Before Dawn, Leif and I took off to see Avatar on Friday, I had read a grand total of one review. It was largely negative, complaining that it was beautiful but totally lacked depth and a story.
I have come to expect these things from reviewers in recent years, and generally take them with a grain of salt. I was having a conversation with my friend Scott, a food blogger at Seattle Food Geek, and painted an analogy to him during the discussion.
“I look at movie reviewers a lot like food reviewers. If you were to take any culinary critic, and ask them to review McDonalds or KFC, I imagine they would turn you down and give you quite a dirty look. The reality is that sometimes I like KFC and McDonalds. Sometimes we want things that do not meet the bar of complexity and refinement that indentify something very sophisticated, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad. The burger counter on the sign tells us that McDonalds is pretty damned popular!”
Now I want to qualify something before I explain that quote further, Avatar is NOT McDonalds or KFC, Avatar is unbelievable. I’ll talk a bit more about that later.
Know Your Audience
The problem is that these days, reviewers like the one from NBC, or pretty much any other major publication, have spent so long trying to identify the qualities that make a film “Academy Material” that they have lost a couple pretty important things to the general public at large. One, they have lost the ability to have fun. Two, they have no idea what it means to view something as a collective work without mentally ripping it apart over miniscule details that most people never really noticed. I am sure if I watched movies while keeping a mental tally of things I would consider mistakes, it wouldn’t be very much fun to me either.
I don’t know about you, but when I watch a movie, I am not mentally running a pace calculator thinking “seriously mr. director, you are not developing these characters fast enough or far enough.” It’s almost like critics seem to think we have lost the ability to fill in the gaps that make characters complete to us. One of the magical things about books is that you get enough detail to let your imagination fill in the details to make a character that is not only complete, but very personal to you. I have no problem making that same leap with movies. When I look at the emotion and characteristics of a movie character, I fill in the gaps mentally without even thinking about it. I “feel” what I think they are like. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Take this review from The Projection Booth. This reviewer absolutely slams this movie basically saying it has no redeeming value. Besides wondering if we saw the same movie, I took a few minutes to browse the comments. The article has 124 comments. I did a quick scan to see agrees vs. disagrees and found that nearly 90% of the comments tell the reviewer that he has lost his mind.
What Is Your Job Exactly?
We may have differing opinions here, but I am pretty sure that the job of a reviewer is to give me the good and bad about a movie, and help me decide if I should see it or not. There is one thing you have to consider though. People have different taste in movies. It seems very obvious that this reviewer is not a big fan of big budget, high visual effect movies. It might also be that this reviewer is not a big fan of sci-fi fantasy either. Maybe he should have understood his tastes better and reviewed movies in a style he appreciates, so his comments and criticisms would be based in a reality for the type of person who would go see that kind of film.
Tips for Movie Goers
If you are going to read reviews, pick five. Subscribe to their RSS feeds and go back through their history and validate their opinions on movies you have seen. If they totally disagree with how you feel, dump them and pick one to replace them. Do this until you have 5 solid reviewers that reflect your taste in movies pretty well.
Once you have this, you can read the 5 reviews of the movie you are thinking about seeing and base your opinions from 5 people you know have demonstrated having very similar taste to yourself.
My Avatar Review
Lastly, go see Avatar. Go see Avatar in 3D. This movie is one that you not only can’t miss, but you have to see this at the theater, and in 3D. The visual effects are stunning yes, but the world itself is what is so special. Never before has any man’s imagination been laid out before you in such detail. You will feel like for the first time, you have watched someone dream.
They story is not bad at all. I am actually impressed at how well it was able to package up a morality tale about how we treat the world without managing to sound preachy at all.
This movie would have been a fun, fantastic movie if it had been acted out when the story was conceived 15 years ago by people in makeup against green screens. I am positive it would have been a great movie and you would have enjoyed it.
The fantastic thing about it is that same story has been placed into a world so rich, so inviting, so real that it takes your breath away. My wife and I were speechless for the first hour. My friend and I exchanged looks of awe and wonder at every new location that was presented to us. I feel very much like Alex and friends at The Totally Rad Show (who’s review is one you should watch if you want to see how giddy it made 3 guys that in my experience are very hard on movies that are just about having fun) this movie didn’t feel like a movie. It felt like you visited the imaginary world of Pandora, it felt like you went somewhere.
I am quite positive I will visit the world of Pandora a few more times over the holidays. I can’t even describe how I felt walking out of this movie.