Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Avatar" - REVIEW

James Cameron can sometimes take forever (case in point, this film right here) to make a movie, but more often than not, it's worthy it. Such is the case with Avatar, Cameron's sci-fi extravaganza that is more of an experience than a movie. Set in the year 2154, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) awakes from deep space slumber aboard an interstellar transport shuttle above Pandora, a moon of the much larger planet Polyphemus. The reason? His twin brother, a scientist participating in an important research effort, has been killed, and Jake has the exact same genome. Once on Pandora, he's introduced to two sides: the military/corporate side (headed by General Quaritch [Stephen Lang]) and the research side (headed by Grace Augustine [Sigourney Weaver]).

The real reason Jake is there, is to participate in the Avatar Program, in which humans plug themselves into the hybrid body of a human and a Na'Vi (the native humanoid population). After a mishap in his first run in his Avatar, Jake encounters Na'Vi princess (sort of) Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, who's having a great year in sci-fi after JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot). From here, the story isn't the most original in the book. Jake grows to know the Na'Vi after initial hostility, the humans' real interest rears its ugly head, conflict escalates, etc... So why does it work for the most part? Well, I'm not really sure, and I'm strongly considering running back to the theater to experience Avatar again, now that I'm over the initial shock of the spectacle. Whatever emotion is felt in Cameron's film seems to come from the sheer intensity of his vision, and not from his characters or performances, which are merely "nice". There seem to be long gaps between the more "cliched" scenes, just to allow Cameron's world to thrive. The romance that thrives between Jake and Neytiri feels like it's barely there, as opposed to Cameron's last monumental blockbuster, Titanic. And as long (yet well paced) as the film is there are a few blips when Cameron seems to cut corners, giving a bad sense of time, or leaving the proceedings feeling rushed. A scene when Jake and Augustine are arrested cuts from a shot of the pair in a cell to Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez) coming in to break them out. It just happens, and feels too sudden. The dialogue, while not cringe inducing like some have suggested, is mostly serviceable. Of course, the real star is the effects work. I saw the film in Real D 3D (not sure how it's different from regular 3D...) and it looked gorgeous. The images are bright, vibrant, and unbelievably sharp. The 3D is a subtle effect, simply giving greater distance between fore-and-background, which keeps it from feeling like a gimmick. Even without the 3D, the effects would still be jaw dropping. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, in which real people interacted with photorealistic creatures, here everything in the Na'Vi world (except the real humans) is built from the ground up using either green screen or motion capture, which is so mind-bogglingly detailed that it doesn't take long before you stop wondering about the images on screen and simply take them as real. This allows many sequences, namely those involving characters flying on Banshees, to really soar with the help of engaging photography and James Horner's big yet somewhat generic "epic" score.

So what does it all boil down to? I'm still scratching my head over it all. The spectacle is awe-inspiring and yet the other elements feel totally ordinary. In spite of how derivative it is, the film is still compelling and exciting, but I can't name a single moment that wowed me on an emotional level; the "wow"'s all come from the grandeur. So where does that leave me?

Grade: B+ (for now)


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Ah. Hater. Gave it an A-, and I did not see it in 3D. To be honest though, after the high of the first battle the rest was disappointing. Still great, but not mind-boggling. But I like Sigourney too much.

jbaker475 said...

I think I need to see this again just to settle my thoughts on the screenplay/acting.