Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ain't been round since you know when / Christmas time is here again

Christmas In Ekamai

A million or more words must've been put to screen about Avatar since Dec 17th. I'm about to add to them. Sorry.

Christmas Day in Bangkok seemed to be the obvious time to see this. It's a Buddhist town, and a working day, so, we figured, we could celebrate in our own unhurried way. We'd do the family thing, the Skyping and the gifts, the big breakfast and then, having dispensed with all that, wander onto the Skytrain and rattle down to the cinemas at the Paragon, where the IMAX is reputedly the most advanced anywhere, with a gobsmacking sound system, and often sparsely filled on a weekday afternoon. I booked a bunch of the best seats in the place online just to be sure. Row F, 19 to 21, smack in the middle one row in front of the deluxe ($12) seats.

On arrival the queue went halfway across the 5th floor dome and the PA was loudly announcing that there were only 2 seats left. We'd lucked in by being prepared, and reflected that it wou'd've put a shitty cloud over our observance of some ancient deity's son's make believe birthday if we'd not been able to get a seat. There were lots of very moody looking people wandering away.

IMAX BKK style

After a family scrap over the amount of popcorn we'd bought (there was no point in rejoining the line to get more, as it too seemed to grow by the minute), we were seated. Best seats in the house, aside from the big loungy things with waitress / waiter service up the back, but they feel like a waste of money and you just know he / she's gonna return with the beer when just you're trying to get your head around some complex love triangle. No, we had a coke (it wasn't even zero, being Xmas and all).

There is a lot that could be said about the movie: the plot is very hackneyed and a little offensive (and we expect more from James Cameron? On what past evidence?); it has more stereotypes than the average Fox News Hour; the attacks on every facet of the American sense of entitlement and the way they go about grabbing that entitlement reflected on their history from Pocahontas & John Smith to Manifest Destiny to the winning of the west to Vietnam to Iraq and beyond, was however both predicable and a little bit fodder-simplistic. I'd argue that it likely largely went over the heads of much of the US audience who simply wouldn't get the link (and one has to question the usual assumption that the American Empire is still dominant in 2154); the white man as the saviour of the noble savages had an awful arrogance about it and the implied racism really made me struggle at times; then there were the scenes that felt like The Lion King in 3D, most specifically when the tribe was sitting around the magic tree singing...It felt like a wimoweh moment was a comin' did the African accents (as in Oprah goes to Africa styles) of the 'people'.

But, for that I loved it. I felt like I was there, if a few days late (sorry I'm not as culturally immediate as many others out there), witnessing a pivotal moment in cinematic history. The technology now means that nothing will be the same again. Draw a line out from 1900, the history of the cinema, and you can point your finger at maybe ten-fifteen moments when a film completely changed the the way movies were made and the possibilities of the cinema as both entertainment and an artform. In my life I've seen about 4 and I'd argue that Star Wars, and maybe the realism of the opening salvo of Private Ryan (forget the rest of the movie) were others..and of course, the early Pixars. Of course, this is not a brilliant movie in the way that, say, Raging Bull or The Godfather was, but it's, as is being almost universally said, a game changer and one that you feel yourself drifting into, so much so that I periodically snapped out of what felt like complete involuntary absorption. And I'd realise that, yes, I was just watching a movie, albeit one with a very average story (and for that reason why, oh why would you ever bother to see it in 2D or on DVD, although the thought occurred to me later as I passed the pirate DVDs near the Skytrain station, that if they had been filmed in theatre, 3D that is, would the effects kinda work if you had the shades?).

The two and three quarter hours passed in a flash, and almost had to slap myself at the end. At one stage a guy a few seats down from me returned from the loo, and I watched as he emerged from behind parts of the movie to take his seat. I'd not realised that he wasn't in the film until he sat.

Paragon Dept Store

As we left, the lack of conversation was notable..I've only left a cinema surrounded by such silence twice before..Once Were Warriors in Auckland circa 94, and Apocalypse Now in Sydney in '79. Of course this was not the cinematic mind fuck either those were once you strip away the technology. Maybe (or maybe not) it was because the audience was 99% Thai and the sub-titles were slapped in badly in 2D and appeared only faintly at the back of the screen image, often being overshadowed by things that moved past them..still, as said, if you went for the story...

But what struck me more than anything was not the film itself but the fact that in studios and in minds all over the cinematic universe, and indeed in bedrooms and teen minds, ideas are forming to take this to the next level, to take the possibilities to the next strata, to exceed the achievements of what was very ordinary, and largely ignorable Hollywood cliched fodder, dressed up as a show case for mind boggling technology.

And that big parts of it were made in NZ.

Oh, and the hongi was well cool.

Afterwards, unable to face a heavy and inappropriate Christmas dinner in Bangkok, and having battled through what felt like a milion people in the malls (it took 15 minutes to walk 200m on the skywalk) we retired to what may be my favourite restaurant on the planet right now, Pla Dib, in Ari, for some Thai-Japanese fusion (Salmon Sushimi Larb..yum) with Belgian seemed like the right thing to do.

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