Thursday, December 17, 2009

Avatar - The Perfect Movie

How can I say what I need to get off my chest without being understated. I have seen a lot...A LOT...of films in my life. I used to have trouble finding things to watch with friends that I hadn't already seen once, or twice...or more. Among those hundreds..maybe thousands of films there are definitely only a distinct few that really stand out. I mean the ones that touch you in ways that evoke memories for years to come.

Perhaps not even just the movie itself, but perhaps the movie is so good it reminds you of the very time period it was released. Star Wars and Indiana Jones aren't just classic series', they remind me of my youth. I remember being in the theaters, receiving the toys at Christmas. I remember building wooden guns and pretending to be space marines from Aliens, tree forts became the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon and halved broom handles became light-sabers.

I also remember movies as I grew older, for other reasons. I remember being touched to tears by Schindler's List while all alone in a $2 cinema. I remember seeing Jurassic Park in the first all digital theater to pop up in my neck of the woods. I remember people I went with, the places I was and like music; movies oft take me back to those days and have me reliving the same feelings again. And so on and so for forth. But those films I listed above aren't always considered the "greats" (with the exception of Schindler's List & maybe the original Star Wars). The term "greats" comes out when you mention The Shawshank Redemption, Unforgiven, Forest Gump, The Usual Suspects, Saving Private Ryan... How about older? Blade Runner, Full Metal Jacket, Empire Of The Sun, The Godfather, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange...and that's only going back to the early seventies!

Each of those films had particular pieces of greatness though. Some had great special effects or modeling thats looked real. Some had incredible actors with equally well written scripts. For others it was a musical or an orchestral score so powerful, the music would become an actual co-star. Others still could be enthralled by the epic vistas or cinematography. Even fewer among these may contain several of these aspects, yet none seemed to ever really contain them all. Can one single movie contain it all?

I am writing this today, a mere hour after leaving the film, to let you know that James Cameron's Avatar is The. Greatest. Movie. Ever. Made. I'm gonna let you soak that in for a moment......................

You ready? OK, here we go; and I promise not to give away anything:

It's a complete film, perfectly executed in every way. As a student of film, I can tell you teachers will be using this film for years to come, to show how to make a movie right. The only flaw you could possibly bring attention to in this movie is the fact the the story elements could be said to have been ripped from the pages of many greats before it. But that's my point, Cameron has taken the best ingredients of many stories and cooked up the finest five star dish ever laid before you. Check that...it's not just a dish, it's a three course meal.

The story is very thought provoking, the over arching theme being the strong or the have's taking advantage of the weak or the have not's. Dances With Wolves comes to mind when looking for comparisons. But there is also clever bits of comedy, the inevitable ill fated romance, the horror of mass destruction and genocide (in this case maybe xenocide would be more appropriate), and let's not the forget the action. The script is smart, not cheesy or overly cliched. The conversations feel real, honest and appropriate. The pacing is immaculate. And the research! The amout of study that must have gone into development! They created an entire world! A complete ecosystem! The anatomy of creatures, from huge to insect size, is frankly striking. The language of the alien people is as deserve as what we have got from the years of development of Elven and Klingon.

The acting is superb. Let's forget the main stars, although they delivered the script as eloquently as one would expect of a well healed theater group. The director really coaxed excellence out of his performers. The actors chosen to play the alien race, made the their invented language sound poetic. It didn't sound halting or forced. It was immersive and inflected with emotion, like real languages are. Not like the stale tongue weaving of LOTR's Elves or the guttural bursts that is Star Trek's most famous fake dialect. There were were, of course, obvious stand out moments; like the inevitable troop rallying, reminiscent of Braveheart.

The music is also outstanding. It's James Horner, I shouldn't have to say anymore. Can you hum the music from Willow or Star Trek II or Aliens or Titanic or The Rocketeer or Apollo 13 or Braveheart...yeah, he did it again. That aside the sound mixing, the sound effects and the foley work is incredible. The creature sounds alone should make other sci-fi movies ashamed of themselves and the sound field is so acute...it all added to the feeling that you were there in the forests with the actors. Not watching it on a screen; although some credit for that must be given to the 3D effects.

So let's talk about the 3D for a moment. The version I saw tonight was in "Real D 3D" and after this weekend, I will be able to compare it to the "IMAX 3D" experince, but until then I can say that it was a resounding success. This was the fourth movie I have seen in 3D, the other three were all animated: Coraline, Monsters Vs Aliens & Up. Those were all great in 3D, but I'll admit I was tentative about seeing real live action displayed that way. I just didn't expect to like it. I stand corrected. The 3D experience was half this film. I walked out wanting to return to the forest. Like I had visited there on vacation and couldn't wait to look at all the photos I had taken just hours earlier. The were scenes where bugs flitted across the camera, like I could reach out and touch them. I felt the unease and queasiness hit me as characters on screen dared to look over cliff edges from great heights. And I sucked in my breath as flying creature borne riders, took mind numbing dives from on high. I miss it already.

Let's talk action. While the story is full bodied, the action is the shot glass of hard "A" at the bottom of this Jägerbomb. To say the least, when the action comes, it's intense. As towering structures fell I felt a twinge of flashbacks to the twin towers and held my breath as debris and smoke billowed. During one scene aboard an aircraft mid battle, I found myself actually biting my tongue. That has never happened to me from a movie before.

The world. The environment, the vistas, the water, the foliage, the animals, the gas giant in the night sky...the floating frakkin' mountains! You have never witnessed anything like this world Cameron has dreamed up. It's surreal. Yet familiarities with our own world's biology make it seem so plausible and visceral. It is awesome. Not "dude that's awesome" awesome....but awesome like the Great Wall and the pyramids awesome. Awesome like that famous photo of Earth, taken from the moon. Aurora Borealis awesome. AWESOME!

And finally let's talk about the animation...although that word doesn't seem to do justice to CGI in this movie. There is no way to distinguish between computer graphics and camera-shot images in this movie. According to Cameron, the movie is 60% CGI and 40% live action and miniatures...but I couldn't see it. I caught my mouth hanging slack-jawed several times throughout the nearly 3 hour movie. The attention to detail is astounding. You cannot tell where reality ends and fantasy begins. There are none of those scenes where you can just "feel" the green screen, despite how good it looks. Each frame of this movie, could hang in an art gallery as testament to the greatness of the handiwork and artisanship of the animators involved.

In closing I'd like to share that up until now, my favorite movie of all time was James Cameron's The Abyss. It too is one of those films I felt "had it all". Humor, story, romance, action, sadness, frightening, special effects, music, etc... But again, nobody has every really made a film quite like this one. As the credits rolled I felt dumbfounded. I just kept saying "wow" out loud, over and over. I was in complete disbelief. How is it possible? How could one movie do, what Avatar just did? How can you top that? I felt like just wandering outside into the night, in a daze, occasionally pausing to shout out to my fellow citizens of Seattle, "go see this film; it will change your life".

Well maybe not change your life, but it will move you. Whether it be to tears, to the edge of your seat, to stand up and cheer, or laugh heartily with the crowd...it WILL move you. It's even moving me to spend another $14 to see it aging this weekend. Be prepared for this movie to sweep the Oscars and any other meaningful award show too. Place your bets now. I think I am out of things to say. Now it's time to sleep (if I can) and dream of the Na'vi and of the planet called Pandora. I can't wait to get back.


2 comments:

assient said...

my brother did watch avatar movie and he is now telling about that nonstop. it became botheration for me. have you watched avatar? i accept it is really wonderful. but , omg, can any one help me to get rid of my brother???????????lol
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Anonymous said...

This review = my thoughts exactly. I'm kinda tired of all these people trying to find downsides of the movie. Avatar was PURE awesome.