Avatar ★★★★½

Saw the remaster in AVX 3D, and boy howdy did it not disappoint.

Seeing this on the big screen again, even with the upgraded visuals aside, I was reminded of what a sledgehammer of a cinematic experience this movie is. This is what it means to be made for 3D. The visuals are designed for that experience. The intention is baked into the art direction, with the jungle aesthetic being the perfect setting for bringing out the depth within the image and making sure elements pop in the foreground, midground, and background of every frame. Plus the bonus of being shot in virtual production means the artists get much more freedom in working the 3D to be as spectacular as possible.

Some standout visual sequences include the initial meeting of Jake and Neytiri as they skip through the jungle, the Thanator chase when Jake gets separated from the rest of the expedition team, and anything involving the banshees. There were some very interesting small details as well, such as the photos on the fridge of the mobile lab that had a 3D effect imprinted on them. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen something like that done before. I don’t know the logic behind that, if it’s an in-world thing or what, but it looked cool as hell. By far though, the sequence that floored me the most was the fall of Home Tree. The amount of detail in the render of the leaves, falling branches, and explosions of debris was mind-boggling even without the incorporation of the 3D, which was perfectly utilized to convey the massive scale of the event unfolding. Takes the cake for the best 3D sequence of all time in my books. I challenge anyone to find something better.

Avatar is a seemingly oxymoronic example of simplistic maximalism. It is a very bare-bones story told in the most over-the-top way possible. Instead of plot complexity, subtle themes, and in-depth character studies, Avatar trades for a heavy dose of textbook intertextual filmmaking à la Kill Bill and/or Joker. Avatar combines many elements from similar, familiar stories as a way to shape and deepen the meaning of its own. It takes a slew of tried-and-true elements to craft a rock-solid and simple story, which gives Cameron much more freedom in how he is able to tell it through his groundbreaking visuals and worldbuilding. Some may criticize this as being unoriginal, and is a form of artistic theft, which is worth an entire debate in its own right, but I don’t think these qualities inherently make Avatar a “bad movie”. As Bo Burnham so wisely pointed out in his special, Make Happy, “Original does not mean good.” The same goes for the inverse.

I think the simplicity of Avatar is its strongest asset aside from the visuals. It is a movie with a message: a strong one, an important one, and not one that requires subtlety. James Cameron is very passionate about the environment, and wanted to make a film that ignited that same passion in the younger generation, who were coming of age in a time where many people still did not believe climate change was a very big deal, and while direct correlation may be hard to measure, I guarantee it could have only had a positive effect. Many people claim that Avatar has had no lasting cultural impact, and putting the obvious technical innovations aside, I would argue that Avatar played a definitive role in radicalizing the youth of the day to become the pro-environmentalism, anti-capitalist, anti-colonial/imperialist mob we are today, because the message is so succinct that even children could watch it and have it sink in on first watch. Nothing was going over anyone’s head, and that was the point.

At the end of the day, Avatar knows what it is, and it’s good at it. Plus I completely align with the politics of the movie. How many huge Hollywood blockbusters of today have the integrity to hold such a firm stance like this on such a hot-button issue? Many would choose to pander to the masses and keep things as moderate as possible so as to not alienate a specific audience (or entire country). A lot of the initial hate that Avatar received came from rich, religious, patriotic conservatives irked over the “blatant liberal agenda”, and any film that angers that group did a good job in my books.

Plus it came bundled with a sneak peek for Way of Water at the end, and even after sitting through nearly 3 hours of pristine remastered visuals, the two minutes of underwater footage thoroughly knocked me on my ass. Anyone still saying “nobody even cares about Avatar” at this point has utterly failed the vibe check. This movie is gonna be fucking great, y’all. Look at the dude’s track record. James Cameron does not disappoint.

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