Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar (Don’t tell the cool kids, I had a blast watching it.)

For the record: I hate it when people say, “X isn't a great movie but the special effects are awesome!” Movies are about story telling. The visuals are an integral part of that but, if the story isn’t there, than it's just a wasted opportunity. (Ahem...Tim Burton.)

That said, Avatar isn't a great movie but the effects are awesome! I’m embarrassed to admit how much I enjoyed it. You know the plot backwards and forwards before you’ve entered the theater. It’s so predictable, it’s un-spoilable. And, yes, every character is a stereotype. And yet, they are somehow likable and you really do care about “what happens next.” But first and foremost, it is a complete visual immersion into a truly stunning world.

I remember some concept art friends at ComicCon saying that it raises the bar of movie effects. I couldn’t imagine how that could be -- effects are so seamless already, how can this be that much better. Well, it is that much better. Whether it’s futuristic laboratories or all that amazing planet exploration footage, it is both unbelievably real and completely magical.

With all that money behind Avatar, it’s a shame they couldn’t come up with something more original, but knowing that the environments where the star of the show they turned a good portion of scree time into a loosely narrative, and comepletely mesmerizing, nature documentary...And I can watch nature documentraies All. Day. Long.

For a much more reasoned and nuanced review, check out Charlie Jane Anders at IO9.


Anonymous said...

forget "more reasoned and nuanced review"...I like ones that say it like it is, and set realistic expectations. I wanted to see it before (just for the eye candy) - now I really want to see it! Thanks!
... and the cool kids don't hang with me - so your secret is safe with me.

Unknown said...

I've been thinking the same thing you discovered-- that I might like to see it just because of the visuals... and I haven't been to see a purely eyecandy film in years and years. I thrive on story.

How Avatar rate on the "this is really insulting to indigenous folks scale", or the "hamfisted acting scale"?

Tommm9 said...

I agree The Visual effects,animation and all the cool visuals Redefine special effects for the next generations to come. I also wished the story wasn't dances with wolves in space. Also I saw it in the 3d version and at times the 3d effects were there just to show off not really aid the storytelling. Still it was a fun film and my jaw is still on the floor.

Shane White said...

Hey Jon, how's the farm?!

"Blockbuster Action Films" seem to fall into two possible categories..."awesome movie-going experience" complete with a great story or "demo reel" of look-what-we-can-do.

Sadly most films fall into the latter no matter how much everything is likable.

At least we have Pixar. They may not be flawless but they are certainly trying to be.


Irene Gallo said...

Evan - It's certainly true that Avatar portrays Indigenous peoples as one dimensional "noble savages" fact the film portrays EVERYONE as single minded morally unambiguous people. I could not argue anyone dismissing it for that.

What's almost upseting _to me_ is that _I_ should think the movie isn't worth the effort, and yet I seem to forgive it for so many short comings. Honestly, I;m usually much more cranky about movies.

I went in thinking I would be perefclty happy to watch the effects for 20 minutes and then walk out. A friend got me free tickets, it was playing just a few blocks from tor...In short, my expectations were I'm curious what I'll think when/if I see it again. But boy do I want to go back and see it in Imax.

Irene Gallo said...

I should add that io9's coverage s excellent. I tend more toward Charlie Jane's review...but I cannot argue Annalee's POV at all.

David Still said...

This is what I said on

I don't see it as a problem that the story has largely been done before. I don't agree with the notion that the originality of a story is what counts in the end, with visuals and special effects just being the icing on top. Neither would I agree with people saying that the special effects in this movie made up for the story being rather predictable.

I think of it like this: If you do a still life good enough, it does not matter that it's been done a million times before. If you do it good enough it doesn't matter that it's not completely new, because it's your version of it. Also, think of James Gurney's Dinotopia (at least the first book, haven't read the later ones). Would you criticise it for having almost no drama in the story? Of course you wouldn't, because that book isn't about the drama in the story, it is about the wonderful world of Dinotopia and the wonderful paintings of Mr. Gurney.

I'm not saying that Avatar is analogous to Dinotopia in this way, but I hope any nay-sayers get my point. This movie is about the wonderful world of Pandora and it's amazing ecosystem, and it is also about the story, which is a good, solid, classic story. It does not need to surprise you.

That said, there were a few moments that actually surprised me, and several moments that I felt were really emotionally strong. Add to that the mind blowing world they've created, and the end result is awesome.

...I miss Pandora...

David Still said...

... in other words, I agree with that one thing you said: the visual experience is the main star here. And there is absolutely nothing wrong or inferior with that.

Hunter said...

I recall reading somewhere that cameron has been doing documentaries for a while now and it showed through in Avatar. I definitely agree.

It's probably one of the most immersible and considered films in a long time, despite the shoddy writing and dialogue. I think being able to overcome the generic storytelling with mindblowingly excessive amounts of imagination is something extremely admirable. I hope he teams up with some decent writers next time!

Also, the 3d was pretty god damn incredible (even though the stupid glasses dull down color).

Irene Gallo said...

Hunter - of course! I never made the connection but that is so true -- its clear the documentary films he was involved with influenced Avatar.

conjurer said...

I just wonder what this movie could have been if he had teamed up with someone like Miyazaki for the story. This is an artist that deals with this subject matter all the time in a complex and eloquent way.
Beautiful, beautiful film, but I was terribly disappointed in how the native people were represented.