already laid out for you. Epics are not about the story; they're about how you tell it and how you differentiate your epic from other epics.

That being said, I still don't like to talk about the story in movie reviews because that's the primary reason that you're going to see the film. The story in this one is pretty straightforward, and can be cheesy and predictable at times, but it is still charming and will get your adrenaline going a good bit. The movie strikes a good balance between action and plot development, and moves at a really strong and consistent pace.

The special effects are also incredible. The CGI is very convincing (characters moved naturally, objects behaved properly according to physical properties, etc.) and melds well with the live action portions of the film, and there is also a lot of very clever prop usage. It was nice to see a modern movie use props for things like close ups on a spaceship or futuristic helicopter instead of just using CGI to fill in the gaps. I always feel more satisfied by a good prop or model or animatronic puppet than by some obviously animated thing just floating around on the screen. Now, I do understand that more than half of this movie was almost entirely CGI, but it was of such high quality that it was almost hard to tell. The movie was so engrossing that any noticeable thing that may have normally pulled you out of the experience was easily overlooked.

Overall, it was just a great experience. The movie was just huge, and was a highly satisfying experience in pretty much every respect. I highly recommend this film.

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