Saturday, January 9, 2010

Avatar (2009)

Avatar is definitely the movie of the moment. It's James Cameron's first (or one of his first, at any rate) movies since Titanic.

I'm more than a bit embarrassed to admit this, but Titanic is a movie that I really liked. I think it was a combination of (1) the historical aspect (I enjoyed seeing the portrayal of people's manners and interaction at that time), (2) Leonardo DiCaprio's cool swagger (he played the underdog role to a tee), and (3) the James Horner soundtrack which I thought perfectly fit the story.

Avatar, alas, didn't do it for me.

The storyline was just too generic and predictable: it was essentially Dances with Wolves in outerspace.

In particular, the relationship between the two main characters had no depth and no unexpected twists: from her initial reluctance, to his winning her over with his willingness to try new things and experience the foreign culture, to his ultimately fighting to defend her from the human imperialists.

Another disappointment was the James Horner music. Whereas Titanic's soundtrack fit the story so well, this music seemed as though it could have been written as the background for any of a number of movies.

There were some things about the movie that I enjoyed:
  1. The 3-D: it made for a new moviegoing experience, even if I disagree with people who are predicting that 3-D will become much more common in Avatar's wake. Incidentally, I unknowingly drove halfway home on 29 with my 3-D glasses still on - yikes.
  2. The colors - from the many shades of blue to the wild reds and pinks of the flowers, the colors in this movie were visually interesting, relaxing, and fun.
  3. The imaginary creatures. Bradley had told me she was reminded of the experience of seeing Star Wars as a kid, and I felt this too. It's nice to go into total imagination mode and travel to other worlds.

David Brooks had an excellent piece in this week's Times explaining the problem with Avatar. It's here, and here's an excerpt:

The white guy notices that the peace-loving natives are much cooler than the greedy corporate tools and the bloodthirsty U.S. military types he came over with. He goes to live with the natives, and, in short order, he’s the most awesome member of their tribe. He has sex with their hottest babe. He learns to jump through the jungle and ride horses. It turns out that he’s even got more guts and athletic prowess than they do. He flies the big red bird that no one in generations has been able to master.

Along the way, he has his consciousness raised ... The natives help the white guy discover that he, too, has a deep and tranquil soul.

The natives have hot bodies and perfect ecological sensibilities, but they are natural creatures, not history-making ones. When the military-industrial complex comes in to strip mine their homes, they need a White Messiah to lead and inspire the defense.

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