Dec 23 2009

Avatar

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Dear Michael Bay,
About six months ago, you released a massive Hollywood blockbuster that was critically attacked for being a bloated catastrophe that heralded the end of an era for big budgeted, effects-laden epics. On 17 December 2009, cinematic titan James Cameron released Avatar, which was equally expensive and chock full of special effects, yet had a well-written script, a solid cast, and has been recognized as being revolutionary due to its achievements in digital filmmaking. Man, you must feel like a total ass right now.

Avatar, beneath its technical achievements, has a story. I’ll repeat that, Mr. Bay, because you need to read that again: beneath all the CGI and intense battle sequences, Avatar has a story to be told that isn’t just fireballs and bullets. Set on the planet Pandora in the 22nd century, paralyzed ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is recruited into the Avatar program, a research-based extension of an aggressive mining company that mines an in-demand mineral found only in Pandora. In an attempt to improve relations with planet’s native population, the Na’vi, the Avatar program allows researchers to download their consciousness into artificially grown Na’vi bodies in an attempt to study the planet and it’s inhabitants. Although Jake is assigned to gain information on the tribes that could be used in less-than-diplomatic situations, he begins to appreciate the Na’vi’s culture and questions his own identity and loyalties.

Avatar is one of the year’s most anticipated films due to its use of newly designed, state-of-the-arts cameras that blended 3D, stop motion animation, live action and CGI. The final product is nothing short of a victory, as the new cameras blend CGI with live action in a way that is damn near perfect. The Na’vi, blue, ten-foot tall humanoids, look very lifelike, and although some look more digital than others, the principle characters look very real. The emotions, mannerisms and even facial features of the actors come through the digital figures in a way that makes you forget that these things are not real.

For a perfectionist like Cameron, having complete control over Pandora’s environment must have been a godsend. You can tell just how much of Pandora Cameron visualized in his head, and you can tell just how much time he put into translating his dreams into virtual reality, because the film’s landscape is one hell of a jungle; he truly brought a new world to life, and Pandora’s presentation is an incredible sight to behold.

Of course, the visual effects are at their best whenever any sort of action takes place, and boy do they; that’s one thing we all can agree on Mr. Bay. Although, even the most mundane of procedures, such as shuttle landings, fiddling with holographic computer screens and menial activities in a loading dock look fantastic. Always a fan of the science behind the fiction, Cameron flaunts the technical advancements of this future with casual ease, introducing us to this new world and the wonders that come with it.

I’m not much of a fan of 3D; it’s too much of a gimmick for me to really get behind. But the battle scenes; good lord are they fantastic, especially in 3D. Watching the Na’vi alongside other creatures in the sky and on the ground colliding with bulky, ominous war machines is a miraculous spectacle that, with the 3D, really makes you feel like you’re in the middle of it. The fights them selves are very well choreographed, unlike your “bash’em, thrash’em” technique. Each winged creature, battlecopter, spear and explosion plays out like a massive chess game, with each move getting closer and closer to an action even more magnificent than the last.

Action, effects, computer-generated images… I know that you understand these things well, Mr. Bay, and only talking about these aspects of a film do nothing to challenge you. All explosions and no talk is the kind of big screen video game that has become your bread and butter. The catch with Avatar is that there is plot, themes and character development, which gives a context and an emotional connection to the razzle-dazzle and full scale shootouts in the film.

Many of Cameron’s films deal with nature versus industry, though Avatar deals with this more explicitly than The Abyss or Aliens. Yes, the machines of the humans are bigger and far more powerful, yet it is the purity and simplicity of nature that proves to be the stronger assets. Though these things occur literally during the battle scenes, the tender power of nature also serves as the backbone of the film, which follows Jake Sully’s transformation from foot soldier of industry to warrior for Mother Earth.

Relative newcomer Sam Worthington (the one good thing about last summer’s Terminator: Salvation) holds the film with a quiet charisma that is seldom seen nowadays, particularly in your films Michael; remember, sometime silence speaks volumes. Sigourney Weaver is refreshing as the acerbic, chain-smoking Dr. Grace Augustine, a biologist and head of the Avatar program who suffers fools gladly, particularly the smarmy head of the mining company Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi, good to see you again). The villain of the film, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is, quite possibly, the most badass villain in the last few years. He’s macho and stubborn and quite possibly crazy with oohrah glee; so much so that you root for him, even if you know you shouldn’t, which is the best kind of villain, unlike Megatron, who’s just kinda lame.

So you see, Michael Bay, this is how you make a blockbuster; big budget, and explosions as well as story, characters and, you know, a script. In a way, Avatar is the antithesis to your gilded clunker in that your film proved that the Hollywood blockbuster is a dying animal; we should just leave it alone, and let it die with, at least, a shred of dignity. Avatar, on the other hand, proves that the Hollywood blockbuster is salvageable, and can provide excitement, wonder and explosions while still being a good, well thought out film. Mr. Bay, step down from thy throne. King Cameron hath returned. Long live the King.

Sincerely,
Benn Hadland

PS: You still owe me $10.50 and 2 1/2 hours of my time back.

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