‘Avatar’ versus ‘Holmes’: holiday hits go head-to-head

As another semester begins and nothing but homework awaits, some students are buzzing about the biggest holiday movies and what’s really worth seeing in the theaters one last time. The choices from this previous season really dwindle down to the two biggest blockbusters: “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes.” Yet the question remains if they are worth the price of admission.

“Avatar”

Directed by: James Cameron

STARRING: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and Sigourney Weaver

RUN TIME: 162 min.

RATING: 3 stars

“Avatar” has had quite the build-up considering that the buzz about it started three years ago. This is partly because it’s the first return to the big screen with a fictional film for director James Cameron since his 1997 success “Titanic.” Of course, given the amount of money “Titanic” made he never had to work again and that only helped to fuel the fire of excitement about his returning passion project. Add in the fact that he developed his own 3-D technology and the 3-D revolution took off running as other film companies were concerned about competing with Cameron’s undoubted success.

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And “Avatar” does have some successes. The film is stunningly beautiful. The canvas that Cameron paints is astonishing. Pandora, the fictional planet the film takes place on, is a fully developed world with its own flora and fauna. From moss that glows in the dark to pterodactyl-like birds with feathers the color of the rainbow, this vivid detail makes the film feel incredibly real.

Of course the 3-D effects don’t hurt. Viewers are able to vicariously fly in the cockpit of an advanced aircraft, plummet over the side of a cliff on the back of one of those pterodactyl-like birds, and run around in blue skin. The lines between real actors and CGI are so seamless that the film never once feels cartoon-y. The 3D is definitely worth the extra price of admission.

Yet, despite all the buzz and everything “Avatar” does accomplish, it’s not well written. It certainly doesn’t compare to the fresh writing that made “Titanic” such a cultural zeitgeist. “Avatar” is a very two-dimensional story as far as plot goes.

A greedy corporation is mining Pandora to try and get as much unobtainium as possible. However, the local natives—the blue-skinned, 10 feet tall Na’vi—are fighting to preserve their natural habitat. The scientists working for the corporation have invented the greatest camouflage of all time: a genetically designed avatar that splices the Na’vi DNA with human DNA and allows humans to interact with the Na’vi on their own turf. However, the corporation also uses military for security and thus war naturally ensues.

What’s amazing is that the scientists don’t see the war coming. Even though their employer is trying to pillage and destroy the entire planet’s ecosystem, they somehow think their scientific cleverness will bring them closer to the Na’vi with whom they are infatuated.

The resulting moral messages in the film are as thick as molasses. Not to mention the flat villain who has no motivation for his “evil” agenda simply makes the military look like a bunch of ruthless, marauding numbskulls.

“Sherlock Holmes”

Directed by: Guy Ritchie

STARRING: Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law

RUN TIME: 128 min

RATING: 5 stars

“Sherlock Holmes” breathes fresh life into a familiar character. Producer Lionel Wigram took on the passion project of modernizing Holmes by going back to the source and reading the original material.

Wigram recently told Script magazine that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the original Sherlock Holmes novels, “made it very clear that Holmes was an expert swordsman (and) an expert boxer—a bare-knuckle fighter who would go down to the back streets of Victorian London and fight in the Victorian equivalent of ‘Fight Club.’”

It was this vision that sold the project, and attracted director Guy Ritchie (“RocknRolla”). While Ritchie’s modern filming style might not seem well suited to the adaptation of a renowned Victorian detective, it ended up being the perfect fit.

Ritchie’s trademark slow-motion sequencing was used with great effect to show Holmes’ (Robert Downey Jr., “The Soloist”) thought processes during fast-paced action sequences. In this way Ritchie shows just how much the character could be trapped in his head, while punching it out in a boxing ring.

Action isn’t the only update to the well-known character. There is also comedy. The writing allows just enough dark humor and friction between Watson and Holmes to keep the pace lively. This only works thanks to the chemistry between Jude Law (“Sleuth”) as Watson, and Downey as Holmes. The two spar well together and are quite believable as friends, colleagues and roommates.

Then there is the clever musical score. The sound of violin music cuts in and out of the very modern soundtrack at pivotal moments, just as the cherished instrument of the famous detective does.

Overall, “Sherlock Holmes” is a well-rounded film that holds true to the original material, even with a few liberties taken.

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