Monday, January 11, 2010

"Avatar" - Film Review

Avatar. It is poised to be one of the biggest box office hits ever. One critic called it the “perfect” film. Well, maybe. I saw it and was prepared to not like it – I was surprised, I liked it… a lot!

Film is an interesting medium; it runs on a continuum between being an Art Form on one end and a Consumer Product on the other. The way the media industry cranks them out, one would easily assume this film would be yet another Consumer Product. Perhaps in America, they mostly are, unlike foreign films (European in particular) which decidedly lean more toward Art.

The crafted art film is both beautifully visual and has an engaging plot. I think of Amelie, for example. Whereas American film plots are annoyingly predictable and are recycled repeatedly under different film titles. Foreign films, or the occasional American film, such as Memento or The Usual Suspects try to diverge from the standard predictable plot line.

So where does Avatar fall within the Art – Consumer continuum? I would say about half-way, actually. The plot line is almost entirely the same as Dances With Wolves. Yet it has been brought to the screen with a renewed freshness through stunning computer graphics and 3D effects.

There is sexual tension but no sex. There is combat but no blood. There is violence but it is not violent. Yawn potential? No, I was engaged. The characters seemed quite real, and yet fantasy was effectively infused in this film to make for compelling fiction.

Of course the computer graphics are what the news media has focused on. But often CG is rendered with inane and even silly design and can completely ruin a film. Consider when the boy on the bicycle in ET became airborne, peddling his bike across the sky, they ruined the film making it into an alien Mary Poppins. Likewise, when Close Encounters of a Third Kind revealed the alien smiling like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, they dumped the film into a bucket of schmaltz.

But the set designers of Avatar clearly put a lot of thought and science into the design of the geography, botany and biology of the set. I found my self believing that such life could likely evolve on some distant planet. The science was imaginative but believable; and breathtakingly beautiful as well.

I could easily position myself as a film snob and find elements in which to criticize this film. But I won’t; I liked it… very much. In an era where I often don’t bother to watch a new release in the theater, preferring instead to wait for it to come out on DVD, I am glad I saw it in the venue for which it was designed: Large screen 3D.

See Avatar yourself in 3D, then return and post your reviews here. I would love to hear other opinions about this film.


kara said...

NOOOOOOO! not you too dad!

i still won't see it. i'd rather see "it's complicated" with my eyes taped open first.

Mary Witzl said...

Well, you've just about sold me! I took one look at the Disneyesque expressions of the characters and told myself that NO WAY would I see it. My kids say I should give it a chance -- that it's really pretty good.

I surprised myself recently by seeing 'The Last Samurai' and not hating it to bits. I'm really picky about any film involving Japanese/the Japanese, but this one was a lot better than I'd imagined.

Rachel Noy said...

I really enjoyed it, even though I had expected to hate it because of all the people wanting to top themselves as they didn't want to be in our world anymore, they wanted to live amongst the Na'vi. I didn't want to be grouped with those people.

I think the plot was a bit shallow and full of nothingness at points, but there's no doubting it was an artistically beautiful and very interesting film!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kara Gives you a "Pain in the Gulliver" does it?

Mary I expected a Disneyesque production myself. But I have been to so many films were my prejudgment was proven wrong after actually watching the films, both positively and negatively, I have learned to see evidence myself. (Unlike Miss Kara above, there.. ahem)

Rachel I think your final paragraph nails it exactly. I agree.

SAM said...

I have not seen it but a friend saw it in 3-D and said she got a headache from the glasses. I know I get "dizzy" and would therefore see it in 2-D. Any thoughts on that? Thanks for pushing me to see it. P.S. I loved, "It's Complicated."

GutsyWriter said...

Hi Robert, I thought I would let you know that the SAM comment is mine. I accidentally signed in with another account. So yes, the glasses would make me dizzy. Have you heard that before? Even video games make me feel uncomfortable.

Robert the Skeptic said...

SAM/Gutsy: I think dizziness would be more if an issues were the film more like a "video game". There are some flying sequences which could cause some vertigo. There are amusement park rides that are essentially a stationary ride which provide roll, pitch, and yaw movements while watching a big screen to give the appearance of movement. But Avatar is not like that.

I will put it this way, I do not like "thrill" rides myself, roller coasters and the like. I had no problem with the 3D glasses, I wore them on top of my regular glasses (which I recommend if you wear glasses).

However, in the theater were I saw Avatar, you had the choice of seeing it in 3d or standard projection. If you are concerned, see the standard projection. It is still a visually stunning film without the 3D.