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Archive for December, 2009

James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic, Avatar, is a merging of technology and tradition. The world in which this film takes place could only have been made under today’s advanced and expensive filmmaking techniques; the stunning result is the world known as Pandora, a voluminous globe of rich texture and great detail. Roaming its lands (and skies) are colorful inhabitants and landmarks that also required new technology to be captured onto film. It is all in this expertly crafted world that we are given a story that is simple and traditional in structure, juxtaposing the innovative use of today’s technology.

To my chagrin, this intertwining of tradition and technology fails to create a holistic film. The relationship between the two isn’t as symbiotic as one would expect, considering that one of Avatar’s several themes is that of harmony and coexistence. In fact, a deficiency in allowing visuals to complement the narrative (and vice versa) is immediately evident, and it worsens as the film progresses. The final product is an experience of both wonderment and disappointment. Visuals can only take a film so far before hitting a dead end of beautiful yet flavorless eye candy.

The visuals of Avatar are the best I’ve ever seen. Pandora is immersible, and its sheer magnitude is overwhelming in the best way possible. The film contains several sequences of riveting, epic action that jettisons the audience from its seats and into the dangerous yet breathtaking landscapes of Pandora. The 3D is also perfect. Rather than become gimmicky or stale, the 3D consistently adds a nuanced sense of depth and realism, removing us further from reality and launching us onto the backs of winged banshees or laying us beneath the serene purple night sky.

We are skillfully transported to another world of awe and fascination, and this is all due to the visual effects; but how much we actually care or even know about our surroundings is forgotten due to Avatar’s shortcomings, those being the narrative and the characters.

Before we are plunged into the jungles of Pandora for the first time, we, alongside main character Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), are notified that the inhabitants of Pandora, the humanoid Na’vi, are hostile creatures, and that the planet itself is a dangerous locale. However, there is no manifestation of fear when our first steps are taken because there is no direct, tangible conflict between the humans and the Na’vi. We do get chased by beasts of the land, but this sense of danger soon turns into convenience as everything plays in Jake’s favor. Pandora is no longer an immediate threat. Any form of trepidation (for example, when Jake first gets his banshee) is a product of Pandora, and therefore, the visuals. Not because the humans are trespassing.

The strife between the humans and the Na’vi is due to matters of such little significance, and the time that is appropriated to detailing the overall problem is next to none. This makes the villain anything but terrifying. Even the protagonists are quite bland so when some are met with near-death moments, any care for the character’s survival is gone.

This isn’t a critique on Cameron’s use of one dimensional characters. Avatar is both a pulp action film and a classic hero’s journey. The characters are meant to be flat and the story is meant to be formulaic. Seeing bad characters be fully evil and good characters be completely noble is welcome in my book. However, the weight of the film’s characters is not that substantial.

Are these flaws forgivable? To some, yes. To some, no. For me, a little bit of both. Avatar is a visually stunning experience. It makes going to the cinema a thrill you can’t get anywhere else, and I haven’t experienced that thrill in quite some time. Back in their own respective times, moviegoers got that same exact thrill with classics such as Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Jaws. What’s different is that I think Avatar will have trouble translating to other formats. The aforementioned classics can be watched under any circumstance. IMAX, big screen, laptop. I think Avatar’s splendor, as orgasmic as it is, can only exist on the IMAX. Furthermore, Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and Jaws do have their fair share of corniness (just like Avatar), but their strong characters and compelling narratives make them as rewarding as they are fun. Avatar’s lack of strength in all aspects besides its beautiful visuals deters it from imbuing a desire to watch it again once it leaves the theater.

7 out of 10

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This preview’s mixture of elusive imagery and sound showcases the brilliant yet controlled mind of Christopher Nolan. We’ve seen him tackle tough concepts with poise before-Memento, The Prestige, The Dark Knight. His films are very high-level and almost farfetched in thought, but each one is reined in with the maturity only a few directors can maintain.

Inception looks no different.

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Here are my picks for favorite movie trailers of the year 2009. Each one brought instant gratification, but what’s more important is that they have maintained longtime appeal over the course of the year. Due to the constantly shifting world that is the internet, previews can get lost in the midst of everything-virals, fail videos, and the occasional cute animal montages. However, these trailers stand out not only as advertisements for upcoming films, but also as independent works of art.

Honorable Mentions: District 9, Up in the Air, Toy Story 3

5. The Last Airbender

In this brief glimpse at M. Night Shyamalan’s upcoming film, The Last Airbender, we’re given a combination of graceful choreography and exquisite attention to detail, all the while being expertly captured in one long shot. How this teaser conveys the film’s tone is quite impressive considering how brief the preview actually is. The spirit of The Last Airbender, which might not exactly appeal to those outside the source material’s devout fan base, is still palplable in every second.

4. A Single Man

What begins this trailer is a moment of suffocating quietness. A naked man drowning. We, too, are lonely, cold, and helpless, but before we can let ourselves be completely trapped in his watery tomb, we are launched into a frenzy of majestic yet ominous colors that are complemented by music of similar manners. The tension that fills this preview overflows with unease, and it eventually drowns us by the end, conveniently bringing us back to that frigid yet powerful moment that started this trailer.

3. Where The Wild Things Are

Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” is a perfect accompaniment to the trailer of Spike Jonze’s telling of the widely beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. The adventurous and playful tone is akin to the mind of a child, and as we hearken to the uplifting music of Arcade Fire, we are transported to a world of gorgeous imagery and relived memories. The wonder of Jonze’s imagination gives me goosebumps everytime.

2. A Serious Man

The structure of this brilliant little trailer is very orchestral. Layers and layers of sound, all darkly humorous, build upon each other to create a frustrating symphony of disorientation. The tone of the film is accurately represented in this minute and a half with the use of repitition and misery. Quirky and odd? Yes. Intriguing? You betcha.

1. Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

Of all the trailers on the list, this one is the most traditional. However, its unstoppable energy, its dramatic cuts, and its outstanding use of music make it the most exciting preview of 2009. I know I’m in the minority when I say this, but I think it is better than the actual film. I was rather critical of the The Half-Blood Prince, but after watching this preview several times in the past few days, I want to give the movie a second chance. Not too many trailers can do that.

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