'Avatar' actually worth all the hype

Posted: Thursday, December 24, 2009

Three minor complaints with James Cameron's $500,000,000 (allegedly) epic, "Avatar." That's it. Actually, it's more like two and a half, since one of my issues had nothing to do with Mr. Cameron. In no particular order, the only quips I could come up with after giving it considerable thought:

1. 162 minutes is 162 minutes. If "Inglourious Basterds" was a fast 153 minutes, "Avatar" is a relatively pain-free 162. By the time I exited 20th Century downtown, though, and walked back into the crisp Juneau night air, my butt was numb and my knees hurt. Holiday Cup might be partly to blame, but mostly I fault the 15-20 minutes of stuff Mr. Cameron could have easily cut out without hurting his story.

2. Remember the bizarre rave-slash-orgy scenes from "The Matrix: Reloaded"? Apparently Mr. Cameron was a fan, because he uses similar sequences twice in "Avatar." I suppose it's more wholesome in "Avatar" because it's all about being one with Mother Nature and there's nothing overtly sexual (PG-13, people!), but it was all I could do to refrain from giggling when all the natives of Pandora sit together, arms laced, chanting and swaying in unison.

2 ½. A movie slated for a 7:10 p.m. start time should start at 7:10 p.m. Or at least closer to 7:10 p.m. than 7:20 p.m. Nitpicking? Sure. Every minute counts, though, when the movie itself approaches three hours running time.

It's probably stretching to even call that two and a half. I just wanted to come up with something to criticize "Avatar" with, though. And frankly, a list of two seems like a list hardly worth making. Hence the third item, or half item, whatever. I had to reach.

That, of course, is because the praise you're reading and hearing from most of the opinionated masses out there is legit. Has it made it so that movies will never be the same (or whatever those trailers promised)? That's debatable. I'm afraid, however, that even the contrarian-just-to-be-contrarian folk are going to have difficulty dismissing "Avatar."

Cameron, who wrote and directed "Avatar," has proven he knows how to pen a script. Specifically, he has proven he can write good, compelling action movies. That sounds like an oxymoron, but that's because of guilt by association. The phrase "action movie" probably makes you think of Steven Seagal; thinking of Seagal makes you think about laughably bad acting; thinking of laughably bad acting brings you to Hayden Christensen and Jessica Alba. That's an ugly cycle, but let's not lump all action movies in with that lot. After all, do you know the last time Alba seemed like a credible, at least pseudo-talented actress? It was on a TV show called "Dark Angel."

Cameron created and wrote that show.

The dude is good. He is good enough to get FOX to let him spend $500,000,000 (allegedly) on a movie about giant blue aliens on a planet called Pandora. He is good enough to get my skeptical fiancée, after 162 minutes of fantastic visuals and good storytelling, to admit "that was really good." Cameron is so good that when the final credits roll and Leona Lewis' song, "I See You," plays and sounds suspiciously like Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," I didn't even make any sarcastic remarks. That was a damned good song, so why not mimic it?

"Avatar" is an action film. It is also a love story. If you are feeling deep, it is even a thinly veiled commentary on humanity.

Mostly, though, "Avatar" is James Cameron at his best. That is hard to argue with.

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