Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts on James Cameron and "Avatar"

So we all went to see "Avatar 3D" today (and by all, I mean Television's Ryan Callahan (@TheTVRC), my wife, my son, and I -- my daughter didn't want to see it, and she would have been bored and restless anyway). Here are some thoughts.

1. TheTVRC pointed out that James Cameron's movies tend to age poorly because he's always right on the cutting edge of new cinema technology. That is true. And it will surely be true for "Avatar" as well, though it looks pretty damn good for a movie that's so CGI-heavy.

2. TheTVRC also pointed out that the movie (SPOILER, of sorts) features a literal deus ex machina, so there's that.

3. My son gave a thumbs up during the movie and an even bigger one at the end. His verdict: it's the best movie he's EVER seen. (He's 8, but he's seen a lot of movies.)

4. My wife had a headache afterward.

5. As the aliens-as-American-Indian thing became more and more clear (and I joked about this being "Pocahontas in Space" based on the trailer, but I didn't realize how James Cameron didn't even try to make up an alien culture, except superficially), I thought to myself, "if Wes Studi shows up as the tribal chief, that would be perfect." Wes Studi IS the tribal chief, and it's perfect. I mean that sarcastically. Because it's dumb as hell to be so on-the-nose.

6. "Unobtainium" is what the bad corporate guys are trying to obtain. On. The. Nose.

7. Giovanni Ribisi plays the Paul Riser role, though his future fashion sense is slightly better than Paul Riser's future fashion sense.

8. If we did not watch the movie in 3D, I'm not sure I would have sat through the whole movie. The first hour is just setting the scene, over and over and over. It's a Disney 3D attraction of "Alien Landscape." Minus the 3D, what is the appeal of hour one?

9. The final battle is pretty damn awesome, though. Really awesome.

10. The movie's pretty clearly about the insurgents slaughtering American soldiers, which is shocking for a big Christmas release. The audience literally clapped at the end.

11. There is not one twist or turn in this entire movie. The plot line is straight.

12. But that final battle IS awesome, as I said. The last 30 minutes makes up for the first two hours of Mr. Jimbo's not-so-wild 3D ride.


Patrick said...

I can see those critiques, though I liked the film a lot more than you did. That said, I don't think his films age poorly at all. The effects in Terminator 2 are still really solid, because, like in Jurassic Park, the CG is only used when totally necessary, and is mixed with some solid practical effects. The effects in Aliens are timeless, and still look fantastic.

But, I'd argue the core of those films isn't the effects, it's the story, which in both films holds up great. Aliens in particular is great on a character level, and features some of the best action sequences ever filmed.

That said, I don't think Avatar will age as well. Even though the CG generally looked good, I think virtually every big budget film made during the 00s will look dated in retrospect thanks to poorly constructed digital effects, think the effects in the Star Wars prequels already feeling more dated and implausible than the effects in the classic movies.

Unknown said...

I agree that it was hardly a surprising or original premise, but it was marvelously done, and I could see myself even seeing it again in 2D.

What I liked best was how it managed to avoid the " Science/Progress is Bad " message a lot of these stories, such as Lord of the Rings, tend to carry. Science may have given us the forest-burning storm troopers, but it also gave us the Avatar program to allow understanding between the cultures, and the scientific explanation for the Na'vi's society ( a dedicated neural network, as opposed to just " the power of spirits ".

I also like how the villainous general wasn't 100% evil; he clearly treated his troops well and kept to his promises towards humans, even if he didn't think of the Na'vi as anything other than savages. A more complex and memorable antagonist than most.

Mattyoung! said...

Not a dispute, but additional information: "Unobtainium" isn't a Cameron invention. It's a term engineers have used since at least the 50s for referring to unusual, costly, or theoretical materials. That said... yeah. Nose.

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Tom Ryan said...

being behind on your Blog, but had to comment about that "amazing" final battle...
well 2 comments actually...
first the mecha suit has a giant bowie at this point I am LoLing and that is awkward

then the bad guy says "you have betrayed your race" and I realized he was right and the main character is kinda a DB and a badguy and I just couldn't focus on the cool fight after that.

so Avatar had unfriggingly sweet EVER, and yet it wasn't a good movie going experience for me.
My wife with he USC film degree liked it less...much fact I try to keep any ads for it away from her because she will become very very upset.