Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How Not to See Avatar

Over the holidays my dad wanted to go see Avatar and thought it would be a fun thing for us to do on Christmas Eve. I agreed with his hypothesis. I also agreed with his conclusion that, for a 3D IMAX showing, it would be wise to purchase tickets online a couple days in advance, just in case. That my dad and me for you, always thinking!

Come Christmas Eve we walked in, quite early, and grabbed our tickets. As we made our way to the theater’s seating area we noticed the usher was telling people where to sit. Strange, I thought. I glanced down at our tickets. C14 and 15. That can’t be good, right? Well, if that sounds bad, it turned out to be even worse.

There were no rows A and B.

We ended up sitting front row center –probably ten feet from the screen, for an IMAX 3D movie. It was the single worst theater-viewing experience of my life, and that includes the time an uncle drove me an hour to see Secret of NIMH and the projector broke down. I’m surprised I didn’t break the chair I was pushing back on it so hard, trying to get my head an extra inch back from the screen. I can’t even say how awful I felt for my dad who paid for the tickets early, thinking we’d be in great shape. The very notion that this particular front row of seats existed at all is, quite simply, nuts. (Lesson learned: don’t ask a computer for “best available” when buying movie tickets online.)

Ah well. It’s the thought that counts and it wasn’t long before stunned disbelief and righteous indignation gave way to laughing about it. If nothing else it was still a better movie than the last one we took in (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull). But why bring this all up now, you ask? Because even from our neck-breaking vantage point I can tell you that, regardless of whatever the Golden Globe people think, there is no possible way Avatar was the year’s best drama. I haven’t seen such a bad pick since Shakespeare in Love beat out Saving Private Ryan for an Oscar.

Avatar is not a bad film, to be sure. Despite the viewing impediment, it’s impossible not to appreciate it on a technical and visceral level. It’s well worth seeing just on those grounds alone, and I’ve no trouble with the flick sweeping every technical award in the book. That said, the story isn’t one-tenth as innovative as the visuals. The pacing is okay, I think, but the narrative is every bit as clumsy and awkward as Titanic and, since it apes Dances with Wolves in nearly every way imaginable, it’s 100% predictable. It’s too bad because this film could have been a monumental achievement instead of one that’s just monumentally overhyped.