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Sigourney Weaver

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Grabthar’s Silver Hammer.

“Rockwell: I wanted to ennoble the coward archetype. I thought of the best cowards in cinematic history, like John Turturro in ‘Miller’s Crossing.’ When we did the shuttle scene I drank four cups of coffee and downed two Excedrin. I wanted to be so hyped that I would have a nervous breakdown on the shuttle.”

On the fifteenth anniversary of a certifiable comedy classic, MTV offers up an oral history of Galaxy Quest. “George Takei: [It’s] a chillingly realistic documentary.”

World of Warcats.

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.

Single White Human, Looking for Group.

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.

Hotter than Reality By Far?

While much of the geekglobe, including yours truly, are still happily grooving along this week to Felicia Day’s elite-level earworm, “(Do You Wanna Date My) Avatar,” the King of the World has upped the stakes by releasing the teaser trailer for his much-anticipated film of the same name. (Several stills have popped online too, including first looks at Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang (late of Public Enemies), and Giovanni Ribisi. Notably missing: Zoe Saldana.) The Avatar trailer drops at 10am EST.

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.

Portraits of Urban Decay.

A few recent additions to the trailer bin: Will Smith finds a lot of alone time in New York City in the way-over-the-top teaser for Francis Lawrence’s I am Legend (which looks nothing like the Richard Matheson novella and only slightly more like the last version, Charlton Heston’s The Omega Man); Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, sporting Zodiac-era duds and dos, go mano a mano (again) in the trailer for Ridley Scott’s American Gangster (also with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Carla Gugino, and Josh Brolin); and Jodie Foster gets all Bernie Goetz up in here — much to the dismay of Terrence Howard — in the new trailer for Neil Jordan’s The Brave One. Update: Ok, one more. President William Hurt is shot! (Or is he?) And secret servicemen Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox, along with a Zapruderish Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and others, must get to the bottom of it all in the new trailer for Pete Travis’s Vantage Point.

Dented Eckhart | Ripley Returns.

As rumored a few weeks ago and in a bit of inspired casting, Aaron Eckhart looks set to join Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as Harvey Dent, a.k.a. Two-Face. And, also in fanboy casting news, the cast of James Cameron’s Avatar fills out, with Wes Studi, Sigourney Weaver, and others joining Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana for the 3D-epic.

The Talented Queen Ripley.

Sigourney Weaver as Emma Frost? It probably won’t happen now that Bryan Singer’s X3 team has moved to Superman, but that would’ve been fun casting.

The Village Idiot.

Having completed my chores in timely fashion this past Sabbath morn, I decided to undertake a sojourn in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, in spite of my apprehension over The Curse of William Hurt and The Mel Gibson Film Which We Do Not Much Enjoy. As you perchance have ascertained, it seems the goodly people of this nonsensical village have experienced some difficulty with the strange and mysterious residents in the nearby woods. Alack, Number Six is nowhere to be found, and Goody Ellen Ripley seems too engaged sweeping and darning at the present time to handle the marauders in her usual efficacious manner. This is highly unfortunate, for M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village is an exceedingly drab and silly place, whose full terribleness can only adequately be described in spoiler-filled invisitext (highlight to read):

Hoo boy…grab your torches and pitchforks, village people, cause we’ve got a really lousy film on our hands. (Ok, Van Helsing and Riddick were worse, but they harbored fewer delusions of grandeur…this film is just a pretentious bore.) As a refresher, I liked Sixth Sense, was intrigued by Unbreakable, and loathed Signs, and this one’s probably just as bad as Mel Gibson’s run-in with the water-and-door-averse aliens. Even though the plot twists in this bad boy can be seen a mile away, they still don’t make any sense. As with Signs, this is a film so lame I can only wrap my mind around it in numbered point form:

1) First off, the whole Elders bit. Is it really possible not to see this coming? What other explanation could there be for those big black cabinets in every house? I understand that these Villagers were not exposed to Scooby Doo, but how strikingly incurious could they be?

2) Along those lines, if you call a shed “The Old Shed That Is Not To Be Used” in any human society, no more than a week would pass before some enterprising youth started skulking around it. And why are the creatures called “Those We Shall Not Speak Of” anyway, when everyone is incessantly speaking about them? Surely some other nomenclature would take off at some point.

3) How come not a single Village soul has ever attempted to beat back the not-so-frightening wicker creatures with a block of wood or a stick of fire or something? Hasn’t anyone ever wondered why the Elders never seem to be around when the creatures come out?

4) What is this clipped faux-nineteenth century argot everybody’s speaking in? It’s embarrassing (although A.O. Scott made an excellent point when he noted that this is how William Hurt sounds all the time. Perhaps this actually makes sense.)

5) After our worst fears about the Scooby Doo Elders have been confirmed, why would Shyamalan think the blind girl’s encounter in the woods would be scary in the slightest? The only real question was whether it was Brendan Gleeson or Adrien Brody in the costume.

6) What vested interest would the government have in protecting this village from fly-overs, poachers, etc.? Nada, zip, zero. We already have Colonial Williamsburg.

7) Whatsmore, I find the political economy of this film somewhat repellent. Is the urge to create a rigid, backward-looking, and authoritarian society — where everyone knows everyone else’s business (except of course, the Big Business), where the only people of color are Red, and where the only trouble around is Adrien Brody the Village Idiot — really as worthy and benign as Shyamalan makes it out to be? These people are nutjobs, but they’re portrayed as humanists. If anything, the end of the film makes it seem as if this noble way of life will and should go on. There’s no real critique made at all of the Elder’s impositions, only of its misuse by Jealous Brody.

8) Speaking of which, village idiot? Blind girl who sees auras? C’mon now. You’re not even trying.

9) I see very well how Shyamalan might have intended this as a Twilight Zone meditation on terrorism, what with fear-mongering and color codes and all that. But, if that’s the case, then the film should not have been constructed as a Sixth Sense thriller rife with plot twists in the last third (particularly when the plot twists are so glaringly obvious). It should have shown its cards up front and then attempted to explore this allegory a little more creatively.

In sum, with Goody Weaver and Mssrs. Brody and Gleeson as residents of this unfortunate village, I had thought my brief stay in these woods might be more relishable. As it is, I am headed for the towns and shall not return.

Purple Village People Eaters.

Evil unseen alien forces threatening rustic Americana…let’s hope they can handle water this time. Yep, it’s the trailer for the new M. Night Shyamalan movie. With Sigourney Weaver, Adrien Brody, Brendan Gleeson, and a strange period vibe to it, I’d normally be quite enthused about The Village. But Signs was so lousy and self-absorbed that the bloom is off the Shyamalan rose, and this looks to me like more of the same. Plus, William Hurt has been phoning it in now for at least a decade, and he usually means the kiss of death for a film these days.

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