Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jason watches AVATAR in IMAX 3-D

And let me get this out of the way first. I enjoyed it, and from a technical and asthetic standpoint it vastly exceeds anything that came before. The look is breathtaking and the immersive 3-D is unlike anything you've seen before. More thoughts on the 3-D technology later.

Normally I avoid the opening night crowds, and especially the pre-opening midnight crowds, but I wanted to see it in IMAX and I'm spending the holidays in an IMAX-less world (Bellingham, WA and Anchorage, AK) so it was Midnight Thursday or wait until January. Well, the crowd was annoying as expected up until the opening shot (a POV of flying over a forest) and then everyone shut the hell up. I could swear the whole audience held their collective breath for two and a half hours, afraid to miss a thing. And for taming the multiplex rowdies, I give James Cameron a standing ovation.

Now let's get (unfortunately) to the story. Humans are on the planet searching for an arbitrary plot point mineral called Unobtainium for use as fuel (or for building a drill that can drill to the core of the earth, maybe that's in the sequel). The forests of Pandora are full of danger and 10 foot tall blue humanoids called Navi. The Avatar project is led by a scientist named Grace (Sigourney Weaver). They grow Navi/human hybrids that they can transfer human consciousness to (kinda like virtual reality, but the human body is asleep at the time). A crippled Marine joins the program (his twin brother was on the program but died, so they already have an Avatar that matches his DNA), goes native, and within 3 months becomes the baddest-ass Navi ever (apparently the working title was THE LAST SAMURAI DANCES WITH MEGA-SMURFS). So much of the plot is cliche and telegraphed well in advance. The villain is a cartoon in his militaristic brutality. I could go on...

But let me say again, I really liked it. It's only in the post-viewing analysis that I have to admit the plot sucked. In the moment, I was completely transfixed. And that brings me back to the 3-D technology. Back in my review of UP, I claimed I hadn't seen a movie that must be seen in 3-D. I knew AVATAR was coming when I wrote that, and I knew it might change my mind. And I'll give it pretty close to full marks for that. I'm sure it's much better in 3-D, in no small part because it detracts from the plot flaws, but also because the 3-D is so well done. I also said that the real future of 3-D is in getting rid of the glasses. I still stand by that, but I have some extra, pessimistic predictions about that. I mentioned Philips had worked on 3-D monitors that I've seen in action and are/will be amazing. Others are working on this, too. But here's my fear--they seem to be working on the home theater market, building a cinema screen with that technology is way too much (I might be wrong, I'm not that plugged in to the technology). Well, 3-D might rescue cinemas for a few years, and might be a lasting boon to the filmmaking industry, but within ten years we'll (and by "we" I mean people who have the means to drop a few thousand dollars on a giant HDTV today) will have to option to see the latest 3-D spectacle in the cinema with those annoying glasses or at home without them. And that will kill the cinemas. So thanks a lot, Mr. Cameron.

In the meantime, if this is the future of filmmaking then I'm eagerly awaiting a really good movie made with this technology.


RomanyX said...

Bravo! I think this is one of your best reviews ever. :)

Dadmaniac said...

I guess it's a critic's job to be critical. But have you ever wondered if a film critic becomes a person who can't get enjoyment...real enjoyment out of going to the movies? Going for the experience without analysis can be very rewarding. That's almost what I see here. I say almost Jason, because you did a very good job of capturing the feeling of the experience of James Cameron's Avatar. I also saw it on opening day in Anchorage's "excuse" for an IMAX theater. It's called Extreme 3D and there are 30 speakers and a floor to ceiling/wall to wall screen. Not IMAX, but close enough for Alaska.

So, true to Cameron's vision, the 3D experience "makes" this film. We were vacillating over whether to see it on the cheap, or go for the extreme 3D version. The 3D is definitely worth it. Unlike Captain Eo, this 3D was not an in-your-face gimmick. It really tended to draw you into the Pandora environment. I felt that I was actually there on Pandora, not just watching it on a screen. And that environment is spectacular. I know Cameron is a diver, and as a newly minted diver myself, I could see where some of his ideas came from. Mega-cinema will never be the same.

So, now that I've congratulated Avatar as being a breathtaking and beautiful presentation, on to the plot. And, yes, it's a bit weak and sure you kind of figure out what's gonna happen...but so what? A good movie is more than's a total experience and if the goal is to draw you completely in, then Avatar is a resounding success. Besides, how many truly new and original stories are there left to tell? More like variations on a theme if'n you ask me. A wise son of mine just stated tonight at dinner, "Every story that can ever be told has already been written. It's all in the presentation!" (Actually, one of his English teachers said that.) And I tend to believe that's basically true. So, yes. After the fact you realized that the plot sucked (your words). My answer to that is: if it really sucked as a movie experience you would have realized that during the movie. I think the genius of Avatar is that even with a weakish plot, you (and I) were thoroughly immersed in the story and enjoyed the experience. So love him or hate him, thank you James Cameron for a thoroughly enjoyable and spectacular afternoon. As for the future of cinema, well, we'll just have to wait and see, won't we?

Perfect Timing said...

And it was great to see Sigourney Weaver reprise her role as Diane Fossey, wasn't it...?

baceman007 said...

Ok, so this is way late, but I finally had a chance to see this. I did not see it in 3D. At first (meaning within the first 20 minutes) I was really drawn into the movie. I thought the corporate undertones of forcing a damaged marine to take his brothers place while they burned his body away were pretty cool. Also, the commentary of how having a professional military without regulation leads you to take stuff you want was cool too. Of course this relevant stuff lasted about a total of 30 seconds of a 2 and 1/4 hour movie. Keep in mind that the main character was partially doing this because although his spine could be fixed in our super greedy future society he had to make enough money to get it fixed first. After that we basically got just another meat-head, kill, kill, kill, "join up" military advertisement out of the film. Although it looked great I felt like it had about as much value as watching a good looking screen saver most of the time. Some of the scenes were just odd too like the forced bonding scene with the dragon.... I expected the character to say, "Yeah Dragon you know you want to bond with me, yeah." Sure "every story has been told" as Dadmaniac refers to here, but there are far more compelling stories that will never be turned into films, or adapted correctly, out there like the The Wolverine Origins Comics (not The "Wolverine Origins Movie" which was not the same thing and sucked too) but the comics that had him working with Captain American in WWII. I could go on. The point here is that with the current trend in movies, and sales over the last 4 years I expect the next block buster to be based on 300 + Transformers + Avatar. So basically we'll have robots that transform into Avatars in Ancient Greece saying cheesy one liners like "Up yours Zeus" or "It's time to take a trip on the river Styx." Overall the dialogue was so dumb, and meat-headed I just laughed my ass off, and constantly made references to the amount of money that the government must have given super sell out James Cameron to make this super recruitment movie. I would love to see a major release action move without outside influence from corporations and the government some day. As one of my friends said, the story was basically Pocohontas. This move kind of sucked except for the visuals. I'm giving it 3 stars just because the CGI was so impressive.