They dug too greedily and too deep…In a small Brazilian diamond, scientists find some potential evidence of vast reservoirs of water deep below the Earth’s surface (otherwise known as R’lyeh, where dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.) The Abyss pic above notwithstanding, “geologist Hans Keppler told Agence France-Presse that scientists should be cautious in concluding so much from such a small sample, and adds that it is likely the water is trapped in molecular form in certain rocks.” (Via High/LowIndustrial.)
“Ray has been a great inspiration to us all in special visual industry. The art of his earlier films, which most of us grew up on, inspired us so much.” “Without Ray Harryhausen, there would likely have been no STAR WARS” — George Lucas.
“THE LORD OF THE RINGS is my ‘Ray Harryhausen movie.’ Without his life-long love of his wondrous images and storytelling it would never have been made – not by me at least.” — Peter Jackson
“What we do now digitally with computers, Ray did digitally long before but without computers. Only with his digits.” — Terry Gilliam.
“I think all of us who are practioners in the arts of science fiction and fantasy movies now all feel that we’re standing on the shoulders of a giant. If not for Ray’s contribution to the collective dreamscape, we wouldn’t be who we are.” — James Cameron
Hello all. So, yes, it’s been quiet again, and the movie reviews I’m behind on are piling up (I’m three back now, going on five.) In the excuse department, work has been even busier than usual, of late, and, obviously, the political scene has been depressing. So there’s that.
Anyway, in partial recompense, here’s my first entry of a fun meme I saw at Cryptonaut-in-Exile a few weeks ago: “100 Things I Love About My Favorite Movies. The rest will follow in a leisurely fashion at some future point.
Here’s the rules: “Rather than posting your 100 favorite films (which has been done and overdone), you simply post your favorite things about movies…[I]nstead of obsessing over whether the films you put on a list are ‘objectively good enough’ to put on said list, you simply jot down 100 moments/lines/visuals that have made a lasting impression on you or sneak their way into running gags between you and your friends.“
And, so, without further ado and in no particular order:
“‘We’ll use many of the same characters as we have all along, and we’ll be introducing some new ones,’ Nolan said cryptically.” Lots of big doings on the fanboy front recently: First up, the next Batman movie has a (lousy) title: The Dark Knight Rises, and Chris Nolan has announced the Riddler will not be the villain. (He earlier wrote off Mr. Freeze.) So whomever Tom Hardy turns out to be, it’s not Edward Nigma. (My current guess is he’s Killer Croc, with a yet-to-be-cast Catwoman as the main villain.)
Riddles may not feature in Gotham, but they will soon be spun in deepest Wellington: In happy news, New Zealand will be returning as Middle Earth for the upcoming Hobbit films. “‘Making the two movies here will not only safeguard work for thousands of New Zealanders, but will also allow us to follow the success of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy in once again promoting New Zealand on the world stage,’ [Prime Minister!] Key said.“
Those are the two big upcoming guns. But, also on the docket, James Cameron officials signs up for two more Avatars for 2014 and 2015. Well…ok. I can think of other worlds I’d rather see him tackle than Pandora again.
And, with Black Swan opening very soon, Darren Aronofsky announces his next project (after, um, Wolverine 2), will be called Machine Man. “Machine Man, not to be confused with the Marvel Comics character, concerns a tech engineer who, tired of going through life average and unnoticed, replaces parts of his body with titanium upgrades of his own design. He then discovers that he isn’t the only one with plans for his new body.“
This may just seem like King-of-the-World hubris, but Cameron is a smart and demanding technical innovator who has spent a great deal of time over 25 years studying deep-sea technology.) I’d at least hear what he had to say. “‘The government really needs to have its own independent ability to go down there and image the site, survey the site and do its own investigation,’ he said. ‘Because if you’re not monitoring it independently, you’re asking the perpetrator to give you the video of the crime scene,’ Cameron added.“
Sorry Coolio…After some consideration, director Paul Greengrass opts not to take a Fantastic ride with James Cameron. (Suffice to say, the pedigree of the script — Shane Salerno of Armageddon — is not great.) Instead of Fantastic Voyage, the new rumors are Greengrass is thinking of heading for a remake of Treasure Island instead, although that too seems like a weird fit for him.
Not set in stone yet, but it sounds like director Paul Greengrass (Bournes II and III, United 93, Green Zone) may be talking with producer James Cameron about a 3-D remake of Fantastic Voyage. Not sure if the Greengrass shakicam would translate to 3-D very well, but it’s definitely an interesting pairing…and about a thousand times more intriguing than the long-rumored involvement of the hackmeisterly Roland Emmerich.
Y’all are probably on top of this by now, but the 2010 Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and the big fight of the evening looks to be blue cats versus bombs: Avatar and The Hurt Locker led the pack with nine nominations each. (Before the meme sets in, it should be noted that former married couple James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow have been very supportive of each other’s films from the start.) Anyway, some quick thoughts:
“Webb said, ‘This is a dream come true and I couldn’t be more aware of the challenge, responsibility, or opportunity. Sam Raimi’s virtuoso rendering of Spider-Man is a humbling precedent to follow and build upon. The first three films are beloved for good reason.'” Well, actually, not many care much for Spidey 3. In any event, the post-Raimi reboot of Spiderman at Sony has found its director in Marc Webb, previously of (500) Days of Summer.
A solid choice, although two things give me pause: 1) It’s hard to escape the sense that Webb was picked mainly because the studio suits think that, unlike Raimi, he’ll be more malleable than a lot of the A-list names floating around (Fincher, Cameron). 2) The ramifications of the following sentence might just end up being terrible: “The touchstone for the new movie will not be the 1960s comics…but rather this past decade’s ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley where the villain-fighting took a back seat to the high school angst.”
“If I did Titanic today, I’d do it very differently. There wouldn’t be a 750-foot-long set. There would be small set pieces integrated into a large CGI set. I wouldn’t have to wait seven days to get the perfect sunset for the kiss scene. We’d shoot it in front of a green screen, and we’d choose our sunset.” In Newsweek and Slate, James Cameron and Peter Jackson talk about the future of cinema. “Actors will never be replaced. The thought that somehow a computer version of a character is going to be something people prefer to look at is a ludicrous idea. It’s just paranoia.“
Hotter than reality by far? Well, maybe…I’d say more just (a) totally super serial. A decade in the making, James Cameron’s Avatar, for all intent and purposes, basically turned out quite a bit like Peter Jackson’s King Kong. (I was going to say The Phantom Menace, but I think that’s too harsh.) The movie looks absolutely amazing, and…uh…well…did I mention it looks amazing? So if you’re the type of person who can enjoy a ravishing visual feast on its own terms (and I am sometimes — for example, Speed Racer), then I think you’ll probably flat-out love it, and it’s definitely worth seeing in 3D.
But — and there’s a big but — if you’re someone who can’t get by on a feast of technological wonders alone, and for whatever reason I was that guy last night, then Avatar leaves something to be desired. It’s got cat class and it’s got cat style alright, but for all the visual inventiveness on display — bioluminescent forests, hammerhead rhinos, insectile gunships, and the like — Avatar is also a gorgeous three-hour cliche: The action may take place in three dimensions, but the story, alas, barely has one. As a result, Avatar has a bit of that too-much-frittering-around-the-edges feel of the Star Wars prequels. Yes, the six-legged equines and mercenary sidearms seem remarkably well-designed…but good god man, what about the plot?
About that plot, we’ve seen or heard the basic contours of this story a dozen times over, albeit not with blue felinoids: Warrior goes undercover, falls in love, goes native, and turns on his former and erstwhile masters. It’s Lawrence of Arabia, Little Big Man, The Last Samurai, Dances with Wolves, and Dune, just to name a few variations of this theme. (If you’re a WoW player with avatars of your own, Avatar also goes like this: Guy levels a night-elf and/or draenei in Zangarmarsh, really loves his flying mount, and eventually gets caught up in a lot of guild drama.) Now, I don’t begrudge Cameron for retelling a hoary tale here. This story may be as old as the hills, sure, but, it’s all in the execution. But execution-wise, Avatar doesn’t really cut it in a lot of ways. It’s just too broad and ham-handed most of the time. And there are too many absurd plot points (say, all the formerly Na’vi-eating animals turning into the eagles at Mordor in the third act) and reversals (say, all the Na’vi being so awed into submission — after being screwed over and run out of their World Tree — by an apparently easy-to-tame dragon. The Kwisatz haderach never had it so good.)
To be honest, I’m not really sure what happened here. I mean, the dialogue in Titanic is admittedly clunky as all hell, but damned if I don’t feel right there on the boat every time the iceberg comes around. Terminator 2 also has a lot of “hasta la vista, baby” and “why do you cry?” drek to wade through, but it definitely works in the end. And I’d say Cameron’s three best films — Terminator, Aliens, and The Abyss — all benefit from quality writing, memorably punchy dialogue, and well-rounded, believable characters. But somewhere here, it feels like Cameron got lost in his sea of pixels. The result is visually impressive to be sure. But — at least for me — it’s not particularly engaging on any emotional level.
I’ll give Avatar this — the problem is not the CGI-rendering. As a feat of technology, the Na’vi characters here are, like almost all of Pandora, the next order of Gollum. They all look and act as photo-realistic as ten-foot-tall blue cats ever could. (In fact, they seem more lifelike than Sam Worthington, who turns in a mostly forgettable performance here — As his respective military and scientific handlers, Stephen Lang and Sigourney Weaver, both looking extraordinarily well-preserved, resonate more.) And when the Na’vi are traipsing about their bioluminescent world like it’s an alien nature docutmentary, Avatar is as good as it gets.
But, while they may be more Siamese than Sioux, the Na’vi are also somewhat condescending and even vaguely embarrassing noble savage stereotypes, particularly Zoe Saldana’s character and her intended betrothed. (I didn’t catch the name, and thought of him basically as cat-Billy-Zane.) This would probably rankle more if most everyone else in the story wasn’t a caricature too. Giovanni Ribisi (overplaying it) is the weaselly corporate lackey. (He’s Burke, a.k.a. Paul Reiser from Aliens.) Michelle Rodriguez (in her wheelhouse) is the tough-as-nails military gal with the heart of gold. (She’s Vasquez, a.k.a. Jenette Goldstein, also from Aliens.) And so on — Not one character does or says anything surprising over the course of three hours, and so Avatar, for all its visual grandeur, just plays out like an eye-catching, extraordinarily expensive, and maddeningly familiar Saturday morning (super-)serial.
Not to lose the Hometree in the forest, Avatar looks, really, really good. Beautiful, even. And, amid the shock-and-awe references and Zen-tastic Earth mother philosophy, there are glimpses of some interesting ideas interspersed throughout the cornball stuff. I get the feeling there might be some meta-commentary going on here about actors and “avatar” technology — Sam Worthington the actor is stepping into a ten-foot-tall cat suit just as much as his character Jake Sully is — although I could be over-thinking it. And a late moment involving Sully (in human form) and one of the Na’vi — the Pieta scene in the trailer (which, by the way, Stephen Lang fell conveniently close to… and what happened to the nerdy sidekick guy who should’ve been in there at the time?) — plays out like the Urtext image of much of Cameron’s output over the years. (From Ellen Ripley to Sarah Connor, Cameron does love his warrior-goddess mothering types.)
Nonetheless, while probably worth catching for the 3-D ride experience, Avatar fell well below my expectations of the King of the World’s vaunted return. More than most — some might say all — of his contemporaries, James Cameron has always had the knack for giving his technological marvels a human pulse: The Terminator, The Abyss, and Titanic are first and foremost love stories; In the midst of all the kick-ass, T2 and Aliens are also movies about (adopted) parents and children. But that gift for keeping humanity front and center in his sci-fi failed him this time — For all its visual splendor, Avatar sadly falls into an uncanny valley of the heart. Simply put, it just feels a bit hollow.
They don’t care what’s in your character bank: Paraplegic veteran Sam Worthington rolls Draenei and goes native in the brand-spankin’ new second trailer for James Cameron’s Avatar, also with Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, and Michelle Rodriguez. (Well, actually this trailer has been floating around in bootleg form for a few days now, but I figured this movie more than most needs to be judged and/or appreciated in hi-def.)
Anyway, so far, so good. Ribisi and Rodriguez seem a lot like Paul Reiser (Burke) and Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) from Aliens respectively. And while a lot of the “Dances with Thundersmurfs” hectoring out there can be chalked up to the usual aggro-fanboy haterade, Avatar‘s whole central plot-line does seem pretty doggone similar to Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, Dune, or any other flick/book you can name where a good outsider throws in with the “noble savage” locals to beat back the massively superior technological firepower of the would-be colonialists. (“This is our land!!” It is? No, it’s their land, buddy. Ease up with your bad self.)
Still, it’s gonna make for some amazing eye candy, that’s for sure. And as long as the Na’vi don’t squeal like Ewoks or Gungans as they fight, I should be able to dig it.
“‘This film integrates my life’s achievements,’ he told me. ‘It’s the most complicated stuff anyone’s ever done.” Another time, he said, “If you set your goals ridiculously high and it’s a failure, you will fail above everyone else’s success.’” On the eve of Avatar, the New Yorker‘s Dana Goodyear delivers a long and interesting profile of take-no-guff, autocratic auteur James Cameron. (“A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij–Jim backward.“)
The whole thing is definitely worth a read, but this caught me eye further down the piece: “‘We should ultimately have colonies on Mars, for purposes of expanding the footprint of the human race,’ Cameron says. He shares with the Mars Society the opinion that NASA — on whose advisory council he sat for three years — has become too risk-averse. ‘We’ve become cowards, basically,’ he says. ‘As a society, we’re just fat and happy and comfortable and we’ve lost the edge.’” Listen to the King of the World — he’s dead on.
Update: Apple/Quicktime is failing at the moment, but French MSN has come to the rescue. So, wait, it’s World of Warcraft Draenei replacing Dune‘s Fremen on the forest moon of Endor in 3D? Agh, screw it — you had me at James Cameron.
“It is the most challenging film I’ve ever made.” The Hollywood Reporter checks in with James Cameron on the status of Avatar, and the future of 3D. “‘The real question is ‘where does all this go?’ Cameron said. ‘Are we looking at a situation maybe 10-15 years out where most laptops are sold with 3-D stereoscopic screens, most montors are stereo compatible, most DVD players can run stereo content?…I can see this becoming much more pervasive that we are thinking now.’“