Avatar

It’s some kind of evolutionary leap in filmmaking, if not storytelling, and clearly, the years James Cameron has spent on his underwater explorations gave him a more holistic, immersive vision. The first shot of the movie gave me a jolt of cognitive dissonance, as I tried to fathom the depth and scope of the breathtaking 3-D images. This world doesn’t look green-screened in around actors, as Cameron knows how to give weight to the integration of WETA’s astounding CG with Stan Winston’s crack design team. The scale is apropos epic and mythic and I accept AVATAR as pure techno-eco-fable, a distillation of every science fiction/fantasy book cover of the past 80 years.

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35 Responses to “Avatar”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree. Took it in on my day off on Friday (IMAX 3-D), then came home and bought tickets for me and kids to go back the next morning. Just… wow.

  2. yay avatar! so beautiful and SENSUAL, a work of art (flaws and all. i feel sorry for the people for whom the flaws are a deal-breaker, because the beauty and joy and melancholy of the piece are such a wonder to behold)

    “pure techno-eco fable’ – exactly, well put.

    • I forgive the script a lot for the sheer sensation of the world.

      • christian, what are your main issues with the screenplay? just curious, i know you aren’t full of bile towards the movie so i’m genuinely interested in your thoughts about anything specific.

        i actually enjoyed the movie FAR more on my second viewing, and found that some of my personal issues such as with some of the editing receded as i got a better feel for the structure of the movie and just viewing it and accepting it on its own terms. i NEVER go to movies in the cinema more than twice but i think i’ll do the trifecta just to look at all the trippy shit in the background

        • My problem isn’t so much structure, but character. I would say that within a three hour movie there’s a lot of characterization that can be brought forth. I didn’t feel the emotion I felt I should at moments because I didn’t know enough — I thought the Na’vi were limited to about three characters and I would have liked more ensemble from the others.

          DANGER DANGER SPOILERS BELOW
          WILL ROBINSON!!!

          I didn’t like the slow motion used in scenes that needed to be heard, like the scientists getting taken away, or that amazing moment with the Na’vi on the military ship. It was actually too LORD OF THE RINGS — and I didn’t like the slo-mo in that.

          And the fact that his twin brother’s death is never mentioned again is bothersome. I thought much more could have been made or used there.

          Overall, like I said, I accept it as a fable, and when Quaritch gets those arrows in that mech suit, the metaphor is complete and powerful.

      • Okay. You people are fucking crazy. This movie was such a load of shit I was pissed off from five minutes in. And I showed up ten minutes late.

        3D is a gimmick. Immersive? I can’t believe how low our standards have fallen. Perhaps if a world is fully realized, but all the “richness” and “vibrancy” of Pandora would only bring satisfaction to those who think riding “Pirates of the Caribbean” at Disneyland gives them insight into the life of Blackbeard.

        The script is awful, the most exploitative thing I’ve seen Hollywood do since, well, Inglorious Basterds. Just when you think we may have learned something and no longer need to indulge in the Cro-Magnon fantasies of 1950’s Land of the Lost Cultural pissing contests, we get a story in which our hero has to come to the land of the benighted savages, who just happen to look like blue barbie dolls, and show them how to get things done: with meat-eating, human-killing, territorial wild-eyed Braveheart shield-bashing cock-swinging. When he fell onto that big red bird after spending three whole months learning their ways I realized we were really going to do it. We were really going to keep saying that a stupid uneducated stubborn Marine is inherently superior to any alien life form on that alien’s own planet. Hooray. It’s like Dances with Wolves told by Stan Lee.

        Jesus Christ. Watching James Cameron attempt to tell a delicate lyrical story of utopia is like listening to John Madden sing opera. This is the clumsiest, laziest, lowest-common-denominator film the man has made since the Terminator sequels. He should have just stopped at THE ABYSS, which is exactly the same film anyways, except with brilliant performances by Ed Harris and ME Mastrantonio. Here we get guttural Stallone acting and clunky CG mask acting. If this is the state of CG animation in 2010 we’re doomed. But fortunately, it’s just Cameron.

        But mostly I’m pissed off at YOU people, who give him a pass for a shitty script and lame scene choices and character choices and well, you know, just BASIC FILM-MAKING for not telling me this is a steaming pile of shit and to stay far away. I’ll be happy about 3D when it’s an actual hologram in three-dimensional space. Until then, I’ll save my money for dropping acid, which is a REAL immersive visual experience. Until then, I can add James Cameron to the list of film makers I can safely ignore from now on.

  3. hated the bugger ;)

    the problem, imho, is way more complex than simple flaws as deal breaker – there are huge flaws in the 2D script, but beautiful, simple things popping up like flowers, briefly. i just feel insulted by the tag line “a world beyond your imagination”. if beyond our imagination, there’s only a pomo rehash of everything that has gone before, of every fluorescent garden, every teen tribal cliché, then we re heading to the abyss (no pun). despite its very strong treatment of what virtuality means (much stronger, imho, than the eco fable, which felt contrived and on par with standard luc besson vomit), avatar is not opening any door, nor any pandora box : it s a closure, a dead end. yes, there is hope : after avatar, nobody will be able to rehash the old, because jim cameron has found a way to tell it all, in the same box. after avatar, anything else is possible. beyond avatar lays our imagination. there s melancholy in the loss of an imaginary world, yes, only this world is ours.

    i find so much more joy and hope in one minute of where the wild things are or in one second of doctor parnassus….

    don t shoot me ;)

    • I can see how this will divide people, and I think everybody has a point. Like I said, I accepted the fable first and the last mano-y-mano battle was awesome and had a beautifully metaphoric climax that won me over.

      • avatar has some moments, of course, who am i to contest ? the massive thumb up from viewers is probably saying something deeper about what chord this movie hit in people – i guess we can call it a form of imaginal pauperization for a guilt-ridden western society. but hey, i consider myself as a blind idealist and like any other, i find much relief in basic storytelling, bringing the current issues to the core.

        what confuses me is the systematic stoning of nay-sayers and the amazing violence of some discourse (your site is the only one where people actually LISTEN to each others) that somewhat mirror what we see on climate change. if your read the forums, people who didn’t like the movie are considered worse than revisionists ahah. besides proving the still effective power of movie making, i must say, cameron really did somthing to us, and i think that the glasses are somewhat involved. the parallel between the high end avatar technology and the low end, cheap 3D glasses.

        mmm

  4. Rather than trot out my disappointment one more time, I just want to say that Cameron deserves some kind of medal for throwing his passion and intelligence into a massively expensive project that he basically built from the ground up. It’s a unique vision, one that I didn’t completely buy into, but has there been anything this ambitious since 2001, Star Wars and Close Encounters?

    • I agree. It’s a huge vision, whatever its flaws, and I assume the debate is as valid as were the debates over 2001, which was seen by many critics as a triumph of technique over story.

      • I get a little squeamish with direct or indirect comparisons to 2001, but I’m happy to let it play out and have history decide.

        I’ll be the first to admit I got it wrong if I have a turn around.

  5. i agree with craig : i can only admire someone who can muster and channel so much passion and “mass” into a project that, and manage to challenge the current model : cameron does give a new meaning to what we used to call theatre experience. the medium is the message ?

  6. Yeah, you can nitpick the result (and i have), but Cameron has thrown down the gauntlet here. Lucas is too lazy to pick it up, but I wish Spielberg would.

    And as far as expensive blockbusters go, Avatar should make Michael Bay want to retire.

  7. halmasonberg Says:

    I must confess to being quite torn here. As someone who hasn’t seen the film, I am not finding myself overwhelmingly drawn to it. Cameron is a spotty director for me, but when he’s on, I do enjoy his films. The trailer for this did nothing for me. Left me disinterested. But trailers are often misleading. Now the reviews have almost all said, great effects, terrible script. That makes me want to stay home. While cool effects are fun, without a good script, I’m not sure what will be there for me except the technology. Christian, you really dug SPEED RACER, but I couldn’t get through that film. Walked away. I think I have less tolerance for bad scripts and less interest in great effects. I’ll take Cameron’s low-budget TERMINATOR over almost any other film of his. Though I do like ALIENS and the Director’s Cut of THE ABYSS. I’m curious about the technology and imagery, but not sure if it’s enough to get me to spend my hard-earned money and fight through the holiday crowds. And unfortunately for me, I think people consistently applaud films i think have mediocre to bad scripts. So if folks are largely saying this is a bad script, it must be REALLY bad. Or downright brilliant. One or the other.

    • “Now the reviews have almost all said, great effects, terrible script”

      that is simply not true. funny how you are just assuming it’s a ‘bad script’ sight unseen because those who do not care for the movie say so. where are folks ‘largely’ saying it ‘s a ‘bad script’? i’ve speed read thru a shitload of reviews and the overwhelming majority are positive, and most certainly do not say, ‘great effects, shit story’. the screenplay for avatar isn’t great, nor is it terrible, it’s passable. the story structure and tropes are very traditional, built around archetypes and mythology rehashed and retold in various forms down thru the ages. there are some issues involving the choices cameron has made re: his characterisations, some of which are outrageously one-note, but in a fantastical movie such as avatar if you are sucked into the world of pandora such concerns are easily overlooked. then again, if you are not sucked in, then every little perceived flaw is glaring, just like for any other movie.

      also, i’m sick of people confusing ‘dialog’ for ‘writing’. dialog – and comeron is consistent with his particular brand of populist hockum – is only one component of screenwriting, which encompasses structure, theme, setting, characterisation, pacing, plot, etc. dialog does not a screenplay make, and people moaning about dialog as a “badly written screenplay” are frankly ignorant.

  8. And the film’s political sub-text is very subversive and almost radical in this age, given Cameron’s more militaristic fetishism in the past. AVATAR has an important message, simplistic or not, that needs to be heard. I think that divides audiences also, the parallels to imperialism or invasion.

    • interesting to see that the movie is as strongly defended by warmongers as by peace advocates. after all, it s not the government who is in charge on pandora, but corporate private militias (hence the strong nostalgic falvor of ancient warfare and code of honour). the subversion here is ironic (a very cameronian adjective) and at the same time playing on the condamnation of our way of living as a species. idealizing primitive society, assuming the fact that we are flesh bound, that virtuality can give us a new ideal to fight for (i mean, if you ask them, how many WoW players would love to transfer their mind to their pixel bodies ?). subversion here is much more intimate than before, and that is the primary thing to love in this movie, i guess : the opening to virtuality, imagination as a realm of new possibilities. dreaming is getting subversive, and i can only join the chorus. too bad this dream is ferngully. but, hey, that’s just me ;)

    • oh yes, how could i have left that out, the political sub-text certainly helps to elevate the story and even out some of its flaws

      • sorry, that above was a reply to christian’s comment up there but it didn’t post in the right place! (i blame the technology rather than me for being sloppy)

  9. dave, if you’re going to post that link, i feel compelled to provide a bit of balance on faraci and any opinion he expresses re: cameron and avatar. someone e-mailed this to me, and frankly, how he retained his position after this travesty is beyond me, thoroughly revolting

    http://chud.com/articles/articles/21222/1/JAMES-CAMERON-PATRON-SAINT-OF-THE-UNLIKEABLE/Page1.html

  10. christian Says:

    Devin quotes this bit from Cameron talking to WETA:

    “Look at the gill-like membrane on the side of the mouth, its transmission of light, all the secondary color saturation on the tongue, and that maxilla bone. I love what you did with the translucence on the teeth, and the way the quadrate bone racks the teeth forward.”

    And then uses that as an example of Cameron’s ego when actually he’s praising the artists with the exact kind of loving detail that it requires to transmit those ideas.

  11. yes. cameron is a talented artist himself, praising another artist in what sounds like genuine appreciation of the work.

    how faraci’s mind turns this into something negative and ugly says nothing about cameron and EVERYTHING about devin faraci. utterly despicable.

    and i genuinely can’t understand how it’s possible that this horrible man is being held up as the bastion of the anti-avatar movement when he so clearly has a serious bias/agenda against cameron, and nobody is even ACKNOWLEDGING this or calling him on it, which i find flabbergasting.

    passionate debate about avatar on its merits and cameron as a film-maker by people interested in film is normal and healthy, but when someone like devin faraci with such an obvious agenda and bias is touted as some intellectual commentator whose opinion should be valued rather than just a petty hatemonger, something is seriously amiss.

    okay, whew, sorry, i feel better now having had a bit of a rant. i find this genuinely disturbing but i guess the world of ‘fanboys’ is an enigma to me in general so i admit i’m coming from a place of mystification!

  12. leah, thank you for the balance ! honestly, i don t give a shit about faraci’s opinion, i have my own mind and my own judgement. i was just posting the text for the script alterations, because we were especially dealing with script issues. in no way i endorse any judgement on the movie whatsoever… i made my POV very clear of what i like and dislike… and i love james cameron A LOT, i think he s one of the last great american directors and until avatar, i loved every movie he made (even true lies, yes, true). hence my reaction… if george lucas had ANY attention to detail, he would not have allowed the things that happened on the new trilogy ^^

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