Avatar/Did You Hear About The Morgans?

WOOOO! With my viewing of Avatar on Saturday afternoon, I reached 100! Then I saw Did You Hear About the Morgans? on Sunday for 101. I’m gonna mini-review Morgans, as the quality of the picture is pretty self explanatory from the trailer and by-line. But Avatar, the review will be directly proportional to the length of the film and my liking of it.

Did You Hear About The Morgans? – 0.5 stars

This film is about as predictable as they get, especially since I saw it 12 years ago as For Richer or Poorer with Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley. Ok… saw’s a strong word, I heard about it. But a bickering big city couple goes to live in the country for reasons beyond their control, and find out they really love each other. The film relies heavily on moving from one gag to the other. Hugh Grant is charming, if annoying. And the always dependable Sam Elliot brings it home, but even they couldn’t save this drivel.

Avatar – 4.5 stars

2009 was not only a big year for sci-fi, but it was big year for game changing sci-fi, and it was a year that turned sci-fi on it’s head. Star Trek broadened sci-fi’s appeal to a mainstream audience. District 9 was the little movie that could, and told one of the best stories of the year. And Avatar showed what a true craftsman could do with enough money and technology.

Whereas most sci-fi flicks explore aliens invading Earth, what if we were the invading race? That’s the core them that Avatar explores. After humans have used up the resources on Earth by 2154, they head out into space in search of more. They come to Pandora, a distant Earth-like moon with abundant resources, including the very valuable and not too subtly named “unattainium,” but the native race, the Na’vi, prefer to live their peaceful lives undisturbed, and won’t give up their land without a fight. So in order to coerce them into leaving, the military has turned to avatars, remotely operated versions of the Na’vi, controlled through the mind by scientists and soldiers. The plan goes awry when paraplegic Jake Sulley not only grows accustomed to his new body, but gets accepted into the Na’vi tribe. Now he’s torn between his former life and his orders as a Marine, and the new world he’s become a part of.

That’s honestly the shortest description I could come up with that still does the movie justice and gives you a good idea of what the film is about. It’s such a complex, yet wonderfully engaging film.

James Cameron took his time in making this film. He started with a vision. And he patiently waited for technology to catch up to his vision. One could argue that that’s an incredibly pretentious thing to say. But when you’re the director who revolutionized visual effects twice (first two Terminator films), and has a history of epic story telling, I’m willing to grant you a little leeway in crafting your art.

I think he was right in waiting. Had this been made 10 years ago, we would have wound up with a mess of CGI, rivaling the Star Wars prequels in looking cartoonish and flat. But by taking the time to create a generated, yet realistic looking world paid off. And filming in 3D enhanced the experience. Cameron fully immerses the viewer in the world of Pandora through what was probably a painstaking attention to detail. He doesn’t just show you this other world, this world of the Na’vi, he pulls you in, and makes you just as much a part of it as the characters he creates.

But here’s the thing about his cinematic baby, he doted too much. It’s one thing to top the 2.5 hour mark and push for 3 if it’s a good, engaging, worthy 2 hours and 42 minutes. But, and this holds true for his last feature, the even longer Titanic, trim the fat. There were times where it seemed an excess of scenes in an effort to show off the CGI, rather than move the story along. It’s not that they weren’t fascinating to watch. But were they necessary? Probably not. Trim the fat, put it back in for the director’s cut DVD.

As for the actual story being told, I don’t think he even tried to hide the metaphors and analogies. In which case, can we really consider them to be metaphors and analogies? The big industrial, militaristic society infringes on the earth loving, spiritual society for capitalistic gains. It’s not exactly a groundbreaking story. But even a bland story well told is still a well told story.

Now, as for the performances. Sam Worthington, as Jake Sulley, obviously bears the load of the story. He carries the film. And to be a relatively unknown (Stateside anyway) carrying a several hundred million dollar epic with high hopes and higher hype is no small task. But Worthington, to his credit, stepped up to the plate, swung for the fences, and hit it out of the ballpark. What I took away from his performance, is that he was given free reign to act the role as he saw fit. And you get an already disenchanted young man who becomes increasingly torn between two worlds. It was to his benefit that we didn’t know who he was, because we had no expectations, no preconceptions as to what he could or should do. And when you get an actor who is allowed to act with careful guidance through the story from the creator of said story, you get a more nuanced performance.

That being said, one shouldn’t count out 30 year veteran Sigourney Weaver for bringing a surprising amount of heart to not only her character, lead scientist Dr. Grace Augustine, but to the film. It makes me ponder if we’ve just kind of been taking Weaver for granted as an actress all these years.

I would, sticking with performances, like to point out Stephen Lang, primarily known for his stage work, but has made a name for himself as a character actor over the years. He steals the show as the hard edged Colonel Miles Quaritch. Kudos, Mr. Lang.

I do highly recommend this film. It lives up to the hype and then some. And to wrap up the review, I’ll paraphrase a friend and kindred cinematic spirit, Jerett Kelly, “I’ve long felt I missed out, not being able to see Star Wars during it’s original theatrical run. Now, after seeing Avatar, I know the feeling. Avatar is our generation’s Star Wars.” Also: do yourself a favour, see it in 3D.

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