I have to be honest and say that everything I saw about Avatar before it came out made me think it’d be a complete letdown if not a total disaster. The only hope I had was that it was being handled by James Cameron. Cameron has been through such concerns before. People may not recall, or be old enough to remember, that Titanic was in the press all the time prior to its release and the new was always absolutely negative. It was being compared to the devastating events of the ill-fated liner at every turn. Cameron’s career was over according to many pundits. While some didn’t like Titanic it was clearly extremely popular with the masses and is still one of the biggest success stories in Hollywood. As a Titanic buff I loved it. His attention to detail on the movie was just incredible.
Avatar, however, looked like some fantastical comic book story with sledge-hammer heavy morality as the main thrust of the story. In a pinch for time I decided between this (in 3D) and Up In The Air. My mother passed away on December 27th and the last thing I needed on this day was a movie that might be in any way a downer and Up In The Air seemed to be a bigger risk there so I opted for the risk of the fantastical.
The movie struck me, almost at once, as a deft morphing of Dances With Wolves and Star Wars. It may not be as good as either in the bits that it resembles them but as a whole it holds its own well enough.
The film will, no doubt, spawn a strong following. Much about it lends itself to many types of would-be fanatical followers. I can’t image too many groups this effort wouldn’t appeal to in some form or another. It really is a major event in movie-making well worth your time. The CGI characters are presented using a new approach invented by Cameron (my apologies if someone else did it and Cameron is getting the credit) and the effect is fantastic. Actors wore headsets that tracked all of their facial movements and the result is the most realistic CGI characters ever produced.
The 3D version is also noteworthy. First, nothing about it is forced anywhere. You don’t get 3D effects simply because it’s in 3D. In every case they’re fully embodied into the environment and so subtle that you have a hard time remembering that what you’re seeing is an effect. Second, 3D often has issues with brightness. Up was fantastic in 2D and fairly washed-out and dull in 3D. Here that issue seems to have been paramount in the mind of the creators as the colors and lighting are exceptional.
The movie isn’t without its issues. It felt a tad long to me and does have some pretty Hollywood-typical resolutions to plot lines here and there. It also never strays too far from that aforementioned sledge-hammer or a predilection for putting it to use. However, I have to dig pretty deep to really find anything serious to complain about here. The experience of the movie is so engrossing that the few negatives roll off it like water off a duck.
I’ll be stunned if we’re not hearing about a sequel very shortly. The movie was absolutely made for it and I think it’d be fiscal lunacy not to do everything possible to try and make it happen.