Sunday, January 10, 2010

Movie review: Avatar (in 3D)

What's that, you say?  A new ground-breaking movie is out that redefines special effects from now to Eternity? A film by James Cameron? The same guy that did Titanic?  Starring Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, and others?  You say this film, Avatar, is breaking all kinds of box office records?  That people are still standing in line, four weeks after the film opened, just to see these magical special effects that will revolutionize film-making henceforth?

You say that the film is an inter-species love story, wrapped in the tale of an innocent, ecologically-tuned people struggling against an amoral resource-extracting corporation?  Kind of a futuristic Dancing with Wolves?  You say that, even through the fantasy setting, you could identify with the two main characters, because, after all, they spoke the way you speak and one of them was a rebellious young man, another a brave and open-minded young woman?

Well, I'm sure it is a fine film that will live up to all the acclaim.  But, indulge me for a moment and let me tell you a little story about a film that came out when I was a lad.  At its release, in 1977, this film was all the rage with its mind-blowing special effects.  People lined up all the way around the block to see it.  There had never been anything like it.

Granted, like Avatar, this film was a little short on story line, the dialog was trite and juvenile, and the directing made no demands on the actors.  But, let me tell you, no one had ever seen anything like Star Wars.

Here's the thing though:  thirty-plus years after its release, far from being hailed as a film-making achievement worthy of study and emulation, Star Wars' chief virtue is its nostalgic value.  The special effects that set it apart, visually, from all its contemporaries have been rendered "quaint" by the advance of technology.  Scenes that once wowed audiences, now elicit wistful smiles and sentences that begin with "Do you remember when..."

And, alas, without the shock-and-awe of cutting edge special effects, all of Star War's other aspects --the poor acting, the embarrassing dialog, the ridiculous story --all of that stands out glaringly, causing former enthusiasts to scratch their chins and wonder what exactly was it that was so great about the film.

But, hey, I'm sure Avatar is really-and-truly all that it is cracked up to be. 


Kari Chisholm said...

I enjoyed Avatar, but the film felt somehow... flat.

The key difference between Avatar and Star Wars - or, for that matter, between Avatar and Terminator, or any of hundreds of other films is this:

Nothing about Avatar made me care about the characters. I didn't leave the theater hungry to know more about what's going to happen to them next, or what their back story was, or anything.

Sure, the special effects were amazing, astonishing, extraordinary, even "special". But this was a film that was basically message-driven. It was plot-driven, though there wasn't plot. But it didn't even try to be character-driven.

And the movies that live in our hearts and memories for years are the ones with characters that we love and hate.

Yoda? Darth Vader? Han Solo? We'd all run to see a new film featuring one of those characters.

The Avatar scar-head bad guy? Sigourney Weaver? Even the main protagonist guy? I can't even remember their names - much less have any interest in knowing more about 'em.

I like Avatar. It was fun eye candy. But I won't be running to the theater in 2029 for the anniversary release.

Kari Chisholm said...

edit: "It was plot-driven, though there wasn't much plot."

Stewart King said...

Hey, I still like the original Star Wars. The Empire Strikes Back was better, though. The holes in the story are part of the genre. That "space opera" feel was what the filmakers were aiming for.

Wayne said...

I agree with you a bit, and the second comment more strongly, but I would like to point out that you saw the movie through the eyes of a mature man with hundreds if not thousands of movies under your belt, and when you saw Star Wars,you were floored like everyone else because you were young and with new special effects and pretty much non-stop action, it was a lot of fun.

Many of the fans of Avatar are coming from that early Star Wars viewpoint and it is affecting them more than you. The movie is worth seeing once, barely, because of the special effects. If it had a better story, and better acting, it could have been what many people seem to think it was. But, alas, I, like you, have seen so many much better and more entertaining movies that Avatar was disappointing.