Avatar: Laremy vs. Dre

Two of our writers recently took in a very buzzy film, Avatar. As usual both Dre and Laremy were placed in soundproof chambers (so they didn't fight) and asked to take their best shot at the following ten questions.

Did you love Avatar? What grade would you give it?

Laremy
I'm already on record as giving the film a B, and as such I'll say I liked it ... but I didn't love it. From my perspective the weak last hour of the film really hurt the overall effectiveness. It's an impressive film, but it's not a fully realized story.

Dre
In a word, "Yes." I'd give it a solid A.


Who would you recommend the film to?

Laremy
Almost everyone. You need to see this one because it's an "event" film, the sort that only comes around once a year. The CGI used here makes it a watershed moment in cinematic history -- the line between computer generated and reality has been crossed forever.

Dre
Just about anyone.


Who might have a tough time with it?

Laremy
I would think older audiences might not dig it as much, given their worldview is bound to be shaped by greater experience. The ending notes of the film, while idealistic, are also hopelessly naive.

Dre
I would say people who have a tough time with sci-fi should probably steer clear, although this is not brainy sci-fi, this is general audience sci-fi. The themes are similar to films in all sorts of genres. If you don't like Star Wars, you aren't going to like this.


AvatarWhat can you say about the CGI employed here?

Laremy
I would say Avatar features the best special effects ever seen in a film. I'm not sure I can praise it more than that.

Dre
Absolutely phenomenal. I always thought the people complaining about the effects when the first trailer came out were absolutely insane. I was a little worried about a Roger Rabbit effect. Like, "OK, this is human world stuff and now this here is toon world." But for me, the human stuff ... the Na'vi stuff ... it's all just Pandora. Everything was very fluid.


AvatarWho gives the best performance of the movie?

Laremy
This is a tough call, because it redefines what a "performance" is. Do you have to be onscreen to perform? Or is a rendered version of you now "acting"? Zoe Saldana is excellent, her facial expressions, her voice, her movement. I don't know how much of it is actually due to her, but her Na'vi character definitely stands out as exceptional.

Dre
Zoe Saldana is terrific. I don't see any acting nominations coming Avatar's way, but I certainly think she's deserving. I understand the reluctance to nominate an actor assisted with effects but this was a true "performance capture." She was a Na'vi here. Brad Pitt was heavily assisted with effects in Benjamin Button, and I think Zoe is better here.


What, if any, are your issues with Avatar?

Laremy
As my review mentions, I didn't love the overly simplistic third act. I felt the film became unhinged and suffered from an imbalance once the roles of "bad" and "good" guys were locked. I was having more fun determining who to pull for on my own, I didn't need James Cameron to beat me over the head with it.

Dre
For the type of movie Avatar aspires to be, I think the movie generally works. It's a fairly simple story, one we've heard before. My issues are fairly minor and for the most part not even worth mentioning. I know people complain about Cameron's dialogue, but I think -- for the most part -- he writes the way people talk. And for all the criticism he takes, I find it funny that a lot of his movies contain lines that become pretty famous: "I'll be back"; "Get away from her, you bitch!"; "Game over, man!"; "Hasta la vista, baby"; "I'm king of the world!" For better or worse, I think Cameron writes in a way that connects with audiences. It's not Shakespeare, but that's OK. In his movies it works. To be honest, my biggest issue would be James Horner's score. He continues to rip himself off. I kept hearing Willow and I kept thinking ... "Why am I hearing Willow?" This movie deserved better than that.


AvatarDo you think Avatar has a political message?

Laremy
Absolutely, and it's not a very subtle one at that. Cameron has used his $300 million production budget to tell us to respect the planet. Which is a good message ... only it seems as though corporations and the military are the enemy of said "respecting" in Cameron's mind. Which irks me, because it's not a balanced view of the situation, and it doesn't really allow for conversation or interpretation. Cameron would like to "save the planet" but evidently the only way for us to get there is to head out and make friends with the animals.

Dre
Of course it does. I've heard the movie called anti-American and I couldn't disagree more with that. I think the movie is anti-invasion. I think it's anti-corporate greed. I think it's pro-green. Jake Scully's character says, "This is what we do. We find something we like and we make enemies out of people that have what we want to feel better about ourselves when we take it." Yes, there are echoes of America's origins and relations with the Native Americans. But that is not an American ideal. That is simply human history. Isn't that the history of all powerful nations? Isn't that Chinese history? Isn't that French and British history? Germany? If this movie was Russian, the Russians would be saying it's anti-Russian.

And why wasn't Dances with Wolves called anti-American? It's the same story. Because it was made by a conservative? My thinking is, you can't argue with history. That's why. As nations build and become great, they commit atrocities. Does Cameron echo our current political climate? Absolutely. Just as a German filmmaker would echo his or her history. But he's throwing a lot of other things into the mix, as well. I don't think it's as simple a message as some are making it out to be.

Cameron isn't saying anything books, movies, and other avenues of art haven't been saying for a long time: we can be better people, we can be a better race. Does it use a simplistic platform to say this? Yes. Is it generally more complicated? Yes. But that simple message will always have relevance.

Despite all of that, was I thinking about these political messages throughout the movie? No. I was totally invested in the story. Every once in a while I'd hear "shock and awe" or "fight terror with terror" and smirk a bit, like "OK, got ya buddy," but this was mostly in passing.


Rank the Films James Cameron has directed.

Laremy
For me it goes:

Terminator 2: Judgment Day1. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

2. Aliens

3. True Lies

4. Avatar

5. The Terminator

6. Titanic

7. The Abyss



Dre
Rough. Out of his movies I love, let's try this today:

Aliens1. Aliens

2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day

3. Terminator

4. Avatar

5. The Abyss

6. Titanic

7. True Lies


Would you want to see a sequel?

Laremy
Definitely. Perhaps with the sermonizing out of the way, James Cameron could get back to focusing on story and character development. I'd be anxious to see what he does with the technology next, the man doesn't make many missteps.

Dre
I'm actually torn about this. I want to revisit Pandora. But I don't want to have happen to Cameron what happened to George Lucas. I want Battle Angel. I want whatever other bit of insanity he has rolling around his head. I'm fine if he never does another Pandora movie for now. He's no spring chicken. If he does two more of these that could wipe him out as a filmmaker for good. I just want to see what else this guy has in store for us.


AvatarDo you think Avatar will win Best Picture?

Laremy
It would seem so. The billion dollar haul Avatar has brought in had to have been noticed by Academy members. Unlike Dark Knight, this box office domination is occurring as they are voting, and that's a big difference. Couple that with the fact that other front-runners such as Up in the Air and Hurt Locker only have limited buzz behind them and you've got a winning formula on your hands.

Dre
Right now, yes. I think Up in the Air is out. I think it's coming down to The Hurt Locker, Avatar, and Inglourious Basterds. I have a clear favorite there in Inglourious Basterds. I think The Hurt Locker is very good, and I have zero issues with Bigelow taking the Best Director Oscar, but I think it's a more than a little overrated. It's a fine film and intense as heck. That's where it ends for me, though. At this point I find it hard to count out Avatar for Best Picture. It's just made too much money and is obviously hitting people on an emotional level. It's not just about the effects. Nobody likes a movie this much just because of the effects.