I went with the Clan of R (of whom my partner Lady R is the youngest daughter) to the theatre the other day to catch James Cameron's Avatar.
HOLY *BEEP* it was awesome!!!
I went in pretty cold turkey. All I'd seen on the film was the single TV teaser shown in NZ, which is about 20 seconds long and makes the movie look pretty stupid (the Kiwi's have a skill at doing this in editing their teasers for movies though... everything that has come out since I've been down under has failed to appeal due to bad teasers).
I knew the basic premise it was going to be a environmental driven film, and guessed before entering that the soundtrack would likely be a James Horner. This was about it. None of which prepared me for what I was going to see.
Having avoided the hype going in, I could easily get on the band wagon now... to an extent.
Overall it was an excellent film, but NOT perfect. It also sadly didn't change how I'm going to watch movies.
I'll start on a negative about the experience, but not the film. Despite the hype around the new 3D aspect of this film, I seriously did not enjoy it!
When I left the theatre my eyes hurt, and I developed a headache later as a result (though my genetically inherited migraine genes are more to blame for the last part). The Clan oh R complained about eye pain too.
The 3D effect worked for the forest and wilderness scenes, and definitely created a neat effect there. However in human created environments, like inside buildings and spaceships the scenes had a very disconcerting fuzziness and blurring on the edges and backgrounds. Writing in these places in particular was hazy, and if your like me, trying to "focus" on them won't help focus them. It was the movie's controlling what I was "focusing" my depth perception on I found very disconcerting, as I have mild cataracts, and this movie mimicked it perfectly. Yet moving my eyes didn't fix the problem, like it would in real life... My constant instinctive trying to fix the problem caused me no end of fun during view I assure you!
If you have perfect eye sight pay attention to this effect if you watch the film, and imagine having this problem in real life too!
So I'm not a huge fan of the 3D part of this film.
The effects and CGI on the other hand... Just when I'm thinking I'm on my way to getting okay at CG stuff. Watching this movie made me want to cry myself to sleep, and throw my puter into the rubbish bin. It is definitely a work of special effects art!
The alien planet and its creatures were the highlight of the film. Both in design and execution. Apart from the horse like mounts of the native, everything about the planet was just incredible and fun to watch in an exploration and wonder sense. It conveyed exactly what I feel when walking through an real earth forest (been doing that here in Tassie a lot this week). Hopefully a few none nature inclined members of the audience will pick up some of this sense of awe of the nature world from the film... I loved every second on Pandora.
One of the factors that blew me away unexpectedly, was the soundtrack. Due to his own admitted tendency to write music the same way (as it is music as he thinks it should be), I'd written James Horner's scores off a while ago. Sure I can appreciate that the man has a certain style he sticks too, but once you owe the first fresh versions of these sounds from the 1980's you don't need to buy new barely different versions afterwards.
Avatar despite having a definite Horner feel to it, has an astonishing score, and one full of all sorts of new things from Horner (for me anyway... I guess he picked up a few new tricks in the last couple years, but this was their mega polished presentation). It pleases me greatly to have a NEW Horner album to listen to after so many years, and yet revisit some of his style from the 1980's (which as of late I've decided is my Golden age of scores. More on this in a future post)The plot was very enthralling, but flawed, and this is why you won't catch me saying Avatar was the best movie ever or other such praise. I'll save my reservations for a minute.
Immediately as the film began revealing the rather bleak future for humanity Cameron forecasts in this universe, I found it relieving that others share my complete disdain and disgust for baseline human nature and more specifically corporate America. The environmental themes were excellent, and I loved how the native spiritualism was more a simplified version of food chain energy exchange then religious nonsense.
Most of what I heard about Avatar before seeing it, was about the "indigenous people" metaphors in the film, and how one smart white man saves the day. Watching the film, I found this argument absolute BS. If anything this film was about how cooperation from diversity and difference comes strength.
Yes the natives needed the human to help them defeat the advanced army they faced, but this is why they were the sympathetic side of the story. If they'd been self sufficient, the story would have been humans trying to stop them from taking over the Earth. The natives gave as good as they got from the "superior white man", if not for them he'd have had no salvation, no army to fight to save the planet, and no means of harnessing the native terrain and animals.
Speaking of characters, I liked the gimmick of the main character being crippled. Overall the cast was just stereotypes and archetypes, but they functioned the story pretty well. Too much Joss Wheadon like characters with their greyscaling would have gotten in the way of Cameron's environmental and society messages... which I think can not and should not have been greyscaled. So good on him for sticking to simplicity on this front.
Where this movie fell apart for me was the end climatic battle. It is basically a more gritty, gory, and sexy Battle of Endor from Star Wars. A tribal hunter/gather culture battles a Space Age mechanised army. Now though this film does it much better then Star Wars, it still suffers the same problem.
SPACE age opponents should not be dumb enough to fight in a manner hunter/gathers can even really participate. Without spoiling anything, the end fight on the human side should have revolved around the best quote from an earlier Cameron film. "Nuke the site from orbit... it's the only way to be sure".
That said and done, I REALLY enjoyed the battle once I disengaged my brain, and let the flawed situation play out. For you see I have a very key weakness in Sci-Fi. The instant spaceships start shooting at each other, I enter a blissful state. Replace the good guys spaceships with Pterodactyls, and well Pterodactyls shooting at spaceships and vice versa. I'm kind of forced to enter a foaming at the mouth love of the piece!!!
So in a year that saw several shit attempts at Sci-Fi it was good to see one that was finally really good (okay and District 9, watched it on the plane, and it was as an overall film better then Avatar, but depressing and not fun. Might talk about it later too)