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Avatar

The second movie in a year that has caused me to write about it, Avatar is fairly straightforward. Dances with Wolves in Space. That’s how I’ve heard it. Dances with Smurfs. What have you.

And yet… it’s so much more than that because most other films about noble savages are not so beautifully done or so scientifically driven.

Sam Worthington (whose American accent slips from time to time–it’s like a drinking game.) plays an ex-marine who goes to Pandora in place of his dead brother. Because of the heavy religious emphasis of the Na’vi, nothing is coincidence by the end of the film.

Sully is the first non-scientist to inhabit an Avatar and, as a result, he is the first to be accepted into the Na’vi clan. He was going to die but Zoe Saldana’s non-Avatar Na’vi was touched by the presence of a seed from the Tree of Souls.

On paper, this is the cheesiest, most hackneyed film you’ll ever see get clearance for a $300 million budget.

But, on screen, it is an experience to be rivaled. And this experience is something that, in the theater, is marveled. However, what I am leary of is this film’s ability to play on, say, my 27″ CRT television with 1″ speakers. Will it carry the same weight? Will it look as cool?

The latter, probably not. There is no way you can take in all the visuals on anything smaller than a theatrical screen. The colors of Pandora, and the way that everything visually interacts with one another is something that should be seen on the biggest screen one can find. The scene that sticks out in my mind, and keeps sticking out, is watching Sully and Saldana’s character run through Pandora at night along a log high above the ground that lights up a neon green with each step like nature’s private disco floor.

Many things have been and will be said about the film’s visuals. And all the praise is absolutely earned. And so has the criticism wrt story. See, in spite of the movie’s awe-inspiring beauty and organic message, there are still several moments that teeter on the edge of pulling one out of the movie in favor of snickers and “zOMG did you see…” twitters.

But it never quite falls out over the edge of unequivocally shitty. It merely peaks at the edge and says something like, “No I mustn’t.” and then goes back to being fairly strong and supported by even better visuals.

Though my favorite part of the film wasn’t the 3d or the story or even the entire ecosystem that Cameron admirably built from the ground up. No, I’m pretty sure my favorite element of the film is James Horner’s score. There is a man who knows the majesty of the french horn and the perfect musical phrase for a scene–without the whimsy of John Williams. Without such a powerful score, some of the emotional impact of the visuals would be immediately lost. His score adds a certain weight to every scene and it’s something that, for me, elevated this film from good to great to greater.

This is not my favorite movie of the year because of the problems stated above–about how all of the experience will be extricated once it eventually falls out of theaters and hits home video. It really seems like this film, unless home 3d technology gets better, will suffer once it hits home video. People will watch it again, with manic dreams of how it was in 3d in the 600 seat, 20-odd speaker theater, and then be completely let down by the flatness.

It’s possible, but maybe not. Only time will tell. For now, I’m pretty sure Up remains at the top of the year for new releases.

alien

Before I begin this review, let me say this publicly: I did not enjoy Blade Runner. It was boring and clunky and the story moved slower than molasses–not always a bad thing, but definitely a detriment to the subject matter.

And, save the boring part, Alien was much the same way: clunky and slower than molasses. However, the one thing that this movie had over Blade Runner was that it scared the shit out of me. And, although I’ve only seen four movies by Ridley Scott (being Blade Runner, titular, Gladiator, and Hannibal), I have to say that I have no desire to see any of his other films–with the exception being the forthcoming Blood Meridian, simply because I loved that goddam book.

Anyway, so what’s this movie about? Well, according to the pointless text at the beginning of the film, it’s about a cargo ship with 22,000 tons of cargo coming back to Earth from God knows where. And for such a visually large ship, you’d think that there would be more than eight crew members and about five sets. That made no sense to me, but most everyone died anyway so it doesn’t matter. That’s not a spoiler, because the back of the VHS box I read said the same thing: final survivor vs. Alien in an explosive ending!!!one1!!

So the crew. You’ve got Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley (believe it!) who, along with her token black crewmember, often acts as the voice of reason. And, much like Piggy in Lord of the Flies, it is to no avail.

Then you’ve got the scientist who is a complete asshole and (this is a legitimate spoiler that I’ll explain in a second) a robot sent by the corporation to actually get one of these aliens back to the head honchos for their weapons division. To me, this part of the story seemed like a jab at the Oil Industry after the crisis of ’73, and maybe a bit of hippie sympathy. The whole, “Oh my God, he’s a fucking robot” thing seemed rather contrived but a cool way for someone to die. When I first saw his wax melting, I thought that the alien had taken over his body because it looked the same color as its acidic blood. But no! even better! He’s a fucking robot.

Then you’ve got the captain who is kind of powerless and, as a result, is the second to go after the person who gave birth to the goddam thing.

Then you’ve got the other short-haired girl who cries too much and isn’t really fleshed out as a character.

In fact, none of these characters are fleshed out any farther than their job title. They all want to go home, the mechanics want more money, I can’t remember their names.

And, finally, there’s the title’s Alien. And, even now, that’s one scary beast with its four mouths and its insatiable and seemingly needless desire to kill. I mean, seriously, what are these guys like on their home planet? Are they just brutal killing machines that just destroy everything? Is that why the planet was deserted in the first place?

None of these questions matter because none of them are answered in this movie. And I doubt that their answered in Aliens or Alien(cubed).

But does any of that shit really matter when this movie’s sole purpose, the one thing it actually pulls off with vigor and brilliance, is to scare the shit out of you? No! Any horror geek will tell you that plot is secondary, scares are first. And this movie sure as shit delivers on them. Though it’s nowhere near a good movie, it’ll damn sure have you squeaming in your seat, wondering who’s going to get it next. So it succeeds there.

But it fails on a lot of cinematic levels and the spaceship itself often feels more dated than that of 2001, even though it was made 12 years earlier and even though they cry mimicry by making it mostly white. I don’t understand why everything in the future has so many goddam buttons. I don’t understand why the space suits are still so goddam clunky, as if they were made in the sixties.

However, like I said, all that shit doesn’t matter for the sheer fact that it’ll scare the shit out of you and deliver on its promise of both thrills and an explosive ending. See it for that and nothing else. Because if you see it for anything else, you’re going to be really fucking disappointed.