Sunday, December 20, 2009

AVATAR: MOVIE REVIEW


Cast: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang
Director: James Cameron
Runtime: 162 min.
Verdict: What Cameron did with CGI in The Abyss, he does with 3-D here.
Genre: Action, Adventure

        Few films have had me in such a contradictory state of mind as Mr. Cameron’s Avatar. Let it be said outright – there is no film school in the world richer in the art and technique of filmmaking than the filmography of Mr. Cameron. On a purely technical level, I believe there has only ever been one filmmaker who could rival Mr. Cameron in efficiency, and he went by the name of Stanley Kubrick. And let us leave Kubrick out of every conversation for he always is the benchmark. Now see dear reader, I might sound like the newest passenger on the Avatar-Hyperbole Express, but I have learnt more about the art of how take a shot and bring the audience right into the illusion from Mr. Cameron’s films than any other filmmaker, living or dead. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of architecture but he was an especially mediocre shot-maker. A look at Vertigo, or Strangers on a Train and we would see shots calling attention to themselves, ham-fisted usage of symbolism and wafer-thin trickery. I might invoke other directors and I might commit the next worse sin to hyperbole – indulgence.
        Rather, I shall express the reservations I have been having about cinema, and its criticism. That a game-changer as Avatar comes to the screen at about the same time is both coincidental and fortunate. So I seek the opportunity, and ask the question troubling me – Have we figured out the medium? The Academy of Film Arts and Sciences says that films are about story telling. More often than not, our criticism seems to be concerned with story telling too. But then we aren’t analyzing literature right? We speak of image composition. But then we aren’t analyzing art right? What is cinema, and what is the little unit of cinema are we concerning us with? You see, Terminator 2:Judgement Day is never referred to in the same breath as Citizen Kane, but is it in anyway a lesser film. Cinematically? When Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-101 jumps onto the road and into the iconic opening chase, in a glorious moment of slow-mo, is it in anyway a lesser cinematic achievement than HAL peeping onto Dave and Frank’s conversation? I wonder if cinema is purely sensory in nature. Filmmakers and scholars, I believe, might be committing a grave error in ignoring the fact that cinema is still evolving.
        And yes, my idea of cinema is as good as yours. But I know one thing, and I know it as a fact – the only film that is purely cinema is, and will be for a considerable length of time 2001: A Space Odyssey.
        So, the word we are searching for is experience. Cinema, dear reader, is a fantasy. It is that little illogical world running inside our brains. Pinning it down based on its politics might be a case of setting up wrong priorities. I have always believed Schindler’s List is an adolescent’s view of the world, but isn’t that view put up pretty effectively? And I might be indulging again. So I only make one observation and ask of you to ponder over it, and that is by juxtaposing two sequences – (a) Opening tracking shot of Touch of Evil and (b) The Copacabana tracking shot of Goodfellas. I believe (a) is a horribly calculated shot, inserted at the wrong time, for a shot as attention-calling as a tracking shot should never be an opening scene. The viewer feels nothing save a sense of academic appreciation of it. But in Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese uses it so brilliantly that the viewer doesn’t see the shot but instead feels the world opening before the eyes of Henry Hill. Ask yourself, where does the brilliance lie?
        And while you are at it, ask yourself – if a movie, say The Sixth Sense or Memento is enjoyed the same on a television or a laptop or the big screen, where is the cinema in it? Cinema is supposed to be grand, is it not? You see reader; Kubrick made a variety of films but always know that grandness was always a hallmark of his mise-en-scene. His sets were always grand. Michael Mann. Sergio Leone. Martin Scorsese. Andrei Tarkovsky. Have these guys, consciously or sub-consciously figured out cinema?
        And so I come back to Avatar, and the contradictions that have eaten me. And Mr. Cameron, the grandest of all filmmakers alive. Here is a story that is quite beaten. Right from the days of Pocahontas to Dances with the Wolves. Mr. Cameron lends that tale a rather uncomplicated and popularly accepted political belief to the imperial nature of mankind, and the humanity that contradicts it. He has always been a believer, and here, in Avatar he might be suggesting the need for evolution. Mankind’s evolution that is. And evolution through doppelgangers. It is quite fascinating how the story plays, where Jake Sully (Mr. Worthington), a US Marine, and hence a bonehead, is thrust into a scientific mission only because his significantly more cerebral brother is dead. Humans, in 2154, haven’t developed a fix for broken spine, but have managed to invent an elaborate scientific mechanism on Planet Pandora where the local tribe, called Na’vi, have been genetically replicated and combined with human genome, and an Avatar is created. An Avatar of the concerned person’s genome, into whom the brain’s neurological bullshit is transferred via wires or something. Result the person is sleeping in a little scientific coffin while the Avatar, is out there. The Avatar is just a proxy physical representation of the person in the coffin, because the atmospheric pressure isn’t exactly suited to human beings.
        So why are human beings on this planet? Because earth is exhausted and there is an element here that could provide for as the replacement – Unobtanium. Any other doubts that Mr. Cameron never guns for subtext should be thoroughly vaporized now. You see, human beings are a naughty lot, and the unsophisticated liberal intellect amongst us would always want to believe it. Mr. Cameron has always been one, and will always be one. So he goes about his beliefs, and wonders about the prospect of our evolution. In biblical terms, going back to Eden, and returning back to the innocence and love of it all. You see, the divine intervention of destiny is what reminds humans of their true nature, is what Mr. Cameron’s belief is. All his life. I know, that is simplistic, but then simplistic is what has delivered the goods for the filmmaker. And he always uses paper supporting characters to get his deal done. To talk of paper supporting characters in his movies is quite an unoriginal and a rather needless piece of observation, lest one hasn’t seen any one of them, for he thrives on such characters. Be it Bruce Ismay from Titanic, or Dr. Silberman from Terminator 2: Judgment Day, or the army pack from Aliens.
        Why needless, one might ask? Needless because, he is not Shakespeare or Picasso or Mozart. He is James Cameron. He isn’t promising you a great story; he is promising you a great movie. And movies for him are all about experiences. So it is quite a simple story actually and quite serious about its stance. If we draw parallels from our present world, and map them to his films, we would come to conclusions that wouldn’t exactly benefit the analysis of his films in any significant way, and wouldn’t offer us any new insight that we didn’t already know since The Terminator and Aliens. You see those obligatory characters we see in most Hollywood films these days? It was guys like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg who invented that obligatory character and attached a stereotype to him. Mr. Cameron, what he does is wrap his films in a layer of seriousness and good acting so that the stereotypes aren’t so obvious. Modern filmmakers have realized, and have grown campy, and they try to hide their ineptness of movie-making behind a cloud of we-are-having-fun-with-it.
        You see, you can always have fun, but the mark of a genius filmmaker is how often he can create a world and surround us with it, and create fun and fantasy for us. And what is to be learnt from Mr. Cameron is the art of filmmaking, and the almost unsurpassable and often intense fluidity he brings to his narration. Of course he amps down on the intense part according to the needs of his films. Save The Abyss, there has not been one film of his that lags at any moment. You are always in there, time flying by fast, and when the end nears, you would want more. Terminator 2: The Judgment Day is 137 min, True Lies 141 min, Aliens 137 min, and Titanic a mere 194 min. It is a wonder how fluidly Mr. Cameron constructs his movie where every scene so organically moves to the next. There are little by way of short scenes. And they aren’t long either, because for all his technology, Mr. Cameron is a genre filmmaker with the action-thriller his currency. If anyone comes up to me and calls Aliens sci-fi, I’ll bore them to death with a four-hour long discourse on why the present state of the genre is so pathetic. It is a horror film, plain and simple. So are all his movies, even Titanic, a romantic action film. More importantly, Mr. Cameron rarely believes in showcasing his spectacle by means of long objective shots in his action scenes. He always, always thrives on medium shots, shots placed at the absolutely perfect distance for us to be within the action, and also enjoy the view. That is how he frames his films, and that is why his films are always so involving.
        So, to cut an already long story from being longer, that is what makes Avatar the achievement it is. Not the next 2001: A Space Odyssey, because in itself, Avatar I believe is nothing. There is no imagination that Mr. Cameron has conjured up. While the film was happening that special tree that Neytiri (Ms. Saldana), I forgot the name, reminded me of something. Then Stephanie Zacharek helped me here , and I knew instantly that it was one of those fiber optic lamps that goes round and round and is available in any gift shop. With the Na’vi, Mr. Cameron has gone safer, rather than courageous, and he has developed an alien population that looks quite similar to us. Of course, Darwinians amongst us would say if it worked with us, it makes sense it worked for them too. I cannot argue with that. And I think it is smart, blockbuster masterstroke from the great filmmaker. He replaces the eye, the most problematic part of any motion capture event, and replaces them with little golden eyes. Since the eyes are not human, any application of a two-but emotion is registered on us, for we perceive it as something completely new. The mountains, floating or not, aren’t exactly out of the world, so to speak. Neither are the dragons, or the dogs, or the luminescent flowers, which I am sure Mr. Cameron borrowed from his numerous wanderings into the ocean. The tribes fight with bows and arrows, and the arrows now being spears courtesy the added physical bulk.
        And on top of it, the filmmaker commits curious errors so alien to him. For instance, there is this huge tree, and he doesn’t even establish it well in advance. If we dwell on it any further, the geography of the Pandora world isn’t established as clearly as it should have been. We don’t really invest ourselves in the tree before the humans attack it, and we only see a spectacle. Of course, we feel, because Mr. Cameron has made us spend significant time with the Na’vi tribe, to whom the tree is so dear, and so when we see the wonderfully conceived reaction shots, we are moved.
        And as I write this, in comes a text message from a friend re-watching the film in 2-D saying it isn’t for 2-D. And I say him I always knew that. You see reader, in there in the film, I was exhilarated. I drove my way back to home, a good 20-km drive, and I felt empty. Not overwhelmed. What does that say, I asked myself. The answer I now know is that Avatar is not a film in itself. Not a film as we know films. The friend replies back, as I said to him earlier, that the action is too close. I agree, the action might be too close for 2-D, but is nothing short of magnificent in 3-D. I don’t think Avatar is even meant for 2-D. I think a film made for 2-D can be put as 3-D but not the vice-versa. I cannot say why, because I would have to watch a lot more movies, and come up with a credible enough theory. I shall, I promise dear reader, for now I feel the need to jump away from the 3-D skeptic team. What I suspect though is that Mr. Cameron, as he discovered the means to CGI in The Abyss, only to perfect its usage in Terminator 2, has done the same with Avatar. We should wait for his next film, which I’m sure will just change the map.
        Back to the 3-D. 3-D is not about spear treatment. As I predicted in my review of A Christmas Carol, 3-D is a better way to achieve deep focus, and pull us right into the image. And that is what Cameron does, and I didn’t know the results would be this spectacular. Suddenly I find myself a believer, for films are illusions, and 3-D it seems, is better equipped to create the illusion. I say 3-D and I mean Mr. Cameron’s usage of 3-D as a narrative (cinematic) device. The other filmmakers are still playing with a fireball. Mr. Cameron, it seems, has achieved what was impossible, and demonstrated through Avatar that 3-D was indeed the game changer. He shows it how. Now I ask, is 3-D the future of films? Was cinema always meant to be 3-D? I ask because I have been reimagining every movie I have wanted to lose myself in, from The Good the Bad The Ugly to Lawrence of Arabia to Terminator 2: Judgment Day to 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Dark Knight to Rachel Getting Married to The Good The Bad The Weird to Zodiac to The General to Raging Bull to The Fall, in 3-D. Of course Avatar isn’t perfect. There are times when things start floating in the foreground and you lose it. But we feel the people and characters even more, we feel the moments more. 3-D conceals severe problems of filmmaking and plot. Sully rides a dragon and it is an experience like nothing before, although several folks in several fantasy adventures have flown beasts and machines. A little tree or a little tear feels all the more, well, real.
        The thing is, Avatar is not the future of filmmaking, but I think it heralds that future. In terms of the experience, this is what cinema ought to be. Avatar doesn’t have content, and we ought not to look at the content. What we ought to instead consider is what Mr. Cameron has done with the meager and dubious content (White man amongst blue populace->Blue->Black->White man’s guilt->The Heart of Darkness). He doesn’t bring the film to us; he rather pulls us into it. We feel it all even more. A corny little moment as a bright little thing settling on Sully’s Avatar is heartfelt here. I almost cried, dear reader. If we choose to look at it in my skewed way, Avatar rightly doesn’t create or imagine anything new. It takes the generics of our films and film-world and shows them in a new, what do we say, avatar. How beautiful it all could be? Think of the opening credit sequence of Raging Bull with La Motta practicing is slow-mo, and imagine you being there. Or you being there with T.L. Lawrence in the desert. Avatar is a game changer. And I don’t think there is more befitting image to end the film with than Sully’s eyes opening. I think this is the step for a new evolved future. And it includes the opening of another dimension for us.
        Mr. Cameron, now that you have it, show us now what you can really do with the technology.

17 comments:

Just Another Film Buff said...

"...we draw parallels from our present world, and map them to his films, we would come to conclusions that wouldn’t exactly benefit..."

Satish, I've been arguing over at a few blogs on films like Schindler's List if ethics can be separated from aesthetics. You see Satish, James Cameroon could clear himself acting as the simpleton with simple human emotions. But the way he goes about doing all these is no less evil than the news telecast of Fox or CNN. A few more films like this and we would almost start believing that Aliens are like Africans.

"Pinning it down based on its politics might be a case of setting up wrong priorities. "

When our emotions themselves are a product of politics, it is only wise to discuss the politics of the image. I'm sure many indie movies much more moving than Schindler or Titanic would be called cold because we have not been taught how to empathize with real people on screen.

And Satish, I feel that the scene where the world tree gets destroyed was fake. With the Saving-Private_ryan-ish sound design and with the cheesy slo-mo, that scene was the nail in the coffin for me.

Moreover, I cannot accept the fact that 3D is used for the purpose of evoking in a manner that is not possible in 2D. That is bogus IMO. And if that is the case, a few more 3D films, and Avatar is grounded for good.

"But we feel the people and characters even more, we feel the moments more. 3-D conceals severe problems of filmmaking and plot."

When Cameron presents this thing as a movie it is just not fair for him to ask us to ignore content and see the techniques. The form is the content. If JC wanted to just demonstrate the power of his discoveries, he should have taken this thing to the TED conference.

Also, I share with Emerson the opinion that it is not 3D, but 2X2D. These are just actions on two planes and not a chunk of space between them or around us. Here is a good article on the problems with 3D:

http://www.shadowlocked.com/index.php/component/content/article/41-editorial/69-how-to-avoid-getting-a-3d-headache-while-watching-avatar


If at all technology can truly immerse us in an experience,it would have to make the screens longer, even go all around and above and below us. But then, that would become a video museum.

The only good that 3D can create is to empower cinema with most of the advantages of theater (play), but then. It also makes us conscious of the gimmick.


Wonderful and discussion-inducing review, as usual.

Gaurav Parab said...

I think with Avatar, we experience a tipping point.

This is how movies will be in 5 years from now.

Also, I think it is far more difficulty to make a simple story like JC did than give into the temptation of adding layers and layers of unrequired intellect.

The movie will be successful because after the first 10 minutes of getting the feel of things, we all start understanding the characters for JC spends so much time explaining them.

And yes, needless to say it will be a blockbuster. The last time I saw a reaction like the one i saw after Avatar was during Dark Knight. I was pinned to the seat.

Raviraj said...

I can probably think of a 100 things to complain about in Avatar, and it would be completely missing the point if I did that. Cause Mr. Cameron is not worried about the storyline or dialogues or logic or character psychology or anything of that sort. He is out there to create a fantasy world that looks and feels real. And the lord knows nobody else could have done a better job even with an extra 300 million dollars. That is the genius of James Cameron! He knows excatly what the audiences want and he gives it to them with open hands.

I think he never intended this one to be a big brainer, he intended it to be an entertainer. And it is one hell of an entertainer! That is the kind of movies that I admire - the ones that succeed in what they set out to be. And that is why I love, wait for it, Pink Flamingoes! Cause it was meant to be a bad movie, and really, can anyone beat it at that?


Great review Satish, as usual!

By the way do you ever try to identify redundant characters who you think would be killed later in the movie? For example here Trudy (the helicopter chick) and Norm (that jealous guy). They had no chance to survive whatsoever!

man in the iron mask said...

Srikanth I address your comment in 3 parts because the HTML isn’t allowing me to put a comment so long. Bear with me man.
Part 1
Srikanth, thanks for the shadowlocked link man. It seems the guy stole me views on how 3-D OUGHT not to have alterations of focus but should all be – from front to back – all layers, in focus. We should be free to view as in real life.
In fact, come to think of it, I don’t like alterations of focus in 2-D either. Who the hell is the director to ask me what to watch? If he is good enough, and he frames his objects and edits them good enough, I will see what he wants me to see. Otherwise, I will take the liberty, plain and simple. That is why I end up bashing many movies because of these restrictions they place on me.
The thing is, and take my word for it, because (a) you haven’t watched it in 3-D and (b) before Avatar, I was a vehement hater of 3-D as you yourself are. I had got a headache so bad, I had to sleep for 10 straight hours after A Christmas Carol, and knowing me, you know that number is alien to me sleeping habit.
So, Avatar, in 3-D, has been superbly filmed. I don’t think it is 2X2D because I could see a seamless connection. Yes, there are a couple of frames where the foreground characters float like cardboard cutouts, and there are a few frames where foreground characters are out-of-focus because of the background, which I feel is absolutely ridiculous.
But there are scenes of absolute brilliance, like the one in the hospital where Sully wakes up as the Avatar, or many others where it was as real as I have ever felt. 3-D in Avatar felt like real world man.
That was about the technical aspects.
Coming to ethics and aesthetics
I am not sure Srikanth, that I know many filmmakers whose politics I enjoy. Here is Kyle Smith on George Clooney - http://www.shadowlocked.com/index.php/component/content/article/41-editorial/69-how-to-avoid-getting-a-3d-headache-while-watching-avatar - and this is what I feel about most of the talent in Hollywood.
Clint Eastwood? Does he even know what he is talking about?
Quentin Tarantino? Oh that amateurish ramble about the evil of Nazi. Hitler and Goebbels were worse than placards man.
Steven Spielberg? Don’t even get me started.
Michael Haneke? Oh boy, and his contrarian stand.
Gaspar Noe? He is worse than an amateur, draping his college boy nihilism in some intellectual mumbo jumbo.
Hitchcock? I think you know as good as me.
The Coen brothers? Have they even met real people? With their stereotypical characters who are stereotypes of stereotypes and their third grade unfunny humor, I don’t know how valuable they are intellectually.

man in the iron mask said...

PART 2
The thing is, none of the filmmakers alive are intellectuals to begin with. Okay, maybe some, like Chris Nolan, or Paul Thomas Anderson. The thing is Stanley Kubrick was rare man. Otherwise, everybody is either politically correct, or take a stand against the tide just to sound different (Tarantino, Observe and Report).
More importantly, how intellectual can cinema really be? It can be, but where are the intellectuals? Where is the Nietzsche? I don’t know. There are so few good liberals so to speak too, like Soderbergh or Demme.
I think, cinema, as a medium is more equipped to deal with emotion than intellect. Maybe I am wrong, but I am affected more by a Gomorrah or a Zodiac.
So, I don’t think the normal movie going audience is going to take Avatar and aliens seriously. It is like Jurassic Park man. That is the reaction I am getting. Folks are having a good time. Great time rather. I mean, there is nothing serious in the first place. Cameron might be making a grand statement from his end, but his films are so ridiculously genre-filled that nobody takes them any deeper than face value. Did anybody, I mean anybody, save a freak like me, dig deeper into T2 and hear the echoes of Fight Club? No, because Cameron isn’t good at stimulating the intellect. In there we don’t wonder? We are just awed. For thinking needs time, and Cameron presents us no time. He neatly resolves everything, provides us a few tears and asks us to vacate our seats because the next set of folks with money in their wallets is waiting.
That is why I say, Cameron, Spielberg, Hitchcock, these are film institutions. Learn how they take up new technology and wrap it around us. They make it so damn entertaining. Even Hitchcock draws attention to himself. But Spielberg, say in a masterpiece like Duel, is so brilliant. His shot selection, and how it taps us is so enlightening. That is why aesthetics. And that is why I love genre films. Because they hold no pretention of some political agenda. The Good The Bad and The Ugly, you see. Everybody cannot be a Paul Thomas Anderson or Stanley Kubrick man. A There Will Be Blood comes only once in a while.

man in the iron mask said...

Gaurav, what you say is exactly correct.
I have experienced it myself. Laying out a tale for viewer/reader to experience and feel (be manipulated I mean) is far difficult than making a film that impresses the filmmaker but is alien to everybody else.
But still difficult is a film that does both. Involve, and intrigue. And then stimulate. There Will Be Blood comes to mind.
And of course Avatar will be a blockbuster. This is a game changer. I was apprehensive because I felt Cameron would do what everybody else was doing with 3-D. Nope. He was taking it as 2-D, and just added depth. No spear treatment. This is how 3-D ought to be done, and improvements from here on are what are needed.
And yeah, this is an experience that is making the world crazy. I expect a long run at the theatres - $350 million domestic box office run and close to $550 million worldwide, bringing in a total of $900 cume. I think I might be conservative.

man in the iron mask said...

Oh yes Ravi, I identify characters at once. And tick them in my head. And give myself a pat on the back when they die. But I have grown tired of it.
Now a new game. How gruesomely would they die? What means? That is nice challenge, I tell you. Keeps you interested all the more.

just another film buff said...

"I think, cinema, as a medium is more equipped to deal with emotion than intellect. " - Perfect. I am strongly of that opinion too. That's the way cinema should operate - truthfully evocative, without a sham. That's why there needs to be some ethics that the filmmaker should have.

Satish, I completely understand your argument. But the point is not whether we take the film's politics seriously or not (which no one does, no matter what film it is). It's about an attitude.

Take the case of Schindler. SS breaks the POV of the film from Oscar and shows us Jews being ushered into some chamber and then provides us relief by telling us that it was just water. All these scenes are so damn evocative (I still cry when I watch SL!) and it will only be more so in 3D. Also, we know that this is just a movie. But is this just? Did SS earn that emotion? No.

Just turn on our national news channels and you can see that it's American emotion system that sells. It has trickled down to our everyday life to the point that our behavior and world view is unconsciously American. The irony is that free press and globalization is only taking us away from history and truth. If all JC wanted was simple visual delight, why does he even make such laughable political statements in the movie?

What do we know about Africa or South America? The same thing that the Americans know. That the American media gives us. We may be having a great time watching Jurassic Part et al, but it is a handful of guys who have are teaching us what "having a great time" is. Lenin would be shocked to find out that today's aesthetic is tomorrow's ethic.

On some levels, cinema is indeed an act of resistance. When you gleefully make an apolitical film, you are, in fact, acknowledging that the existing right-wing is correct. Every filmmaking decision is a moral choice and hence political. Just look how Indian media is westernized to the point that we share the same cultural umbrella as America. It all comes down to imperialism, you see. All great films have been anti-establishmentarian. The attack may be from within (Kubrick, Hitch) or from outside (Jarmusch, Godard), these films, the truth is that no honest filmmaker can maintain status quo.

Even on a purely cinematic level, I thought the film was unimaginative. Same kind of images have been given to us by directors like Spielberg. Just imagine, how gorgeous would The Raging Bull, Schindler's List, Indiana Jones, Benjamin Button or even Delhi 6 have been had they been choreographed for 3D? Does that mean that all of them are good films? True that genre films may not have an explitic agenda (Avatar does anyway), but their success just makes their assumptions and, hence, implicit politics acceptable and even the norm

Groundbreaking technology? Yes. A good film? No.

For a guy who has been brought up on Spielberg's films, it is very difficult for me to come to terms with the fact that he is an unethical filmmaker. That's because he is a great trickster and a visual master who never knows his limits.

man in the iron mask said...

Srikanth, I say a lot again and the reply in two parts.

Oh Srikanth, I have always been an advocate of what you say. Earning an emotion is what I always use, and I hate films that do not, I repeat, do not earn emotions but instead manipulate us into it. At the same time, to manipulate us into a thrilling situation is an achievement and applaud worthy.
But Srikanth, is it about a good film or a bad? I mean, I often feel disheartened during some years is because I can find nothing to say about many movies except to say new ways of saying Good or Bad. God knows, and we know too, that we might learn a thousand things from a bad movie and end up learning nothing from a good one. That is all I do. That is all I care about. Why is the film working, or why is it not working? If a film I despise, like Crash, or a film I criticize like Schindler’s List , I still wonder what were Spielberg’s choices that made audiences react so willingly. (The darn thing is I don’t feel a thing with SL, because I seem to have the bullshit detector installed within me brain.)
So, Avatar is by no means a good movie, leave alone the hyperbole express that has heralded it a great film. It is nothing on its own. I don’t remember the good person’s name but he nailed it when he called it a 3-D demo-show. Srikanth, Cameron achieved something nearly impossible. At least for me. I have seen 3-D and it sucks. Sorry, sucked. I watched The Dark Knight in IMAX, and believe me, Nolan didn’t exactly cut it or frame it that well for the format. He was good, he was brilliant at places, but he was nauseating too. 3-D is similar to IMAX because it brings us closer to the action. And Cameron did it man, he showed how to make a movie without gimmicky. He didn’t create anything new. He might well have taken Jurassic Park, shot it again in 3-D, wiped off our collective memory, and showed it again. That is the achievement. Now he has marketed 3-D. Public WILL buy it. A guy like me has bought it. Now, future filmmakers will have a chance to learn from the master how to technically handle 3-D, just like how people learnt how to handle sound and color. Not overdo it, but use it.
That in my opinion is the only reason why Avatar is a milestone. Good or bad, I don’t care. It isn’t walking into my personal favorites in a million years.

man in the iron mask said...

Part II

Now, as for the politics, I completely understand your problem. The thing is most folks aren’t intellectual enough, or self aware enough, or courageous enough to work within studio systems and make a completely original and truthful film. When you create something for others, I see political correctness is inevitable. Look at Waltz with Bashir. God, I hated the pretension of the film, and the glaring pretension of its images. But it was an interesting film to discuss wasn’t it? About the choice of medium and all.
Srikanth, and I completely agree with you on the responsibility behind a creation. God knows how strict I am on principles. You take away principles, and philosophy, and there is nothing left man. But that is a school of thought I hold to myself. When I do something, I shall adhere to it. But the ground fact remains that nobody, or at best few, watch a film from that standpoint. Most people watch to lose themselves in a world. Most films are made that way too. I hate to say that but there is no spirituality left in watching films, or reading books man. There is no sense of inner discovery. Nobody looks for them, and nobody makes for them. Some do, and guys like you and me watch them on stupid laptops and earphones.
So it boils down to making a product, like Hitchcock, like Spielberg, like Cameron, like Kubrick where such a world is created and the audiences are involved enough to lose themselves. Forget the outside world. Walk into an illusion and are spellbound. I tell you, that is why we fell in love with movies in the first place. That innocence. In we walked, and we were awed. Jurassic Park remember? Terminator2 remember? To create such a thing is a considerable thing too man. It requires tremendous talent and knowledge of filmmaking. That is why I say, art is dead. Craft is what we are looking at.

just another film buff said...

Now, Satish, I have nothing to argue about. Part I is the perfect summary of what Avatar is - no more no less. Beyond that, it is the individual's choice to take or leave it.

As for Part 2, this is what struck me:
"There is no sense of inner discovery."

This exact term, or even "rediscovery" would do, ma man did you nail it, is what is ART for me. That's the reason why I'm against manipulative (as in cheapskate trickery) cinema. This ability to rediscover truth is what makes good craft art. Where Revolution Road was cold craft, Rachel was art. Where 12 Monkeys is clever craft, La Jetee is art and where Avatar is lifeless craft, 2001 is transcendental art.

Ab Van said...

Satish,

I've read your review and the subsequent discussion here with Srikanth.
I must say, I find wonderful and intriguing.

But reading all this, I find a thing odd. Aren't films supposed to be built on the "Willing suspension of disbelief" philosophy?

Then why this over-emphasis of that which is real and that which is plausible and that which is art and that which is not?

I think there is a subconscious level of compromise both the creator and the audience have to make to understand each other. A mutual axiom (or a common premise), so to speak.

If it's a creator's responsibility to stick to his premise then isn't it the duty of the audience to suspend their disbelief? Isn't it fair?

ps: Just a thought, you know. (haven't seen Avatar yet...and hence not wishing to be Donny who walks into the Dude's story without a frame of reference)

man in the iron mask said...

I think I speak about our buddy Srikanth too, when I say that we all are the most willing of audience members except for the pretentious lot amongst us, who have little love for the medium as such, and instead indulge in promoting themselves. I know a lot of such folks. This discussion is not about them.
Coming to us, why do we need to suspend our disbelief? Come to think of it, what is belief and disbelief? The Prestige is one of the great films of all time because it speaks so much about the act of movie watching and the illusion that is created around us. See, to consciously abandon belief is, I believe, a pretension. A pretension of the second tier of sophisticated self-righteous pretenders. As if, that is how we are supposed to watch movies.
When we walk in, we want to have a good time. We are willing audiences but I never am a member of the school of thought that says all that mindless nonsense like “keep your brain at home”. Why should I keep it at home? Why do I suspend my disbelief? If the film and the filmmaker were any good, he would create an illusion so brilliant that I would be lost in it. Isn’t it? Why should I do the work for him? Is it not that I am paying a 10o bucks to watch his stuff a sign of being willing enough? Is it not that I am choosing to spend my time and my energy on his stuff a sign of being willing enough?
And if I really were to suspend my disbelief, then the question arises – To what extent? I mean, I should be unbiased right? I should suspend my disbelief in a Michael Bay movie too, right? So, all that nonsense about disbelief is, well, pretension.
And what guides me? Well, since my childhood, when I first watched First Blood when I was three, and until now, I think only two things guide me –(a) My unabashed love and my desperate need for movies and (b) My respect for myself. Nothing more, and nothing less.

AB, watch the movie. In 3-D. Pronto.

Trippman said...

POW! BANG! OOF! What a roundhouse review, sir! Intellect be damned indeed. "Eywa does not pick sides" and yet it kills its enemies(military) and fights for survival like all other life. I'm sure that was Cameron trying to be profound, or maybe he just gave up and caved into the action-packed "triumphant revenge" resolution. The film is indeed made for 3d, and is therefore useless on DVD. I get nothing on DVD. Not a good story. Not good ideas. Not good human(or Na'vi) moments. Nothing. Dare I say, not even prettiness! Sure a sweeping landscape and large waterfalls are fun for a little while, but I for one have gotten tired of them being used as automatic spectacle. I'm numb to them. My only real problem is that the film is way too UNimaginitive. I mean christ, there's almost nothing in here that I haven't seen somewhere already. My brain can tell even if I can't. I just know I've seen it all before. One shot of any of the 1st 3 Star Wars movies will send your head flying with fodder. But not this. Actually I found the military choppers and weapons kinda "new", and cool. All around, content be damned, completely utterly damned to no return. There's no point in bitching about this movie because it's seems to be an empty benchmark. Empty because of the lack of content. And Benchmark since 3D capable DVDs, huge TV screens, and 3D glasses won't be owned by the majority of households any time soon.

Movies I'd like to see in 3D? Star Wars! Good God, can you imagine Star Wars in 3D? And Citizen Kane. 3d is annoying, though. It feels like peeking through a keyhole, but you catch something truly great that you wouldn't otherwise get if you didn't strain a bit.

Amar said...

As an average movie-going person, I liked AVATAR in 3D. JC's tendency of not indulging much anywhere in the plot and amazing topography of Pandora planet kept me hooked till the end. Pretentious or not, milestone movie or not, a fantasy world which keeps one asking for more after 163 minutes is definitely much above the mediocrity many are talking about.

Trippman said...

And still evolving!:
http://blogs.suntimes.com/scanners/2010/02/the_seoul_of_the_new_movie_mac.html

Martina said...

hey,

just discovered your blog through jim emerson...

sorry i'm late to this. i really enjoyed your review, even tho some of the things i don't understand very well. i do think that avatar does something that is quite special and unlike anything, but it'S hard to find people who can really discuss it in that way.

anyway, just wanted to correct you on the notion that mankind had not invented a way to repair damaged spines. according to sully's narration they had, but he couldn't afford it. it is one of the draws for him to report to the colonel, because he promises him his legs back, remember.

that is all xxx