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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Avatar


If you would rather see the movie without any knowledge, which is the best way to see it, don’t read the review until after you have seen it, lest you feel that any spoilers, which I have made my best effort to veil over, have been revealed

In order to mark this historic review, I have skipped my usual course of reviewing each movie in order I have seen them in order for you to get the official verdict on Avatar two days before its world premiere. Having been invited by a fellow esteemed critic (the infamous "you know who you are" source I have previously made reference to) to a press screening, I managed to see Avatar in 3D for free. Incidentally, to do a plug for the cinema holding this press screening, for those of you who live in Belfast or in and about, Movie House Dublin Road is the only cinema in Belfast that does not charge extra money for a 3D feature, so if you are, and you should, see Avatar in it's intended 3D form, see it in the Movie House, and save yourself from the capitalists/money-launderers that be ruining our industry. Anyway, let's talk about Avatar. The film is historic for two main reasons: first off, it is the first feature film in twelve years from "The King of the World" James Cameron. A giant in the past twenty-five years of cinema, with films such as The Terminator and its sequel Judgement Day, Aliens, The Abyss, True Lies and Titanic, his influence and masterful visions have remained with us even in his twelve-year feature absence. Also, as with many previous Cameron movies, he is presenting on pushing the boundaries of the possibilities of cinema, as seen particular in his underwater films, and here, with the use of 3D technology and newly-innovated computer graphics and special effects, and long last, he is able to realise that vision. A brief synopsis without giving away too much, goes that Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is a former Marine selected for the Avatar programme and travels to a lush jungle-based world called Pandora. Nuff said, it is better to see the movie without knowing anything. With all of the exposition out of the way, both for the movie and the review, let's get down to the big question: Is Avatar a good movie? In truth, Avatar is a good movie. However, to say good would be a fierce understatement and almost an insult to this landmark piece of work, and it is just that. Put it bluntly: AVATAR IS SUPERB! But I'm not allowed to do that, so sorry for the procrastinating, now we're really going. I'll shoot with the usual gob, the acting in the film is, as seen in the ensemble casts of Cameron’s' past films, is suitably great. As the audience eyes and ears into the world of Pandora, Sam Worthington does a great job in the lead role as Sully. One of the aspects of his role that really impressed me was his portrayal of wonder and awe at the beautiful world of Pandora. On more than one occasion referred to as "a child," Worthington gives a great performance that obviously highlights him as a great talent for the next decade, after being the best thing in this years Terminator: Salvation. Also, the character arc in which Sully must make a TOUGH DECISION (spoilers not permitted by my own hand folks, not Cameron's or 20th Century Fox) is portrayed excellently with all the parts involved in conflicting views done aptly and in a very human manner. As ever in virtually every film she is in, Sigourney Weaver is on top form as the idealistic and determined botanist Grace Augustine, in a strong performance that she herself clearly relished. Unlike Ben Kingsley in Fifty Dead Men Walking, who made the mistake of leaning too far in favour of giving his younger counterpart onscreen all of the film without focusing on his own performance, Weaver is clearly aware of this and as an environmentalist and activist herself, injects a great amount of passion into the role of Grace and strong deadpan humour, whilst also letting Worthington take centre stage. Giovanni Ribisi is also very good as the passive-aggressive as administrator Parker Selfridge, in a role which is perhaps as terrifying as any military presence in the film, bringing a lot of reminders with Conservative politician ideology. Finally in the acting department, filling the void of a serious villain such the Alien or Terminator, Stephen Lang gives a very strong performance as Colonel Miles Quaritch. Whilst Ribisi is scary as the government-type in the film, the presence and charismatic machismo of Lang in this film are very scary indeed. Very sinister when warning people, but later showing his true colours as a full-blown psychopath, Lang plays the multiple aspects and strong arcs of this character very well. And the special effects? Well, in agreement with my fellow film critic, this may well be one of the most majestic and beautiful films artistically of the past decade, and as such this could not be achieved without the excellent effects. Cameron believes that this film will hark in a new age of cinema, that said, however beautiful the film is, I hope it doesn't replace 2D cinema. This is by no means a criticism of the film, for Avatar advanced technological innovation has opened no doors to produce a variety of unique and strong films. 60% of the film is made up of special effects, and as such it has such a unique artistic direction, which has been touched upon in the likes of Sin City and 300, but only now has it truly come of age. I am very glad that it has come of age with such a good film. With a lush colour palette that is really amazing for the eyes to look at but not too distracting as to deter from the story, Weta Digital have created perhaps the best realisation of the creation of a believable world with the use of special effects, so to all the animators from me, "You done a good job." This work however, would not be possible without the cinematography or editing departments. Mauro Fiore makes use of the brand-new virtual camera technology and performance-capture stage The Volume with great aplomb, and makes it possible for the lush effects to be realised, without losing any of the quality of the acting performances. Also, Cameron puts his hand in the editing pot, alongside John Refoua and Stephen E. Rivkin, and, bar maybe ten minutes that could have been erased from the film during the transition of the strong ending of the second act onto the climactic act of the film, deliver for the most part a stellar piece of editing. Another thing seen in Camerons' films often, despite them being big, epic blockbusters is that there are always strong underlying themes. With the true mission of the Avatar programme being revealed, we find out that there is alot of corruption and deceit at hand. A very green movie, which condemns the destruction of the environment for the draining of its resources, this message comes across brilliantly during a key moment that closes the second act, which more or less completely lifts any veil that may have covered the underlying theme. Also, quite clearly, there are less than under the surface references that parallel the United States' war on terror, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq and low and behold impending Iran. When we witness a briefing by the Colonel, we see him portray the Navi forest people very stereotypically, despite the fact that they are human, albeit looking very different. I see in Avatar a lot of underlying critiques of environmental destruction, the war on terror and war in general, racism, capitalism and a really savage view on the corruption of human nature. However, it is not all doom and gloom, for glimmers of hope and the goodness of humanity are given glimpses among the darkness and destruction throughout. My final point on the good about the film is director “The King of the World” James Cameron. Cameron has been a very patient man throughout the creative process of making the film. Often known for his perfectionism and ferocious temper, his creative drive must have been aching have waited so long. Having wrote a treatment of the film in 1994, Cameron cited his reasons for not making the film because the technology was not available at the time, and to me that shows true creative smarts. Instead of compromising his vision, he waited until he was able to realise it the way he wanted, and in the process advancing film-making technology by at least ten years. He has once again proved himself to be one of the best directors in the world with his undying perfectionism, a true auteur with the amount of work, time and effort he has put into this project. Avatar is easily for me as a fan who has seen his entire back catalogue (excluding Piranha II, which he was fired from for refusing to compromise with the studio taking final cut, so it’s not really a “James Cameron movie) a masterpiece up there with the best of them. Bar a few script problems (the old action movie quips have returned), particularly in the previously mentioned transition period between the end of the second act and the setting up of the third act, Avatar is certainly up there to be a Best Action Movie of the Decade nominee, and at present is a sure-fire nominee for Best Film of the Year. This is indeed The Return of the King.

The Thin White Dude’s Prognosis – 9.3/10

The Thin White Dude’s Self-Diagnosis – So happy that it destroyed any shred of negative vibes surrounding the hype. Well done Jim!

Oh yeah, James Horner’s score is also very good.

1 comment:

Danland - Movies said...

"You Know who you are" also has a review up now. Good review for a great movie.