Saturday, January 9, 2010

Avatar (2009, Cameron)

The opening blockbuster of the 10’s (“A fresh start in a new world”, per its narrator), James Cameron’s Avatar (2009) is a creature of whim. This self-congratulatory peacenik PlayStation-is-all extravaganza (deemed „crude and inartistic” by the World Socialist Web Site reviewer), behaves differently in various venues. It breathes well on the IMAX screen, where it more or less envelops the viewer, leaving no space for anything but gasps. Seen the second time in a regular multiplex (still in 3D), it loses much of its impact and plays more like an awesome dream of a hippie recovering from a video-game binge.

Like in many other experiential films, Avatar’s implied mode of viewership is explicitly defined in the dialogue, when Grace (Sigourney Weaver) briefs Jake (Sam Worthington) and tells him to “relax and let your mind go blank”. Those unwilling to do so are in for a bumpy ride along many blunt edges of Cameron’s famously graceless dialogue (“She wrote the book… I mean, actually wrote a book on Na’vi!”, has the ring of a high-school drop-out’s awe at a dork’s achievement; perhaps tellingly so). Those willing, like this viewer, to relish in the wonders of Cameron’s set-pieces, can experience miracles not unlike those enjoyed by paraplegic Jake, who walks in his avatar’s body for the first time in years. Human experience has never before included the sensation of looking into the tube-like depth of a hibernation chamber and watching the freshly awoken bodies float in 3D. Thanks to Cameron, it does now.

I’m willing to forgive Avatar much of its silliness; even its deflated last 50 minutes don’t bother me much. While watching it, I had a feeling of dealing with something momentous and yet transient – I doubt if the movie will age well, or indeed launch a cult, as Roger Ebert predicts (forgetting how endlessly thicker Star Wars [1977] was in its structure). Avatar wears out easily (like The Thief of Baghdad [1940]) but while it lasts it’s truly transporting and mouth-watering – it’s a sneak preview of what the 10’s spectacles will be like, and the perspective is mind-blowing.

And its discreet blood tie to Rene Clair’s Beauties of the Night (1952) – which was also built on a premise of a life lived fuller while asleep – doesn’t hurt either.


  1. Michal,
    Great report on the film. I trust your taste and am glad to see the film through your lens. I cycled by the cinema and wished I had $12 to spare, but actually it's kind of cooler reading your take on it. I'm glad you disagree with Ebert about its longevity.

    Great blog too.


  2. David,

    thanks so much for your kind words -- they made me feel the whole blog-effort is worthwhile, after all. As for AVATAR, if you find yourself with loose $12 on your hands, I'd say you should see it. As far away as it is from Henry James' world, it has its own rich and strange beauty.

  3. Super review, Michal. You’ve achieved what I’d thought was an impossible task: you’ve made me want to see this movie.

  4. Haha, good to hear that :) Thanks for your kind words, I'll be looking out for your review of AVATAR on your blog, then!

  5. I'm usually very impressed with the style of your reviews, and was SO happy to see that for once you've decided to do without namechecking some supposed reference every other sentence (for the most part, anyway)

    Anyway, good stuff :)

  6. thirdperson:

    You got me there: I'm a sucker for supposed references :)

    Still, thanks for the kind words -- I'm always impressed by the style of your posts on "The Neon Vault", too! Yup, I keep lurking there, even though I rarely comment on posts(mostly because I'm so ignorant in all matters musical that I cannot really take a stand on the bands/singers you recommend... But I keep learning!).