Monday, April 19, 2010

Avatar: on coming late to the party

I am a science fiction fan.  I wouldn't go so far as to say I am a nut.  I mean, I have never been to any type of convention, so that has to bump me a notch or two in the normal direction.  At least I so delude myself.

Nevertheless, I like sci-fi movies, books, games, etc.  I also am easily amused by flashing lights and showy graphics.  So, given both of those aspects, I should have been seeing "Avatar" with my polarized lenses on day one, right?

Not so.

Enter geography.  I live in the Upper Valley, this little pocket in New Hampshire and Vermont right on the Connecticut River.  It is a great place to raise a family.  Low crime rates, good schools, safe neighborhoods and top quality medical care (I am probably biased in that last regard, but hey, what ya gonna do).  It is also a great place if you like spending time outdoors in nature.

It is not a great place if you like easy access to entertainment.  True, we have a theater in Lebanon and one in Hanover.  Both have small screens, with weak sound systems that are easily topped by the home theater set up your friend has (or maybe even you have).  The Nugget (the Hanover theater) sets itself apart though by being clean, and catering somewhat to the art-house theater crowd that Ivy League schools are bound to attract.

The Lebanon house-o-crap, on the other hand, is run-down, dirty, and so ghetto that the marquee does not have a single full movie title on it.  In fact, they don't even give each movie its own line.  For example, a month or two ago the movies "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" and "Shutter Island" were sharing a line, and became the new (and much more interesting sounding movie IMO) "Wimpy Island".  I'd see that, thank you very much.

Yet, they still charge $8/ticket.  I'm pretty selective of what I will go see there.  Or I'm just selective of when I will go see a movie there (ie. we have a babysitter and then will go just so we can actually go on a date).  "Avatar" was, of course, showing there, but I had no desire to pay $16 for a poor experience.  The closest decent theater is south in Hookset, and they were showing it in 3D there.  Some friends said is was awesome.  But that is 90 minutes away, one direction.  Figure out the babysitting for that one with a 4-5 month old (at the time it was released).  180 minutes both directions with a 150 minute movie, plus some buffer time and you have a 360 minute affair.  Right, like that was going to happen.

So I figured if I was going to see "Avatar", I would just as soon pay $3 to rent it for a subpar experience if my only real option was to see it at the Lebanon Ghetto 6 (not its official title, but the one I have loving bequeathed it).

Enter vacation.  Guess what?  There is an IMAX 3D theater in Myrtle Beach.  Oh, and they are still showing "Avatar".  And we had built in babysitting since we were there with my in-laws.  How could I pass that up?  Well, I couldn't, so I didn't.

So here is the part I actually talk about the movie.  If you made it this far, good on you.

In a nutshell, Avatar was a blast.  Sure, the story is one big freaking cliche.  It isn't original, it is very predictable, and it ends pretty much how you knew it was going to (unless, I suppose, you were lobotomized or something).  But you know what?  It was still beautiful to watch and a thoroughly enjoyable spectacle.  I have to give it to James Cameron, the 3D aspect of it was fabulously done.

Unlike other 3D attempts, this didn't feel forced.  I didn't feel that they were constantly reminding me this was in 3D.  Sure, there were scenes that showcased that better than others, but they felt like natural parts of the movie.  After a while, I actually forgot I was wearing ridiculous glasses and watching something gimmicky, it just seemed natural.  The CGI was still certainly CGI.  But it was very, very good CGI.  The aliens looked amazing.  Very expressive and emotive.  And the fact that they were aliens helped avoid the whole uncanny valley problem.

As I said, the story was nothing to get excited about.  But that wasn't the reason to see this movie.  It was all about spectacle.  And that was delivered in droves.  Maybe, when done well at least, there is something to this 3D technology.

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