2009 in Film

Here’s what it comes down to: if you love movies you must see Avatar. You must see it in 3D on the biggest screen that you can find. Because this is the most technically impressive film ever made.

Everything else that can be said about Avatar, and there is a lot, is just postscript. There are people who will think this is one of the best movies they’ve ever seen, the type of people who aren’t very smart and will pretty much like anything that has on the one hand the requisite amount of explosions or on the other hand the facile slap-you-in-the-face kind of allegory for people who don’t get allegory.

Then there are the insufferable types who will take the opposite tract, and call Avatar “predictable” and “unoriginal” for the unthinkable crime of adhering to well-hewn narrative conventions. Yes, Avatar is part Dances With Wolves, part Pocahontas, part Star Wars, part Dune, part Princess Mononoke. Congrats geniuses, you’ve successfully stumbled onto the startling revelation that epic film does not reinvent the wheel when it comes to plot mechanics, that it paints with broad brush strokes, using archetypal characters and universal themes in an effort to offer a new take on old stories.

The truth is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes/ly wrong takes. Avatar is not the greatest thing ever, nor is it uninspired, soulless pablum. It doesn’t put its own spin on its tropes as well as it could, not does it totally fail to make them compelling. Its script isn’t as fresh a take on this familiar story as a better writer of dialogue could have come up with, but isn’t the cut and paste job of a hack either.

As a singular achievement it is remarkable, as a new experience unimpeachable. It’s unlike anything you have ever seen before projected onto a theater screen. James Cameron has created from the bottom up a living, breathing alien world to take you on an intimate tour through. And if Avatar is him reaching for the stars and not quite making it all the way he certainly doesn’t come up empty either. Far from it.

Avatar may or may not be a great movie, but it is undeniably an incredible one.

(Side note: I would be fairly surprised if there isn’t a director’s cut sitting in Cameron’s office that’s half an hour or so longer than what’s being shown in theaters. There’s just too many instances where it feels that non-essential content was cut for timing reasons. And if there is a longer version then I’m even more surprised that James Cameron of all people doesn’t have the kind of clout necessary where he can tell the bosses at Fox, “The movie’s going to be as long as I feel like making it. Now go away and just trust me to make you guys a shitload of money.”)

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