THE SCREENING ROOM
By Bill KallayBillions of bucks made at the box office, and I feel like the odd man out. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get into the world of Pandora. Lots of people seemed to love this film, but I didn't.
"Avatar" is now available on Blu-ray.
James Cameron is a polarizing figure. I was one of those film geeks who admired the hell out of "Aliens" and "The Abyss." I thought the "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" was one of the best summer blockbusters ever made. I'd read those horror stories of what a tough director he was on the set. I felt that despite his reputation, his fine craft of filmmaking showed up on the big screen. Sure, his films became somewhat diluted and lost their edge beginning with "The Abyss" through "Titanic." But he knows how to win over an audience.
His reputation polarizes within the ranks of other filmmakers. I've met and befriended some people within the film industry who haven't fallen for his iconic status. Not because they were jealous of his success. On the contrary, they are highly respected filmmakers in their own right. In their opinion, he's a person who took a lot of credit for inventing new ways of making visual effects, when in fact, he basically augmented what was already done by other people. Digital effects, morphing, motion capture and 3-D weren't invented by Cameron.
"Avatar" has been hailed by some as the biggest breakthrough in film since the original "Star Wars." I don't see how. The biggest breakthrough, in my opinion, was how Cameron and his effects team made the Na'vi's eyes more alive than any Robert Zemeckis motion capture film. In Zemeckis' films like "Beowulf," the beings have what has been referred to as "dead eye." From "The Polar Express" to "A Christmas Carol," his films are unintentionally creepy looking because of "dead eye." Cameron, to his credit (and to his team) managed to make the Na'vi more lifelike. Outside of that, most of the visual effects and digital environments, though impressive, don't seem to offer anything groundbreaking over any big budget effects film made in the last ten years. Visual effects have become so good it's hard to pinpoint anything revolutionary anymore.
As much as I tried appreciating the film on its own merits, I found I was comparing it to a number of other films. The story wasn't original. First one that came to mind was "Pocahontas." Then the film drifted into "Dances With Wolves" territory. I sensed a bit of "The Lion King" and "A Bug's Life." I even sensed a bit of "Atlantis: The Lost Continent." It was the old invading soldier-meets-native girl story, falls in love with her and turns his back on his race.
The characters, for the most part, were pretty much stock characters. Sam Worthington is good as Jake Sully (why are most movie characters named Jake?), though I felt once he went Na'vi, he did a lot of stupid things like mess with the wildlife. Zoe Saldana is actually the strongest character in the film. She does a credible job as Neytiri, though I felt that she was channeling Pocahontas. The weakest character is Col. Miles Quaritch, played by the excellent actor Charles Lang. He's portrayed as a walking military cliché who spouts dialogue and lines from other movies we've seen before. He almost seemed like an old G.I. Joe doll in which you pull the string on his back and he says, "You are not in Kansas anymore..."
Much has been made about the 3-D technology on "Avatar." I saw the film in Imax 3-D (the real 15/70mm film version, not the pseudo digital version.) To me, 3-D actually takes away from the film experience. Certainly Jeffrey Katzenberg and James Cameron will tell you it's the best film invention since sound. It's not, and no matter how they tout the revolutionary changes in 3-D technology, it's still basically the same effect as it's been for ages. I've seen all sorts of 3-D over the years and I'm not buying the Kool-Aid they're selling.
For me, 3-D adds very little to a film's story. 3-D causes me eye strain and headaches. Seeing a movie this way is unnatural and uncomfortable. Usually the glasses I get at the theater are dirty, scratched, and smudged. The glasses take out at least two stops of exposure, leaving in their wake a dark picture. Light reflects off the screen and onto the surface of the glasses, leaving a slight ghost effect. They also ruin the color present in the film. "Avatar" is indeed a beautiful looking film with its rich blue and purple hues (which show up nicely as eye candy). But the 3-D effect takes away from that rich color palette. With the sharp depth-of-field already present in the film, I didn't think that it was necessary to shoot and present the film in 3-D. I bet you the film still would've sold tons of tickets without 3-D.
The Blu-ray picture is stunning. In watching the Blu-ray, I wasn't bothered one bit that it wasn't in 3-D. All the detail, all the color, all the depth, all the sharpness was there without having to wear annoying glasses.
The DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is excellent, though I found myself having to turn it up a lot. I run all movies at the same volume at first to gauge their sound quality. Compared to another recent Fox Blu-ray title, "The Simpsons: Season 20," "Avatar" sounds quite a bit lower in general volume. "The Simpsons" comes through loud and clear without having to turn it up, where "Avatar" sounds as though it doesn't have a lot of power (and I know it does). I'm not sure if the disc was simply manufactured with lower volume/output.
I know I'm in the minority regarding "Avatar." Is it worth seeing? Sure, at least once. But I didn't find myself wanting to revisit Pandora anytime soon.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © 20th Century Fox. All rights reserved.