Joshua Gizelt (swashbuckler332) wrote,
Joshua Gizelt

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Smurf Wars

James Cameron has been working for years on Avatar, and the results are visually dazzling, a cornucopia of awe-inspiring sights that make great use of the 3-D format. The world of Pandora and its inhabitants are rendered with all of the detail and photo-realism one would expect from a $280 million James Cameron film. Even though the flora and fauna tends to be pretty recognizable from their Terran counterparts, they are realized with such aplomb that one accepts the beings on display despite their familiarity.

On the other hand, familiarity is definitely not aiding the film when it comes to its story and characters. It was very clear from the outset where the narrative was going, and there was not one plot turn that generates surprises, nor any real difficult decisions for the characters to make. The movie draws very thick black lines between the good guys and the bad guys, and unfortunately relies upon that branding to define who these people are rather than fleshing out their personalities. This is seriously detrimental to the film; there are many deaths in the final conflict, but none that carry any real weight because the characters themselves didn't make much of an impression beyond their story function.

However, before anybody thinks I didn't enjoy the movie… I did. That previous paragraph pretty much sums up my problems with the film (other than James Horner's score, but I'll get to that in a moment), and while those are some glaring issues and it is pretty disappointing that such is the case (especially coming from Cameron, who has written some fantastically conflicted central characters such as Ripley in Aliens and Sarah in Terminator 2: Judgment Day). But if it is a case of style over substance, what style it is!

Motion-control technology has developed to the point where even though the images the viewer is seeing are generated by a computer, the performances are being driven by an actor, and there is no difficulty differentiating the Avatars and the native Na'vi from each other. The central performances in the film of Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldana and Sigourney Weaver are all quite good (the other roles are either so small or so simplistic that it is difficult to judge the actors themselves) making it quite easy for the audience to forget about the blue skin and slender features and concentrate on the characters, such as they are.

The movie manages to nominally sidestep the inherent racism of the "white man helps the primitive" genre that this film falls firmly into (Dances With Wolves being a most prominent influence) by having the race that he bonds with be not human at all, and while it would be difficult to avoid the central ecological message, it isn't necessarily preachy about it (at least, no more that Star Trek: Insurrection). On the other hand, the political angle is rather blatant, and it does in some ways diminish the film, especially towards the end when the glorious beauty that had come before essentially is reduced to the same big battle scene that we've seen in every other movie (albeit admittedly in 3-D).

As I mentioned, I was rather disappointed with James Horner's score. Some of this may have been because there have been such wonderful releases of the music from the early 80s recently such as The Journey of Natty Gann, Something Wicked This Way Comes and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, which is the era of his music I much prefer. I've long since reconciled to Horner's re-use of thematic material from other scores (many composers of all genres do this, after all) but stylistically I tend to find his more recent material to be just plain boring, and unfortunately Avatar was no exception. Maybe it will sound better on record, but I'm in no rush to track it down.

If one holds this film to the higher standard of Cameron's best work, it falls rather short, but taken on its own merits as a straightforward popcorn movie, it can be quite satisfying. Ultimately the film is a grand spectacle and nothing more, but if approached as a grand spectacle, it certainly serves that purpose. No matter how you slice it though, two hours and forty minutes is too long to watch a movie in 3-D. That is my conclusion after dealing with the mild but annoying headache that lasted a full hour after the movie concluded yesterday.
Tags: alien, film music, james horner, reviews, science fiction
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