“Avatar” is a movie (film review)

James Cameron’s Avatar has been described as a completely new type of filmmaking. Digital motion capture methods used in a three-dimensional format combine with expert story-telling and riveting action sequences to create a movie-going experience unlike anything ever seen before. So say most critics.  

This reviewer largely agrees, but believes several key points have been overlooked in the rush to praise.  

The film opens with lights dimming throughout the theatre and a murmur of expectation from audience members, all of whom are wearing plastic eyeglass appliances. Soon, a beam of light appears from high on a wall in the back of the room, and makes its way at hundreds of thousands of miles per second through the dusty air and onto a screen. Fortunately, the heavy maroon curtains had been opened several minutes earlier, so the images don’t appear as dark and muddy as they might otherwise be.  

Muted music accompanies the initial appearance of various letters of the English alphabet, assembled into small groupings and flashed onto the white vinyl. The word “by” makes several showings, as do what appear to be proper names. Past participles — indicating direction, production and something called “executive” production — seem to indicate that physical beings were involved in the assembly of the images.  

Soon we see colors and shapes moving in what at first appear to be random motion. Photons emitted from the projection room bounce off the vertical screen surface and reflect back to the audience, whose optic nerves fire reactively. Perceptions are cast into the prefrontal cortex of the brains in attendance, which then interpret the images and make them out to be some type of creatures. Most in attendance seem pleased at the moderate level of stimulation.  

Despite its pre-release buzz as an “action” picture, the light dances slowly at first across the towering white panel. Soon there are vocals, probably vertebrate in origin, that begin to be heard, and the shapes form into vaguely recognizable pictures. The voices speak softly at first, as a quiet setting is established to better contrast with the loud noises that will follow. More musical tones are clumped together in an arrangement at once both random and concerted.  

About a third of the way into the film, a man in a business suit appears just in front of the stage. He holds a small flashlight but is careful to keep it shining on the floor in front of him. This helps him ascend the steps without tripping. A foreshadowing sequence from earlier in the movie indicates that he may be looking for users of cell phones; not just those receiving calls but some who might be text-messaging or perhaps even attempting to record a “bootleg.” Viewers in attendance were told earlier to either set their phones on vibrate or turn them off entirely, so the suited man’s likelihood of success in finding a perpetrator is in doubt. Within a few minutes, he turns and leaves.  

Back on the screen, it’s becoming increasingly noticeable that there’s a small seam in the vinyl. It may be the beginning of a tear, or it may simply be the point at which two different parts of the plastic are connected. When the film shows representations of deep space, forested venues on the planet Panera, or Sigourney Weaver’s face, the ugly scar is not as obvious. But when bright sky or other light-colored likenesses are shown, the mark is distracting at best.  

About halfway through Avatar, there’s a prolonged scene where individuals are running around and making loud noises, while the music rises in accompaniment. This is exciting. Many of the shots are close-ups, while others are what’s known in the trade as “long shots.” The cinematographer frequently moves his camera at this point in the film, sometimes making a smooth “pan” while at other times simulating the anarchy of the moment by jiggling it up and down, to and fro.  

Just when the action seems to be approaching its climax, a fat lady decides she has to leave the auditorium, probably to purchase a concession from the stand outside or to relieve herself. (I fault the screenwriter for not making this more clear). I found this to be one of Cameron’s more lightweight portrayals, though the character did make quite an impression on the foot of the guy next to her. As her immense form moved across the screen in front of me, I could see that the director’s intent was to create an interruption, a distraction that would make the soon-to-arrive finale even more all-enveloping. Within minutes, the woman returned with a medium-sized popcorn. The audience quietly admired her resistance to the upsell she probably faced (only 25 cents more for a large). Yet in our row, it was just more annoyance that she had decided to return.  

Outside, the Earth continued to experience climate change — perhaps influenced by man, perhaps not — while farther out in the ether, galaxies spun at rates that could only be guessed at. Inside the cineplex, none of this mattered, as the audience continued to be tightly gripped into the 150th minute of the historic epic unfolding in front of them. The tall blue things, members of the Navaho clan, waged a do-or-die battle with the shorter beige things. Whether blue or beige, all involved seemed to be highly agitated.  

Finally, the broad beams of colored light changed to a simple white, and shaped themselves into “THE END.” Then, there are more letters and words rising from the bottom of the screen to the top, symbolizing how the lowly can overcome their pedestrian position and still rise up. At least in Hollywood, anyway.  

No animals were harmed in the production of this film.  

Patrons exit the theater, too numb from the experience to speak much, except for the occasional reference to how their back is killing them, or a reminder to throw the candy wrappers in the bins provided. The auteur behind such landmark works as Titanic, The Abyss and Terminator 2 has worked his magic again. An assistant manager sits quietly in a small room next to the box office, counting up how much was spent on tickets, and how much of that will be the cut of his franchise. (Not much, since most of their profit comes from concessions).  

Outside, people get into their cars and drive away, going on with their lives, yet eager to relive the experience tomorrow with friends and relatives who were going to a later show.  

A significant part of the movie "Avatar"


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One Response to ““Avatar” is a movie (film review)”

  1. planetross Says:

    Now I’ve got to see it!!!!

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