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Mpls, MN, United States

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Incidents & Accidents

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Two and a half weeks ago, David and I saw Avatar in 3D. Because some days I am productive (yesterday I did get a conference paper to my dissertation workshop) and some days I am not (Google Reader is empty? Is that seriously all you have for me, Internet?), and because I'm ready to mentally move on, I thought I'd write about it.

First of all, I thought the previews for this movie looked terrible. James Cameron, massive budget, blah blah blah... Who did they actually expect to watch this? But then people went to see it--a lot of people--and most of them seemed to think it was pretty amazing. NPR even seemed on board. David and I were both curious. So...

...we bought tickets to a Sunday matinee. At the Mall of America. In 3D.

And I think maybe I have a slow brain or something, because it seriously took my eyes about an hour and a half to adjust to the 3D. By adjusting, I mean that after a mere hour and half the 3D wasn't a constant distraction, making me wish we'd just stuck with good old twentieth-century flatness. It made my head hurt, and by the end of the film, my eyes and ears as well (those glasses are heavy!).


The film has problems. The Na'vi embody pretty much every "noble savage" stereotype out there, right down to their surprisingly literally animalistic forms (alien natives as human-feline hybrid? Subtle!). The story is an old and tired one: member of invading dominant group joins the natives, partakes of their wisdom, and then must fight to defend their tragically doomed culture against the inevitable forces of Western Progress. Actually, if you haven't seen this nifty comparison of Avatar to Disney's Pocahontas, you should check it out; it sums it up pretty neatly.

However, when David turned to me at the end of the film to ask what I'd thought of it, I was still wiping my eyes. I had expected entrancing visuals and a ridiculously involved imaginary landscape (did you know that Cameron named every single plant and animal on screen, in both Latin and Na'vi?), but not to find the story so emotionally involving. I found myself bafflingly drawn to the characters and landscape, and terribly sad to see their destruction. And Cameron may be corny, or essentializing, or simplistic, but he does know how to tell a story, and to do it in the style of classical high Hollywood, with carefully cut scenes and surging soundtracks that hit (this over-analyzing skeptic, anyway) right in the heartstrings.

It's also a very pretty film. I expected to be distracted by the blue-skinned aliens, but as I mentioned before, the visuals are so seamless that I was able to (mostly) forget that I was watching computer-generated imagery and become involved in the characters and plot. I do wish it had been edited a bit better; I found the beginning a bit slow and the ending a bit protracted. Three hours is a long time to wear those glasses.

If you're interested in seeing it, I would recommend doing so on a big screen for full visual impact, but probably not in 3D, unless you're really into that sort of thing. I'll probably see it again if it comes to the Riverview, because problems aside, it really does do at least one thing that Hollywood does very well: create a beautiful, fantastic landscape and characters into which one can escape for a few hours, partaking in joys, sorrows, and battles completely out of one's own head (and, in this case, solar system).

Now that I've gotten my review out of my head, I can go read other people's!


Pete Sleeper said...

Thanks for the review.
Some of us are still hold-outs to the media hype.
I've been curious about it.
So maybe I'll see it in 2D to protect my eyes from the onslaught.

chelfea said...

I saw it in 2-D, which was fine with me. And while I agree that there was the noble savage stereotype, I liked that their world was actually more biologically advanced than ours. I guess that was my main attraction to it as well: I liked it for its environmental themes, that we don't need to exploit everyone and everything just for commercial gain, and we don't need to destroy the wonders of the world (that tree!). I also loved the idea of naturally neurologically connecting -- quite literally -- with nature and other creatures, something that we here and now try to recreate via technology.

Carissa J said...

Thanks for the interesting review! I've been holding out, too, at first because I thought the previews looked ridiculous and now because everybody and their mom has gone to see it. :) I am curious about it, but I will probably still wait until it comes out on DVD, and pay $1 to see it, just for spite.

Becca said...

I agree to a tee my dear! By the end of 3 hours I was making fun of how obvious the allegory had become, but yes, I cried a little too.

strovska said...

yes, thanks for the review. i think we're going to go see it in 3-d, and i'm curious to see if i have the same eye-adjustment problem, having never seen a full-length 3-d before. i was already expecting to have to ignore some tiresome tropes, so forewarned is fore-armed. at least it's not the "Hooker with a Heart of Gold Saves the Troubled Anti-Hero" trope, because i don't think i can take much more of that one.

CëRïSë said...

Chelsey, excellent points, and Becca, I'm glad I'm not the only one who cried.

Pete, Carissa, and Strovska, I'd be interested in your reactions if/when you do get around to it!

The Churches said...

Ceri, I agree completely with your review- except the 3-D part; I think our theater had lighter glasses or something, but I thought the 3-D was enhancing. I did think there were some plot flaws but that aside, I was impressed with the CG! I really forgot that it was all man-made. It was just a really gorgeous film with emotion. ...And, yes, the previews were really terrible! Just awful!

Ern said...

Sounds exactly like I felt--didn't want to see it at all, but everyone was LOVING it. And then after I had the same objections as you did about the story, heavy-handed message...but I couldn't articulate that at the end, because all I could think about was how beautiful it was, and how amazing the graphics were, and the story was surprisingly engaging. (I liked the 3D, I thought it added a nice, subtle texture.)

BrianV said...

I usually like to elaborate on these things, but I think you pretty much summed it up!

CëRïSë said...

Adrianna and Erin, I'm glad you both appreciated the 3D and could help balance my take on it--thanks.

Brian, I like your elaborating! I'm glad my review resonated, anyway.

Oh, and as far as the absorbing beauty, here is an article on post-Avatar depression.