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Tangled up in blue

So the New Yorker‘s David Denby likes this new film about insurgent smurfs by the guy who used to make excellent movies about robots or aliens?

James Cameron’s “Avatar” is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in years.

Oh, really? Maybe you should get out to the cinema more often, then. Oh no wait, you are one of the New Yorker‘s regular film critics! You must have seen a lot of films in “years”! And this is the most “beautiful” of them all? Really?

Amid the hoopla over the new power of 3-D as a narrative form, and the excitement about the complicated mix of digital animation and live action that made the movie possible, no one should ignore how lovely “Avatar” looks, how luscious yet freewheeling, bounteous yet strange.

Luscious seems to be one of Denby’s favourite terms of approbation — he chivalrously applied it to Shelley Winters in his terrible recent book; and a glance at the New Yorker‘s archive shows that Denby has also found luscious the sets of Moulin Rouge, Peter Jackson’s heaven in The Lovely Bones, the vineyards in Sideways, and “the over-all visual style” of Tales of Amelia Earheart.

He really gets going, though, when applying luscious to people. There is “the young couple with luscious flesh” in Snakes on a Plane (remember them? me neither!); “a luscious but vacuous married woman” in L’Auberge Espagnole; in Talk to Her, there is “the naked Alicia, who has a lusciously ripe figure”; while in Bright Star, “Abbie Cornish, eyes widening, breasts partly bared, is a luscious ideal”. Perhaps best of all is Denby’s description of Ava Gardner, in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, as “looking unspeakably luscious”. If so, it might after all be best not to try to speak it?

Anyway! Did you like Avatar, readers?

  1. 1  democracy_grenade  January 18, 2010, 8:42 am 

    My favourite testament to the power of “3-D as a narrative form” is The Producers. Some of Zero Mostel’s facial expressions are almost lifelike!

    The thing that puzzles me is the phrase “bounteous yet strange”. Is it commonly accepted that the bounteous should be, or usually is, boring/orthodox? Where does that leave a place like Socotra Island?

  2. 2  Tom  January 18, 2010, 9:29 am 

    Not really, not really, a thousand times not really. (Seven times not really.)

  3. 3  NomadUK  January 18, 2010, 9:55 am 

    It was entertaining, but predictable and fairly shallow. The CGI was well done, though people still don’t look right, which is why he has to dress them up as aliens.

    Still, the technique is getting better. I imagine in 10 years or so, especially using genetic algorithms and such to more accurately mimic human movement and behaviour, they may well be able to generate images that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. If they then could get computers to write as well, we might actually get films worth watching.

    All in all, I’d much rather contemplate luscious flesh and figures and breasts and … um … huh?

  4. 4  matthew  January 18, 2010, 10:37 am 

    Is it also Denby technique to use contrasting conjunctions with terms not at all related, let alone antagonistic? On hearing a film is luscious, does he really suppose we think, that’s nice, if only it weren’t so conventional and staid. Wait! What’s this? Yet freewheeling? How delightfully unexpected! Strange even! Ah, a pity it won’t be so generously given then, so . . . bounteous!!! My word! Verily, this is some wondrous magic!

  5. 5  Wrestling Dick  January 18, 2010, 11:03 am 

    Autotune is exquisitely grating.They used it in The Producers,doncha know.

  6. 6  Dave Weeden  January 18, 2010, 1:28 pm 

    BTW, have you seen the story about some reviewers being paid if they’re quoted in publicity material?

    Surely the Denby line you quote is poster/DVD cover bait?

  7. 7  tom the peeper  January 18, 2010, 4:23 pm 

    Dances with Wolves – in Space! Nonetheless, I quite enjoyed it as an exercise in parking my brain for three hours.

    Interesting though that McDonalds should be one of the major sponsors of a film that features the destruction of a forest for corporate gain.

  8. 8  richard  January 18, 2010, 5:20 pm 

    Tom, thank you for that link. Fabulous. He gos on about Papyrus, of course, although not Pocahontas.

    Perhaps there’s something wrong with me, because even though I used to work in computer graphics the trailers didn’t convince me to see the film. Can anyone enlighten me as to whether the movie was substantially better than its trailers?

  9. 9  Dave Weeden  January 18, 2010, 10:03 pm 

    @richard From a visual point of view, I really think the answer is yes. It’s very impressively made, and frequently very beautiful. (Not that I’d go as far as the NYT.) It’s also too long, silly, and the music is so heavy-handed and goddam literal that your disbelief doesn’t stay suspended. Go and see it. Just don’t feel that you can’t leave once you get bored. There’s nowhere near enough material for nearly 3 hours, which is surprising, given how many claims of plagiarism there are.

    A friend said to me yesterday that it was “too dark” (visually, not narratively). Can’t say I saw that, but I don’t believe that 3-D will be any more successful this time round. In games, maybe; on TV, nope.

  10. 10  Sarah  January 18, 2010, 11:55 pm 

    I haven’t seen Avatar yet, although I am basically determined to enjoy it because 1. Aliens and 2. Michelle Rodriguez! As I do remember that couple from Snakes On A Plane, maybe I’m going to find it all terribly luscious after all.

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