Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Avatar Dilemma

By now you've likely heard the hype for the latest film from James Cameron, if not witnessed the film that inspired it. If not, all you need to do is check the review page at Rotten Tomatoes, and you'll get a full sense of the lavish praise the movie is getting for its technical wizardry. Critics are more or less united by the opinion that the movie creeps towards epic status for how closely its CGI world mimics reality, with at least one critic comparing the viewing experience to what filmgoers saw in 1933 when they sat down to watch King Kong.

But then there's the other opinion on which most critics are united: the story and characters are woefully underdeveloped. But, most of these critics bury the complaint, either by noting that this is a typical Cameron flaw that should be expected, or that with a movie this visually arresting, monodimensional characters and plot can be excused.

This leaves me in a bit of a bind when trying to decide if I should see it. On the one hand, movies are inherently visual, and that part of the process should get the most focus. Without the visuals, movies would just be really expensive audiobooks.

On the other hand, do I want to spend nearly three hours blocking out plotting and dialog that is unlikely to mentally stimulate anyone over the age of eight? On this side, I think a bit about a series of specials our local PBS stations trot out during pledge week. Each one is a film of a low-level flight over some picturesque area (Italy or Ireland or the like), where notable locations are indicated by a graphic and nothing else. Only music accompanies the pictures, so there's no narration to put things into context. I find these shows good for about five minutes, after which the scenery onslaught just gets repetitive.

(And then there's the third hand, which is trying to decided if, ethically, I want to support a movie-making process that costs upwards of $300 million. I'm not going to even bother going there for now.)

When it gets down to it, I come down on the side of writing (which seems like it would be the obvious choice for someone bothering to write about this whole thing). I kind of like Joe Posnanski's take on it (read down a bit), though with a less personal reason behind the decision. When it comes down to it, I can't justify spending three hours watching anything if there's not a story or characters that are going to help me connect with the visuals. I might as well stay home and play with a kaleidoscope and save the 10 bucks or whatever.

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