Monday, January 4, 2010
"Avatar" - innovative, fresh, creative... and strangely familiar
Spoiler alert. Though I'm not going to give away any plot details, read no further if you like walking into a movie theater knowing as little about the story as possible.
I saw Avatar on New Year's Day at the plush Patriot's Place movie theater. I anticipated a great James Cameron adventure, having enjoyed Titanic, the Terminator movies and Aliens. Those movies were genuinely unique, fresh... even though the ultimate outcome of Titanic was expected (ship sinks) and story lines and settings of the best Terminator movie (#2) and Aliens were already set by their predecessor films. The romance in Titanic was, to me, interesting and there was suspense inherent in the story of Rose's conflict, even though we surely knew that there was an iceberg in her future. And we suspected that Sigourney Weaver was going to come face-to-face with aliens, but we didn't know for sure whether or how she would survive another horror-filled encounter. And the twists and turns in the second Terminator movie were pure bliss.
In Avatar, Cameron has created his most lush and unexpected world yet. Pandora. A place where all manner of life is connected, including its many nasty and scary creatures as well as the beautiful, glowing plant life. When the protagonist is left stranded in Pandora's jungle for the first time, it's tense. But the sparkling and glistening all around him are captivating. And so, seeing this, I settled in for a two hour and forty minute ride into the unexpected. I was completely ready for Mr. Cameron to do it to me one more time.
The story line, which I won't go into here, involved the inevitable conflict between Pandora's inhabitants and the visiting and scavenging earthlings. Pretty early on, we come to like the locals and grow increasingly irritated by our own kind. We identify with the blue people and understand that the main protagonist, who stands before both worlds, will have a difficult decision to make at some coming point.
And here is the main problem. Actually, it's one of the two main problems with the film. First, though the action sequences are thrilling and the animators deserve the Academy Award they will most assuredly be nominated to receive, there's a predictability that runs through the build up and then right through to the conclusion. Every single time I sensed where the story was going to end up, I was right. Every single time.
The second problem? You've seen it all before. Han Solo flying back to save the day in the Millennium Falcon... it's in there. Tarzan rallying the creatures to come to his aid... yup. A romance between two from warring factions, a la Romeo and Juliet, John Smith and Pocahontas (and a thousand other stories)... check. Sigourney Weaver fighting the bad guy in a big robot suit... got it (OK, Cameron is borrowing from Cameron). I could go on.
Bottom line: I enjoyed Avatar and recommend it, especially on the big screen. I just wish I hadn't seen most of it before.