Saturday, December 19, 2009

Dances With Smurfs

Its been nearly a decade since James Cameron has released a film.  I was a huge fan of Titanic (I was 15 when it came out, you do the math), and retrospectively enjoy the aliens movies (further math can help you to determine why I did not enjoy them when they came out).  I had seen the hype at ComicCon, trailers and previews online and in the theaters, and my interested was piqued.  So armed with my roommate sidekick, two pairs of 3D glasses, and a trustee latte, I sat down and prepared myself the awesomeness that promised to be: AVATAR.

I will not give a blow-by-blow of the shots, dialogue or plot, because in my personal opinion, people who post spoilers should be boiled in their own Mountain Dew Code Red and buried with a cursed D20 in their heart.  However, I feel that some context is needed, so let it simply be known that we follow the story of Jake, a human who travels to a distant planet which is rich in a natural resource us meddling earthlings wish to collect.  It is also rich in its on indigenous flora and fauna, including what we all know is out there from the previews: Big Blue People.  Being a lover of the Sci-Fi genre in general, and having watched Smurfs as a child, I found this both endearing and confusing.  Aren't blue people little?

But I digress.  Let it first be known that the movie is 2 hours and 40 minutes long (not quite as long as the 3 hours 1 minute of the theatrical release of "Dances With Wolves"... but close), so I strongly suggest peeing first, and skipping the huge drink if that is your custom, because if you leave the theater you *will* miss something.  Second, if you elect to see it in 3D as I did, and especially if you wear contacts as I do, bring eye-drops, because blinking will not be high on your list of priorities.  

One of the stars of this movie is not an actor, but the world they live in.  The realm of humans clearly shows technology we don't have, however much of it is not so far out of reach as to be detrimental to the suspension of disbelief.  And the alien world... its every Video Game World Builders dream, and ever coder's nightmare.  The creators behind this world started from the ground up to examine what plant, animal, and intelligent life would be in the world James Cameron envisioned.  The creativity of everything from respiration to the people's culture is astounding, pulling from several different tribal cultures and also allowing the idiosyncrasies of the planet to inform the intelligent people's way of life.

Those who have come to think of Sigourney Weaver as a Cameron staple will not be disappointed, as she has a strong supporting role in this movie.  Fear not, we still have a lovable strong female to follow, however Cameron takes a turn from his norm and centers chiefly on a male character, Jake.  The story is told not through his eyes, but through an omniscient narrator that really seems to like him more than anyone else.  This works out for the best as, conveniently, the action and drama seems to focus around him.  Cameron crafts his growth and involvement brilliantly in a way that is both true to the character and to the story he wants to tell.

But the true stars of this film are truly the animators.  I have one word for the animation in this film, and it is: flawless.  It has long been my theory that animation will truly have integrated itself into film-making when the work falls away, and all that is left is the art, the story.  From the establishing shots, to the non-verbal communication cues between the animated characters, to every detail of the world the animators created, it was just freaking real.  Looking back on the movie, there were several scenes where animated characters were incorporated into live-action shots, and live-action characters were incorporated into mostly animated scenes.  At no point was my thought process, "Wow, that's a good effect," it was more along the lines of, "the Big Blue People are next to the Short Tan People."  The film was so immersing, the storytelling so diverting that I  think I can safely say that for animation in film-making, and computer graphics as a whole, the barre has most certainly been raised.

To touch briefly on the negative sides of the movie, there were three that I can see.  The first is that we've seen this story before.  I won't say where, but if you see the movie, you'll know.  The second is that AVATAR is definitely a movie with a goal and a message.  Again, not a new message, but there you go.  The last is that I found myself a little distracted by the racial stereotypes of the "White Man's Culture" (which historical has been to conquer, change, and move on) trying to subvert the "Non-White Man's Culture" (which historically is strongly steeped in spirituality and tradition).  None of these hindered or harmed my enjoyment of the movie, however I've been told that if a review is entirely glowing people will wonder if you've been paid to write it.  James Cameron, if you would like to pay me to write a review, you can email me at cmbroderick at gmail dot com.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, it was well worth the $15 for 3D, the 10:35pm start time, and even staying up till almost three to be the first on my block to review it.  A must see for the geeky-inclined this holiday season.

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