Sunday, January 17, 2010


So I went out to the movies last night for the first time. Saw A SINGLE MAN, more of which in a later post, because before I got a chance to write about that, I took a chance on a cold rainy night (the only weather I don't like is rain when it's in the thirties, or even forties, it should be snowing, I don't mind snow on a cold day or Summer rain or even Spring showers or Fall, anyway) and went with my son and two friends to AVATAR.

I heard it was as seminal a technologically revolutionary leap forward for movies as THE JAZZ SINGER was (the first talkie to wow movie audiences). It's not. More like STAR WARS—derivative, simplistic and even cliched, BUT technologically a very clever leap forward that wowed audiences and influenced the making of movies ever after, at least ones that involved computer technology.

There were computer effects breakthroughs before STAR WARS but nothing as fun or innovative technically as I remember it. Anyway, I was expecting to find the story for AVATAR trite and obvious but to be impressed by the technology. But maybe because I had such low expectations for the traditional qualities of a good movie and nothing but a technology show, I was pleasantly surprised.

I enjoyed it enormously, though I got a little bored toward the end of the second act when a normal length movie would have been ending but we still had almost an hour to go. But the effects were so luscious and extravagant, and the story line, though simple and totally derivative, so actually engaging for me, I found myself thinking that this film maybe should win an Academy Award just for the impact it's obviously having and the movie-going pleasure it's giving to so many.

The acting was good for this kind of action/fantasy flick (I especially dug Stephen Lang who is a terrific villain and Michelle Rodriquiez who livens up the movie in the renegade sidekick role and is the only actor in it who makes her lines resonate with the kind of classic movie wise guy/tough guy attitude I wish she'd been on screen more), but no Oscars should go to anyone here. And the writing is too obvious. But the overall effect of what the technology accomplishes and the ways it is integrated into the familiar story line is undeniably impressive.

It would certainly be a boost to the Oscars and to movies in general if it won.

[Oh yeah, I was also thinking while watching this how silly and racist it is that most movies (maybe all) about the future always have "white" guys (and some women) running everything. The screen is always majority "white"—except for the "natives" etc. (in this case blue). And also wanted to add that watching THE SINGLE MAN was pretty easy in that it's a small cast of characters and mostly confined sets etc., and was expecting AVATAR to present a different challenge for my post-brain surgery sense, but it turned out to be—once I adjusted to the glasses—a successful and satisfying movie experience, and maybe is contributing to my enthusiasm for it.]


Elisabeth said...

I've yet to see Avatar, but my children rave about it. When I suggested I'd wait till it comes out on DVD, they said almost in one voice, 'You must see it at the movies. It's that sort of film.'

Everything you've written here accords with their reports. Clearly it's one film not to miss and to go with an open mind.

Miles said...


We went to see it in 3D with Donovan last night, but had to leave after about a half-hour, because it made Donovan really nauseous. In that limited time, I was both underwhelmed by the overhyped visuals and indifferent to the emerging story.

Did you see it in 3D? I was apprehensive about the effect, having disliked it in the past. While this version of 3D is better than past attempts it still suffers in my opinion. For instance, while the 3D sometimes results in a pleasing sense of depth in a scene, it more often causes most of the subject of a shot to be blurry. This leads to an overwhelming sense of disorientation, which I'm sure had an impact on how little I connected with the visuals. I can't imagine saying to anyone "you must see this film".

Lally said...

Miles, it must depend on the theater. No problems like that at all where we saw it. I intend to go back and see it again just for the effects, to spend time looking around the screen more to see other flora and fauna I missed etc. There's a long article in today's NY Times by a biologist who can't stop raving about how it duplicated for him the experience and thrill of exploring a terrain of exotic plant life and creatures etc. and how the fantasy creations in AVATAR hone close to scientific realities in the world as we know it but make them more unique and fantastic etc. so that audiences can experience them the way we all should be experiencing our own natural world, with wonder and gratitude etc. I'm so sorry the theater where you saw it didn't have the projector right (or the glasses). Maybe it'll be showing somewhere else in the future and you can give it another try. Or not. And maybe that's the trouble with the technology. It demands expert application (one of the problems with early talkies—out of sync sound etc. so that in some theaters audiences would rather have been watching a silent film). As for the story, all I can say is by the time I got over the lusciousness of the on screen environment and all I was experiencing visually, I settled into the story (of course I went in expecting it to be lousy so that helped) and accepted the conventions it was operating within. Oh well.

Miles said...

Wow, sounds like your experience was totally different than mine. I suspect it might have something to do with my astigmatism, though you may be correct that the theater was less than ideal (except that it is the theater all my friends saw it in?).

Oh well.

Lally said...

Yeah, it kinda doesn't make sense, but obviously a lot of the audience appreciation that is making it the most successful, in terms of viewings, movie in history is from people who go back to see it again because it was such an incredible experience. There are many who just don't dig the simplicity or derivative or cliched aspects of the story, as well as those who had a bad experience with the 3D aspect. I might try seeing it in a different theater next time to see if there's any difference.