Tuesday, December 29, 2009


When you watch Avatar you are shown two movies. That wasn’t just a bad 3D technology pun. I mean that one movie is ‘Avatar the loudly great special effects wonder that James Cameron took 12 years to make’, and the second is ‘Avatar the movie’, just the movie.

Teaser poster from wikipedia
I saw the second movie; my partner saw the first movie and found it an eye-opening breathtaking experience. He doesn’t care to go see Sherlock Holmes anymore because “It can't compare to Avatar”. His 3D obsession rivals my Richard Armitage one and he sees James Cameron as a creative visionary. I'm so jealous! Why couldn't I see that movie instead of the second one?

Which one would you see? Do you appreciate attention to detail in visual style and setting? Or do you relegate it to background filler while you’re tangled up in the inner conflicts of the characters. Not sure? Let’s try another analogy. Imagine you’re in a restaurant with an awe-inspiring view, but your meal tastes pretty plain. What would you take away from the experience?

This is as much as I know about the special effects process.

Avatar didn’t make me feel like a kid again, but darnit I wished I was one to appreciate the spectacle better. The movie’s forest world is filled with fantasy elements I would die for 20 years ago. The closest thing back then was The Neverending Story and Michael Jackson music videos. It's a nice preview of the Night Elf race in the upcoming World of Warcraft movie - or so I heard.

Big Movies become a measurement standard for later ones to outdo. In the SFX genre both my yardsticks are James Cameron movies Terminator 2 and Titanic where the effects bolstered the story, but in Avatar they eclipsed it and left me with an uneven feeling. The script plays out like a first draft and the main character comes off pretty weak.

Don't worry Jake, I'll carry the second movie

Neytiri played by Zoe Saldana is the most believable character, Navi or human. I think part of her success stems from not just relying on facial expressions but using her whole body. CGI faces are still a little Barbie-doll but her ultra expressive body gestures distract us and compensate for this. Unfortunately for Sam Worthington who plays Jake the leading character, his acting style is more subtle and post Smurf stretching he ends up pretty wooden.

The other weakness is the plain storytelling. Maybe if the big bad military guy cracked better jokes?... Jake is supposed to be our eyes into the Avatar world but he feels flat. The plot turns him traitor before it convinced me his inner demons justified the destruction of Neytiri's homeland, and no that’s not a spoiler. You knew what you were in for, just like Jake! There were times when I wished we weren’t stuck to his point of view but jumped on Neytiri’s more solid shoulder instead; through her I mourned the loss of the Omaticaya’s collective history and integrated way of life.

I'll stop whining now. The big screen is the best place for the spectacle and the cool Navi but don't let the 1D human characters spoil the fun. It's ok Mr Cameron I still believe in you, your SFX vision and your strong female characters. When Battle Angel comes out I'll prebook my tickets at the local IMAX, but please don't make me wait 12 years.


Nat at RA FanBlog said...

I haven't seen this yet, but I suspect from the "Avatar" reviews I've read, I'd probably see the 2nd movie while my husband saw the 1st. I live in a small town that doesn't have an IMAX... all of the things I've read say, "Worth seeing in 3D! or Be sure to see in 3D!" So I'm wondering if it's even worth seeing "Avatar" in our local non-3D hillbilly theatres.

Starheart said...

Hey Nat, i'm not convinced it's worth seeing in 3D. There's not THAT much depth of field in the picture. I think I noticed the 3D-ness for all of 10 seconds before settling into the movie - mind you i'm a 'second movie' type. What's important is to see it on a big screen because there's lots of detail in the forest you'd miss out on a normal tv set (unless you have a monster tv). I saw Journey to the centre of the earth in 3D earlier this year and that was very worthwhile.
My partner tells me the Avatar 3D computer game is utterly superior in its 3D effects because there's more gradation from foreground to back. There isn't so much of it in the movie.

bZirk said...

"Do you appreciate attention to detail in visual style and setting? Or do you relegate it to background filler while you’re tangled up in the inner conflicts of the characters."

I've never quite thought of it as filler. I do appreciate detail, but when I have to focus on the detail to appreciate the movie, it's already failed.

My 21 year old daughter, who is a writer and who saw it in 3D, HATED it. She said, "Almost three hours and 12 bucks? No thanks." Definitely saw the second movie.

My 19 year old saw it last night, but I haven't talked to her today yet. She's the artist/photographer in the family but also a writer. Wondering which one she saw.

Starheart said...

Hey bZirk, 2 writers in the family wow. Sounds like a creative household.

If you take any snapshot in Avatar you can print it, frame it, hang it. It's that beautiful. Divide the cost of the movie by each frame and it's still $$. But for all the expense there's not enough heart in it for a 2nd movie person like me. Maybe it comes down to how you relate to your surroundings, through facts and technical details or through emotions/relations? IF this is it, I don't think either is right or wrong, but I know which movie I'd rather watch!

bZirk said...

Okay, I'd definitely rather watch the second movie. People are infinitely more interesting than pictures. In fact, a really gifted director knows that people are the pictures.

Oh, and as to the writers, we actually have more than two. LOL! and no, I'm not talking about myself at all. I'm the hack who likes to read their stuff. :D

Starheart said...

So are you gonna see the movie bZirk? Or save the $12?

bZirk said...

Probably going to see it since my youngest wants to go, and it's the holidays, so I can sort of justify blowing $12 (actually, it's only $9.50 here; too bad that $2.50 won't buy anything else at the theater).

I'll probably write a review of it since I seem to be in a prolific mode. Just gotta hit that 'publish' button.

BTW, my other daughter changed her mind and saw Sherlock Holmes, which pleasantly surprised her.

Avalon said...

I think we will wait for it to come to dvd. Not really our cup of tea.

Nat at RA FanBlog said...

Our po-dunk small town theaters only charge $7.50... but your feet stick to the floor because of all the spilled soda on the floor that they haven't cleaned in ages and there are no cup holders. I think it was built in the 70's and hasn't been updated since then. Still, it's better than nothing! I usually only go if there is something I really want to see. (If I'm on the fence, I usually wait for it on dvd.) I'll probably see "Avatar" in the theatre only if my husband wants to go. (The next one I want to see is "Young Victoria." I am seriously addicted to period films!)

Starheart said...

Ooh that's so cheap $7.50
I hardly see any movies on the big screen anymore. Avatar was this year's Xmas splurge. :(
Even rethinking Sherlock Holmes as my NYE splurge.

Starheart said...

I don't blame you Avalon. I kinda had a bad feeling about it going in but decided to give it the benefit of the doubt.
The tall blue Navi are drawn with native american influences apparently, and the corporation's insensitivity to their way of life is blunt and brutal. My partner doubts that society is still so ignorant but i disagree; there are still countries where human life is worth very little. Maybe these themes are explored more competently in movies mentioned on your blog.

Ricrar said...

We didn't see 'Avatar' in 3D. Nevertheless, the plain ol' flat screen version proved to be quite visually exotic. Didn't feel any positive vibes however for Cameron's blue people - certainly not to the same degree ET seemed to be a warm & fuzzy alien creature.

Cameron's 'Titanic' was the hook that drew me to his latest creation. In fact, I wasn't even aware he'd directed other sci-fic movies until after viewing the film. That knowledge beforehand might've dissuaded me from seeing Avatar. Maybe I had hopes of being transported forward in time, rather than backward, to a luxurious sinking space ship where Leonard DiCaprio would suddenly appear clad in a tuxedo. It's really quite amazing how two films with the same director's imaginary vision could be so completely different from each other.

That said, I was happy to have taken the journey to his dream-like alternate universe of blue people. And admission was only $8.00 with a huge screen, and perfectly clear view thanks to staggered seating. Actually all in all an entertainment bargain.

Oh yes - Sam Worthington's American accent...he totally fooled me. As someone else mentioned, it certainly did sound flat which made me wonder where in the MidWest he'd been born...little did I know he might've been born in the Australian MidWest:) Sam's another Aussie cutie -- must visit down under asap:)

Aarti said...

I agree with you on the storyline. I thought it was a pretty weak plot, with cardboard characters. I mean, I would hope that people are not as evil as that Marine guy was. He had absolutely nothing to redeem him, which made him an unbelievable character. In my opinion, Avatar's storyline was a LOT like Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest which came out when I was younger. Most people don't remember that movie, though!

Thus, since the story wasn't that exciting to me, I thought the effects were amazing. I saw the IMAX 3D version and was blown away. I think 3D can be really distracting sometimes. I often will look at whatever is coming out at me instead of at the main action. Or I'll take my glasses on and off to see what the screen looks like. But in this movie, it just added a lot of depth. And the IMAX, to see all those details magnified- was really great.

I also don't want to see Sherlock Holmes, but for different reasons. I can't imagine Sherlock being a sexual being, and Robert Downey, Jr. is quite sexy for the character! Also, what's with all the stunts?! Not at all like Conan Doyle wrote it.

bZirk said...

LOL! My oldest daughter's comment was, "Fern Gully for the 21st century. That's about it."

bZirk said...

Oh, and we didn't see it. Skipped the movie altogether. Not sure if I'll get the gumption to see it since my youngest isn't really interested. She wants to see The Princess and the Frog.

bZirk said...

Oh, and we didn't see it. Skipped the movie altogether. Not sure if I'll get the gumption to see it since my youngest isn't really interested. She wants to see The Princess and the Frog.

Starheart said...

Aarti, thanks for commenting. I like to think that Avatar is Ferngully meets Donnie Brasco.

I never ended up watching Sherlock Holmes. People seem to either love it or hate it as far as i've read. I like Jude Law and Robert Downing jr but not Mr Ex-Madonna.

bZirk, you double posted! Another milestone! I am SO on a roll!!

Starheart said...

Aarti, I should modify that statement: I like to think that Avatar is Ferngully meets Donnie Brasco's online game.

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