PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

Hollywood's New Dimension: 'Avatar' in 3D

The Rockist visits James Cameron's Pandora in search of stone obelisks but finds only Ewoks.

Last month, I went to go see James Cameron's Avatar in glorious 3D at an IMAX Theater at Chicago's Navy Pier. I wouldn't brave that nauseating tourist trap for just any popcorn flick. No, this was the return of the mind behind Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss. I sat down with fairly high expectations. Only Steven Spielberg (my favorite director) has played a greater role in shaping my appreciation for the cinema than Cameron.

Snigger all you want. I realize that those two's mug shots grace many a cineaste's Wanted poster. The two are guilty as charged. Spielberg fathered the ridiculous summer movie season. Cameron taught it how to walk. Neither of them will fill the screen with tactile subtlety when a plummeting 18-wheeler will do.

Their films go to 11. So what?

Hollywood desperately needs the two, now more than ever. With HDTV, Netflix, and the ready availability of broadband internet connections, Hollywood sits by the music industry's death bed, holding its hand, counting the days.

Hollywood has even higher expectations for Avatar than myself. Hollywood produces dreams. You don't need to read Variety to know those are a tough sell in a down imagination market.

So Cameron rides into our IMAXs on his white steed, Avatar. If anyone can lead the studios back to black, who better than Mr. Titanic himself?

I placed the Larry King-sized 3D glasses on my head and awaited greatness. I was not disappointed.

Avatar is a unique modern entertainment product. It is an event. It is an outing. You need to see it on an IMAX theater in 3D. Unless you are Richard Branson or Jerry Jones, you can't do that at home.

Further, you need to pay for it. You must hand over hard-earned cash to a venue if you wish to enjoy the film. That noise you just heard of was the collective gasp of millions of torrid torrenters.

Of course, you could head to your local multiplex or bodega and view the film. You will see it, but there will be no way you can experience it like you do in 3D.

The first 90-minutes of Avatar melds computer generated imagery and film-making into an art that doesn't just suspend disbelief, it outright dissolves it. Never before have filmgoers so immersed themselves in a filmmaker's imagination. I always wanted to know what it felt like to be the first audience to see Dorothy open to door to Oz, or the Imperial Star Destroyer fill the screen at the beginning of Star Wars. With Avatar, I now know.

The film lacks a defining moment equal to those cited. Instead it overwhelms the senses with a pulpy fantasy concept raised, through tender loving technological detail, into a fully-realized cinematic environment.

Behind the Matrix 'Whoah!' factor lies surprising depth. The Avatar the title refers to is the alien Na'vi host the hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) embodies when scientists led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) put him to sleep. Sully can only control his alien self by sleeping.

When we sleep we dream. Avatar tiptoes across that concrete barrier between our imaginations and our senses. We watch Cameron's vision of a sleeping human guiding a computer generated alien through a fantasy world, Pandora, ripped right from the pages of '50s nickel and dime fantasy stories.

Rumors that Avatar's working title was Whose Dream Is It Anyway? could not yet be confirmed.

While watching the film I wondered what Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan and John Carter, would have thought. Proud that an obvious fan of his (either directly or indirectly) brought his images to life? Or bitter that he was born too soon to accomplish this himself?

Also, how about Peter Jackson? Four years ago, Jackson's remake of King Kong promised a similar fantasy experience. It failed to deliver on that promise. Yes, the computer effects available to him then are at a video-game level compared to Avatar. Yes, too, he chose to double the length, so a simple monster story turned into a somnolent Tolkienesque epic. But his Kong's major problem is just that it is too much. His Skull Island is populated by just about every form of screen monster any fanboy has ever sketched while in study hall.

Jackson wanted to show everything he can do. His Kong leaves you exhausted. I couldn't wait for the film to end, and I'm exactly the kind of geek the film was made for.

The first 90-minutes of Avatar don't have those problems. The adjective that came to my mind while watching was 'lyrical'. Yes, 'lyrical'. Sure, the plot rips off Dances With Wolves, but it's ripping off the best parts of that film. Doesn't all good art do that?

Unfortunately, Avatar doesn't end at 90-minutes. Cameron tosses his lyrical, special-effects odyssey aside for a didactic, misanthropic message movie which revisits George Lucas' worst instincts. The Na'vi change into fierce little Ewoks who must overcome the corporate Man! All irony informed by the fact that the film itself is nothing but a gigantic corporate product, with all the merchandising ties that entails, is most likely unintentional.

Why, Cameron, why?

Sure, most of Cameron's films contain corporate bogeymen of one kind or another, be they Skynet, Aliens' Carter Burke, or even the White Star Line. But Avatar is blatantly anti-human. Yes, we're frying our planet, but does that mean every human except two needs to be perp-walked into their ships at the end by the Na'vi? In Titanic, Cameron's class politics add depth to what could have been four hours spent waiting for a ship to sink. In Avatar, the insertion of Cameron's personal politics, no matter which ballot you punch, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth and takes much away from the film.

Avatar had a chance be a on a level with 2001, Raiders of the Lost Ark, or Star Wars. I left more than a little disappointed that Cameron wasted that opportunity, especially when he takes so long between films.

Avatar without a doubt raised the possibilities of what cinema can do to the near infinite. It will most likely take at least a generation to catch up to where Cameron just placed his mark.

As for Hollywood, Cameron proved that filmgoers will leave their homes for a destination movie. The problem is, I don't see too many young Camerons in the generation beneath him, besides the aforementioned Jackson. If it wishes to prevent itself from lying in the recording industry's bed, then Hollywood must remind itself that an Avatar only exists because at one time a studio took a chance on Terminator.

Until then, I'll fondly recall those treasured first 90-minutes on Pandora.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.