Monday, January 4, 2010


I was in a bit of a conundrum here. James Cameron was possibly the best action director in Hollywood for about a decade, but that decade ended fifteen years ago. The only film he made since then was one I very much did not care for, and I was very unsure about Avatar based on what I'd read and seen. I went into the theater hoping it would be awesome and expecting it to be mediocre, and it ended up being somewhere in the middle, which I probably could have foreseen.

Just to get this out of the way, yes, a disproportionate amount of the film's appeal hinges on the visuals. And they are mighty impressive, both from looking at the quality of the computer effects and the effectiveness of the 3D. I haven't seen any other movies with anything more sophisticated than the blue and red glasses, so I can't honestly say how good or bad it is by modern standards. I will say that it looked pretty awesome, though the film still would have looked very nice without it. What the 3D was attempting to do was further pull you into this world Cameron created from scratch, and for better or worse it mostly succeeded. It's not really hype to say that you mostly forget you're watching something that beyond a few pieces of set in the human encampments only exists at all digitally, and you're left to focus on the story. Whether you actually like that story is a different question. But the visuals avoided gimmickry with jumping out at you for the most part, and spent a lot of time just letting you enjoy looking at it. I feel like this will hold up a lot better with time than effects laden pictures from earlier last decade, but only time will tell if that's the case.

So to answer whether the film beyond the special effects worked for me, the answer is: sorta. It's not really a great original story beyond the setting. It is very competently constructed, though. The film makes perhaps too great an attempt to justify everything, answering a lot of questions I had about the basic premise. Important elements are introduced properly before coming back later. Despite what you may think about the long running time, and it did feel a good twenty minutes too long, there is very little that happens and doesn't serve a purpose. It's not the most elegant script Cameron's ever written, but I guess it didn't have to be with his budget, and for the most part it all fits together and works to some degree.

None of the characters will impress you with their originality or uniqueness, but they're generally likable or easy to hate where required. For some reason Sam Worthington seems to be in every big action movie now, and I thought he was fine if not too remarkable. He was much more expressive in his alien form than as a human, but I thought that worked - he's becoming increasingly detached from his original life, and his whole character is driving towards being one of the natives. People have made a lot of disparaging remarks regarding the whole noble savages thing, but I don't think there's anything fundamentally wrong with how it works here. The movie's fairly funny too, providing some really nerdy laughs (the MacGuffin mineral that entirely explains the human presence on Pandora is actually called Unobtainium) as well as some much broader ones. The action sequences are sprinkled throughout, with the only major battle happening at the end, and they're all suitably exciting and well laid out. Say what you want about Cameron, the man still knows how to do this sort of thing. I don't know how excited I am for sequels, but I totally respect him for crafting an entire world and story out of whole cloth (and maybe a few bits from other stories), making an extremely expensive movie with it, and successfully selling it to the world. If I'm not mistaken it made the whole budget back worldwide in the first two weeks, and this was the third straight weekend it made about seventy million bucks in the US alone. I don't really dislike adaptations, but I do like to see original work as well, and if this means more is coming, then I'm happy.

No comments: