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Movie Review: Avatar

I will put anything spoilery behind a cut so I don't ruin it for those of you who haven't seen it yet.

I have a lot of derisive things to say about Avatar. That said, it was probably the most visually stunning movie I have ever seen. I hate 3D, but this is the first movie where the 3D was not gimmicky, AND enhanced the viewing experience. If all 3D movies were like this, I'd like them.
I will own this movie, and I would go see it again in the theater. It was worth every penny of the $13.00 I paid for the ticket, despite the formulaic plot, archetypal characters and cheese.

Cameron spends the first half hour of the movie in exposition. I actually, at one point, exasperatedly growled "Enough with the exposition, we GET IT." It's like the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long because he knows the average IQ is 100 and he doesn't want anyone to miss the point.

Every character in the movie is an archetype. There's the slightly rebellious but loyal to her people princess who sees through the slightly gruff but ever so noble hero's strange ways and mysteriously knows that he's destined to be their savior, even though she treats him with contempt at first and is easily won over by his boyish charm. There's the wise brave chieftain and his priestess wife, who have headdresses and utter pronouncements that are never really explained later. There's the angry romantic rival who's the best warrior of all but somehow loses to our hero despite the fact that our hero has no training in that style of combat, and then has a change of heart to become our hero's best friend. There's the nerdy support crew. The rebellious pilot with a heart of gold. The doctor who cares more about science than profit. The corporate guy who cares only about profit. The military guy who's prone to long speeches about the grave danger and his selfless role in protecting you. It goes on and on.
The allegory is laid on so thick you feel like you're being bludgeoned. Yes, we GET that this is the native americans vs. big evil white man. No really, we get it. Honestly. You didn't need to give the chief a native american accent, really, we had already gotten it by then.

The plot follows the usual formula - Hero is recruited with insufficient training to a highly-sought after position because for some reason the government doesn't have backups for this ridiculously expensive operation. Hero is not accepted at first but wins over hearts and minds through guileless charm and nobility. Hero embeds with the natives, goes native, gets himself some native wifey, and then realizes the evil of the white man's humans' environment-hating ways. Humans attack the natives, natives lose. Grief ensues, then the natives strike back with butt-kicking vengeance and win the day. Guy gets the girl, the predicted characters die, the other predicted characters all live. *yawn*

What makes the movie FABULOUS is what Cameron has done with the visuals. The concept of the alien planet is beautifully done (despite the fact that it's a 1:1 mapping to our own planet, whether we're talking fauna, flora or culture). It's visually gorgeous, it's engaging, it's glorious and fun. It makes you want to go there and live there and be them and do that.

The technology which is at the heart of it is neat, but not very original. The CGI to make that technology appear on screen is best-in-class. I've never seen CGI that made me forget it was CGI before. OMG brilliant.

There were a few moments where it almost seemed like Cameron was looking out and winking at the audience, saying "yeah, I know, I've dumbed it way down. Isn't it kind of funny?" The substance for which they're plundering this beautiful alien planet is called "unobtainium". the hero occasionally rolls his eyes at the mean military guy's long speeches and looks into the camera as if to say "this is because the kiddies get all excited by speeches like this". There's a hippy dance that feels an awful lot like the ewok dance, or that stupid rave in the Matrix movies. It's almost like we're on the outside of an inside joke between Cameron and the movie industry.

For all my kvetching, it really was a good movie. Is it "Dances With Smurfs" like everyone says? Oh yes. Go to this expecting to see an old classic story retold in a novel setting with novel props, some breathtaking visuals, and really sexy naked blue people.

*snicker* Unobtainium. *snicker*


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2009 08:30 pm (UTC)
Hrm, from the trailers I thought it was kind of an inverse Pocahontas for young adult males, then again I've never seen Dances with Wolves. I was hoping for a little bit more exploration of colonization themes than just the stereotypical, but I guess that's to be expected from Hollywood.

Tim C.
Dec. 22nd, 2009 08:44 pm (UTC)
I had so hoped that the element had an actual scientific name and the "unobtainium" was just some nickname the grunts gave it because of the trouble it was to mine.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )