Thursday, August 26, 2010



Jake Sully: I see you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The biggest film of all time is about to get bigger when James Cameron's AVATAR returns to 700 screens this week with nine minutes of new footage.  AVATAR is one of those movies that I enjoyed but that I did not enjoy nearly as much as the general population did.  Usually when this happens, especially when the film in question almost takes home the Oscar for Best Picture, I tend to dislike the film more than I originally did as a reaction to that response.  What better time then to go back and see what I wrote initially, knowing full well that I was much kinder to this film than I should have been.  Darn hype.

The text in white is my original review.  The text in blue is new.  The text in blue is also not blue for AVATAR; it is just blue.

And here we are. The day has finally arrived. It only took about ten years but James Cameron’s labour of a lot of love, AVATAR, has finally been revealed to a world that has been desperately waiting for it. You’d think it were the second coming from the way people have been lining up for tickets or even from the way in which the film has been marketed. Supposedly, it will change the way we see movies. I haven’t seen a “normal” movie since watching AVATAR earlier today so I can’t fully test that theory but I can see where they’re going with it. AVATAR is nothing if not inventive and expansive. It is certainly unlike anything I’ve seen before but I’m not necessarily clamoring to see it again and again.

So far, I agree with myself.  I actually cannot imagine watching AVATAR again ever.  It was long but still packed a ton of excitement so I got through it.  I feel the second time around though will just be long without the WOW factor.  Also, I have now seen many more "normal" movies since AVATAR and I can't say it has ruined any of them for me.  Well, except for STEP UP 3D - maybe if I had not seen the far more impressive AVATAR 3D first, that movie would have been a blast.  (Please tell me you read that sarcastically.)

I should mention that I’m something of a purist. I am a great lover of cinema but I’m not always able to get on board with drastic change right away. AVATAR presents great possibility for the future of cinema. 3D technology has never been applied to live-action footage (if we can really call this live-action, considering only 40% is real footage and the rest is CG) as extensively as it has been here. My concern is that it could always end up gimmicky instead of relevant. Cameron infuses 3D into AVATAR with such delicate care though that every image becomes an interactive experience. At times, it is as if he is speaking directly to the audience with a visual language that is as original as the planet Pandora, where all of this movie magic takes place. The visual impact is staggering but it is the manner in which the audience is involved in the picture that will make AVATAR memorable.

Look at me all laying it on thick.  I've said this before but it bears repeating.  AVATAR is a great experience, not a great movie.  It is true that Cameron's 3D in this film has yet to be matched.  Sadly, it has also inspired a bunch of unnecessary 3D experiences.  Still, Cameron did it right, expanding on the film's depth - well, visual depth, anyway.  I read a Cameron quote the other day that basically said he wants to see the day when it doesn't say "In 3D" on posters anymore just like it no longer says "In Colour".  If they do it with his technical approach, it is definitely a possibility.

Now, if Cameron had spent as much time fleshing out his story and characters as he did on the look of the film, he might have had a masterpiece on his hands. The film’s failings are not so bad that they detract from the overall enjoyment factor but with a near three-hour run time, I found myself facing them more often than I would have liked to. If it weren’t for the technological advancements, AVATAR would be nothing more than a really long commercial for going green. None too surprisingly, mankind (or maybe just the Americans as they are the only people around) messes up Earth pretty bad in the future and needs to go elsewhere to pillage for natural resources. Pandora is a highly volatile environment and its inhabitants are deeply spiritual, have a profound connection to their planet and subsequently are completely misunderstood by the belligerent invaders. By keeping it vague, Cameron paints a blanket evil and gives it the already hated face of corporate America. Who knew their reign of terror had such far reach?

In the same Cameron interview I read recently, Cameron talked about how the extra footage being added to this expanded version and the even longer version coming to home video in the fall, was added to appease the fans who said they wanted to see more Pandora.  More pretty footage is not going to serve the story any better and I think this kind of thinking perfectly demonstrates Cameron's own disinterest with his story.  There was a reason the screenplay Oscar was one of the only nods the film didn't garner.  Furthermore, who is the director here?  Why do the fans get to decide what should be in this movie?  Also, between the additional footage and the two planned AVATAR sequels, I feel like Cameron will be seeing the world in blue until the day he dies.

Whether AVATAR will truly change the way we watch movies remains to be seen. Only time will tell if the technology Cameron pushed is used to strengthen or further cheapen Hollywood films. That same time will tell whether AVATAR is a passing fascination or a truly great piece of cinema. There is no denying though that Cameron has justified his crown as one of the great blockbuster filmmakers of our time. He has crafted a work that truly transcends what it means to see a film and invites the audience to partake in a unique experience instead. For the first time in a long time, Hollywood has a movie that is a must-see on the big screen.

Not enough time has passed to see if AVATAR changes movies for the better.  Only one film has been released using the same technology as AVATAR thus far (the aforementioned STEP UP 3D) and any other 3D experience you've had just had the 3D tacked on.  So in the immediate, AVATAR seems to have ruined it for the rest of us but that can still all change.  As for whether it stands so many months later as a truly great piece of cinema, I couldn't tell you.  That would involve me watching it again and I already mentioned how enthused I am to do that.  That said, I never saw TITANIC more than once either.

I will take this opportunity to change my initial grade on AVATAR.
James Cameron, you have been downgraded.

1 comment:

Greg said...

I would definitely say that this was one of the best movies of the year. The non-stop action and fantasy makes this movie great. And the graphics - wow!