Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More on Avatar

So the recent movie I keep hearing Avatar compared to out there over the past couple of weeks is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As I may have mentioned yesterday, in my opinion Avatar succeeded brilliantly in almost every spot where every LOTR film failed.

Ultimately, the recent LOTR trilogy basically boils down to Peter Jackson whacking off and ejaculating all over himself for about 10 full hours. I mean, this guy never saw a scene in his life that he wanted to cut. So he took a story -- admittedly, a long one -- and stretched it out into 10 hours of incredibly slow-moving, dragging-along action. Sure, he made a real spectacle out of it, with the costumes and the fight scenes and all, and those aspects of the movie were good. But you can't change the fact that I must have looked at my watch 20 or 25 times during the first movie in the theater, and I never even bothered to go see the second or third until they came out on tv and I could watch them over a couple of months which is how long it takes to get that much time together in one place to watch an epic like the entire LOTR trilogy.

I hardly remembered I even had a watch while Avatar was on. Although 2 1/2 hours is still a long movie, for another spectacle piece like this it's not too bad, and it moves very fast. You're just learning so much, experiencing so much, and really feeling like you are part of the action thanks to the filming and the 3-D effects, it's a more active moviegoing experience in a lot of ways than ever before, and the 150 minutes blew by except for maybe some parts as the last hour built towards the conclusion. In LOTR I couldn't watch an hour of that garbage without flipping the channel onto something else, just to get some fast-moving action. If Avatar was on tv right now, I would punch you if you even tried to pry the remote from my clenched hand.

The costumes were another comparison point between Avatar and LOTR from what I am hearing, and again, as incredible as this was in LOTR, ultimately I just don't see how using real people and real clothing and real costumes can compare to what we can now create using computers and cutting-edge technology to synthesize directly to the reel. This certainly was the strong point of Jackson's LOTR trilogy, and again he did a fine job with it, but can you really compare the way Pippin or Frodo or even the dwarves or elves looked, with how the Navi looked in Avatar? How can you? The Navi didn't even have to look, or move, or do anything like real people, whereas everyone in LOTR except for maybe Gollum and a few of the monsters was still restricted by the chains of reality, of humanity. The Navi could be anything. The CGI technology has finally gotten so realistic with Avatar that they created an entire planet of aliens and animal-like creatures that seem 100% as real as if they were real life things being filmed by a real life camera crew on real life Pandora. I mean, just this past weekend the first of the new Star Wars flicks came on Spike at night, and I watched a good hour or so of it in the background while I did some work and played some poker. And you know what? Not only is Jar Jar Binks annoying as shit with that idiot voice, but the animation really isn't that good. It's fine and all, but it's a bit like going back and watching the first Terminator movie now -- Jar Jar really kind of bounces a bit awkwardly when he walks, and there are multiple scenes where you can tell the other actors are really talking to nothing, and that Jar Jar was simply added to the scene later by computer. There was none of that in Avatar, none that I noticed anyways. Through a combination of the very latest in cameras and cutting edge computer and 3-D technology, Avatar comes off to the viewer as if you are right there in the thick of the action going on all around you, and like it is totally and completely real. LOTR? Not even close to the same thing.

On the overall creativity scale, Peter Jackson's take on LOTR once again falls woefully short of James Cameron's effort in Avatar. Although this would have been a golden opportunity for Jackson to set himself apart by taking some unique or particularly interesting takes on what has been done before in at least two other movies of the famous trilogy, instead Jackson pretty much stuck right to the script, including making characters pretty much the same way as they have been portrayed before without adding a whole lot in the way of true ingenuity or original conception. LOTR would have been a great opportunity to throw in things like the shiny-tail bugs or the wisps from Avatar -- they could have been all over the place, really, but that's not really what LOTR was all about the way that Jackson cast it. Jackson's attempt to recreate every scene from the book in more or less sequential order comes off just like that -- an endless 10-hour progression of scenes, each one done up to the nines as far as costumes and such, progressing towards a conclusion in the mountains of Mordor. And even the ending of LOTR would have been a great opportunity for Jackson to give his own vision of Hell, Evil, Satan, whatever you want to call Sauron, but I like most people I know was underwhelmed by the attempt. There wasn't much of anything in Avatar that was not depicted with the utmost of originality and flair. From the floating mountains, to the choosing of the bird-things, that early scene on Jake's first night on Pandora, etc., it was all just done on a level above and beyond LOTR. Frankly I think that is a tremendous insult to Avatar and a tremendous understatement of the level of ingenuity and detail that went into creating the best movie in over a decade.

As I think I mentioned yesterday, I think a much better analog to Avatar is 1999's The Matrix. Now there's a movie that rocked people's worlds like Avatar is. There's a movie I might have seen twice in the theaters. There's a movie I literally still talk about with regularity among friends and colleagues. Who the fike talks about Lord of the Rings? Other than you D&D loving, chain mail-wearing, King Richard's Faire-going dorks that is. Like Avatar, The Matrix is visually stunning, including fight scenes and chase scenes pretty much better than any movie before it. Both movies are captivating on a level not approached by any other normal movie, and I chuckle at the thought of anybody sitting in the theater back in 1999 watching The Matrix and continually checking their watch to see when the thing was going to be over. No way. I looked at my watch more than the screen when I saw the first 85-hour movie of Lord of the Rings!

Like Avatar, The Matrix also employed new technology and new direction with camera angles and such as compared to everything that had ever been created before it. As such, it changed movies forever, as since then about 30 movies have been made using the same floating-wire technology to enhance their own fight and chase scenes. It, like Avatar, was a completely unique piece of direction, something which a movie like LOTR cannot possibly say. LOTR was down-to-the-detail done-up, that is for sure, but it didn't really push the boundaries or send movies off in a new direction at all. It just did the same thing that had been done before, but on an extremely mega and detailed scale. Avatar and The Matrix, however, were as I've said, completely unique. The Matrix used wires and a new perspective on shooting to create the coolest fight scenes ever made. James Cameron invented his own camera technology and 3-D to place you literally right in the thick of the action in Avatar in a way that has simply never even been approached before.

As I said yesterday, I don't think there is any reasonable argument that Avatar is not the best movie of the past decade-plus. I think The Matrix back in 1999 is the last movie to come along that really can make a good argument to be as good or better than Avatar. It's definitely not as visually stunning as Avatar is -- ultimately not even close, really -- but the uniqueness, the originality, and just the awesomeness of that story surpasses the plot of Avatar for sure. It will always be difficult to compare a visual movie like Avatar to a drama like Shawshank or whatever genre you would call The Matrix, but in my mind there is no doubt that Avatar ranks among the top examples of films ever made by humankind.

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11 Comments:

Blogger Achiel said...

I'm sorry but I can't help but comment. What an overbloated overstating obnoxious two postings. To say that Avatar is one of the best movies of the past 10 years is complete poppycock (heh, finally got to use that word).

Yes, I agree with you that the visuals were fantastic. Yes, that has never been done before. But other than that I couldn't really distill any real reason why you think that it's such a fantastic movie. What makes great movies (at least to me) are two things: good plotline (stuff that really gets to you) and real innovation (doing something that no one has done before).

To be truly great you need both. The Matrix was, as you pointed out, an excellent example. A real new way to mindfsck people and new innovative ways to tell the story (new ways of using the camera, 3d effects etc).
Pulp Fiction is another example. Although there aren't any special effects in that movie, the way the story was told was new, the acting was good, it was just a new movie that pushed the envelope.

Avatar just misses the boat on too many points. As I said before, the visuals were good, and Cameron pushed the envelope on that (although it's not as earth-shattering as it seems, Final Fantasy already began up-close 3d rendering of people in 2001), but other than that the whole movie is just flat. Plotline is very standard (and can be figured out in the first 15 min) and the acting is so-so. In the past 10 years there have been a bunch of movies which were, allround, simply put, just better. Slumdog Millionaire, No Country for Old Men, Lost in Translation, American Beauty, even Gladiator for fsck's sake :)

Rant on :D

11:13 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I think that's the basic disagreement right there: you think that Slumdog Millionaire, Gladiator, and -- my favorite part -- Lost in Translation (!!) were better movies than Avatar. 'Nuff said, we obviously just have different taste in films and different views of what makes a movie good.

Pulp Fiction was truly awesome though -- at least you got one right. ;)

3:47 AM  
Blogger PokerFool said...

While I agree that Avatar is a really good movie, you are wrong about Lord of the Rings. Best movies ever made, imo.

Also, check out this:

http://i164.photobucket.com/albums/u34/xPokerFoolx/Avatar.jpg

You will giggle.

3:52 AM  
Blogger Achiel said...

Heh, I think it's pretty clear we disagree, the only thing I don't really get is *why* we disagree. The only thing I could really distill why you think avatar is such a great movie is the visuals...? Sure, the movie looks cool, but it doesn't do much more than just push the tech a little further.

Am I missing something here? Because a movie that "looks cool" doesn't really win the "best picture of the decade" award for me...

7:33 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Who knew Steven Speilberg had sunk to leaving troll comments on blogs?

7:54 AM  
Blogger Achiel said...

Who knew bloggers had sunk to evading lively discussion? ;)

8:58 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

The best part is that your comment is not that you didn't like the movie. Your comment is that I did not actually like it. After two full days of posting nothing about every detail I loved about this movie, your conclusion here is that "The only thing I could really distill why you think avatar is such a great movie is the visuals".

Please get a poker blog right away, sir.

I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Achiel said...

Hehehe, fair enough. I didn't like it that much. The graphics are pretty cool, but as a movie I think it's overhyped.

The reason I commented was that you keep on saying that the movie is one of the best of the last 10 years, and I couldn't really understand why you thought that, other than that the graphics were good (you go on about 'creativity' and that 'this looked good' and 'that looked good'). Thus I tried to give another type of definition for "best movie of xxx", to start off a lively discussion.

Anyway, guess we can just conclude that we have very different opinions of what great movies are made of and leave it at that.

Cheers ;)

10:00 AM  
Blogger Jeremy said...

I have to agree with you Hoy. I loved the movie. I wasn't able to see it in 3D though. I thought the storyline was very good. Yes, it was somewhat predicatable but aren't most movies anymore?

I came out of the movie knowing that it was one of the best that I had ever seen, but couldn't really pinpoint why.

After a while though, I realized what made the movie great for me. It was how Cameron was able to make the viewer empathize with Jake Sully. As the movie went along I felt as if I were Jake Sully. From the flying scenes to the fighting scenes, Cameron did a great job of putting the viewer in Sully's "shoes".

11:09 AM  
Blogger Julius_Goat said...

I am seeing Avatar on Saturday. I can't wait for the IM chat if I don't love it.

2:01 AM  
Blogger michael said...

Avatar is definitely one of the movie of all time, i can even consider the movie he great.. that's how great the movie was.

7:58 PM  

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