A Fine Madness

I went to a Magnolia Pictures holiday party just after tonight’s 7 pm Avatar screening exited, and then the damn wireless wasn’t working for about 30 minutes when I finally got home. The upshot is that I’m too whipped — it’s 12:35 am — to evaluate the ins and outs of this amazing film, but I’ll tell you right now there are very few outs. It’s half CG, half live action and it jumps back and forth so the dreaded sensation of being swallowed by a cartoon never happens. Avatar is a hybrid thing and a wild one at that.

All the energy and the madness and the money are right there on the screen, you bet, and the “yeah, I guess I’ll see Avatar but I’m in no real hurry” phase is over. This is too much of an adrenalized eye-popper not to see it as soon as possible, and absolutely in 3D and most desirably in 3D IMAX. (Believe it or not, 20th Century Fox showed it to the creme de la creme of New York journalists in a regular non-IMAX theatre this evening, although the 3D quality was perfectly fine.)

This is probably the goofiest, craziest, super-budgeted CG romper-stomper I’ve ever seen. A friend said it was three video games rolled into one instead of a movie, which is somewhat true in that the story and action-fantasy elements are aimed at your inner 14 year-old (whom I’d forgotten about until tonight — now I feel pleasantly re-acquainted).

You can’t say Avatar doesn’t impart a feeling of delirious abandon and wild-ass splendor. You could call it a kind of visual opera — a forest-primeval symphonic naturalist hard-on movie that technically knocks you flat, coheres emotionally, isn’t afraid to be silly or simplistic, delivers visual CG wonder like nothing I’ve ever seen before (really) and pays off like a gotterdammerung Apocalypse Now meets Tarzan meets the best-special-effects-flick-you’ve-ever-seen insanity ride. The two and a half hours just fly by, and the last 30 minutes alone — a truly nutty extended battle sequence — are worth the price.

I was in fact open-mouthed — faintly grinning but pretty much agog — during the big-ass finale. As Bruno Ganz‘s Adolf Hitler said in that YouTube satire, the 3D is so good it’s like your eyeballs are having sex. The only problem (which wasn’t a problem for me) is that it’s aimed at teenagers. I was wishing, in fact, that I could somehow revert to age 14 or 15 so I could see Avatar in the proper frame — then I’d really have something to do double-backflips over. I’m a little older than that, unfortunately, so instead of sending me into wet-dream action heaven Avatar gave me the wet-dream action heaven giggles, as if I’d toked up before it started.

I’ve seen and heard all the stuff that Avatar dishes out many times before — in Dances With Wolves and A Man Called Horse, for openers — but it’s thrown together with such punch and frenzy that it’s like Cameron somehow managed to time-machine himself back to his own mid teens in order to make it. This is one surging rush of a 3-D flying banshee jungle flick, and at the same time a respect-the-earth, Bush and Cheney-condemning political movie. They should be showing this to the climate change gang in Copenhagen.

That’s it, I’m finished…I’ll write more tomorrow morning.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    Fuckin’ right. Looking forward to the full write-up tomorrow, Jeff.

  • Gordon27

    “are aimed at your inner 14 year-old (whom I’d forgotten about until tonight — now I feel pleasantly re-acquainted).”

    This is a really sweet thing you wrote right here, and I feel like it’s going to slip by notice because it’s in the middle of your post. But something about it really hit me (maybe it’s the whole “Scrooge awakening” thing, after all your railing against those sorts of movies).

    And, also, I love ‘A Fine Madness’, possibly more than the movie itself warrants. If only for the line “I toast the immensity of your nothingness.”

  • Nick X

    Whoa. Okay then, I guess I’ll see it!

  • Nick X

    But what about the monkeygoatcats? No more complaints in that regard? No more Jacko echoes?

  • JulesWinnfield

    Been waiting for this review for over a year!

  • Mr. F.

    Wait a minute —

    Isn’t Cameron out of touch?

    Doesn’t he write the worst dialogue?

    Isn’t there too much CGI?

    Didn’t they spend too much money on it?

    Isn’t it just a ripoff of Delgo?

    Aren’t the Na’vi totally lame?

    Isn’t the tracking underwhelming one week out?

    Can’t… resolve… disconnect… between Internet complaining… and your… positive review!

    Thanks for the review, Wells. Glad to hear you liked it so much. Now maybe people will finally shut up about it, see the movie and THEN have something worthwhile to say!

  • 701

    Jeff,

    This is pretty much one of the best things you’ve ever written on this site.

    “the goofiest, craziest, super-budgeted CG romper-stomper I’ve ever seen.”

    “delirious abandon and wild-ass splendor.”

    “This is one surging rush of a 3-D flying banshee jungle flick,”

    No one else on the net writes like this.

    It’s just great.

    Thanks for staying up late and cranking it out.

  • ZayTonday

    CROW: EAT IT NOW PEOPLE

  • ZayTonday

    Oh BTW Wells, your words seem to sound a bit too cheerleader-ish, too eager-beaver :p

  • Jonathan Spuij

    Bye-bye haters.

  • Joe Tate

    Wow. First The Lovely Bones and now this…I love December films. Always some great surprises. Jeff is genuinely taken by the feel of the movie here, and I can’t wait to read his expanded review.

  • DeeZee

    Zay: A positively reviewed movie is not the same as a successful movie. Critics, even non-Whedon fanboys, had good things to say about Serenity, too.

  • LanceMc

    Feels good to be right about something every once in a while. Glad you liked it Jeff. Haven’t heard a poor word out of these screenings yet.

  • Gordon27

    DZ, are you going to spend the next week arguing against the mounting evidence that ‘Avatar’ is going out gross ‘Speed Racer’?

  • DeeZee

    Gordon: What mounting evidence is that? If reviews meant something, then TF2 would’ve been a total bomb.

  • LexG

    Yeah, fuck it, I’ll eat the crow now… I was never predicting low BO out of any animosity toward Cameron or DZ-esque schaudenfraude… I just anecdotally know too many people who aren’t *even aware of it* yet.

    I never said it wouldn’t be a good movie.

    But now based on this, and, er every single review, this sounds like a HOLY SHIT, CALL OFF WORK must-see of epic propotions.

    But one caveat: 3D makes me PHYSICALLY ILL. I had a migraine for TWO DAYS after My Bloody Valentine, and usually have to opt to see these things in 2D. At 166 minutes, is there any earthly way I’m not going to vomit from that much 3D?

  • PastePotPete

    As much as I would like to believe in Jeff’s enthusiasm, I remember his King Kong review and subsequent dampening of enthusiasm.

    I’d wait and see what he has to say over the next few days before I put Wells in Avatar’s plus column.

  • TheGK

    Fuck yeah, I am so in for this.

    The fears that this was going to be horrible have been washed away by the early reviews and there is nothing left but unrepentant enthusiasm.

    I can’t say how it will do at the box office, but I reckon it’ll do over $200 mil domestically. Might take awhile but it’ll have legs.

  • Markj74

    Oh DeeZee, how miserable it must be to be you.

  • Brendan

    Hell yeah. What a way to start a morning. I am ordering my day of 3D tickets now. And by the way, great review 14 year old Westfield Jeff.

  • taikwan

    slacked-jaw wow.

    This makes me optimistic, giddy even. I want Cameron to have a huge success and confess some of the stuff I’ve seen had me hedging.

  • Gordon27

    “What mounting evidence is that?”

    The tracking numbers Jeff posted earlier, for one thing.

  • 62Lincoln

    Jeff, thank you for your “short take”. Your writing made me tear up as I sense your enthusiasm. Can’t wait for your extended analysis.

  • Gogocrank

    Didn’t Jeff go nuts for the 20 minute teaser footage, too? Just sayin’. Odds of this enthusiasm waning seem pretty high, because backing off initial hyperbole appears par for the course here (and with many other critics, to be fair). After months of skepticism, wasn’t his initial review of “King Kong” relatively mild before gradually backing down and bringing on the hate again?

    Anyway the question is not whether “Avatar” will make money. Never has been. The question is, after such a game-changer, will the game be, well, changed? Will people still be talking about this in summer 2010, when the next wave of annual game-changers arrive? That’s what I want to know.

  • Rich S.

    This review is magnitudes more enthusiastic than his King Kong review – which I think he called a “solid double”- so I expect he’ll stick to his guns more this time.

    But…..

    The AP’s review is just the kind of red flag upon which Jeffrey could, I say could, hang his hat on should he choose to down the road. They call it technologically astonishing but say the story is limp and unsatisfying:

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20091211/ap_en_mo/us_film_review_avatar

    Based on the early reviews, I’m becoming more enthusiastic. But let’s remember what Winston Wolf said about getting overly excited.

  • Eloi Manning

    “Your writing made me tear up as I sense your enthusiasm.”

    Really? That’s a bit wet.

    I hope Avatar’s good. Guardian gave it two stars and said it was “slack”. Whatevs. I just hope it immerses me in some teenage jungle funtimes, like Return of the Jedi or some shit. Horner’s score will be key to making it seem magical.

  • Brendan

    I just read fellow HE talkbacker, Kris Tapley’s mini-review from last night. He loves it even more then Jeff. Two best nuggets: “This is the most amazing cinematic experience I’ve ever had.” and “P.S.: Give Stephen Lang a Best Supporting Actor nomination. NOW.”

    Wow.

  • 62Lincoln

    Eloi, I don’t give a damn what you think. My post was to Jeff. Fuck off.

  • Eloi Manning

    At least I don’t cry at reviews. Fuck off to you too.

  • BurmaShave

    With all respect, I kind of hope there isn’t an expanded review. This is perfect.

  • Benny Coleman

    Now I’m looking forward to this! Sounds like Mr Cameron is showing Mr Bay how to do a $300 million dollar sci-fi-CGI-action-thriller.

  • markj

    Oh DeeZee, how miserable it must be to be you.

  • Balthazar

    And off goes “The Foot Locker,” quietly into the night. Another David Morse film bites the dust.

  • Brendan

    And off goes Up in the Air lost in the dust. That film should have been released this past week across the board and not just in limited. No more press or pie charts for Jason, it will be white noise now with these tent-poles coming down the pike.

  • Stringer Bell

    T-Minus 120 days till Jeff calls it overrated …

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  • bluefugue

    >No one else on the net writes like this.

    Agreed, which is why this is still my primo destination for taking the movie pulse.

  • DeeZee

    Gordon: The tracking was ambivalent.

    Gogo: Actually, the question still is will it make money?

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    Question for whom? Do you work for FOX? Who the fuck cares, really? Don’t you just like watching movies for your own viewing pleasure once in awhile?

    Of course not, look who I’m talking to.

  • DeeZee

    Kane: Yeah, but I doubt Avatar will be pleasurable. Critics are probably embracing the thing for being the intellectual anti-Transformers, rather than actually being entertaining.

  • Gordon27

    “Critics are probably embracing the thing for being the intellectual anti-Transformers, rather than actually being entertaining. ”

    You know that, rather than assuming, you can actually read the reviews, right?

    Ah, forget it. Continue to assume why they’re giving it the reviews they have, no matter how many reviews there are just like Jeff’s talking about it in terms of pure entertainment.

    “The tracking was ambivalent.”

    For profit? Sure. For proving you wrong? Not at all.

  • DeeZee

    Gordon: I’m reading some of the reviews, and it sounds like it’s a PJ-produced tentpole directed by Michael Moore.

    “For profit? Sure. For proving you wrong? Not at all.”

    For proving me wrong about what? Avatar’s gonna be forgotten a week later when Holmes kicks its ass.

  • Gordon27

    “and it sounds like it’s a PJ-produced tentpole directed by Michael Moore.”

    That’s one for the archives. But can’t you be more specific? Which reviews call it that? [I'm going to go all DZ here for a second and say "I don't remember any Michael Moore movie with pteradactyls fighting helicopters, oh wait, there isn't one!!!!!!"] Which Michael Moore film? I’m thinking Canadian Bacon, with Ribisi as Alan Alda and Sam Worthington as John Candy and Zoe whatever as Rhea Perlman.

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  • brohealth02

    I just read fellow HE talkbacker, Kris Tapley’s mini-review from last night. He loves it even more then Jeff.

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    Fine madness indeed, got to agree with you on this one, thank you for taking time to share this one.

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  • Sukimoto

    Jeff, thank you for your “short take”. Your writing made me tear up as I sense your enthusiasm. Can’t wait for your extended analysis.

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    Isn’t the tracking underwhelming one week out?

    Can’t… resolve… disconnect… between Internet complaining… and your… positive review!

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