Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Popcorn for Two: a review of AVATAR (with some spoilers)

I have to admit that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to shell out the money for AVATAR initially. There was plenty of buzz last year at San Diego about the film and there were several props available to ogle. Still a movie about a bunch of computer animated blue elves really didn’t appeal to me. Even the initial trailer didn’t get me excited. Of course, the weeks leading up to the release were filled with appearances of the actors on talk shows and then lots of pretty decent reviews online & in print. I went from ‘on the fence’ to deciding to see it if/when I had the chance. This past Sunday, Donna & I were planning on going to Kristina’s to help her take down her X-mas tree. While on the phone with Donna she asked if I’d be interested in going to the theatre with her to see it. Sure, why not?

We considered seeing the film in IMAX, but there was a long line and there was an earlier showing in 3-D, so we decided to go for that. After getting our tickets and the 3-D glasses we dropped by a Stonecold Creamery for ice-cream, since we had some time to kill. We were still were able to get into the theatre early enough to get decent seats (the theatre was almost filled by the time previews began) and buy popcorn. There were several previews and then a screen appeared telling us to put on our glasses. At that point we saw a trailer for Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND in 3-D, which was pretty cool!

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you much about the film, since you’ve probably read and seen enough about it already to make a decision of your own. Bottom line was that The Child and I both enjoyed the movie, although whether or not it changes Hollywood forever (as some seem to think) remains to be seen. It certainly blew us away when it came to visual story-telling, which given it was James Cameron, should not come as a complete surprise. You really do have to see this movie in 3-D, if not IMAX, to really appreciate what Cameron & Co. have done here. After the first few minutes of getting used to the glasses you will probably get so into the movie that you forget you have them on. Hell, even having to deal with wearing the 3-D specs over my own glasses didn’t bother me after a while. I have never experienced such realistic 3-D. There are some scenes where you almost find yourself swatting at the insects flying about in the forest. Also, if you have a problem with heights, watch out! Awesome!

The story itself could not be more basic: A large corporation based on Earth is mining a rare metal found only on the planet Pandora. The U.S. government has sent along a large contingent of Marines to ensure the safety of the operation and to keep the local inhabitants, called the Na’vi, from interfering. In an attempt to get this co-operation a group of scientists headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) has created synthetic beings which resemble the Na’vi. A human is able to transfer their consciousness into the creations, called ‘avatars’, which allows them to survive in the poisonous atmosphere of the planet. When his brother dies in an accident, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is able to take his place in the avatar program, as they share the same genetic code. Dr. Augustine is trying to learn the ways of the natives and discover what the corporation can offer them in return for rights to bulldoze and strip mine the place. Things are not going well on the negotiation front.

Naturally, the corporation (since they are all evil) isn’t happy with only limited access to the material they want so they recruit Jake to act as sort of a spy among the Na’vi, getting the military/industrial honchos enough intel to be able to go in and take what they want. Initially, more than happy to go along with all this Jake slowly begins to identify with the natives more so than with those who have brought him to Pandora in the first place.

If you expect anything new, outside of the visuals (which are stunning), I think you are going to be disappointed. The story is pretty predictable from the very, first time you see the corporation’s rep (Giovanni Ribisi) and the gung-ho Marine colonel (Stephen Lang). Saying both fit the stereotype of their characters is speaking the obvious. You know that they are going to push things to the extreme and make life difficult for anyone with whom the viewer has sympathy. Cameron makes his points and does so with a heavy hand, but because he does it so well and brings the world of Pandora to life we forgive him. Other reviewers (pro & con) have talked about the what each side represents and for whom we should be rooting . You all know me well enough to know how I feel about all of this, so we won’t go there.

All the actors do nice jobs, making you either like or dislike them. I cannot tell you how much I recommend this movie. If you are at all interested in this type of film or just to see what everybody is talking about you have to see it and in the theatre. I can’t speak for the IMAX version, but seeing it in 3-D on a big screen is the only way to view this. I don’t care what kind of HDTV you might have set up, there is no way you can truly experience the movie on DVD or Blu-Ray, although I’m sure sales on those will be through the roof!

I was going to also talk about my reaction to the last three David Tenant episodes of DOCTOR WHO, but that can wait. I’ve gone on longer than I had planned already. I’ll try and get to the good Doctor in the next couple of days. Brilliant, kind of sums it up though!
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