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Avatar is visually stunning. It has precisely all of the elements you would expect from a modern science fiction epic. I give major credit to James Cameron for an original idea, although the plot itself is a pastiche of mostly unoriginal classic memes. My snarky tweet-length review is “a visually stunning remake of Disney’s Pocahontas“. That said, the film is on its way to become one of the top-10 grossing films of the decade, which until now has consisted entirely of remakes/reboots, sequels, and/or book/comic book adaptations (i.e. not a single original idea). (Note that a non-trivial factor in Avatar‘s opening weekend success is the higher ticket prices for 3-D and IMAX showings.)

A word of warning for my typography nerd friends (you know who you are): all of the subtitles are in Papyrus. Hey, at least it’s not Comic Sans, right?

I, like many other commenters, am very interested in the technical aspects of how the film was made, and I do expect that, like the motion control techniques invented for the original Star Wars, we’ll see a significant shift in how movies with fantastical elements are filmed. It also seems likely that some of the performance capture technology will be applied to video games, especially those with more immersive plots like single-player RPGs.

Another thing I’d add: the 3-D version isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy the visual experience of the film. While RealD, as a single projector polarized 3-D technology, is certainly better than the old red-blue systems, or the ones that required bulky electronic goggles to alternate flickering in each eye, I don’t think it adds a huge amount.

So, overall, I liked the movie, but I wasn’t blown out of the water, due largely to the tropeful plot. That said, it certainly got me thinking about a wide variety of topics, including racial issues, exobiology, and linguistics. I plan to see it again, probably in IMAX. Detailed thoughts below the cut (with some vaguely spoilerful comparisons to District 9).


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I saw the film Moon at the Somerville Theatre this afternoon. It is everything you want from a classic sci-fi story, in terms of addressing the human experience, using a futuristic setting. It also has modern production values, but without any of the empty action sequences typical of a major sci-fi motion picture.

Sam Rockwell is pretty much the only actor you see for the entire 100 minute run time, but Kevin Spacey lends his voice to the robot HAL GERTY, and its at times mysterious motives. There are some amusing moments thrown in, as well (being alone in space unsurprisingly makes you… interesting).

If you can, avoid watching the trailer. I think it’s better going into this film knowing as little as possible about it. Unsurprisingly, I found myself thinking of 2001 a lot, in particular the color palettes involved (lots of whites and greys). However, unlike 2001 or more recently a lot of the effect shots in Battlestar Galactica, sound was allowed for scenes on the lunar surface.

Definitely worth the price of admission (if you can find it, probably at your local arthouse theater, as it is in limited distribution).

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Star Trek is Awesome


Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek There is no subtext Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek Star Trek!!!

Something resembling a coherent review, and with the Trekkie fanboy slightly restrained, will come tomorrow. For now, sleep.

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I saw Watchmen tonight.

Generally, I liked it. Unfortunately, at times the soundtrack was jarringly terrible. I think reading the graphic novel before seeing the film is almost required; as such, I suspect most viewers won’t like it. That said, there was a lot of laughing, but I know in part that was directed at some of the more ridiculous lines. The gore level was very high, way above most movies I see; I haven’t seen any of the torture genre, but I suspect it was about on par for some scenes.

Overall, I’d recommend it to fans of the original, and to people interested in stylized comic book visuals. I look forward to the extended edition that cuts in scenes from The Black Freighter animated film, as in the novel. I’ll see if Netflix gets the separate DVD release of The Black Freighter soon.

Spoilery discussion below the cut.


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Underworld 3: Not Terrible

I know what you’re thinking. Why would I inflict this movie on myself? Well, I find no shame in admitting that I liked Underworld, mostly liked Underworld 2: Electric Boogaloo: Evolution, and generally don’t mind crazy action/horror movies that primarily involve Kate Beckinsale kicking ass and taking names. I had seen several previews for Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and was going in with pretty low expectations for a prequel. I am going to try to keep this review spoiler-free.

If you’re interested in a plot synopsis, check out the Wikipedia article. Well, you may be surprised, but I liked this movie. Yes, it was terribly cheesy, but in an entertaining way. There was a metric boatload of computer graphics, to enhance the fight scenes; I’d say the most unrealistic aspect were the excessive sprays of blood. Bill Nighy seems to have been born to play an over-the-top vampire villain. I’m guessing Michael Sheen would prefer to be remembered this year for his work on Frost/Nixon, but he did a good job given what he had to work with. Based on the previews, I thought this movie had a distinct lack of Kate Beckinsale. I was surprised when she (yes, I know, getting to that…) showed up early on in the movie, and then proceeded to hang around the entire movie. I didn’t realize that the part of Sonja was not some past version of Selene until the very end of the movie, that’s how much Rhona Mitra and Kate Beckinsale look alike (especially when made up and costumed similarly). I would not be surprised at all if most viewers were also confused (it had been a few years since I had seen the first movie, in which they reference the fact that Selene is Viktor’s “replacement” daughter).

As far as the writing goes, my biggest complaint was pretty much with the cheesiness of some lines, and not so much with the overall plot and where it fit into the Underworld series.. Another review I saw online called it “were-Spartacus”, and that was pretty much my problem – these post-Enlightenment ideals about freedom and self-determination (for the werewolves Lycans, out from under their vampire masters) just didn’t fit in the dark fantasy setting. There were some nice rousing speeches, and they certainly tried to make Viktor’s dictator-character as ruthless and decadent as possible… but it just didn’t quite fit, somehow.

I thought the costuming was pretty cool, from the worker leather armor of the Lycans to the almost elf-like Death Dealer armor. I’d say that Weta Workshop’s work on the Lord of the Rings movies really raised the bar on what people expect from fantasy movies in terms of prop detail, even for a prequel with relatively low expectations like U:RotL.

I should also add that I have no interest in getting into the whole debacle about whether or not this series rips off of White Wolf’s intellectual property; you can read a bit about that on Wikipedia, but since there was no final decision in any lawsuit, I see it as a moot argument. It falls into other silly geek debates like how Warcraft rips off Warhammer, D&D rips off Tolkien, Star Wars rips off Kurosawa, etc., etc. Feel free to argue the point, I just won’t reply :oP.

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Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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