This afternoon I went with my pal Keith R.A. DeCandido (aka kradical on LiveJournal) to see James Cameron’s new film, Avatar, in IMAX 3D. The two-word review: doesn’t suck.
Would you, Joe and Jane Moviegoer, like this movie? If you carry a heavy burden of white man’s guilt and left the film Dances With Wolves thinking that it would have been much improved by the presence of massive aerial gunships, dragons, and explosions, then this is the movie you’ve been waiting for.
It’s a lush, beautiful film with terrific alien world-building and spectacular action sequences. The special effects are some of the best I’ve seen. Some of the actors — in particular Zoë Saldana and, playing against type, Sigourney Weaver — deliver very good performances.
That said, the writing in Avatar was very paint-by-numbers and the dialogue sometimes felt clunky. (In the Na’vi sequences, however, there is a poetry to their language and idioms, and I love the sound of the Na’vi language.) The characters are all reduced to stereotypes (don’t tell me they’re archetypes, that’s horse shit, these are caricatures) who even have telegraphing names: the corporate goon is Selfridge (i.e., “selfish”); the noble scientist is Grace; the hero who comes to the Na’vi as a secret betrayer is named Sully. It’s like a middle-schooler named these people.
Overall, I enjoyed Avatar, and despite knowing that I was being emotionally manipulated, I found many parts of the film to be truly affecting. Cameron isn’t a subtle filmmaker, but he really knows what works on screen.
I don’t think the film lives up to its hype of “changing moviemaking.” However, I do think it represents an important advance in the motion-capture of facial expressions. Though still not perfect, it is much better than anything similar done before. The Na’vi still look a bit too glossy and perfect to seem “real” to my eye, but they are much closer than the ersatz humans of Zemeckis’ wooden Beowulf or his nightmare-inducing Christmas flick Polar Express.
The 3D still feels gimmicky and not entirely necessary. In fact, it was more of a distraction from the story (for me, anyway) than a means of immersing myself in it. I think I might actually have enjoyed this movie more in 2D, because I wouldn’t constantly be adjusting the fucking 3D glasses or looking for the next cool 3D effect.
Bottom line: If you have any interest in seeing Avatar, whether in 2D or 3D, see it in a good theater with a big screen. Don’t wait for the DVD. It just won’t be the same.