Rarely do I feel the need to see a movie in the theater anymore. Dinner-and-a-movie date nights are few and far between these days, but even when we have the chance to see a movie in the theater, we often wonder why we didn’t just wait to see it at home in its full HD glory. But Avatar was different — I knew I wanted to see that one in 3D on the IMAX screen, especially having heard so many rave reviews about the special effects. And since my wife had no interest in seeing it, she encouraged me to call some friends and hit the theater last weekend.
I don’t know what came over me, but I managed to plan ahead and buy some tickets online before the 7:00 showing sold out. We arrived a touch later than I had planned (shocker, right?), so we had to sit up close. Didn’t turn out to be an issue. Two and a half hours later, I threw my 3D glasses in the bin as I walked out, blinking in disbelief at what I had just seen.
Those special effects? Ridiculous. Actually, calling them special effects doesn’t do them justice — “special effects” conjures up images of climactic explosions, a bus jumping a freeway, or a couple of overused gimmicky camera tricks (Matrix, anyone?). This was a whole new deal. At times, I couldn’t believe I was seeing what was on the screen. It made me want to run and jump through this magic forest they’d created because it looked ten times better than any real forest could be.
I might be easily impressed, but I thought the moviemakers’ use of the 3D medium was masterful. They refrained from showing off by peppering the movie with “coming out at you’ scenes. Instead, most scenes were subtly layered and had real depth. When the lead character stood at the edge of an enormous drop, my stomach reacted as if I were standing next to him. For those reasons, I don’t hesitate to call Avatar one of the best and most entertaining movies I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, it also was one of the most dreadful movies I’ve ever seen. I knew going into it that Cameron had all kinds of agendas to advance with the film and that he didn’t shy away from advancing them. I also expected the movie to deliver those messages in a very heavy-handed way. Oh, did Avatar exceed my expectations.
Let’s see, we need a bad guy, but we can’t decide between (1) a mean corporation out to rape the planet of precious resources for a mercenary profit (by mining no less); (2) a militaristic regime out to crush an innocent, peace-loving tribe of Native Americans space aliens who just want to maintain their ancestral home; and (3) a soulless, brutish white man (or two) out to slaughter a group of noble spiritual followers who adhere to an ever-so-tolerant mix of New Age spiritualism, ancestral worship, and pantheism. I know, let’s do all three!! I think the only thing the Avatar scriptwriters left on the cutting room floor was a sweaty, yellow-toothed Catholic priest gleefully approving of all the corporation’s actions in the name of their superior religion. Yeah, I guess that might have been pushing things a little too far.
I can tolerate a movie that has an environmental agenda — that’s standard fare these days. I can deal with an anti-war agenda. I even can hang with movies that want to clobber white America for past abuses, even though such movies may demonize (inadvertently or not) whole segments of the population in the process. Avatar, though, takes the cake. It’s as if Cameron thought this was the last movie he’d ever make and he had to squeeze in each and every one of his political, social and religious messages, come Hell or high water. It made for a pretty distasteful plot, especially during the final scenes where the audience is encouraged to cheer on the wholesale slaughter of human beings by various alien animals and beings.
Still, I’d recommend the movie to anyone. Even if you hate Cameron’s multiple agendas, see it for the mind-blowing special effects. If you’re a naturalist-socialist-pacifist-animist who loves those agendas, you just might have found Nirvana.