Monday, January 11, 2010

Believe the hype

At this point, if you haven't seen Avatar, you're in the minority. James Cameron's ultrablockbuster is less a film than a cultural event, and it's well on its way to becoming the most successful movie of all time - besting only Titanic, the director's previous feature. And yes, everything you've heard about it is true: the dialogue is clunky, the exposition is clumsy, the cast of archetype characters is less than nuanced...and yet, none of that really matters. The experience of Avatar is truly like nothing you've seen before, and it manages to be the game-changer that insiders had been hailing it as for years.

I remained skeptical in the months leading up to its release, and the film's trailers did little to dissuade my wariness. "Cat-people and dragons? 'You're not in Kansas anymore?' This thing seems like a video game commercial," I thought. "I guess it'll look better in IMAX 3D." I was certainly right about that, but I wasn't anticipating that not only would Avatar's computer-generated world appear photorealistic on the big screen, it would use that framework to fully immerse its audience in the expansive world Cameron dreamed up.

Like Star Wars (or other Cameron films, for that matter), Avatar may not be Hollywood's most original story, but it uses the power of filmmaking to transport viewers into an exciting ride of a movie, where there's rarely a dull moment, and it's impossible to take your eyes off the action. Throughout his career, Cameron has routinely utilized technological advances to push the boundaries of where movies are able to go, but it's his ability to wed those techniques with his emotionally engaging film worlds that makes him truly unique.

The picture has rightly been called a Dances with Wolves-cum-Pocahontas knockoff, but while that story arc is old hat, the experience of Avatar is something entirely new. By the time you leave the intricately realized world of the film, then step out of the theater and back into real life, you just might feel like you've actually visited someplace you've never been. It's the rare movie that allows one to realize just what cinema is capable of doing.

Grade: A-

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