Sunday, August 23, 2009

My 16 Minutes With Avatar [Guest Blogger Alert! Scarletscribe!]

My 16 Minutes With Avatar

Yesterday was Avatar Day, and at the last minute I found
myself in attendance for the 6 pm showing at NYC's AMC Loews in
Lincoln Square. (The theater and I have a long history together that
mostly goes back to me drooling over The Dark Knight in IMAX
and feeling insanely dizzy thanks to Harry Potter and the Order of
the Phoenix in IMAX 3-D.)

Three things you should know about me before we get started: 1. I love
IMAX, I love 3-D, and IMAX 3-D is always a treat for me when it's well
done, 2. While I was curious about the Avatar footage, I
wasn't planning to attend Avatar Day until the opportunity
fell in my lap, and 3. I actually liked the Avatar trailer
that was shown earlier this week though I cared little for the design
of the Na'vi alien race.

Worthington and his avatar counterpart.
Worthington and his Na'vi-like avatar counterpart.

Now that we have that out of the way, we can get started on what
really matters: the footage itself. Amounting to about 16 minutes, the
scenes came from various points throughout Avatar, though
James Cameron -- via IMAX and not in person -- assured us they were
all from the first half of the film and did not contain spoilers.

Unfortunately, this movie looks to be so paint-by-numbers that
spoiling the audience is a given once they know the premise. As I
wrote on Twitter last night, "Avatar: visually impressive, but I'm not
sold on the script/story." That's because, Avatar, for all
its shiny new paint and CGI, is a story you've seen before.

But first, let's discuss the positives. Avatar is gorgeous
and takes full advantage of everything IMAX 3-D has to offer. Though I
did not initially like the Na'vi design, their close-ups -- complete
with slight twitches of the ear and lifelike eyes -- quickly endeared
me to them. Between their expressive eyes and ears, the Na'vi are
clearly aimed at triggering the
oh-my-goodness-I-love-puppies-and-kittens-and-everything-cute part of
your brain. And it works, allowing you to quickly forget any doubts
you may have had regarding their cartoonish look.

Their appearance does get in the way later on, though. It's a bit
disconcerting, and more than a little incongruous, to witness Sam
Worthington's voice coming out of an adorably blue Na'vi as it says,
"Whatchu got?! Oh yeah who's bad? That's right. Yeah that's what I'm
talking 'bout bitch!"

Of course, this line arrives just as Worthington's character, Jake, is
scaring off a predator only to find out that a bigger, more
threatening creature is behind him and that's the real reason why his
foe backed down. It's a scene you've seen a thousand times before and
the only cause you have for liking this version is that it's a tad
prettier and in IMAX 3-D.

In fact, the visuals seem to be the only reason to watch
Avatar at the moment, since you've pretty much already seen
this movie several times -- only back then you called it
Pocahontas, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, or
Dances with Wolves. That Cameron wanted to make his own take
on the classic tale about the outsider gone native is not a problem.
The film industry and practically all of entertainment is about taking
the same couple of stories and themes and recycling them for new
audiences, after all. The problem is that Cameron's interpretation
doesn't appear to have anything new to offer audiences.

Though you may not be able to predict the lines word for word, you can
certainly tell where certain scenes and characters may be headed, and
the footage shown on Avatar Day only served to reinforce my
fears about the hackneyed plot. We see foolhardy, human-born Jake
being taken under the wing of the native Na'vi, participating in a
tribal ritual and then -- from what I can tell based upon the montage
of scenes that followed -- the Na'vi fighting against the humans, and
Jake being forced to straddle the line between the two.

Again, these views are only based upon the 16 minutes shown on
Avatar Day. I'm not disputing that Avatar will
likely be a fun and entertaining watch, but from what I can tell
there's no reinvention of the wheel going on here plotwise. It looks
to be a passable story that's riding by on its visual effects.

I should also note that I'm not writing about this in order to
dissuade people from seeing it. Kids will absolutely love it and, if
you can tolerate or even like the story, you'll certainly want to take
it for a spin. Cameron's team has accomplished much in the realm of
graphics and motion capture, and Avatar will likely set the
pace for a generation of films to come thanks to its technical

But unless Cameron pulls out some amazing stops in terms of plotting
and characterization, this film won't be very memorable aside from the
visuals it has to offer. This is disappointing, because for the
groundbreaking film it is graphically it deserves to have a much
better story and longer staying power. For all the years that were
spent working on the look of Avatar, I wish that more time
had been spent with the script.

Crossposted from I Went There