You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Best Visual Effects’ category.

Here’s a quick round-up of what we think should win tonight. Follow along to see what Oscar gets right! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Jared John
Picture Argo Django Unchained
Director Spielberg Lee
Actress Lawrence Chastain
Actor Day-Lewis Day-Lewis
Supporting Actress Hathaway Hathaway
Supporting Actor Waltz Hoffman
Original Screenplay Flight Flight
Adapted Screenplay Argo Argo
Animated Feature Wreck-It Ralph Brave
Animated Short Paperman
Cinematography Lincoln Anna Karenina
Costume Mirror Mirror
Film Editing Argo
Makeup and Hairstyling Les Miserables
Production Design Anna Karenina
Score Life of Pi
Song Skyfall Skyfall
Sound Editing Django Unchained
Sound Mixing Les Miserables
Visual Effects Life of Pi

The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart (and I, at least, have impeccable taste), we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

Best Visual Effects

The nominees are:

  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Life of Pi
  • Marvel’s The Avengers
  • Prometheus
  • Snow White and the Huntsman

John

pi_effects

I like seeing films with more of an artistic bent show up in this category. Superheroes and monsters are fun enough, but they feel pretty standard at this point. Something like The Hulk in The Avengers is a bit different, but it’s hard to beat the imagination and artistry of Life of Pi. The animals are truly fantastic, not to mention the storms, the shipwreck, and the more surreal scenes on the ocean. The effects are also absolutely vital to the film, which helps.

I actually didn’t particularly care for the effects in Snow White and the Huntsman, but the way they turned recognizable actors into dwarfs was pretty neat.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The nominees are:

  • Hitchcock
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Les Miserables

John

This category strikes me as a quantity vs quality argument. Hitchcock turns Anthony Hopkins into the Master of Suspense, plastering his face to fill out his jowls. It’s effective but also the only really notable makeup work in the film. On the other hand, The Hobbit and Les Miserables have no one makeup job nearly as impressive and important as Hitchcock, but instead spread the work out across a whole cast of made-up characters.

The Hobbit isn’t really breaking any new ground here, creating the same creatures they did back in the Lord of the Rings movies. But still, there are a variety of creatures with distinguishing features (think of elven ears). The variety of hair and beard styles among the traveling band of dwarfs was a nice touch that stood out to me.

lesmis_makeupI admit after watching Les Miserables I puzzled over its nomination in this category. Was it the period hairstyles? The grime spread across everyone’s faces? The dirty teeth? Probably all of the above, but diving deeper there are some showier makeup showcases, such as on the innkeepers and the prostitutes, not to mention aging the main characters. It has a theatrical effect, which I’m sure was the intent, and wins my vote, though I admit not caring all that much.

The Makeup branch declined to nominate two more ostentatious makeup showpieces in Looper and Cloud Atlas. I know some people found the work in these films to be a bit too distracting so their omission is understandable (and, truth be told, a few of the many ballsy makeup jobs in Cloud Atlas can look totally dreadful), but I would have enjoyed to see them here, even if just to get these two memorable films some Oscar love in at least one category.

Nominations are less than a day away! Time to put our forecasting mettle to the test and see if we can’t pick the nominees. Jared and I did all non-short categories and Brian joined us for the big six. I’ve highlighted in yellow where we differ.

Check back tomorrow to see how we did!

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Over the past two weeks we’ve been revealing our choices for most of the Oscar categories. Here is a handy recap of those picks! Refer to this page often during tonight’s telecast to see if you should be agreeing with the winners! (Hint: use the “John” column)

Adam Brian Jared John
Picture Hugo The Artist Midnight in Paris
Director Allen Scorsese Havanavicius Malick
Actress Mara Mara Williams Streep
Actor Dujardin Dujardin Dujardin Oldman
Supporting Actress Bejo Bejo Spencer Chastain
Supporting Actor Hill Nolte Branagh Plummer
Original Screenplay Midnight in Paris Margin Call The Artist Midnight in Paris
Adapted Screenplay Hugo The Descendants Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Art Direction Midnight in Paris Hugo Hugo Hugo
Cinematography The Tree of Life Hugo The Tree of Life The Tree of Life
Costume Anonymous Jane Eyre
Film Editing Hugo Moneyball The Descendants
Makeup Harry Potter The Iron Lady Harry Potter The Iron Lady
Score The Artist The Adventures of Tintin
Song The Muppets The Muppets The Muppets
Sound Editing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Drive
Sound Mixing Transformers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Transformers Transformers
Visual Effects Transformers Rise of the Planet of the Apes Harry Potter Transformers
Animated Short A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll A Morning Stroll Wild Life
Live Action Short Time Freak Time Freak
Documentary Short Saving Face The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

The 84th Academy Awards is almost here! Leading up to the event, we’re going to put all the hours we spent watching these films to good use by giving our thoughts on all the categories, big and small. We may not be experts on everything, but I daresay that’s never stopped anyone from blogging before. On the (very remote chance) you disagree with us or the (much more likely chance) you want to applaud our picks, please chime in below.

Visual Effects

The nominees are:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers Dark of the Moon

JOHN

I’m going to be the crazy person here disagreeing with the popular choice and say I was underwhelmed by the effects in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the film with all the buzz for trying to get its motion captured actor an acting nod. I just don’t think it looks good enough yet. Motion capture works great in a cartoon like The Adventures of Tintin or in a surreal world like Avatar. When placed in a real location like the Golden Gate bridge, the motion capture characters just don’t look quite right. It’s the same for the apes’ facial expressions.

I would have rather seen The Tree of Life here for its gorgeous interstellar sequences, but since it is not my choice will be Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I never thought I’d be advocating so many Oscars for a Michael Bay noise fest! But the effects are big, impressive, and realistic. They are also more intelligible in this round of robot wars, though I’m not sure if that’s the result of better effects or a directorial/storyboarding decision. It is nice being able to tell which robot is which.

But if Transformers doesn’t win, Hugo and Harry Potter are fine substitutes as well.

JARED

I think it is a lot easier to argue why each of these films should win for visual effects than coming up with reasons why they shouldn’t.  Because all of them came up with some really cool stuff.  Real Steel had friggin’ boxing robots, for crying out loud.  Though really, their fighting styles involved a little more than just punching.  All of the fight scene were great.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes had all the neat motion capture stuff, of course.  But don’t forget the fight scene on the bridge, that was very well done.  Hugo may not have done a lot for me, but I’m not petty enough to suggest it didn’t look really awesome.  Transformers: Dark of the Moon was exactly what a Michael Bay movie should be, a near-constant adrenaline rush of insane image after insane image.  If I had written this post ten minutes ago or ten minutes later, I might have picked one of those four to win, that’s how close it is for me.  But for now, I’m going with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two.  The fight scenes were just too excellent to ignore.

ADAM

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The Oscar ceremony is just a few days away. With dozens of films under our belts it’s time for us to weigh in on this year’s nominees. We’ll be doing our usual in depth analysis for the major categories, but we’ll give some of the ol’ Grouch treatment to the smaller and technical categories as well.

Today, I (John), tackle Visual Effects and Film Editing. Feel free to make your preferences known in the comments, especially if you happen to know more about these subjects!

Visual Effects

The nominees:

  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows Part 1
  • Hereafter
  • Inception
  • Iron Man 2

By seeing Hereafter on a whim months ago and Tron: Legacy getting a surprise snub here, I happen to have seen all the nominees. Hereafter is the one that strikes me as behind the others. It’s nominated based on an opening sequence where a character is caught in the Boxer Day tsunami. It’s a terrifying sequence and very effective from a film making standpoint. You really feel in the middle of the swell and experience its power. I know the sequence is well-respected in the field and I know water is particularly hard to work with in effects, but I must admit it set off my realism sensors. It’s hard to explain, but little things let me know it wasn’t real, like little errors in physics or the interaction between the animated water and filmed background. Also, it’s a support sequence up against four films reliant on visual effects.

I don’t have much to say about Iron Man 2, Alice in Wonderland, or Harry Potter except that they have good and frequent visual effects in films that are bad, very bad, and mediocre, respectively.

I choose Inception as my winner. It uses its effects mostly cleverly (though as a very clever film one would hope the visuals would also be clever). I also like that it’s a mix of computer generated and more traditional special effects. There’s a city that folds onto itself, but they also built an actual spinning hallway and blew up a model winter fortress.

Film Editing

The nominees:

  • Black Swan
  • The Fighter
  • The King’s Speech
  • 127 Hours
  • The Social Network

I won’t pretend to be an expert in editing. It’s one of those things you don’t usually notice unless it bothers you or if it’s flashy. The Oscars often reward Best Picture contenders or films that have the most editing, like the Bourne Ultimatum debacle.

The editing in 127 Hours provides some necessary pizazz. The guy’s stuck under a rock. You gotta get some energy from somewhere. Black Swan ratchets up the intensity. But I’ll go with The Social Network for maintaining clarity during fast-moving scenes with rat-a-tat dialogue and nailing all its dramatic and comedic beats.

Snubs: Forget a nomination snub, the winner here should be Lee Smith for Inception. The film is an editing marvel, weaving together multiple dream narratives moving at different speeds and keeping it all coherent, especially at the end.

Oscar nominations arrive Tuesday, January 25. To prepare, we’re giving you our sharpest insight and predictions. Everyone cares about the big categories, but you need in depth coverage from visionaries like us to know: What are some nominations in technical categories that must happen?

Jared: Scott Pilgrim’s effects are essential

Some might say the visual effects are the only thing keeping Scott Pilgram afloat. But Jared wouldn't say that, and it would be an abuse of this poster's editorial position to suggest anything of the sort

This isn’t the spot to discuss all the merits of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, many though they may be.  The film didn’t connect with nearly as many people as it should have, most frequently dismissed as something along the lines of “that video game movie.”  Well, you know what made it seem like a video game movie?  The visual effects!  Regardless of whether you think the film was actually the generation-defining movie of the year or a trifle never rising above something meant for kids, I think you have to concede the visuals were both wildly inventive and crucial to the story.

As a devotee of the graphic novels, I’m a little biased, but more than any Facebook movie, I think this one better sums up kids turning to adults these days.  And that’s due in an extremely large part to the whiz-bang visuals.  Frequently borrowing from or reminiscent of video games, sure, but that’s the entire point.  Edgar Wright and his team unleashed an often unrelenting barrage of visual effects, but always in service of the story.  And always, as is perhaps most important, looking really really cool.

John: Fighter costumes effective and entertaining

You know what this character's about without even seeing the movie

My support is going to Mark Bridges for Best Costume for The Fighter. Now, no one has accused me of having a sense of style, but I appreciated the clothing in the film for both defining the time period and the characters. Set in the early 1990s in blue collar Massachusetts, the film makes good use of the era’s most garish fashion.

A film set in the near past often has a hard time establishing its time period. Fewer electronics on sets, maybe. Older cars. But the clothing is the most effective, without resorting to misplaced Desert Storm jokes. Plus, in this case, the clothing establishes the characters’ class.

Melissa Leo’s character has some really zany outfits, but the one scene that stands out in my head is Christian Bale leaving his crack house, multicolored parachute pants flapping in the wind.

We’re finishing off our look at the smaller categories today with a look at the ones that we care to talk about.

Original Song

The nominees, with videos so that you may listen:

  • “Almost There” Princess and the Frog, Music and lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Down in New Orleans” Princess and the Frog, Music and lyric by Randy Newman
  • “Loin de Paname” Paris 36, Music by Reinhardt Wagner and lyric by Frank Thomas
  • “Take it All” Nine, Music and lyric by Maury Yeston
  • “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” Crazy Heart, Music and lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Jared starts us off:

Randy Newman has written many smart, catchy songs for film and for his albums.  “Down in New Orleans” is an example of some of the dreck he’s also come up with.  Reminds me of that bit from Family Guy about Randy Newman singing what he sees (couldn’t find video, but here’s the audio).

“Loin de Paname” was a surprise nominee, but having heard the song, it totally makes sense.  Because it is basically “La Vie en Rose”.  Except they say “Paris” a lot.  New rule of thumb for picking Oscar song nominees: If it sounds like it could play over a Sabrina-like character finding herself in Paris montage, it is probably going to get a nomination.

“Almost There” sounds almost exactly like I’d expect a song from a Disney animated to sound.  Fits right in with the throwback feel the studio was going for with the movie.  Anika Noni Rose does a lovely job with the song, but to me, the tune is lacking soul.  It is a fine song, but doesn’t have that extra oomph to really make it memorable.

Since Oscar voters get to see the context in which the songs appear in their respective films, it is no wonder that “Take It All” received a nomination.  Heck, I’d probably consider some Nickelback if it got Marion Cotillard to strip.  But really, it is an average burlesque number, and Cotillard isn’t nearly bold enough a singer to cover for the song’s lack of originality.

So yeah, no surprise that “The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” is the class of the bunch.  Haunting and at time soul-wrenching, it is a pretty little number that perhaps raised my expectations for the film a little too high.  There was absolutely space to use the song in a much more striking fashion, like in many other areas, the film fell short.  Still, a great song used to good effect in the film.  A worthy nominee and hopefully more.

But John sets him straight

I like this slate of original songs. Of course if I had made the nominees they would be substantially different, but it’s a good mix of seriously good songs, contenders, and a completely from left field entry. The song category is good for these outlier nominees and it keeps it interesting even if I don’t always agree.

That outlier is “Loin de Paname.” To me it’s a nondescript French tune, as if someone set out to write a song that was stereotypically French complete with accordion.

“Almost There” is too simplistic for my tastes. Too much of the lyrics simply repeat the title. I think the music is fine.

“This Is It” didn’t strike me as particularly noteworthy when first listening to the eligible songs. It starts alluring and ends dramatic, so I could sort of see the appeal. But I totally understand after watching Nine where this number is easily the best scene in the film. It works in a way that the rest of the movie does not so the song’s inclusion here makes a lot more sense. On its own I think it’s still only okay, but at least now I can picture the film while it’s playing.

The final two songs are terrific. Jared’s dismissal of “Down in New Orleans” is disappointing. I really dig this jazzy tune. It has some catchy lyrics and a more complex structure than “Almost There.” Part of the key is listening to the version sung by Dr. John that comes early in the film rather than the Anika Noni Rose version, which is split between a prologue and epilogue. I’m always tickled by the way Dr. John croons “They got music,  it’s always playin’/ start in the day time, go allllllll through the night.”

The winner of course is “The Weary Kind” from Crazy Heart. It’s heartfelt and beautiful and fits the tone of the film perfectly. I also appreciate the song’s role in the film itself. If anything it’s problem is that it’s so much better than everything else in the film! With this song playing over the trailer I expected some great music going into the film, just to be disappointed when every other Bad Blake song is bland mainstream country.

Snubs: I’ve had two songs stuck in my head the most this season along with “The Weary Kind.” One is “Help Yourself” from Up in the Air which was deemed ineligible. But I hear this song and I am transported right back to the film’s powerful atmosphere.

And the other – would it be weird to say? – was the Sinead O’Connor end credits track to The Young Victoria, Only You.” The combination of her breathy voice and a catchy hook and chorus combo completely draw me in.

And of course I was hoping for a Karen O entry from Where the Wild Things Are because she’s so great.

Original Score

The nominees:

  • James Horner, Avatar
  • Alexandre Desplat, Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders, The Hurt Locker
  • Hans Zimmer, Sherlock Holmes
  • Michael Giacchino, Up

Brian lets us in on his musical brilliance:

So I write this as a guy who would consider buying satellite radio for the sole purposes of listening to Cinemagic — the movie score channel — all the time. Movie scores are grossly underappreciated, I think, and are the equivalent of the concertos and symphonies written by the musical masters of the 19th century. So I go into this category with pretty high expectations and a healthy dose of snobbery. A couple of caveats and qualifiers: I haven’t seen two of these films in theaters, so I’m judging based on what I can listen to online and my favorite composers (James Newton Howard, Michael Newman, and Philip Glass) aren’t up for awards this year — which is a good thing because I’m going through this with an open mind. Lastly, had Marvin Hamlisch been nominated for The Informant, he would have won my vote.

In order of least favorite to favorite, with only really one disappointing score among them:

James Horner — Avatar

In my Lock That Shouldnt Be post, i wrote about how I really wished that Horner would get ignored, but that was not meant to be. I’m generally disinclined to like any score that uses choirs as heavily as Horner does in Avatar. If I wanted to hear falsettos chanting unintelligbly, I’d go to the opera or buy a CD of Gregorian chants. Using the Carmina Burana has become so cliched that composers like Horner just try and mimic it with middling success. A moaning chorus is a hallmark of bad action movies. A great score sets the tone of what is happening on the screen and when standing on its own, should be evocative of the same emotions as the movie — but Horner bolds, underlines, italicizes his notes too much. I have the same problems with the score that I had with the movie — bombastic, bludgeoning and too in love with itself to uncover the subtle emotions within.

Marco Beltralmi – Hurt Locker

Here’s the first of four scores that I would definitely want to hear on Cinemagic. Taking a cue from Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western scores, the score underscores Jeremy Renner’s “go it alone” manner. The bomb detonation squad is almost like the classic Eastwood cowboy — they’re the ones who have to face danger head on in the hot desert while the rest of the town (army) waits until the coast is clear. Heck, there’s even a shootout in The Hurt Locker. Beltraimi infuses the heavy metal music preferred by Renner’s SGT James into the score in a much more effective use of that music than what was done in, say, The Messenger — where it was merely a cliched example of how Ben Foster’s character is coping with the war. It’s really great score and I think a textbook example of how a score can improve a movie.

Hans Zimmer — Sherlock Holmes and Alexandre Desplat — Fantastic Mr. Fox

Here are the two films I didn’t see — so I feel somewhat unqualified to give them a full appraisal, but I really love what I’ve heard so far. Zimmer is one of the most prolific composers out there — so he’s done his share of forgettable and memorable scores in the past. While this isn’t as good as his work for The Dark Knight, which may be one of my favorite scores of the past 10 years, it ranks up there with the Pirates of the Caribbean in terms of catchiness and ability to stand on its own as a musical composition. It’s so good, that it even makes me want to go see the movie whereas before I’d probably have been happy to let it slide.

As for Desplat’s Mr. Fox — it too is another score that makes me want to see the film from another veteran on a hot streak. His score for The Queen was a significant contributor to how much I liked that movie, and I can hear shades of it in the Mr. Fox themes. It’s light, playful — the staccato strings liven up a breezy mood — one that I hope is dominant in the film itself.

Michael Giacchino — Up

This may be my second favorite Pixar score — falling behind The Incredibles which, surprise surprise, was also composed by Giacchino. The versatile 8-note motif comes up over and over again, but in totally different styles and in different situations. You hear it during the heart-warming prologue, the momentous occasion when the house lifts into the air, during the climactic chase scene with the dogs. And its been stuck in my head for days at a time, and I couldn’t be happier for it. It’s such a joyful theme that is a great start to making my best scores list of the 2010s. It’s my pick for this year in what amounts to a very talented group. Do doo do dooo….do doo do dooo….

And John makes his points, albeit less artfully:

There are some neat pieces in The Hurt Locker score if you listen to them on their own. They are interesting and very good. The rest of the tracks are sort of generic tension-building soundtrack music. But I just watched the film again and I still barely noticed the music – and I was listening for it!

The music for Fantastic Mr. Fox is playful and not a bad listen. But it also doesn’t grab me and the most successful music in the film are the pop songs, not the score. I haven’t seen Sherlock Holmes but I dig the the score. I don’t know how you compose the score for Sherlock Holmes and say, “You know what this needs? Fiddles and banjos!” And it works.

There are two clear front runners for me. One I got a bit more pleasure out of while watching the film, the other I think is better on its own. It’s a tough choice between the two and maybe I’ll change my mind a few times before the show tonight.

The Avatar score made a huge impact on me during the film. Brian dislikes the choral use but I eat that stuff up. Two scenes that stand out to me as especially enhanced by music are Jake’s first flight on an ikran and when the Na’vi try to save Grace at Hometree. That music struck me as very powerful. And the bombastic score during the climax and as it fades to credits? Wonderful.

Was I humming the tune as I left the theater? No. But the music was absolutely part of my thoughts on my walk home, and I can’t say I’ve ever really learned a film’s music enough after one viewing to be able to hum it. So I listened to the soundtrack several times in subsequent days. It’s a good listen, but outside the context of the movie it’s not quite as noteworthy.

I’m giving the edge to Up because I think it holds up a bit better on its own and because, when I listen to it, I’m transported back to the film and how it made me feel. All of it is just so integral part of that wonderful film as it weaves its motifs into different scenes and tones. But while same themes appear again and again, they’re used differently enough to not feel repetitive. And, of course, the music is very lovely.

Animated Feature

The nominees:

  • Coraline
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • The Princess and the Frog
  • The Secret of Kells
  • Up

John chimes in on this one:

I’m really thrilled this category got expanded to five films this year. It was a good year for animation. Furthermore, I’m quite happy that middling efforts from big studios like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Monsters vs Aliens were left off in favor of some more interesting films. There is a clear winner here, but any Academy member that took the time to watch these films surely had a great time.

Except when they watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is too self-consciously quirky for its own good. Wes Anderson is too beholden to his style at this point that he fails to tell a coherent story that we care about. I did not find Anderson’s ruminations on modern ennui to work in a film about foxes. Even the stop-motion animation wore out its welcome by the end.

The Secret of Kells looks fantastic with the most distinct visual style of the nominees. It’s a hand-drawn film, full of bright colors and a playful use of perspective. The music is also wonderful. I found the story to be a chore to get through, however.

The Princess and the Frog is a nice return to form for Disney hand-drawn animation. It’s funny, sweet, musically catchy, and beautifully drawn. I think it tried to do too much with its story and themes; the thing has about a half dozen lessons. A really nice film.

Coraline is seriously creepy. It even creeped me out a bit and I’m twice as old as the target audience. I love the way it looks, particularly its use of contrast between darkness and bright colors. Again there are some story elements that left me a little cold.

And naturally my winner is Up. It just has the whole package from great writing to beautiful animation. It’s not just a great animated film but a great film.

Snubs: I was hoping that if Cloudy wasn’t going to make it in that Mary and Max or 9 would instead.

The Rest

None of us wrote about the sound categories because we are neither knowledgeable nor interested enough to do so. We also didn’t see enough films to comment on Art Direction, even though that’s one of my favorite technical categories. One quick observation on it though: Nine had to be nominated for its use of its stage set for its musical numbers, right? None of the real world sets are particularly interesting. But neither is the stage set- it’s just simple and used in mildly imaginative ways. A nomination for building scaffolding. Wonderful.

And Visual Effects is a cakewalk for Avatar, but I recently saw District 9 again and was reminded how terrific the special effects are in that film. The aliens, the weapons, and the main character’s metamorphosis from human to alien are all stunning.

So it all comes down to this. Nominations come out tomorrow and the Grouches are staking their pristine reputations on their predictive powers! Brian, Jared, and John took a stab at the top eight categories while John and Jared went on to predict the rest of the non-short categories. There’s a lot of overlap, so any picks where we differ has been shaded.

The Big Eight:

And the rest (note we also predicted how many Best Song nominees there will be, since there can be 0, 2, 3, 4, or 5)

Who will reign supreme? We’ll declare a winner tomorrow!

Jared challenged me to explain why I loved Avatar so much. Believe me, there’s no one more surprised at how much I loved it than me. Big, loud, action flicks aimed towards a broad audience rarely appeal to me, but this is something special. Avatar is a cinematic event that only comes around once in a blue moon, the kind of experience that film fans will talk about for ages.

And, yes, I’m primarily talking about the visuals. The stunning 3-D, lush landscapes, and CGI creatures are wonders to behold. Feeling immersed in this world really does feel like something; even two-plus hours into the film there were visuals that made me jump and cringe in my seat. I have a fear of heights and I don’t think any film has managed to parlay that fear into such pulse-quickening excitement.

Avatar is getting a lot of flak for its plot. I know it’s not an original story, but it’s a classic story for a reason and it is effective. There are enough original story elements to keep me satisfied and as a sci-fi film set on a foreign world the more fantastic parts are acceptable.

But the best thing about it is the world it creates. I love being transported by film to unfamiliar worlds, be they current or past or future, fictional or not. One reason I really liked Frozen River, a film about as opposite from Avatar as possible, is its depiction of life on a poor, cross-border Native American reservation, which is an unfamiliar world for me.

Science fiction and fantasy often create their own worlds, but they don’t usually feel fully realized or they don’t follow a logical set of rules. Harry Potter is fun but which wizards have what level of power and can perform what kinds of spells is inconsistent; the dead are conveniently called upon to fight in Lord of the Rings but then immediately forgotten. Avatar creates a world with its own rules and then adheres to those rules. All the Mother Nature stuff may be hokey to some, but Mother Nature mysticism is what exists in the alien and fictional world of Pandora and it remains consistent, so it is acceptable.

Brian says a major film like this needs a score that makes you hum as you walk out of the theater and James Horner’s work for Avatar falls short. First, I loved the score and found it to be a great accompaniment to the film. It enhances several intense scenes, like the one where the Na’vi encircle the tree, clasp hands and chant to save Dr. Augustine’s life. I’ve listened to the soundtrack at least a dozen times already.

But I also think his criteria are too high. Yes, many classic films have classic scores. But if you walked into the film blind and not knowing the score, would you really know it well enough to hum it on the way out? Not even in Star Wars, I’d posit. The music very much stayed with me as the film ended, but I think it’s too much to expect the actual notes to linger after one viewing and before they enter the mainstream consciousness like many classic scores.

I walked out of that theater totally floored and I still remain literally excited to see Avatar again. In fact, my only regret is that I won’t get a chance to experience it for the first time ever again.

May 2017
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