Quick disclaimer: This review is based purely on my opinion of the film. Obviously it will skew heavily on the technical side of things, so, take it for what it is. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy into the hype. Not even mine. Just see it. And see it in IMAX 3D.
I’ve been following this film’s development since it was first announced. From a fanboy’s perspective, and from an industry perspective. I had intentionally lowered all my expectations for this movie, and even if I didn’t, even if I fully believed the hype, my opinion would be exactly the same. This is my favorite movie of the year. And yes, I liked it even more than Star Trek AND District 9, easily two of my favorite films evAr!
A few years ago I had repeatedly stated that in the coming years, movies were all going to have to be in IMAX, in 3D, or, both. With the advent of less pricey home theater systems, and the ever increasing television sizes, people would need a good incentive to go the theaters. A new gimmick. To me, going to see movies is about the experience. There’s something about seeing a good horror movie in a crowded theater and jumping along with everyone at the big scares, or laughing your ass off during a good comedy. Or, enjoying the mayhem, the action, explosions and feeling the energy from your fellow audience members. Its why I go see movies at the Arclight, or the Director’s Hall at The Bridge. Sure, you pay a couple bucks more, but there’s less likelihood of a screaming child or a jackass screaming at the screen or talking on their phone. It’s all about the experience.
I’ve seen plenty of movies in IMAX, in 3D, and IMAX 3D. “The Dark Knight” was amazing in IMAX, especially since some of the big set pieces of the movie were filmed with an IMAX camera. “Star Trek” looked amazing as well. 3D movies have been hit or miss, mostly miss. The gimmick of having shit fly at you gets old really fast. “Up” in 3D was good because it just brought you in to the environment as opposed to the gimmicks. But the movie wasn’t made for 3D. Avatar was. Avatar was made for IMAX 3D, and made without the stupid “coming at ya” gimmicks.
The much talked about budget for the film (ranging from $300 Mil to $500 Mil) was mostly a result of the technology developed for the film. As someone who has some experience in the field, I can see why. The difficulty with 3D technology prior to Avatar was the fact that the viewer’s eyes were supposed to find the focal point of what they were seeing, which causes the eye strain and headaches many experience. James Cameron and his team developed a camera which did all that for you, so, in the end you were focusing automatically on what you’re supposed to be focused on, leaving your eyes to enjoy the visual feast. I can go on and on in regards to the technical achievements of the 3D technology, but I’ll keep it simple and just say that it was money well spent.
Now, in regards to the CGI… Again, as someone who stares at this crap day in and day out, I can say with full honesty that they did an excellent job and there will be a major uprising if this movie doesn’t win every visual effects award out there this coming awards season. 75% of this movie, maybe more, is 100% CGI. Its complete fantasy, and it works. I can only imagine what will follow. We’re talking truly fantastic worlds here. Sure, Middle Earth was cool, but let’s face it, you knew it was New Zealand. There’s nothing in Pandora that’s comparable to our world. Imagine a Final Fantasy film that really embraces the FANTATSY. In Avatar, the main characters are 10 foot tall blue aliens, so, there is no uncanny valley (that area between hyper real and real, the reason artificial humans look freakish) that needs to be crossed, but even when interacting with the real actors, they are fully convincing. The motion capture and facial capture technology developed for this just shines. The Lord of Rings has held the torch when it came to a fully realized CGI character (Gollum). Avatar easily takes the torch and beats Gollum with it. At least it’s the same visual effects company (WETA Digital) that did it, so, nothing personal. Mind you, it’s still not perfect, but this proves that we are headed in that direction. I was sold on the characters, their acting, expressions, everything.
I’m sure ya’ll have heard that this is Dances With Wolves, in space. Or Pocahontas, in space. It’s the story of the “noble savage” teaching the white man the ways of the nature. And yes, it is. But it’s also more. Cameron took that age old story conceit and aside from put it into a science fiction setting, takes it a step further. I won’t say what, as that enters spoiler territory. As my friend Alessandra says, you really have to open your mind to the possibilities this film presents. It’s far deeper and more thoughtful then one would immediately think.
I already said that the CGI characters were totally believable, and that is a result of the performances behind them. Sure, James Cameron’s dialogue can get a bit clunky, even a little cheesy. He’s no Allen, or Sherman-Palladino or Tarantino. But, its effective in its simplicity. Sam Worthington has the distinct job of playing two very different characters, yet the same person. As a human, he’s a paraplegic who’s bitter at life because what the fates have handed him. You can see it when he’s rolling around in his chair, not caring if a car or person nearly bumps into it. When he’s in his Na’Vi body, he’s like a child with a new toy. Everything he does as a Na’Vi is a learning experience that he’s fully enjoying, and his acting, and the CGI character, shines through in his expressions, movements, and his simple “WOOOOOOOO!” and “YEEEAAAHHH!”s. Yes, there is a glimmer in his CGI eyes. Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Joel Moore, and Michelle Rodriguez all play their parts well. Nothing is Oscar worthy, but you really can’t say any of them were bad. And again, that extends to the fully CGI actors too. The protagonist, Col. Quaritch, as played by Stephen Lang, gets special recognition for bringing back the uncompromising loud mouthed military badass. Seriously, this guy is someone you don’t wanna fuck with.
At 2 hours 40 minutes, it’s definitely long, but you definitely don’t feel it. And it’s not perfect. Performances can still improve, and I’m sure with some more time and another pass at the script, the story could be improved, though, if you ask me specifically how, at this moment, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Ranking James Cameron’s films, Terminator 2 still sits atop as his best film, and still one of the best films ever made. But what this movie does, at least what it did for me, was bring back the experience of going to the movies. Hell, it created a new movie going experience for me. Not since Jurassic Park have I been in such awe. Jurassic Park ushered in the age of CGI and ear bleedingly amazing sound. Avatar in IMAX 3D ushers in a new dimension of film. Get it? Cuz it’s in 3D? Eh? Eh?
So, go see it. Don’t wait. Get yourself some tickets (go to a REAL IMAX sreen, like The Bridge in Culver City, or at Universal), and watch Avatar. And let me know what you think.