Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Tale of Two Avatars

The Husband Fixture meddled with my Netflix queue and added Avatar. Yeah, James Cameron’s latest epic about man versus the blue alien dudes. I had no interest in this film when it came out. In fact, I opted to take my daughter to see The Princess and the Frog while hubby and son saw this movie. But Husband Fixture and kids wanted to watch it on Netflix.  As it was an opportunity to spend some quality time with the family, I sat through it.

Now I consider myself an empathetic soul, but from the get-go I couldn’t seem to care about any of those characters. Even the blue monkey dudes didn’t stir much sympathy. I did not find Pandora to be this awesomely beautiful place, either. The critters in it were ugly, and the whole thing about the blue monkeys sticking the end of their braids into stuff creeped me out. It was also patently predicable. Big bad corporate America stomps all over nature and encounters resistance. And seriously, how am I supposed to believe that after totally betraying a whole race of people, that the jarhead who was sent to infiltrate the blue monkeys can just walk right back into the tribe and be not only accepted, but trusted to lead them along with the rest of their race against the big bad humans? (Can we say Fern Gully 2?)

Even more unbelievable is that the blue dudes actually won the battle. Yeah, even the ending didn’t really phase me, and I’m the type who cries at Disney movies. So if you haven’t seen this one, you’re really not missing much.

The Husband fixture claims that I was determined not to like this movie and therefore did not give it a fair shake. I disagree. I am capable of overcoming bad reviews to actually give a movie a chance, and possibly even like it.

Case in point: (Avatar) The Last Airbender.

Despite the negative reviews I’d read from friends and critics, I knew I’d end up going to see this film in the theaters. My son got hooked on the animated series (on Nickelodeon) upon which this film was based, as did the whole family. We’ve all seen every episode at least twice—several times for some episodes, including the one in which the final battle scene of the movie took place.

I was prepared for a poorly written, terribly acted, waste of my time. I am happy to say that the film was better than expected. Was it the best film I’d ever seen? Not by a long shot. Was it the worst remake of a television series I’ve seen? No, it wasn’t.

Most of the reviews I read listed gross generalizations on what the reviewers thought M. Night Shyamalan got wrong, leaving me to wonder whether they were really familiar with the series.  Not all of their criticism was unfounded, though. I was irked by the mispronunciation of several of the characters’ names. How can you mispronounce names that were on a television series? In addition to his name being butchered, I had issues with Sokka’s portrayal. Sokka was largely a goofball, and not the best at being a warrior. He matured a great deal, both personally and as a warrior throughout the series. In the movie, he was entirely too serious.

I did not like the fact that the Fire Lord was given a more direct role in the movie. He was really a mysterious figure during the first two books of the series, and did not directly control or have knowledge of Zuko’s or General Zhao’s movements (Zhao was, in fact, a renegade, and it was his idea alone to kill Twee and Laa, the moon and water spirits). The Fire Lord did not have any sympathy or concern for Zuko.

Speaking of the banished prince, one of the creative choices with which I took issue was Zuko’s appearance. I think it was a mistake to show Zuko with short hair in the beginning, as the cutting of his hair played a significant part later in the series, as it would in Chinese culture.  How hard would it have been to fit the actor with a hairpiece?

I also was not thrilled with the scene in which General Iroh administered the “avatar test” to Aang. This did not in any way happen in the series, nor did it really serve to explain much of anything. It also went against the way Iroh was portrayed--not only in the series, but within the rest of this movie, as well.
Last, but not least, I have to address the special effects. The  use of 3-D was wholly unnecessary, and merely a “keeping up with the Joneses” gimmick that did not really pan out.

While I’m not entirely convinced that M. Night was the best choice of directors for this project, here’s what I felt he got right. The portrayals of Aang, Katara, Princess Yue, Zuko, and General Iro (as a character) were fairly accurate. While a lot of the story was left out, in all fairness, the series ran in half-hour episodes over a period of four years. Getting even the first “book” of the series covered was quite an undertaking. Specifically, I did like the way the explanation of Zuko’s scar and banishment were handled (by asking a nearby fire nation child to tell the story).

I also have to say that despite what other reviews stated, the costumes were pretty well done. They were close enough to the costumes in the series while maintaining a realistic element. I especially liked Aang’s tattoos. I preferred the intricate details to the plain blue arrow that the cartoon Aang had. I also liked the foreshadowing with the Fire Lord asking for Azula’s assistance. She had just the right touch of insanity and ruthlessness in her eyes, even for such a brief appearance. It would be a shame if that were all we got to see of her.

Overall, if I were to measure this film against my typical yardstick (would I willingly watch the film again and/or purchase the DVD), I would say yes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Empresses' New Clothes

I had to buy a dress today. For most women, that sentence is probably accompanied by squeals of delight, descriptions of the dress, raves on the killer deal obtained, and babbling about the fun had while shopping. I’m not most women. I detest shopping (with the exception of shoes, books, and lingerie)--worse yet, I had to bring my offspring with me.

To further engender the desire for me to jump off the top of a skyscraper, I had to do the majority of my shopping in the MALL (She says, shuddering) I typically avoid that place like the plague, but the nature of the shopping I had to do left me no alternative. In addition to finding the dress (for a family wedding), my daughter needed to be fitted for sneakers for cheer leading. I also had to buy birthday gifts for our friends’ kids.

I am happy to report that I managed to accomplish all my objectives with a minimum of bloodshed--though it got dicey when I had to wait fifteen minutes in Gamestop just to buy a lousy gift card. And there was that other little incident when I had to enlist the help of my daughter to zip up one of the dresses I tried on . . .