Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Avatar - A Second Look

Because I am young and I have plenty of time and money to just throw away, I decided to drop the cash, don the glasses and view Avatar a second time. There is some big dumb part of me that desires to give films a second chance and with all of the financial and critical success that Avatar is recieving, I thought it would be worth it to give myself a second viewing a few weeks after my initial endeavor.

I've done this project a few times in the past, most notably with Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (I fell asleep both times in it), Iron Man, and Star Trek, and unfortunately a second viewing just confirmed my initial feelings. However, I recently re-viewed State of Play on DVD and was surprised by just how much I loved it. It changed my opinion so much that it was bumped from a 'B' to an 'A-'. It put me in a charitable mood and I decided to extend my newfound grace and mercy to a film that was quickly becoming one of the more overrated films in pop culture. Below are my thoughts after the second viewing including some comments on things that I didn't get to in my first review, which can be found here

- All of my original thoughts on the storyline and character motivations were confirmed and deepened. Jake's motivations for switching sides and joining the Na'vi are simply too selfish. They are not explicitly selfish, but it's clear he enjoys this better body, the natural lifestyle, the new girlfriend, the rites of passage, flying through the air; and it overpowers any message about helping the Na'vi because it's the right thing to do. Instead of, "What your doing is wrong and their lives are sacred", it becomes, "What your doing is wrong, these people and there way of life are awesome!"


- It doesn't help that he Na'vi are simply too noble and too innocent over and against the greedy imperialistic American mercenaries. Jakes' Na'vi experience is spared all the normal trappings that come with overtly theocratic societies. The rituals (the chanting and convulsing circle) that in any other film would be looked upon as naive and dumb, are looked upon as cultural and in tune with nature in this film. The native religion they espouse would be laughed off the screen in most any other film, but is given a noble reality and scientific support.

- Jake is attacked by a pack of wild dog like animals who will literally kill him, a giant flying bird that attempts to kill him, yet there Jake accepts a reverence for nature because he ends up not getting hurt. I'd like to see how nature appealed to Jake if one of the beasts took his Avatar legs, then we'd see how well he warmed up to the new worldview.

- Sam Worthington is terrible for me as the lead here; he's neither a bad actor, nor a good actor, he just is. He's about the most bland lead character I can think of in a successful science fiction or fantasy picture. I honestly don't care for him, don't care for his character arc, and don't care much that he becomes a warrior by the end. Nothing attached to him works for me. It doesn't help me that he's made to mumble through tons of voice-over, barely registering much emotion other than, 'blah'. For whatever people thought of DiCaprio in Titanic, he was at least charismatic.

- Jake Sully's taming of his flying 'dragon' (I don't know what to call it), really is the best sequence of the film and is quite possibly one of the best sequences in all of 2009. It's the best example of all the positives of the film in one place. The visuals are at their most astonishing, the depth of 3-D is at it's greatest, and it's an experience that no one has ever really seen before on film. The music, sound design, film composition, pacing, writing, work perfectly to present a pretty darn riveting and captivating sequence.


- More impressed this go round with the 3-D and the special effects. While I enjoyed them both more and think that some sequences truly reach the 'photo realistic' stage, do people really think this is a 'revolutionary' step forward? Did they forget Return of the King, the Star Wars prequels (whose landscapes are just a step down from this), or even Davey Jones of Pirates of the Caribbean?

- The sound design is quite spectacular for this film. Nailed me to my seat a couple of times (especially the fall of hometree) and was exemplary in the taming your dragon sequence reference above. The score works and works very well, but certain musical cues reminded me of Titanic, I don't know why Horner or Cameron would allow those similarities.

- I really don't get the whole ground army strike in the last battle sequence. They don't explain too well where they drop off and exactly why they need a ground force to begin with. Why exactly have a large ground force right in the vicinity of the area your dropping a motherload of bombs? If anything, the army drew out the ground forces of the Na'vi away from where the bombs would strike. The claustrophobia of the jungle also gives the entire sequence a 'could be anywhere' feel and notches down the epic nature of the film in general.


- The final aerial battle was much better than I gave it credit for. Beautiful to watch, and filled with some good brutal action beats. I do wish it was held for a bit longer and included some more characters I cared about.

- The political commentary bugged me a bit more the second time around as it was a bit more blunt and apparent (and moronic) than the first time I saw it.

- I found myself bothered a bit more by the appearance of the Avatars than the first viewing. The faces of Jake, Grace and the other nerdy Avatar feel a bit cartoonish (since we see their human likeness as well), especially against the 'photo realistic' backdrops.


- 'I See You' is Cameron's attempt at a second 'Don't Let Go' catchphrase. It's worse, much worse, and it makes me cringe each time they say it.

- Overall, I would say I found myself more wrapped up in the film than the first viewing. That's good and bad for the film. The good points (visuals, 3-D, and action) were better this time out, and the weak points (story, characters, motivations, subtext) were more aggravating this time out.

- I honestly wonder what will be remembered about this film in the future. I don't think people will remember Jake or his girlfriend, or the villain either. I don't think people will dress as the Na'vi or desire to be one of the mercenary grunts. I honestly think the thing what will stick the most is the dragon flying and the visuals of Pandora. In other words, it will be special effects. I have no axe to grind so I have no stake in what Avatar's lasting impact on culture will be, but I honestly think that despite the big box office take, and several attempts to define Avatar as a movie that stands as a story more than f/x, this one just won't be remembered as a great story. Who knows, I could be wrong. Maybe that will require a third endeavor into the cinema.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree. The imagination of the world and the creatures in it is wonderful but the story is lacking.
I think this movie shows the look potential that real movies could add if they incorporated the imagination, effects and 3D.

I have a way of thinking that 3D effects should make you feel more a part of the movie, as if you were really there. I didn't get that feeling. Just that the screen had more depth to it.

Kyle Leaman said...

I suppose I should credit this film with being the first time I felt the 3-D significantly contributed to my enjoyment of a couple scenes. That's a big step forward for me.

However, all the negatives of the 3D are still there, uncomfortable glasses, upcharge at the box office, and not an overall significant better experience.
But I guess there is some hope now for the medium

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