Friday, January 08, 2010

Avatar—Best Blurry Movie Ever!!!

But it is more than just a blurry movie! It’s a blurry blockbuster!!!

This is my first 3-D movie, not including a couple of 3 Stooges shorts from the 50s (Joe Besser) that featured a lot of poking towards the camera. Imagine! Poked in the eye by Moe! The technology has pressed forward since then. The glasses were quite incred, sturdier than I expected. Allow me to speak further about this wonder of a flick.

First of all, I seem to have missed what I assume was considerable anticipation for the movie. Only recently had I heard of it. Ads made me think it was Dragonriders of Pern. Seems like Pern should be hitting the screen sometime. Anyway, Cameron fished around in numerous ponds for inspiration. Why make up stuff when someone’s already done it?

Well wait, I did not even mench the trailers. Coming up in our collective entertainment future are a few good bets, speaking hopefully. I have no interest in, say, a tearjerking festival starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser, as advertised on tv, tho neither of whom inhabit my Tom Cruise Memorial Dislike File. At least in the theatre, I prefer movies of vast expanse, no matter how dumb, to movies of import. Enter Avatar, but before that:

  • Robin Hood by Ridley Scott, with Russell Crowe: yes, Gladiator 2: Maximus in England. It looks nothing Robin Hoodish that I have seen or read, but it looks satisfying in its swords and vengeance way, and I think some thumpa thumpa score. Which allows me to quote one of the Robin Hood ballads from Child’s collection, to wit: “And a mickle of his might was he, was he, hey ho”. Don’t know what it means but it has a nice ring.
  • Some Harry Potterish hijinx involving the children of the gods, starring Boromir (Sean Bean) as Zeus.
  • A Tom Cruise movie in which Tom seems especially incredible. It is fiction, you know. He seems to be in antic boyish mode here, like on Oprah’s couch. On the other hand, he’s Tom Cruise.
  • Clash of the Titans, which I do not suppose can top Ray Harryhausen’s work, even with (I think) Liam Neeson as Zeus. Two Zeus’ in one night! There is a lengthy trail of movies in which Neeson played a minor lug, then he stepped up in echelon to play kings and such all over the place. Good job, Liam!
  • Alice in Wonderland by the mechanically gothic Tim Burton, with Johnny Depp asserting weirdness as the Mad Hatter. The wheel’s off Burton’s trike, you ask me.
  • A Shrek movie, in 3-D. You can have it. The look of the Shrek movies bothers me, and 3-D will not help. It seems that in Shrek World some diminishment has occurred in the characters by this installment, what with Thomas Mann apparently doing the screenplay. Include me out.
  • Some nameless feature about bags of popcorn and cups of soft drinks running thru a cinema. Not much plot evident in this trailer, but obviously some surrealist genius behind this flick.

So anyway, Cameron’s extravagance.

Well, it was an experience. And it is blurry, even with the specs. The edges of the screen tend to lose focus, and many of the fluttery things intended to give depth look blobby, merely. Overall I’m with it, but a real deflation occurs when I notice holes in the process. I have no doubt that Harryhausen’s claymation beats the evident mondo class narcosis of the remake, that’s where I stand with fx.

Avatar begins as if it were a scifi, but one of grand scale. I would like to see that movie, but once our erstwhile hero lands on Pandora the scifi ratchets down to more like Starship Trooper, and the movie becomes more fantasy. But not really. It still has grand scale but moviemaking weaknesses flex too much slurpiness into the story. I think Cameron did a movie about some boat sinking, with similar weakness.

Pandora, the planet, is a lush, vividly rendered place. It is not unlike, um, the North American continent back when that squirrel ran thru the trees from the Atlantic coast to the Mississipp. The military materiel looked vivid in its extreme onslaught, huge and mighty. This is where the 3D really erupts.

Plotwise the movie is sort of interesting, if you don’t mind having heard it all before. The cast is plain, nothing bad but no one stands out. The natives, I dunno what they are called, are thankless roles for the actors, because they are all squeezed into whatever cgi movie magic that Industrial Light and Magic can motivate. Let us thank ILM for making all movies look alike.

Wes Studi, Magua in Last of the Mohicans, was in there somewhere, probably our hero’s rival, but I did not recognize him. James Horner starred as the guy who stuck all the drumming in the score (as he has done before), which I like.

So this guy had a twin brother who was working on a project on Pandora but he dies so the guy is sent as his replacement because of their shared genetics. The twin is not otherwise viable, i.e. not a scientist. The project is one in which the aliens are genetically replicated, and earthlings are transferred into them (mind swap), so that these replicants can be used to infiltrate the natives. Got that? There will be a quiz on Facebook, so bone up.

Our hero, I neglected to mention, is wheelchair bound (tho not so in space). Transferred into the other body, he has use of his legs. That’s a nice touch tho Cameron made little of that aspect.

The natives—I keep wanting to write aliens—are very tall, long-limbed, and slender. Pandora is a low-gravity planet. Kim Stanley Robinson in his Mars series, presents human inhabitants of Mars as evolving similar physical features.

Our hero—I don’t remember his name, I do not even recall what the guy looked like—in alien bod, joins the scientists in a field study. He bumbles off into the magnificent jungle. Here he sees ferlies a-plenty, as well as fauna of the large and ferocious sort. His escape from the creatures leaves him alone in the jungle. By nightfall he’s up against the Pandoran analogue for wolves and coyotes. He is nearly overwhelmed. Just prior to that he is about to get an arrow in him from a Pandoran, but she pulls up because a jellyfishlike seed pod gives her a sign. When the beasties attack our hero, she comes dashing in to rescue. Not sure how she recognizes our hero as not a Pandoran, but she does. Anyway, this is how you meet cute on Pandora.

And then he is brought back to—shall we call it a tribe?—who all hate our hero except our heroine’s mother, who is visionary and sees that our hero should be allowed into the tribe. This is called putting the plot into 2nd gear.

But they knock it back to 1st gear as there is more plot to set up, namely the tension of the evil greengrab antagonist and the meanie military. It turns out that the natives live right on top of a plentiful lode of, no kidding, unobtainium. Our hero is part of the time learning Pandoran ways and flirting with our heroine, and part of the time betraying the Pandorans.

Cameron spends a lot of time letting our hero and heroine run thru the treetops, leaping from tree to tree, showing off the lushness of the planet while letting vertigo mess with us. The visual style comes directly from the covers of scifi and fantasy, say Boris Vallejo. This is really wonderful, and we are not burdened with that pesky question: what happens next? Plot, however, must be playedout in diligent form. There is a mild tension between the guy our heroine was sort of betrothed to and our hero, wholly cursory. Some nice scenes as our hero gets himself a flying mount. Pandorans have long queues that they can insert into the usb ports of these ‘dragons’, thereby creating instant communication, an inter-special buddy system. Which does not explain how one can remain mounted on such creatures whilst plummeting and barrel rolling at several g’s.

Eventually the bad military guy, who I thought for a while might be the terminator in T2 (bulked up), gets to step forward, plotwise, and instigate terrible destruction on the Pandorans, including blasting the bejesus out of the mega huge tree that is central to the tribe. Our hero, of course, is conflicted but finally opts for the Pandorans. He must save the day because, well, you know. Dare I say white man’s burden? This is shades of The Last Samurai.

Military might meets plucky bows and arrows, and, of course, loses. Oddly, the successful Pandoran cavalry charge versus the mere 22nd century human armament did not seem convincing, but the Pandorans won. Thanks to our hero, who had the right stuff. The denouement is the standard lengthy tête-à-tête between our hero and the hard to kill bad guy, the military man. Finally, the military guy dies and the lovers can unite. The End.

I neglected to speak of the communal ritual dancing, which is supposed to be ceremonial but looks like the bad dream of a Hollywood choreographer. It made me laugh.

Cameron’s inspiration had very little to do with the story he had. He had pictures to share, and technique. Why not use the trite and true for the plot, says he. The ecological theme could have been more sincere, instead it was stuck in the Noble Savage universe. Think of Titanic, which had a desperately intriguing plot built in, yet Cameron trotted off with the 2-bit love story. Of course, he’s right and I am wrong, since he manufactured a money pool of assent to his work, and I merely got bored with his Leonardo-centric world.

I enjoyed the nearly three hours of Avatar, tho I was in frequent contact with the debit column as I watched. Visually, it is ripe to over ripe. I have seen the future, and it look like the past.