January 1, 2010
Avatar, Invictus, and The RoadI just recently watched a few great movies worth mentioning - Its been a good week or two for seeing movies.
I have really liked some of James Cameron's earlier films. He has a gift for bringing to life a story about humans in extraordinary circumstances. Aliens, and The Abyss are among some of my favorite of his films, and there are plot elements between those films shared with Avatar.
For over a decade James Cameron has been working on bringing this story to life in a visual way like nothing before. Cameron developed a very unique 3-dimensional visual experience by combining a lot of new technology and filming techniques, such as: involving two cameras to film each shot using six times the normal amount of frames per second (3 per eye) with spiraling stereogram technology, and using head-mounted camera's attached to the actor's faces to gather their specific facial reactions. He also worked with digital effects companies like Weta Works (Lord of the Rings), and Digital Domain (the 5th Element, Apollo 13, Transformers). And as far as visuals are concerned Avatar is a remarkable film.
The movie theater I watched Avatar in featured a high definition screen with 3D technology provided by RealD. They provided recyclable 3D glasses that take advantage of the spiraling stereogram image shown on the screen. By being polarized each eye sees a separate image, and the spiraling effect allows viewers to tilt their head without distorting the separate images presented for each eye (try crossing you eyes for a second and tilting your head to see what this technique was avoiding).
Because of the advanced technology and because the film was always intended to be show in this way, nothing about the 3-dimensional effects seemed heavy handed, instead to me it felt like a brighter and move vivid movie experience. Both people I went to see the film with were equally amazed by the quality of the 3-dimensional visual effects, one of which was very skeptical of seeing it in 3D.
As for the story of Avatar, there sadly isn't as much to write about. The acting was fine, and the characters were interesting, but the plot was kept simple and there is what might seem like a heavy handed political and ethical message about humans disregarding the sacred balance of life and taking what they want without consideration for nature or indigenous society, which is fine, its just unfortunate that the story was too underdeveloped.
I was watching Aliens the other day (which is the first sequel to Alien, and my personal favorite in the Alien series) and I realized that this film is a much more engaging as a story. And as I mentioned the story elements in Aliens and The Abyss are very similar. So what makes Avatar original is in the way it brings this new vivid world to the screen.
I really don't know much about the life of Nelson Mandela, but after watching Invictus I feel compelled to learn. This story is about a particular time in his life, just after winning the election for president, and his focus on the national Rugby team to bring about unification in a post-apartheid South Africa. It seems amazing to me that year after year Eastwood somehow generates another amazing film (or two). A year ago I was amazed by Gran Torino, and a year before that it was Letters From Iwo Jima. Invictus is interesting on a lot of levels – most of all as a story of compassion and forgiveness of a brilliant man, and for its political history, and as a film about sports. Morgan Freeman portrays newly the Elected Mandela, and Matt Damon portrays Francois Pienaar who was captain of the country's Rugby team, the Springboks. The film's title comes from a poem kept by Mandela while in prison, written by William Ernest Henley, which ends with the lines “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” One of the most moving scenes of the film is when Pienaar stares through bars of the cell Mandela was incarcerated in for all those years, looking out at the yard where he toiled day after day; he hears the words in the poem as they would have sounded in the mind of Mandela while he waited and hoped for his release.
Finally, The Road, has made its way to my town. If it weren't for being such a dark story, this movie might get more screenings. Ever since seeing No Country For Old Men, also based on a novel by author Cormac McCarthy, I have been looking forward to this movie. I've enjoyed movies of a post-apocalyptic nature (especially when they fall into the category of survival-horror) most of all because of the interesting dynamic it creates for the characters. Some of my favorites include 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, I Am Legend and so on. But The Road has established what seems like an insurmountable new bar for post-apocalyptic films, in terms of depicting human depravity and in envisioning such a realistic dying world.
The Road is brutal, cold, grim, and nearly hopeless, and what better way to cast a light on what really matters most: “the fire inside,” the love between a father and a son. There are a few scenes that are shockingly disturbing. The major significant characters are the father and the son (Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee respectively), but there are flashbacks of a mother (Charlize Theron), and man along the road (Robert Duvall), and other minor characters met along the way.