First of all, let me apologize for the lengthy hiatus; I know how the masses have been clamoring for my cinematic musings, but I am adjusting to a new schedule at work that has left me with less time for writing, not to mention the fact that I saw a whole string of bad movies that did not inspire me to sit down and share my thoughts. Now I'm back. Huzzah.
Secondly, I would like to amend one or two statements that I made prior to the release of AVATAR. Statements like, "The preview told me everything I need to know, there is no reason to see this movie;" " I'll go see it at the Crest when it's three bucks and NOT in 3D; I'm not giving James Cameron one red cent;" "Dammit, 3D!"; and "I defy the possibility that this movie will be good."
Brash words, you say? Well, you be the judge: in the last 48 hours I saw the movie twice, was completely drawn into the 3D, and ended up giving James Cameron twenty-six of my hard-earned dollars, rather than the one red cent I said I would never give him. Not to mention the fact that I spent most of today devising a plan that would enable me to see it again tonight. Now, some people may say that it rather looks as though I've gone against my words, and for the most part that is fairly accurate. As far as my last statement, "I defy the possibility that this movie will be good," well, I was both very, very wrong and agonizingly, unbelievably right.
Now, I believe in giving credit where credit is due, so let's start with the the things I liked about the movie: for starters, AVATAR looks amazing. It is one of the most visually arresting films I have ever seen. The world of Pandora is lush and imaginative, and the imagery is utterly breathtaking. Bio-luminescent jungles, 10,000 foot trees, floating mountains, all inhabited by flora and fauna which are equally lush and imaginative. One of my main reasons for seeing it a second time was so I could step into that world again. And while I have always had adverse 3D experiences in the past, something this time just clicked and I am now a fan of 3D. (I will be even more of a fan when directors learn that anything tighter than a 2-shot is wasted in 3D; no more close-ups, please!)
The Na'vi were easily the strongest element of the movie, and their part of the story was what brought me back to the theater two nights running. Their culture and customs were engaging and well-realized, and although I have heard the complaint that the Na'vi are nothing but a pastiche of African and Native American tribes, I have to say "who cares?" Pastiche or no, they feel real and alive in a way that the rest of the movie does not (but more on that later). Also, their literal connection to all life on Pandora was incredibly compelling to me; the idea of direct communication with other living things has always appealed to me, so the scenes of the Na'vi with their six-legged horses and winged creatures made me want to step into the screen and ride alongside them. I wanted to sit under the Tree of Souls and commune with the ancestors, to join their clan and live in their world. Despite the many, MANY other failings of this movie, James Cameron got this part perfect.
And let me say this: Zoe Saldana gave an Oscar-worthy performance as Ney'Tiri, the female lead. When she delivered her first lines of dialogue I actually sat up a little bit, I was so surprised.Saldana's performance came through the CG so strongly that I suspect the raw footage of the actress would be enough to give you chills. Everything about her is so raw, honest, and fierce, that Ney'Tiri emerges as one of the strongest female characters that I have seen in a very long time (and I mean strong in every sense of the word, not just physically).
All right, I've been working on this review for three days and it has come to feel like homework, rather than something I do for fun. From now on, I'm going to write my reviews right when I get home from the theater. I want these to be conversational, not friggen' essays.
Okay, I've talked about the good, now for the bad: EVERYTHING ELSE. Every character apart from the Na'vi is either poorly fleshed out or a ridiculous cliche, and as a result you don't care about any of the humans (even the ones you are supposed to care about). While the story itself is pretty good, the writing is atrocious, with a capital A (Atrocious, James Cameron, Atrocious!) Most of the thematic elements are introduced but never fully realized, or when they are realized, it is in a trite and unsatisfying way. Frankly, there are too many examples of horridness in this movie for me to detail here, but I would love to have a lengthy conversation about it.
The most frustrating thing about AVATAR is that while there is much to love about it, there is just as much to hate, and there is no middle ground whatsoever. If I may make an analogy, watching this movie is like eating a layer cake made of angel food and monkey shit: you muscle though the shit to get to the good stuff, but you have to wonder what the hell that monkey has been eating.