Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 26th, 2009
Hi Blog. Since it’s the holidays and I want to do a few things a bit more tangental, let me talk about the movie I saw today to get my mind off spending Xmas in Japan (which I have always hated doing, quite honestly, and this is about my 23rd time):
MOVIE REVIEW OF “AVATAR”
I saw AVATAR today, director James Cameron’s follow-up to his box office phenomenon TITANIC more than a decade ago. I made sure to attend a showing in 3D, because I wanted Cameron to give me his hot dog with all the toppings (so what if I had to shell out 300 extra yen for the funny glasses we couldn’t keep, and all told including concessions I dropped about 3000 yen for the experience). Here’s my review:
Plot summary (skip if you dislike Movie Spoilers): AVATAR, as you’ve no doubt heard, is about a handicapped grunt who becomes a replacement footsoldier of sorts on a faraway planet that human beings, still all concerned about maximizing shareholder value while mining some Maguffin mineral resource there, are exploiting a good 150 years in the future. The problem is some native humanoids living on the planet already aren’t happy with having their homeworld and lifestyles disrupted. They really begin fighting for their rights when the humans become unreasonable, and decide to use their superior technology against the natives’ stone-age (but highly spiritual) weaponry. Our protagonist, who spends his waking hours remotely inhabiting a human-cloned version of the natives (hence the “Avatar”), is sent out into the woods to infiltrate, where he increasingly becomes incorporated into the tribe, and realizes they represent the true warrior spirit he wishes he could recapture as a human. He “goes native” himself, and for three hours we have the story arc going in predictable directions all the way to a happy ending.
Critique: The biggest criticism I’ve seen of the movie is that it is “by the numbers”, with few surprises. I agree. But nobody’s going to see this flick for the story. We’ve heard that there are some envelope-pushing special effects. As in the 3D.
Well, how about that 3D? Good and bad. Good in that it is better than the old red and blue lenses we got back in childhood (and my favorite 3D movie before AVATAR was FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH PART THREE IN 3D, with introduced me to polarized-glass 3D cardboard specs (which I still have) and lots of things leaping out at you — including popcorn, yo-yos, a spear from a harpoon gun, and an eyeball that pops at you when Jason crushes somebody’s head). AVATAR, however, doesn’t stoop to cheap novelties — it offers some very clear scenarios that would look normal even without the funny glasses, and after awhile you forget that you’re wearing them (Cameron seems to learn midway to slow down the action a bit at times because it blurs in 3D).
Bad is that the 3D dims the color palette. The computer-generated natives (all bright blue, tall, and more expressive than I’ve ever seen in any other computer-generated movie) and their world is darkened by the 3D glasses, and sometimes I found myself popping them up to take in some of the more phosphorescent scenes. AVATAR is a gorgeous movie to look at (and I would expect nothing less from master storyteller James Cameron, who gave us TERMINATOR 2, ALIENS, THE ABYSS, and of course the best disaster-movie-cum-love-story ever TITANIC — all envelope pushers in terms of storytelling and special effects), but I am still waiting for 3D to catch up with the amount of information being put forth on the screen. Again, the 3D technology right now blurs and muddies things at times, even gets in the way when the action becomes split-second reaction.
The best part of the movie for me was the environment of the planet Pandora. Cameron (who also wrote the script) obviously put a lot of work into creating the alien civilization, making its quirky flora and fauna look genuinely alien. There are of course essences of Vietnam and the American Indian (the soundtrack echoes that most clearly), and he resists the temptation to give us a Late Sixties or Early Seventies ending (alas, downers of a movie don’t put as many people in seats as modern-blockbuster Hollywood endings, as a rule). As in ALIENS, Cameron is clearly in love with exoskeletons, and his weaponry and technology is utterly convincing. As is his heartfelt need to make us emote with the natives, and we root for them to prevail over the destructive humans. In terms of escapism and sending us to another world, Cameron does better than even George Lucas (who never really slows down enough for us to have a look around the worlds he so fastidiously creates — you have to get the spin-off comic books or animated clone wars, or worse yet shell out to see the STAR WARS movies again if you want to suck on the scenery). Cameron delivers on his promise to make the moviegoing experience an actual drama and not just an amusement park ride.
But in terms of what lingers after AVATAR is all over, it’s not the environmental lesson, or the good versus business/military ethics, or even the 3D. It’s the planet of Pandora, and how lovely it must be to see it in all it’s glory without the goddamn glasses on. I hope someone who cares as much as James Cameron about movie craft comes along and makes the 3D technology something that gives us the focus and color as vibrantly as without. Next time. Thanks for the good college try, Mr Cameron. You haven’t lost your touch. Grade: B-.
Arudou Debito in Sapporo