the King of the World has new clothes … and at least his loins aren’t naked

I gave in and saw Avatar last night. And although I winced from time to time, the sappy manipulation and computerized shock-&-awe did not make me want to escape the theatre. I even forgot about the quarter-of-a-billion dollar budget that could have been spent on Haiti relief … or for that matter, the Dish’s humanitarian intervention in Israel and the West Bank. Here’s a rough draft of my capsule review:

Say what you want about the dialogue, the blocky melodramatic structure or the imperialists-vs-militarized-innocents and white-savior-meets-nativism subtexts. Unlike most action movies, when a character got hit by a punch or fell off a cliff, I had a split-second of intense anxiety for them, which I guess had been magnified by the 3-D combat and the CGI-ed terrain. (WARNING to those who are afraid of heights.) It was an incredible theater experience to take in the full-range of 3-D design, and how the director tried to combine it with the regular film techniques that create depth.

The avatars and aliens still look video-gamish … but this blockbuster’s customary CGI disappointments help along a whole other subtext it has: “When was the last time you took a shower, Marine?” This is a movie for gamers who have been wishing they could see Hollywood and a quarter of a million dollars fully aestheticize their blurred-res humanoid world, with its vicarious thrills, powers and self-esteem.

I guess Cameron succeeded in that, if not in creating the culmination in the art of 3-D in a feature film … There’s none of the campy eye-poking of other 3-D movies, although more action sequences than average occur on the axis between the viewer and the screen. None of the 3-D effects felt cheesy, at first viewing, and the only evidence of technological shortcoming seemed to be some unwanted or failed soft focus and blurry edges in motion. The use of 3-D is wall-to-wall — err… wall-to-wall-to-wall? — until about 20 seconds into the final credits, when the movie finally gives up and goes plain old 2-D… probably saving the studio the huge sum of $100,000, showing us that they’re shrewd businessmen.

I don’t know how this movie could work on Blue-Ray, and I don’t know how the IMAX version will not help the finances of chiropractors everywhere

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