Tuesday, January 26, 2010

my thoughts on Avatar, best picture? no way.

Avatar is imminently poised to surpass Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time. Yet not the most seen (due to inflation and premium ticket prices for 3D movies).

Even though the trailers were not captivating, to me at least, I went to see it opening weekend. The hype machine was in overdrive. But more than that, the curiosity factor engaged me. Perhaps (only perhaps?) I am a sucker for the “latest thing.” I am a Gemini after all. We love the shiny and the new and the just released.

Because I had no idea what to expect, I went in with low expectations and an open mind; subsequently, I wasn’t really disappointed. But I certainly wasn’t blown away. Sure, the visuals are state of the art. But what you’re watching is basically an animated movie. The characters are animated. The scenery is animated. Everything you are seeing on the screen has been either digitally created or digitally enhanced, or both.

Now, I’m a huge fan of animated movies. Pixar is incredible, I have seen all their movies and have them all on DVD. I have watched ‘A Bug’s Life’ over and over and it still makes me laugh out loud. ‘Up’ is solidly entrenched in my Top Five favorite movies of 2009, I’ve seen it several times (in 3D and 2D). ‘Monsters Inc’ is hilarious and touching. ‘The Incredibles’ is, well, incredible.

‘Avatar’ doesn’t have the complexity of story that any of these Pixar movie has. The subtleties that the ants in ‘A Bug’s Life’ have, both in character and in animation, is not represented in ‘Avatar’ by the blue Na-Vi creatures. The bugs are more human than the Na-Vi, characters based on humans!

The technology that created the characters and the backgrounds of Avatar is unquestionably innovative, groundbreaking, and even remarkable; it certainly surpasses the ‘vacant eye’ look of motion capture films like ‘Polar Express’ (which I loved despite this) or ‘Beowolf’ (which I didn’t).

The story is a standard ecology fable (corporate greed vs clearly more evolved nature), the dialogue is stilted and clumsy, the acting is certainly less than subtle. (My computer auto filled “bored” back there and for a moment I pondered leaving it in. )

I went to see Avatar a second time because I wanted to understand it a little better, and I wanted to see what I missed the first time (there is a lot happening on the screen). I am a film student and I do like to deconstruct what is happening on the screen. The second time was almost unbearably boring. The second viewing lent nothing beyond the original screening, which is highly unusual for me.

I had to contend with watching the eye catching visuals (the ‘light up’ vegetation, the floating mountains, etc.) The lizards and dinosaurs and seemed real enough, but at the same time they were clearly totally fake. I totally believed the dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’, I didn’t believe the ‘horses’ the Na-Vi rode were real for one second.

Now it appears that ‘Avatar’ is throwing the Oscar race. (read today’s LA Times column by Patrick Goldstein here) and will likely win the coveted Best Picture award.

Is ‘Avatar’ a better movie than ‘Up’? Not by a long shot. ‘Up’ is a breathtaking movie that works on several emotional as well as creative levels, and its astoundingly sophisticated level of animation alone is worth the price of admission (for me, in this case, five times in the theatre alone).

‘Avatar’ is, yes, I will dare to say it (am I the first to admit it?)… boring. It’s shallow, it’s simplistic storyline couldn’t keep my attention even on a second viewing, whereas I have sat through ‘500 Days of Summer’ and ‘A Single Man’ several times each this year and been amused, intrigued, saddened and touched each time.

But ‘Avatar’ has become a cultural phenomenon, and will surely sweep the Oscars race, just as ‘Titanic’ did more than a decade ago, for better or worse. But while ‘Titanic’ is still inherently watchable today, in twelve years time, will ‘Avatar’ play as well in 2020? It will surely seem incredibly dated and sophomoric. And, probably, and especially because the technology will have advanced still further, thus eliminating the ‘dazzle’ factor, still boring.

Should you see it? By all means. (and most definitely pay the extra couple dollars to see it in 3D).

But best picture of the year? Not by my vote.

1 comment:

  1. Here, here, Rod! I fear "Avatar" will win Best Picture, etc. No accounting for taste in a vicious business - only the blood of others can satisfy. One plus: the host for this year's Oscars. Another: there's always a grand old movie I've missed. PS: As far as animated films go, we thoroughly enjoyed "Wall-E." - Frederic Kahler