Saturday, December 26, 2009


I caught Avatar, in 3-D IMAX (on a large screen IMAX, not one of the puny mini-IMAXes), and don't have much new to say. I agree with the hordes who were delighted and inspired by the visuals and repelled and disgusted by the formulaic story and dialog. Leonard Maltin did a good job of describing the extreme ambivalence.

The simple, formulaic story is easily explained. As with Star Wars, Cameron's model in this enterprise - he wanted to tell an archetypal tale, and archetypes are nothing if not predictable. But it's hard to understand how a labor-of-love project,
twelve years in the gestation, could be so rankly amateurish in its dialog, which sounded like it never got out of first draft.

But there's an aspect critics have missed. The first half of the film was actually admirable in its writing. It managed to deliver copious back story with streamlined economy. We were up to speed and out into Pandora's jungle in a jiffy, without feeling rushed. And there was even subtle understatement in how some key story points were delivered in the early moments. I agree with this comment from
Alan Sepinwall's blog (don't worry, it's not a spoiler) about the scene where wheelchair-bound Skully first operates his avatar:
"I was actually surprised that Cameron had enough restraint to not throw in clunky "I can't believe I'm walking!" dialogue; but merely contrasting the chair-bound existence with the athleticism of the avatar is enough to emphasize the new physical freedom Skully feels. Watching him squish Pandoran dirt through his toes tells the whole story."
So Avatar isn't just two films, in terms of visuals versus writing. It's also two films in terms of its first half versus its second half. Many critics have suggested that a script doctor was crucially needed on this project. I obviously don't know the back story, but, to my eye, parts were indeed doctored and polished. Alas, not the entirety.

Still a must-see, however!

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