First off, let me plug The Art of Avatar event being held at Gallery Nucleus on January 23rd.  Artists James Clyne, Steve Messing, Daphne Yap, Jordu Schell, and Dylan Cole will be there to talk about the making of the film. I’ll be sure to post about it again as the day approaches.  Secondly, I’ll share my short review for the film.  I would, however, need a second viewing to write a proper one, so this is simply my initial reaction.

On Sunday night, Amy and I were able to take a break from Juni (grandma took over for a few hours) to watch Avatar.  We had attended the special “Avatar Day” screening of the 16-minute preview two months prior and we left unimpressed with the 3D and effects, but interested in the story.  It was a good reminder of how strong Cameron’s storytelling instincts have been in the past.  We recently watched Terminator 2, which is pretty much a perfect film.  Very few filmmakers in Hollywood know how to carry a story’s momentum the way Cameron does. Here’s a good essay on using suspense in films, citing Aliens as an example.

So, after creating a string of critically-acclaimed and financially successful films, why should anyone doubt him, right?  Perhaps it was because he was getting old, and he had been away from mainstream action pictures for so long while spending millions traversing the ocean bottom in a submarine, or reviewing and collecting the live-action adaptation film rights to popular manga and anime titles, that we believed the man may have lost his edge.  It’s more likely the fact that he planned on making a 3D motion-capture film about a silly-looking race of 10 foot-tall alien creatures and make it the most expensive film ever made that had people shaking their heads.  Whatever the reason, Avatar was clouded in doubt, and the man at the helm seemed comfortable with the familiar role of being in the eye of the storm.

Now, perhaps finally, very few people will doubt Cameron’s abilities as a director and visionary, since Avatar is truly a landmark film.  Incredibly, it lives up to the seemingly insurmountable hype thanks mostly to the effects work.  Despite the negative criticisms made about the writing of the film, however, I found it to be a very well-told story.  Outside of a few story issues with the final act (which can easily be remedied in a sequel, and is likely the plan), I’d say it was a perfect moviegoing experience.  I’d like to emphasize the word “experience” because that is what Avatar is built to serve: the moviegoing experience.

A good script is one that serves the director to build the film he sees in his head.  A screenplay is simply a blueprint for the architects of the production.  By this definition, Avatar is a very well-written film, with a script that serves its masters exceedingly well.  The characters are clearly defined and their words never betray them. The events transpire in a way that keeps the audience wanting more.  Everything in the film is working together to keep the illusion alive.  One may disagree with Cameron’s philosophies or subtext, but it would be a mistake to say that the words and events are empty shells, because he loads the text with his simple poetry, not unlike Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy.  Even the mechanical suits serve as symbols, helping to define the antagonists the way the avatars define the heroes.  This film was brimming over with more ideas than I expected, and what was most unexpected of all was the strongest emotion the film elicited, and that was a feeling of joy. Compounded upon that was the feeling that the joy you’re experiencing will likely fade away, so be sure to enjoy it and savor it while you can.  For a film that carries a heavy-handed ecological message in its broadest strokes, it sure is a marvelously subtle and effective approach to implanting the passion behind natural conservation in the viewer’s subconscious (much of this is likely inspired by Cameron’s expeditions into the deep).  And luckily for the producers, this serves a secondary function that will pay dividends: it makes me want to revisit that joy, much the same way teenage girls yearned to revisit Titanic.  James Cameron proves once again that he is second to none when it comes to building a spectacular moviegoing experience.  And we’re all incredibly lucky to have someone among us who is willing to go such great distances to make it happen.