Monday, March 1, 2010

Puddle Deep

Every once in awhile a movie comes along and fundamentally alters my opinion of the medium. By their very nature movies are made "by commitee", that is, the amount of aspects in direct control of one singular vision are limited, maybe moreso than in any other medium. It's much easier to find the voice of one person in something like a book or a song, but movies are such a collaborative venture that it amazes me sometimes that they get made at all. This idea is what impresses me most when I see great films. When the writer hands the story to the producer, when the special effects guys work with the story boarder, when the gaffers and grips and cameramen get instruction from the cinematographer, when the director tells the actors what to do. When the component parts, made by so many individuals, combine Voltron-like into one, what happens? Do you get lead or gold?

I often thought, naively, that writing was the most important component, or more accurately, I thought it was the primary component. I suppose it depends on the moviemakers and the movie being made. Plenty of movies with mediocre writing have won critical acclaim, and plenty more movies with remedial writing have made craploads of money. In fact some movies have done quite well with garbage writing, awful directing, and downright mind-numbing acting, (I'm looking at you GI Joe).* I then believed that the director was the primary force behind a movie, I mean many very talented actors have had craptacular turns due to assclown directors and some very average actors have had stellar performances thanks in no small part to fantastic directors, (isn't that right Mr. Travolta?). At no point have I attributed an actor as having the matrix of leadership in the greatness of film but I do acknowledge their contribution is integral. So really, to me, the primary component is actually a triumvirate, writer/director/actor, complemented by a small army, composer/cinematographer/special effects and production artists, ect. And when all these disparate ingredients create an amazing film, when the sum becomes something greater than it's parts, well... that's frickin' alchemy!

Then comes James Cameron. I believe JC, (how apt), said something to the effect that he was gonna change movies forever with that blue kitty people movie of his. Well he did, just not for the better. Don't get me wrong, Avatar is gorgeous and lots of fun but I don't considerate a great film. That may sound movie snobbish, and it probably is, but I just don't feel that the power rangers have come together to make Megazord here. To me what JC has done is the cinematic equivalent of genetically engineering Megan Fox. Every aspect of the movie was carefully researched from the design of the Navi with their big vulnerable eyes and lithe, asthetic bodies, to the lush, inviting Final Fantasy inspired (ripped off) vistas of pandora with it's beguiling color scheme and soothing soft glow. From it's clearly portrayed characters, unencumbered by dimension to it's advanced but functional looking tech. It's story of a unspoiled and unilaterally peaceful native species meeting another species governed by callousness and greed at best, blind duty and inexplicable aggression at worst. All meticulously manicured by people with slavish devotion to detail.

So what's the problem? All the elements seem to be present. Yes... and, well, no. Like the aforementioned Ms. Fox, this movie is yummy to look at, I could spend hours watching it prance around in it's underwear, doing gymnastics, or even just sitting and staring at a wall. But much like God evened Megan's stats by shaving some watts off the old light bulb and instilling her with the bare minimum of human soul, so too did JC balance his obsessive fabrication of a movie with his lack of providing weight to the characters and gravitas to their words and actions. Sure, you can't help but be affected by certain moments, the 911 echoing fall of Home Tree, the contrived chosen nature of the Jake Sully character, the painfully predictable confrontation between the Jake Sully and the stock mindless, rampaging Colonel Quaritch over the fate of Pandora in general and Jake's helpless natural body in particular, (not difficult to notice manipulative nature of design and plot devises). But all of it is very superficial. Even with the Colonel dangling the carrot of Jake's real legs being returned to him, there's something disingenuous about his siding with the Navi. That may be attributed to the actor's vanilla pudding performance but in all fairness he doesn't have much to work with, the military abandoned him after his injury and he's banging a hot blue kitty chick, not much to work with there. Sigourney Weaver's Diane Fossey inspired performance is passable but then, she played Diane Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist, no points there. I'm simply not buying the idea of carpet bombing the Navi's home/Wailing Wall equivalent for the sake of a mineral no matter how rare or comedically named. I realize there is some precedent, but in an age where the plight of the spotted dung shrew supersedes that of the real estate developer, the wiping out of an intelligent, indigenous, attractive species over a rock seems, mmmm, distractingly far-fetched... at least without some additional plotwork.

JC was quoted as saying "So much of literary sci-fi is about creating worlds that are rich and detailed and make sense at a social level. We'll create a world for people and then later present a narrative in that world." That narrative feels very much an after thought and pretty much sums up the movie for me. The unfortunate legacy here is the example Avatar sets. I do not look forward to the deluge digital, 3D movies bloated with special effects, directed by designers and technicians versed in mo-cap and pixel manipulation. Creating, in the biblical sense, living breathing worlds while paying passing lipservice to it's inhabitants. But then I remember Michael Bay is till making movies so I guess it's not that much of a game changer after all.

Enough bitter rambling, I really didn't want this to be so negative, especially in light of the many wonderful movies I've seen recently. Guaranteed in the next post, hopefully much sooner. The Drawering is a random random of randomness from ERROR888-Tumbler, my new distraction. I have many projects I'm not paying enough attention to, business as usual.