Borderstan Movie Fan: “Avatar” and Films for the Big Screen

by January 6, 2010 at 6:00 am 1,934 0

Borderstan Movie Fan movie reviews Mary Burganby Mary Burgan

Mary the Borderstan Movie Fan reviews Avatar and other movies made for the big screen. Her column runs every two weeks and previous reviews are at the bottom of this column.

Well, we went to see James Cameron’s Avatar over the holidays, deciding that if we were going to invest in this season’s blockbuster, we might as well see it in 3-D and at an IMAX theater. The whole thing was worth it. Some critics have said that the story is worthless, sentimental, melodramatic, etc., etc.

I actually liked its simple-mindedness. There is an enchanting innocence to the film, even though the special effects are sophisticated beyond anything I’ve ever seen.

The imagined primal world that is threatened in the story reminds me of C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra–an equally provocative story about humanity intruding on an Edenic planet–but then, that’s reading.

I think Avatar has to be seen in a theater and on a big screen. Sherlock Holmes, which we saw over the holiday break as well, strains to fill the big screen. But its panoramas on the Thames seem artificial to me, and its effects are never surprising–just a series of explosions and loud fist fights which the film tries to deepen with allusions to DaVinci Code/Twilight type lore.

I can imagine Sherlock Holmes on a television screen, but I can’t imagine Avatar there. Even if you have a big home theater, I don’t think 3-D is yet available for the home. I have resisted the 3-D craze, which seems to cause directors to throw all sorts of objects right at your face, but this is one of those movies you will want to don the glasses for.

So don’t miss it while it’s still in theaters, even though you disapprove of the ticket price or the insane profits it has been generating.

Avatar reminded me that there are other “holiday” films that demand the big screen for full visual effect. The ones I can think of are the blockbusters of their day, like Dr. Zhivago (1965), Out of Africa (1986), Cameron’s Titanic (1997), or any one of The Lord of the Rings films (2001, 2002 and 2003). The small screen versions can give you some idea of the appeal of such spectacular films, though not the complete experience.

Prime among even older movies that demand a big screen is Gone with the Wind. This classic film from 1939 comes out in theaters from time to time–remastered and looking brand new. Despite the film’s retelling of the old lie about the happy times on the plantation, GWTW is still worth seeing on the big screen, if only for the panorama of wounded Confederate soldiers lined up in the train terminal in Atlanta, or the burning of that city as Rhett Butler leads Scarlett out of it. You can get the wonderful acting on a small screen, but not these epic scenes.

And if you want an antidote, see Glory, a masterful 1989 film about the Shaw regiment of black soldiers in the Civil War. You can also see Augustus St. Gaudens’s sculpture for the Shaw memorial at The National Gallery of Art, which manages to get an epic image of soldiers marching into battle onto a very small sweep of marble.

My own first choice for a big screen re-run from abroad, would be Ran, Akira Kurosawa’s epic version of Shakespeare’s King Lear. Believe me, the conjunction of these two dramatic geniuses is absolutely appropriate. Kurosawa’s mastery of landscape, pageantry, color, and characterization is unmatched in any other film I’ve seen.

But then Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven (1978) comes close for sheer beauty of its setting. It is a poignant film, with one of the best voice-overs ever by Linda Mantz, as well as a young Richard Gere and Sam Shepard in conflict with one another over Brooke Adams.

Twenty years later, Malick finally issued another admired film, The Thin Red Line, but I don’t think that one demands a big screen. On the other hand, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), with its Wagnerian violence, really benefits from living large in a theater.

Finally, to go back in time and over to England, there is David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia from 1962, one of the great panoramic films of all time.

The big screen films I’ve come up with are either fantasy extravaganzas or historical epics. In many cases, as a matter of fact, the history is imagined as extravagantly as the fantasy, but the effects are always thrilling. The facts in them seem authentic, though they may be the “facts” of the imagination.

Other Reviews by Borderstan Movie Fan


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