The thing I like best about King Kong is his unadulterated rage. When he beats his chest, it is the purest emotion in all of cinema. It is this rage that puts Kong above a mere technical feat: the special effects serve the character. King Kong becomes real. He fights that dinosaur not out of social obligation but from a primeval rage that flows through his primate heart. He breaks free from his shackles and climbs the Empire State Building partly for love, but mostly because he is royally ticked off (pun intended). And who could blame him?
My point is, King Kong was a huge hit not because of the cutting-edge technology that brought him to life, but because he was a true Hollywood icon. Put Kong up there beside Hannibal Lecter, Jack Torrence, and Alan Rickman in Die Hard as indelible performances in movie history. Kong deserves to stand beside (and tower over) the most revered movie nemeses of all time.
I finally got to see Avatar in IMAX 3D. Sitting in the very front row, my first thought as the landscape of Pandora flew across the screen was “if I throw up, I will make sure to do it on my brother’s lap.” Fortunately for him, I did not experience motion sickness from the 3D experience. I just sat back and enjoyed the spectacle.
The Haitians didn’t make a deal with the devil. James Cameron did. Think about it: the Haitians get to be slaves, then impoverished free people, then get hit by a huge natural disaster they were completely unprepared for. James Cameron, on the other hand, directs the biggest grossing movie of all time, then directs the biggest grossing movie of all time. This guy doesn’t pull a Lovely Bones: he keeps making the biggest success of all time, over and over.
Avatar has been so successful not because of its plot. The story is what my grandmother would have called “a space western.” Cowboys and Indians, the industrial machine versus the Noble Savage. We also get to find out what James Cameron did these past ten years. He watched CNN while eating his cereal in the morning, then wrote what he had just seen in the afternoon. A story can hardly be called allegory when you have a line like “fight terror with terror” and a corporation that behaves exactly like certain American corporations in certain mineral-rich countries halfway around the planet.
But what the heck. Nobody ever accused James “BIG EXPLOSION” Cameron of being too subtle. Or, as the saying goes, “I’m not stupid and you’re not exactly subtle.” Avatar succeeds on spectacle and in creating a world rich in detail: the forest-moon of Pandora.
The protagonist of the film is certainly not Sam Worthington’s grizzled Marine, Corporal Jake Sully. Nor is it Sigourney Weaver; although she does put in a truly noteworthy performance as chain-smoking research scientist Dr. Grace Augustine, who is hell-bent on educating the Na’vi (those giant blue cat-people) and converting them to Christianity. The film’s protagonist is not Alan Rickman, nor is it the Ewoks. It is the prettiest cat lady of them all, Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana, also a new resident of my List).
It is Neytiri who ultimately carries the film. Neytiri is the movie’s King Kong – a creature only completely realized onscreen, a technological marvel who also happens to have as much character as any of the humans acting beside her. Unlike past computer-generated characters, Neytiri is beyond the point of mere intellectual curiosity. Maybe it was just me, but when she hissed at that robot near the end of the film while trapped underneath a Pandorian saber-toothed tiger, all thoughts of the animation that went into creating her flew right out the proverbial window. I was there, rooting for that cat lady.
I enjoyed Avatar. Sure, it wasn’t exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of coupling groundbreaking special effects with incredible story. But I do find myself thinking back on it days after I saw it. In today’s world, with so many stories competing to grab and hold your attention, I find that remarkable. There are many movies I could barely recall for you, and some others I wish I couldn’t, but I reckon Avatar will never be among them.