I had my doubts about this movie. I'm not a Titanic fan, although I've never seen it. Never felt the need. And the trailers were pretty clear that that there were some fairly strong political undertones. People said the plot was kind of like Dances With Wolves, and if anything sounded like a film disaster, it was Dances with Blue Aliens. Really.
We saw it on Saturday, and I was frankly a bit cranky about it. I was still tired from our whirlwind Portland trip and wanted to spend a day being agoraphobic. We debated over seeing the 2D version over the 3D; I thought better to see it in 2D first to see if we wanted to shell out the extra for 3D. Danny agreed.
But when the film started, things changed.
I don't impress easily. Really, I don't. I was impressed by Avatar. This was how I wanted to feel about Star Trek and couldn't, not quite. A few notes:
1.) Cameron may have intended certain political messages, but they're not wholly successful. Better still, it's his own fault. He's so effective at creating this world that it's more difficult for parallels to be made.
2.) The plot shows resemblances to not only Dances With Wolves, but also Disney's Pocahontas (bear with me) as well as The Matrix. Obviously, the Matrix similarities lie in the whole plugged-in-Avatar concept. Pocahontas? Stay with me on this. There are seriously spots where you're half expecting Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) to turn to Jake (Sam Worthington) and say, "You need to learn to paint with all the colors of the wind, moron!" Also times when she looks at Tsu'tey and thinks to herself, "should I marry Kocoum?" Somehow, though, it all works. Probably because there are no cute little animal sidekicks.
3.) Disney references aside, there are certain brilliances to the plot. First, that the Jake Sully character is paraplegic. His disability is part of what makes his character work. Secondly, unlike Dances With Wolves, not only is Jake vulnerable because of his attachment to the people he was supposed to spy on and influence, but he's also got it rough because either his actual body or avatar body is unconscious at any given time. When the bad guys are out to get you, this is not advantageous.
Now, understand the plot doesn't take you anywhere unforeseen, but that's partly because Cameron loves his set-up/pay-off's. Just about everything that happens has been set up earlier, so the plot has a very organic flow.
On the subject of the film's appearance:
1.) It's breathtaking. Cameron creates a complete and inhabited world you want to be in the middle of, with incredible detail. The night scenes were my favorite. I was totally ready to move there.
2.) All that motion-capture stuff? Totally works. It's funny - we've seen a fair amount of Zoe Saldana's films - she does this thing with her eyes, looking downward while flitting her eyelashes. Well, so does her animated Na'vi character.
3.) What's also striking are scenes where the military-esque vehicles are invading on the Pandora landscape. There's a very interesting juxtaposition on the harsh, dusty colorations of the military equipment in comparison to the jewel-toned Pandora jungle.
4.) A bunch of critics have criticized the Na'vi ears. Sure, they twitch. It didn't bother me. I think there's just disappointed they couldn't laugh and point at the film as much as they wanted to. You'd think they'd have it out of their system since this summer's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra.
5.) Let us hope that nerdy teen boys will not try to learn the Na'vi language. Please. No. That's what Swahili is for.
1.) See it. See it on the big screen, and honestly I'd spring for the 3D. I really would.
2.) It is a long movie. Good, but long. Keep your theater fluids low, if you catch my meaning.
3.) The main part I thought was dippy was the sitting together, swaying and chanting while connected to the earth parts. But it's such a fraction of the movie (truly, since it's about three hours), I suggest you shake it off and think of the pretty glowing flowers.
Because they're just that cool.
P.S. Danny read in his Popular Mechanics magazine that James Cameron is the product of an artist mother and engineer father. We now know what our children will turn out to be like, and that we will be well supported in our old age.