Saturday, December 26, 2009

I've Never Seen Anything Like It: ItP's Review of Avatar, Part II

Sorry to keep y'all waiting for so long (I feel like it's been a long time. What? Nobody reads this thing? Well, then, it's an exercise in enunciation, and I need that. And if I feel like it's been a long time, then...well...). Anyway.

If I were more hip I'd have made this a three-part series, discussing in turn The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly parts of Avatar. But I'm not more hip, and so I lumped the Bad and the Ugly together in a wonderful concoction of Win and Joy. To read said concoction...look lower down on this blog.

Some of you imaginary readers might think, based on some of my statements in the first part of this review, that I didn't enjoy Avatar or that I scorned it. (Actually, I sorta did scorn it, but more on that later.) The fact of the matter is that I did enjoy Avatar; I enjoyed it very much, in fact. Partly because it is beautiful; partly because it engaged me. Let me elucidate.

Avatar is hands-down the most beautiful film I've ever seen. Much has been made of its aesthetic, technological brilliance; I must add my voice to the clamor. I guess the film to which I can most compare it is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Both Avatar and RotK specifically rely on visuals to communicate; both feature well-rounded subcreations, and a feature of good cinematic subcreation is the reliance on aesthetic to fill in the otherworldliness.

As I sat in the theatre watching Avatar's forests and mountains rush towards me in glorious Technicolor, my mind kept flitting to the vistas of Fangorn Forest and the Misty Mountains that Peter Jackson flung at us in 2003. What set Avatar apart, though, was the attention to detail. Whereas Jackson's subcreation served the plot, Cameron's subcreation was served by the plot.

All the attention which has been paid to Cameron's aesthetic attack is worthy of note, in my opinion: perhaps it goes to show what was more important to Cameron. I've heard from reliable sources that he waited 5 years to make Avatar, just because the 3D technology wasn't ready (and yes, I am too lazy to use the Interweb to go verify that). I propose, without any support for my opinion in the least, that Cameron is more in love with Pandora than with what happened there.

Example: the helicopter-lizards. There isa beautiful section during the training of Jakesully (as Na'vi) in which we get a closeup of a red-glowing lizardish thing which also slightly resembles a seahorse. Then Jakesully comes in to touch it, and it starts flying around, but not with wings--with a helicopter-style motion. Oh, and the wings are glowing, so all you can see of them is this disc of reddish-yellow light. It's super-amazing: and it doesn't affect the plot in the least. They show up a few more times, but have no impact whatsoever on the plot of the film.

So they're gratuitous, and that's the whole story. Cameron is more interested in building a memorable setting than building a memorable story. Not that the story fails, in the least. For despite its regrettably derivative elements, Avatar draws you in. You know what's going to happen; you know that the day will be saved, because...well, you've seen it all before. But you want to see it again, because it works with this unreal setting. Perhaps, even, the predictability of the storyline throws Pandora's surreality into sharper relief: it makes the weird seem even weirder.

Now, I mentioned that I scorned the story, a little. I did: and my previous entry will prove this. But Avatar is an experience, and I was caught up. I've intentionally veered away from talking about the 3D element, but it's vital to understanding what makes this film magical. I can't describe it; it's, again, part of that experience, and as I've mentioned before, Cameron's decision to wait for the 3D technology was very, very wise.

My recommendation? See it, and allow yourself to get caught up in it. It's sort of a miracle that I actually enjoyed it, given my skepticism, but I did enjoy it. As a film, I give it 4/10; as a mind-blowing, HOLY-CRAP-THIS-IS-AWESOME, I-can't-believe-that-just-happened-but-it-did experience, it earns 8/10.

See Avatar, and see it in 3D. You won't regret it.

Long live being of two minds!

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