Archive for the Movie Reviews Category

Not the Greatest Movie Ever Made.

Posted in Movie Reviews with tags , on January 7, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

Every time I decide not to write this review, someone says how great Avatar was and I am reminded by how little we ask of the creative community these days. My position: a movie is only great if a majority of the elements are great and none of the elements a weak. I will categorize the elements into 1: Visuals, 2: Sound, 3: Story, 4: Performance.

Visually Avatar was outstanding. The design of the inhabitants of Pandora was creative and interesting. The computer work was the best I have seen; good enough to make you temporarily forget that what you are seeing is essentially a very expensive, well made cartoon. The air and space ships and land vehicles used by the humans were realistic enough to help with that “suspension of disbelief” so important to sci-fi movies. The only visual criticism I have is from my wife; she says the color scheme is direct from Disney’s Pocahontas.

Sound matched well with the visuals. Good sound effects are rarely noticed. We are mostly trained to notice when something sounds wrong, not right. The score by James Horner was naturally good; he is after all still James Horner. Good movie music is also frequently unnoticed through a bulk of the film only occasionally swelling to highlight a moment, unless we’re talking about the themes of John Williams that cover a film like the score of a ballet. Horner’s score was respectfully in the background for the most part and properly supported the film.

Story is where we start to fall apart. By fall apart, I mean the soup that was made by taking a heavy broth of Dances with Wolves with bits and pieces of The Matrix, Quigley Down Under, Medicine Man and, yes, sorry, Disney’s Pocahontas was a heterogeneous stew so chunky that you could easily pull the individual elements out of each spoonful. Mr. Cameron, if you must blend in your story telling, learn to puree. To be fair, all of these movies but The Matrix are similar in theme, but the elements used were unique enough, I believe, to warrant mentioning all of them. Ty Burr of the Boston Globe says “it’s the same movie” comparing Avatar to Dances with Wolves.

The predictability of the story was also aided by heavy-handed foreshadowing. A good bit of foreshadowing will tell you what will happen without showing you the why. Maybe a bit later you will get the clues as to why the “what” must or should happen. You will then start piecing it together. Cameron manages to stack up enough “whys” before you get the “what” that the piecing together is roughly equivalent to spotting a train coming. You’re near the tracks; the ground is shaking; you here the horn blasting; the guards drop. If you’re shocked when you see the train… well, I can’t explain to you what the problem is.

Performance is a split responsibility. Great actors will deliver regardless of the director. Bad actors will be bad regardless of the director. Those in between great and bad are frequently pushed up or down based on whose directing them. Great acting directors will bring up the mediocre actors to a higher level. Consider Will Smith whose acting range was drastically improved after working with Redford in Bagger Vance. Then there are those directors who drag down the performances of their actors. Consider Samuel L. Jackson’s terrible dead-pan at the hands of George Lucas (I shudder.) Cameron is not an actor’s director, but he doesn’t necessarily drag them down either. Sigourney Weaver is the easiest of the actors to review as she has a large enough body of familiar work to know what she is capable of. She’s done better. She wasn’t terrible, nobody was terrible, but she’s definitely done better.

In short, if you plan on seeing Avatar in the theatre, do. Get the funny 3D glasses and enjoy the spectacle. The spectacle is worth seeing. If you’re looking for a good story, this one is tried and true. Expect to be blown away by what you see on screen. Do not expect to be blown away by the story, unless you’ve managed to not see any of the other movies mentioned, but even then, this is a poorly written version of the story. It is beautiful, but NOT the greatest movie ever made.