Thursday, February 04, 2010

Avatar -- The Most Visually Stunning Movie Ever Made

On Sunday, I finally set aside time to see the movie event of the decade, Avatar. When I first saw the trailer late last year, I found nothing appealing about this movie at all. It just looked like a militaristic sci-fi movie aimed at the raging testosterone set of teenage and twentysomething year old males. I probably would have been excited about this film when I was at that age group, but I'm more into realistic drama and biopics. Additionally, I never really liked James Cameron very much. He always came across as an asshole. Or maybe I just hated him because his tragic chick flick Titanic beat Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time in 1998. Finally, a movie has arrived that was able to sink Titanic as the King of the Box Office. Now Avatar is the highest earning film of all time (though it did cost more than $200 million to make).

So, what changed my decision, you ask? Good question. Can you believe that my curiosity only piqued when I heard Babyboomer woman after Babyboomer woman after Babyboomer woman rave about how great this film is. Really? I was completely stunned. I did not expect that at all. Of course, the feminists might attack me for gender stereotyping again...but I base it on personal experience. When I saw each of the Lord of the Rings films and all of the Star Wars films in theaters as an adult, I noticed that there were more men than women in the audience. Once, I went to the opening night of Kate and Leopold (a time-traveling romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman) and I was the only guy in the entire theater! I did not expect that at all. There is a case to be made for gender preferences in movies.

When so many women raved about Avatar, I knew I had to go see it for myself. It would be like hearing many middle-aged men raving about the Twilight movies (don't worry...hasn't happened. Some things don't change). Besides my curiosity about why so many women loved this movie, there have been quite a few movies released in 3-D lately but I haven't found one that really made me want to see it. I have been wanting to see a movie in 3-D because the only one I remember seeing was some cheesy 50s monster movie that was shown on TV once back in the 1980s. Avatar is definitely the movie to watch in 3-D and I did not want to miss my opportunity.

I made arrangements with my brother to see Avatar at the nearest theater that played the film in 3-D. Fortunately, the cinema near Lloyd Center Mall was offering the special version, which is located in the Free Rail Zone, so I pay nothing in transportation. My brother has a tendency to be unreliable, though. I told him that he needed to be at the theater by 2 p.m. for the showing at 3:10, because I suspected that the 3-D showing might sell out (its been selling out every weekend). I bought my ticket and then waited in line to enter the theater. And waited. And waited. No sign of my brother. Instead, I listened to conversations that people behind me in line were having. One guy mentioned that his son had seen Titanic fourteen times in the theater because his son had a huge crush on Kate Winslet at the time. My gawd...14 times?!? Who could sit through that film that many times? I saw it once and it was plenty enough for me.

My brother called me close to 3 p.m. when we were being let into the theater. I noticed that the sign indicated that the 3:10 showing was sold out. I told my brother to forget it because he wouldn't be able to see it. He sounded disappointed, but its his fault. All the time, he is chronically late for everything like he has no concept of time. I've learned long ago that I can't rely on him for anything, so I wasn't surprised that he did not make it to the theater on time. It would have been nice to see the movie with him, but his loss.

The special 3-D glasses didn't look like any 3-D glasses I'm familiar with (the red and blue lenses). It looked like a regular set of glasses. After several trailers, a notice comes up telling audiences to put on their 3-D glasses. Then there's a cool little logo to test out your eyes. Two trailers in 3-D followed (Pirahna 3-D and the fourth Shrek movie in 3-D), then the movie. I sat riveted in my seat, sometimes wanting to touch things that appeared to come at me, sometimes taking my glasses off to see how it looks two-dimensionally. Mostly, though, I sat in awe at some of the most visually beautiful images I have ever seen on the big screen.

I knew going in that the plot is reminiscent of Dances With Wolves. However, those how dismiss Avatar as a copy-cat are being unfair. There's supposedly less than 10 possible storylines. Every story has been done before. The magic is in the way you present the story. I loved Dances With Wolves and I really liked The Last Samurai. They had the same storyline but different ways of telling them. Well, after having seen Avatar, I can tell you that Cameron's masterpiece blows both of those films away in every respect.

Another compelling reason that made me want to see this movie was a review made by Stephen Simon, the founder of the Spiritual Cinema Circle (I used to be a member of it, but suspended my membership until I land a much better job. Its a luxury I can no longer afford, though I did enjoy the increase in quality films they selected compared to the early selections). Simon is devoted to inspiring films and he called Avatar a spiritual movie. I did not think Cameron had a spiritual bone in his body, so I was genuinely surprised by the underlying spiritual message of his masterpiece.

For those who have not seen this movie (what the hell are you waiting for, an engraved invitation? Get your ass to the theater, pronto!, before it disappears from 3-D), the story is about a U.S. Marine who is paralyzed from his waist down fighting in a war in Venezuela. The year is 2157 and a mining company has found an energy source that has solved the crisis on earth. The problem is that this unique mineral substance is on the faraway moon of Pandora, which has a toxic atmosphere for humans, not to mention ferociously deadly creatures that make Jurassic Park look like a petting zoo. Even worse for the earthlings, primitive 11-foot blue people live in the forests where this mineral is buried. Scientists have created "avatars" for humans to use in order to make contact with the primitives and gain their trust before they destroy their sacred home.

At first, Sully, the Marine with defective legs, agrees to do his duty for planet Earth. He reports directly to the super-buff Marine Colonel who has no qualms about committing mass genocide to get the valuable mineral extracts. A funny thing happens during Sully's forays into the forests of Pandora. He gets his ass saved by a mysterious lady (played by super hot actress Zoe Saldana, though we only see her CGI self) and learns the ways of the tribe. Basically, this alien species is all about relationship harmony with other animals and the environment. What I love about the special effects in this movie is the way plants glow in beautiful colours. Its almost like having a glimpse into the spiritual realm. One day, I really hope someone will make a film set in heaven with this kind of special effects. Until then, Avatar will hold the distinction as being the most visually stunning movie ever made.

After walking out of the theater in complete awe, and thinking about it over several days, I almost could write a dissertation on this movie. I think its interesting that women really love this movie, but after seeing it, I can't say that it is all that surprising. To boil the plot down to the simplist explanation, its a battle between the sexes. Testosterone versus estrogen. And estrogen wins! The hyper-masculine, ultra-buffed out militaristic men are gung ho about destroying natural habitats in service of greedy exploitation. The lithe primitives are about symbiosis and relationships. Even more, based on my understanding, the reason why some women gravitate towards "bad boys" is because of a romantic notion that their love is powerful enough to change a man away from his destructive ways. Granted, in real life, most women in relationship with bad boys generally get physically abused, but the romantic mythology of their power to change men remains. This film feeds into that belief, thus why I believe so many women loved the movie. Sully gave up his species to be with the woman, betraying his own people to save her people and way of life. What woman doesn't love that transformation? (I can't recall a movie where a woman changes her entire being to be with a man. Well, does Pretty Woman count?).

Ironically, James Cameron created a "feminine" movie with Avatar while his ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow created a "masculine" movie with The Hurt Locker. On Tuesday morning, both of them received well deserved Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Picture. Though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences generally has a bias against science-fiction and fantasy films, I would bet money this year that Avatar will win the highest honour. No other science-fiction film deserves it more than this one. Avatar is an earth-shaking, industry-altering motion picture experience. Just like Star Wars changed the nature of films in the late 1970s, and The Matrix did a decade ago, Avatar is going to unleash the floodgates on visually stunning 3-D films that don't offer cheap gimmicks (such as 3-D versions of films like Final Destination, Amityville, and the recent Christmas Carol film).

I loved Avatar so much that I almost hate doing this...At the end of last year, I had named Up in the Air as the Best Motion Picture of the Year. I should've went to see Avatar before I wrote the Best of 2009 list, because now I'm amending that list. Avatar is officially my selection for Best Picture of 2009. James Cameron made a believer out of me. I will never doubt his creative genius again. All I can say is, thank you for making such a brilliant and gorgeous film. Enjoy all the Oscars you're going to earn! And I hope you use all the money this movie is raking in to create even more fantastic films. I'd love to see a movie set in heaven using some of the visual effects seen in Avatar. The world is ready to be inspired by a vision of our spiritual home. All you need is a compelling story. I volunteer to write a script for you!

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