Saturday, 18 June 2011

100 days, 100 films; Day 1 - Avatar:

#100 - Avatar

I guess making this my number 100 will raise a few eyebrows and have a few people sighing and going “fanboy alert” but hey, it’s not a crime that I enjoyed this film right? I mean, in a few decades this will be remembered and recognised as one of the most influential films of all time, and will be getting the recognition that films such as Citizen Kane get today. Right now it is still suffering from the “it’s popular therefore it sucks” mentality. But, whether you enjoyed it or not, you can’t deny it has been one of the most groundbreaking films in recent years. Just think about how many films had the 3-D option before this came out – nowadays you pretty much expect any fantasy or sci-fi film to have the 3-D option. I was lucky enough to see this film in the cinemas and just watching it, I knew it was going to be this big thing. It was obvious that this would be the film everyone would be talking about. Whether they enjoyed it or not, it got people talking and that is what counts.

Okay, I might as well start with a bit of random trivia. James Cameron (pause for the 33 bows I have to do whenever I use his name – that’s fan dedication right there) had this on the shelf for over ten years. He first wrote it way back in the 90s but was afraid that the effects at the time wouldn’t be able to do it justice. You can understand that if you take one look at the CGI zords in the Power Rangers movie (that’s another film that sadly couldn’t make this list) and it wasn’t until he saw Gollum in Lord of the Rings that he was sure he could make Avatar happen. And low and behold, his big blue space elf baby hit our screens in 2009.

One thing I love about James Cameron’s films is that you know he has put his heart and soul into each and every one of them. As a wannabe filmmaker myself, that is one thing that is vital in the business – if you don’t feel anything for the project you’re working on or just want to finish it so you can collect that paycheque then you’ll find that hardly anyone else will love it either. And look at the effort that went into this film. As of now, the longest live action film I’ve ever been involved in was five minutes long and it can be a pain in the ass to get that little amount of footage – this kind of thing is a filmmaker’s worst nightmare. But it’s all worth it when it comes together.

Like it or not, visuals in a film are very important. The visuals are meant to tell the story first and foremost while the dialogue and characters help move it along. True you need a good plot and characterisation to back them up, but the visuals do deserve special attention. The world of Pandora is something truly amazing and I can’t believe someone even thought it up and created it all from scratch. I mean, even the makers of Lord of the Rings had half their work done for them by the New Zealand landscape. This film is beautiful to look at and you can immediately understand why the humans want the land. Even all the little details like how the tree trunks light up in the places where people step on them, or the seeds floating in the air just show how much effort was put in. Hours of work were put in for those little things that most people won’t notice, and as for the big things, well I honestly wouldn’t want to be in a position to make a film like this.

Moving on from the effects as there’s only so many ways I can verbally pat James Cameron and his visual effects team on the back and kiss their feet over the internet, the other excellent part of this film is the cinematography, for of course you can have the prettiest backdrops in the world but you gotta make sure everyone sees them the right way. And take into account the majority of shooting was done against friggin green screen. All of the flying scenes are just breathtaking to watch, especially Jake’s first flight. I wouldn’t want to be a Na’vi but dammit I want to fly on one of those things. The entire slow-motion sequence of Jake and Grace being separated from their Avatars after home tree has been destroyed is a very powerful scene and lets you know the shit has hit the fan as only slow-motion can.

Another thing I love about this film is its script. It takes a stock plot that any film buff can work out and puts its own spin on it. The dialogue is fun to listen to and I’m bummed that we couldn’t have gotten a big dialogue scene between our four main human heroes just once in the film. That’s about the only scene this film was missing. I also loved the relationship that developed between Grace and Jake, almost like a mother-son one. There’s a ton of little scenes between them that I can’t get enough of, like when she wheels him half-asleep to his bed and during his ceremony she has a look on her face like she’s about to cry, she’s so proud of him.
Speaking of our heroes, Sigourney Weaver stole the show for me; it’s easy for me to say that since I’m such a huge fan of hers but Grace was an awesome character, well written and well acted. She reminded me of my high school Biology teacher (I did tell her that but I still don’t know if she ever saw this film) and she was just this cool fun sassy scientist that we don’t know whether to call her a bitch of not. I don’t think Sigourney Weaver has played many characters like that – the only one I can think of is Max from Heartbreakers. And is it weird that I found her Avatar way hotter than Neytiri? Another pleasant surprise was the guy playing Parker who many people might recognise as Frank (Phoebe’s brother) from Friends. Then there’s the colonel. I read that Michael Biehn was considered for the role and it would be interesting to see that. I’ve only ever seen him play good guys so to see him as a villain would be a little unnerving. But I’m glad the part didn’t go to him since if it had, I’d only be thinking of the colonel as Michael Biehn’s character. I’ve never seen the actor in anything else so he was able to come alive and be the colonel for me. He was the typical hard ass drill sergeant nasty you see in practically any film that has soldiers in it.
Okay, enough about my endless praises because I do have some positive criticism. It’s a great movie but it’s not perfect. I’m not going to bother with the plot – nobody saw this movie for the plot. It is predictable since when I was watching it in the cinema I knew roughly what would happen (Jake gets exposed, big epic battle etc) but there are a lot of stock clichés that the movie sets up but thankfully doesn’t go ahead with. There’s the bit with Norm being jealous of Jake – that could have been expanded into a whole subplot but thankfully that didn’t happen, as well as hints of a love triangle between Tsu’tey, Jake and Neytiri. The main gripe I have with this film is that it was way too long. The thing ran for over two and a half hours and while it was enjoyable, there was a lot of stuff that could have been cut out (I’m not gonna go into that since it’s not my film). It was almost a chore to finish it in one go even though I love it so much.
I know this shouldn’t be a big issue but Sam Worthington’s accent bothered me. His performance was fine but the accent didn’t help things. When they saw he couldn’t convincingly hide his Australian accent they really should have just let him use his normal voice or explain that he’s originally from Australia but his accent is changing. As you’ll find out, accents are a big pet peeve for me.

In rounding this entry up, I’m gonna drop my favourite and least favourite scenes for you.
My favourite scene has to go to Jake’s first flight; I’m a sucker for scenes in the air and this was just breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to actually be in a film as much as I did when I was watching that scene (though honourable mention to the Power Rangers again). It’s a really exciting scene to watch and of course that’s why it finds its way into all the PR.
My least favourite scene has got to be Jake coming clean to the Na’vi people about who he is. I knew it was coming and I just had the attitude that it was an annoying plot element we had to get over and done with so we could move on to better parts of the film. I almost wish that scene could have been skipped. To me it’s like the silly sitcom plot where character A catches character B’s lover cheating and tells them and character doesn’t believe them yadda yadda yadda. I wasn’t crazy about the bit where Grace tries to explain the system to the soldiers either.

So that’s it for my first entry. I kicked things off with a film everybody knows and that has divided many fans. Do I think it deserved Best Picture? Well I never saw The Hurt Locker and I enjoyed this so why the hell not? If Shakespeare In Love can win an Oscar, anyone can. I’ll be back tomorrow with film #99. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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