I didn’t think much of James Cameron’s blockbuster movie Titantic. But then I saw it.
I'd heard gushing comments about it from teenage girls and damning opinions from the parents who had to take them, and -- more fool me -- decided on the basis of that I probably wouldn’t like it.
Eventually I saw it and it was nowhere near as bad as some had told me. Overly long and so forth, but as blockbusters go it was a whole lot better than Gone with the Wind or The English Patient.
Oddly enough, I’ve had almost the opposite reaction with Cameron’s new one Avatar. I liked it before I had actually seen it.
To clarify: a couple of months ago I saw a sampler of footage (about 15 minutes at a guess) and was “blown away“. (That’s a technical term used by only the most serious film reviewers.)
What I saw was not just state-of-the-art computer graphics and enhancements, but also a creative vision of great beauty and complexity.
Last night I saw the movie in its 3D entirety. And I liked it even more. It is stunning, in fact.
These days we tend to see far too many tele-docos about “The making of . . .” and they -- like knowing how a magician does a trick -- rather detract from the surprise and delight and magic. I liked knowing how George Lucas and his chums did the first (fourth) Star Wars, but only after I had been “blown away” by it from that opening sequence.
Last night they took away cellphones (can cellphones capture 3D?) from attendees and I understand that: they want this film to just arrive. And I think it deserves to.
So if there is any footage out there in web world (and there is the official trailer at that link above), do yourself a favour and don’t go looking for it. Go to a big screen and be swept away. In superb 3D.
So I’m not going to say too much about Avatar lest I deny you the magic.
But a couple of things: some have skewered it because the storyline is pretty simple (at least it has one) but that’s fine. So was Star Wars (the first/fourth) and this one layers in messages of eco-consciousness, the wisdom of being connected to your planet, (implied American) militarism, the barbarity of capitalism and so forth.
They seem decent and important messages to pass on in the early 21st century.
There is a certain Cowboys and Indians element (it gives nothing away to say the Indians win this time) but it really is the intergalactic setting that elevates this and brings home the magic.
As created by Weta Workshop (sets'n'props) and Weta Digital (visual effects), the planet of Pandora (hmmm, don't open that box?) is astonishing: it is on a massive scale and full of wondrous, freakish plant and animal life.
The flora is like Kew Gardens turned up to 11, and the vision of odd animal hybrids and islands floating in the sky owes more to the imaginative art of Roger Dean (who designed album covers for Yes, Uriah Heep and Osibisa in the Seventies) than Jonathan Swift. I hope he got a nod in the lengthy credits.
This is a world which is hypnotically beautiful (and scary).
And the hi-tech stuff looks entirely believable, not some great leap into a place where you have to suspend so much disbelief you get cynical. The techno stuff and military machinery looks like it either already exists or someone is working on it right now. Cool (and scary).
I’m sure I should go and see The Lovely Bones, but I’m going back to see Avatar again on Friday when it opens *.
Like 2001 and Star Wars, it creates its own world and for two and half rather fast hours you can immerse yourself in it. People -- many of them media people and well viewed when it comes to the magic of the silver screen -- applauded at the end last night, and not in that film festival way.
They just kinda clapped out of appreciation and delight and surprise.
Movies don’t have that effect much any more, do they?
* Late notice, just learned it opens Thursday (tomorrow) in New Zealand. Even betterer. See you there.