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Mike Russell Beholds The Power, The Glory And The Ignominy Of AVATAR!

Beaks here...

My pal (and occasional AICN contributor) Mike Russell sent in this rather detailed review of AVATAR a few days ago, but I held it back because it's a) loaded with spoilers and b) mixed-to-negative. In other words, please do not read this review until you've seen the film for yourself. And please do not mistake this as me piling on. I would've run Mike's review regardless of what he thought of the film because he can break a movie down better than anyone; even if you disagree, I think you'll find his misgivings to be anything but empty, Cameron-hating snark. Also, I really love the Q&A format he's applied here (especially since he's being interrogated by another great movie-mind). But before I hand you over to Mike, I need to reiterate that there are huge fucking spoilers lurking throughout this piece. Proceed at your own risk.



Beaks! Mike Russell here. I saw AVATAR last week. Really only found it groundbreaking on a visual level and very much NOT groundbreaking on a story and character level. Wasn't going to write a review, but then our mutual friend Andre Dellamorte caught me in chat and asked me what I thought -- he hadn't seen it yet. And I sort of ended up reviewing AVATAR for him in IM. At length. Andre encouraged me to flesh out our conversation and put it online. So here you go. Post it if you feel like running a counterpoint to all the praise this flick's been getting -- because I have a really specific set of beefs with how binary and simple-minded it gets. (Cameron's blue-sky mid-'90s scriptment had more texture and character than the final cut, I think. Maybe the lesson here is: Don't read scriptments.) I kept the IM conversation format, but it's edited and expanded, and I took out all the digressions where we yammered on about the awesomeness of RedLetterMedia's YouTube movie reviews of "Star Trek" and "The Phantom Menace." -- Mike Russell, CulturePulp.com (You may remember me from such AICN posts as "The Really Long Conversation with Steve Lieber with Steve Lieber about 'Whiteout'" or "The Really Long Conversation with Scott Dunbier About 'Bloom County.'")

MIKE RUSSELL HAS NOT CHOSEN 'AVATAR'... HERE'S WHY...



Andre_Dellamorte: You see AVATAR?

Mike_Russell: Yep. You?

Andre_Dellamorte: Nah. Everyone I could go with was at BNAT. What's your take?

Mike_Russell: Disappointed, frankly. And I've basically been the exact opposite of those pre-emptive haters trying to out-do each other with ThunderSmurf jokes. I loved the promise of Cameron's 60-page scriptment from the mid-'90s. I went to "Avatar Day" (which featured footage from the first half of the movie), and the 3-D IMAX pretty much swallowed me whole. I expected the Cameron ideas to compensate for the Cameron dialogue, as usual. But when I finally saw it in a theater, I felt like the movie kind of pulled an inverse-TITANIC. The last hour was the one that lost me. So much hard work to create so much cinematic loveliness for such a binary, derivative, unsurprising narrative sledgehammer. But it looks fucking amazing. I can see why people are flipping for it, but I wonder if they're flipping for the world-building over the story or characters. I actually enjoyed "Sherlock Holmes" more, I think -- I was digging the whole Joel Silver '80s-buddy-comedy-in-1800s London vibe. It was pushing my nostalgic geek buttons.

Andre_Dellamorte: Yeah, I've been hearing nothing but raves for at least a month on "Holmes." I keep hearing "Star Wars" comparisons on "Avatar," but though there's obviously a lot of good buzz, the AV Club kids didn't seem to go for it, and neither did [REDACTED] or [REDACTED].

Mike_Russell: The big comparison for me wasn't "Star Wars" or "Ferngully" or "Delgo" or whatever -- it was "John Carter of Mars" (war hero astral-projects on alien world full of six-legged animals, goes native, becomes warlord). While I was watching the blue Nav'i warriors galloping on their six-legged horses, I was thinking, "Somewhere. Andrew Stanton is sweating and/or upping both his game and his processing power." I loved the first hour and change, when Jake Sully arrives on Pandora and plays both sides and ingratiates himself with the Nav'i tribe and you're just happy to see ALIENS-style military hardware onscreen again. It's got this beautiful travelogue quality. I even leaned over to my buddy Bill and said, "I can't believe people were bagging on this sight-unseen. It's kind of awesome, yeah?" And then there was a moment where AVATAR just kind of lost me. There it is.

Andre_Dellamorte: Do you remember the moment?

Mike_Russell: Yeah -- do you care about getting spoiled?

Andre_Dellamorte: No.

Mike_Russell: Well, sir, I will tell you. It was the moment when the two hot digital blue people commenced to fuckin'. Everyone in the theater burst out laughing.

Andre_Dellamorte: Yeah, that would do it.

Mike_Russell: After that, the movie gets increasingly simple-minded, bordering on didactic. The humans get EEEEEEEVIL. The savages get Noble. At that point, the movie stops being "John Carter of Mars" and starts becoming the Ewoks vs. the Empire on a massive, ultraviolent scale. That's pretty cool. But it ALSO becomes a movie no one talks about any more, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within." Like "Final Fantasy," this has wildly praised cutting-edge CGI and lovingly photographed military hardware in the service of a story in which eco-hating military cynics and Gaia or the Planetary Hive-Spirit or whatever figure really prominently. Frankly, I found myself getting so tired of having James Cameron shove The Nobility of Nature down my throat that I perversely started wanting Col. Quaritch [Stephen Lang's supertough human corporate-fighting-force leader] to kick a bunch of blue ass -- despite, you know, loving nature myself. This probably speaks ill of my mindset.
,br> Andre_Dellamorte: So, the whole outsider-turned-leader thing is as stupid as it looks?

Mike_Russell: Well, "stupid" doesn't describe the whole experience of this flick. I mean, let's be fair: It's spectacular to look at, and there's a LOT of pleasure in getting lost in the unprecedented Cameron/WETA production design -- especially in IMAX. I was deriving a lot of this pleasure myself. The action scenes are staged by a guy with a stunning gift for complex geography. If you see it, see it in 3-D IMAX. I'm definitely going to pay to see it one more time on the biggest goddamn screen I can find, with glasses. But spectacle isn't story -- it's an amusement-park ride. And for me, the story payoff was lacking. The bottomless advance praise this thing has been getting is mystifying to me -- the story just doesn't seem worth getting all that worked up over. I mean, come on -- a dull lead (Worthington is fine, totally competent but nothing special) on a hero's-quest / change-of-heart adventure in which NOTHING is surprising. The plot runs on rails. Other than the absolutely porn-tastic military tech, Cameron has done everything in AVATAR better elsewhere, and with more psychological complexity.

Andre_Dellamorte: Examples, please.

Mike_Russell: Well, for starters, the Ribisi character was 18 times more interesting when Paul Reiser was playing him and he was named Carter Burke. Ribisi plays the corrupt corporate suit on the Pandora base. Reiser played Burke as a likeably sharp little weasel and it made the character's betrayal hurt. I LOVED watching him get his comeuppance. Meanwhile, Ribisi's character is introduced hitting a golf ball into a cup in Pandora Mission Control like he's an office executive in a bar-napkin cartoon, and that's about as subtle as he gets. Also, the sense of an overwhelmingly oppressive deadly environment was done better in THE ABYSS. I thought the AVATAR scriptment (which is really worth a read) actually did a nice job of making everything in Pandora seem dangerous, from the air to the insects on up. The relentlessness of that felt toned down for the movie. Quaritch even runs outside while holding his breath once or twice just so he can lob a few extra bullets at the natives. I never felt the threat of that the way I did when Ed Harris was swimming between airlocks. And the heavy-handed message thing was done better in THE ABYSS and the TERMINATOR flicks. I've always loved that Cameron makes super-violent movies about world peace or undying love; the paradox cracks me up, and it makes his movies feel weirdly personal given their budgets. This time around he makes a super-violent movie about environmentalism, only he's a lot more New Agey and on-the-nose about it than he's ever been before. The final scenes of the movie might as well be set at a spiritual retreat for pampered wives in Baja. (More on this later.) The mech-suit was cooler in ALIENS when it was a forklift. The Col. Quaritch character was more interesting in THE ABYSS when he was going insane and was played by Michael Biehn. And Cameron did a better job of quickly sketching an ensemble of vivid characters in ALIENS and THE ABYSS. AVATAR isn't instantly quotable like ALIENS was, either. I don't think that "eat your eyes for Jujubes" line is going to be entering the cultural fabric anytime soon.

Andre_Dellamorte: So it's mostly production-design porn?

Mike_Russell: I hate to say it, but yeah, pretty much. I will say this, though: Cameron just straight-up trebuchet-launches across the Uncanny Valley. The work on capturing tiny facial performance -- which few consumer-grade filmgoers will think to notice -- really is as impressive as promised. It's next-level shit, the movie's single greatest achievement. You forget you're watching pixels.

Andre_Dellamorte: But you never got the "Star Wars" flavor fever?

Mike_Russell: Well, no. Because AVATAR's story kind of goes from simple and derivative to insultingly simple and derivative. You see everything coming from a mile away. For example: Jake Sully is revealed as a traitor who's been spying on the Nav'i for the humans. The humans then show up during this revelation, and immediately blast the Na'vi's big old Ewok Tree to ribbons during a "relocation" operation. And because she recently fucked the guy, the hot blue chick whose name I can't spell is decent enough to tell Jake to just go away. PERFECTLY REASONABLE. So what does Jake do? He trudges off and tames the biggest dino-bird in the sky and flies it back to where all the native refugees are hiding. And they IMMEDIATELY -- with no argument or hesitation -- the natives declare him their new warrior god and leader because this dino-bird is supposed to be really hard to tame. Like, there's not even a SECOND of "Um, hey, this guy proved himself untrustworthy in the last fucking scene." It's idiotic. It's bad drama.

Andre_Dellamorte: Sounds it.

Mike_Russell: Fatboy Roberts was also at the screening, and he e-mailed me this: "A bit of plot logic I thought was fucking ludicrous. They set up Neytiri's granddad as being the only guy to fly the big badass dragon, and that's what made him king. But all Jake does [to master the same breed of dragon] is GO UP [and drop onto the dragon from above, mastering it immediately]. That's the extent of his special ability. Why has NOBODY ELSE in the tribe thought of this? He flies straight up over the dragon, and then drops onto it and plugs his ponytail into it. That's all ANYONE had to do. These people fly all fucking day long, and nobody thought, 'What if I go way, WAY up, and then just jump onto the big red one?'" Also -- and this should give you an idea how on-the-nose this flick is: Like I kind of said already, Cameron's Big Idea here is that Gaia is a real thing. The planet has a collective-subconscious goddess/afterlife -- a big fiber-optic nervous system of tree roots that stores the spirits of everyone on the planet, or something. The nerve endings poke out of trees. All the animals on Pandora can pray to Gaia by plugging the nerve endings in their ponytails into each other, networking their nervous systems. They all come with USB in their hair, basically. This is a perfectly fine, "Star Trek"-y idea -- until the scenes where the natives are all sitting cross-legged in perfectly choreographed concentric circles, chanting around a tree and swaying back and forth like they’re in fucking Who-Ville. And uploading dying people into the planet. This happens twice during the movie, BTW. I should also note that the big climax is that the native army has just about lost the war, and guess what -- Gaia, the big hive-brain of the planet, sends animals from all corners of the globe to KICK ASS. There's even a moment during this climax when a giant predator that was trying to kill Jake's avatar earlier turns up by Zoe Saldana's character -- and like literally nods at her before heading off to munch some humans. Because you see, they're all in it together now that Mother Pandora has ordered in reinforcements.

Andre_Dellamorte: Third-act Tarzan save -- NICE.

Mike_Russell: Yeah, it's like Aquaman called these fucking animals to save Jake's ass.

Andre_Dellamorte: PLANET TARZAN.

Mike_Russell: It's mind-blowingly stupid. Earnest, which I admire in these irony-drenched times, but stupid.

Andre_Dellamorte: PLANET AQUAMAN. He's just a tech-hippie, that Cameron. I was never a big booster of TITANIC or TRUE LIES, which revels in misogyny. You liked Stephen Lang, though, yeah?

Mike_Russell: Lang has impressed me greatly in this and particularly in PUBLIC ENEMIES. (He's amazing in that jailhouse scene with Marion Cotillard.) Dude's a bad-ass. Does as much as he can with Col. Quaritch. Glares really well in a mech-suit.

Andre_Dellamorte: And then the squirrels, they are in love, and then they break off a piece of mech ass. James Cameron has a lot of dumb ideas. I think the best he did with this is THE ABYSS -- which will always be an incomplete movie.

Mike_Russell: I admire the shit out of the raw fucking effort onscreen. It's courageous. But in a weird way, the digital characters and their world are so convincing that it hurts the movie in the long run -- because you forget about the gorgeous pixels and start focusing on the story just as it starts falling apart.

Andre_Dellamorte: I don't have a lot of love for Cameron, and I can't watch ALIENS any more. I wrecked ALIENS for myself.

Mike_Russell: How so?

Andre_Dellamorte: Oh, when I was 13, I would watch ALIENS, rewind the tape, and watch it again. It's no JAWS, but it was one of those films. But I can't watch it any more. I've juiced it to rinds.

Mike_Russell: Beautifully put. Yeah, I used to do that with ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, THE TERMINATOR and TOP SECRET!

Andre_Dellamorte: TOP SECRET! still makes me laugh -- but I saw it theatrically with one Zucker and Abrahams, so I'm kind of done with it for a long time. I watched THE TERMINATOR again earlier this year. And it is such a model of low-budget filmmaking. I never really wore out ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK 'cause I didn't see it until I was 16 or 17 on laserdisc.

Mike_Russell: Actually, this brings up something that's really bugged me about the praise for AVATAR. Everyone keeps saying, "Relax -- this is a movie for 14-year-old boys." But when we were 14, we were watching ALIENS and TERMINATOR, which as I recall were written in a way that perhaps adults might enjoy, as well.

Andre_Dellamorte: So is "Avatar" two-and-a-half stars for you?

Mike_Russell: Something like that, yeah. The technical achievements and the first half are too magnificent for me to write the whole thing off.

Andre_Dellamorte: Has anything stuck with you?

Mike_Russell: Let's see -- moments that stuck with me: 1. I may be in the minority on this, but I LOVED whenever the movie slowed down for "Walking with Dinosaurs" shit. WETA is just bringing the pain on that stuff. 2. Michelle Rodriguez turning up in her bad-ass James Cameron future-copter to fight for the aliens, Han Solo-at-the-Death-Star style. Unfortunately, what's sticking with me is that Rodriguez has painted her face -- and her chopper -- in Nav'i tribal war paint. Rodriguez sneering like she's in "Fast and the Furious" and saying "Bring it, bitch" or whatever she says while wearing that shit is ridiculous. I may have laughed out loud. 3. The nighttime phosphorescence scenes, because they look like a TRON biosphere rendered with IMAX-grade computing power. 4. Lang in the power-suit. I was full-on rooting for him to kick Jake Sully's ass at this point, and there was this awesomely silly bit where his power-suit pulls a giant bowie knife the size of a man's leg out of a holster. I can only get so mad at that.

Andre_Dellamorte: The giant knife has been declared stupid elsewhere.

Mike_Russell: It was so ridiculous it became weirdly cool. 5. I was actually blown away by several small bits of face-acting by Zoe Saldana's Nav'i character. The tech is subtle. (So is the way they've shriveled Jake Sully's legs in his paraplegic human body. Not sure how they pulled that off.) 6. The pure James Cameron military-hardware porn -- all the copters and trucks and guns -- realized with a $300-million budget. There was some discussion afterward about whether AVATAR took place in Cameron's ALIENS universe. 7. The raw pleasure of James Cameron-directed action sequences. He knows exactly what he's doing when he maps that stuff out. There's a bit where Col. Quaritch has to bail out of a plummeting helicarrier in his powersuit, and it's wicked-rad, grip-the-armrests stuff. That said, I also have this problem where I rarely feel pixels, even when they're doing something cool. I need to feel the labor of human hands on something other than keyboards these days. (By the way, along those lines, you should really check out these really blunt/funny mini-documentaries Steve Johnson is posting on YouTube about his practical-effects creature-work on THE ABYSS and GHOSTBUSTERS.) 8. The moment everyone in the audience laughed out loud -- where the movie is over and suddenly the James Horner/Leona Lewis power ballad comes on over a slow flyover of the Pandora forest. It's just embarrassing and feels studio-mandated, a nakedly cynical attempt to dip back into the "Titanic" hit-single well. I do not recall TERMINATOR or ALIENS requiring a power-ballad. 9. Oh, and God -- I think once or twice I heard James Horner STILL ripping off his own licks from "Willow" in the score! (The score as a whole is better than that -- he had time to write it, when he only had like two weeks to write ALIENS -- but come on.) 10. There's a moment where Zoe Saldana's alien-warrior-girlfriend character busts into a trailer to save Jake Sully's human form. It's the first time she's seen him when he isn't uploaded into a sexy blue avatar. And as this 12-foot-tall warrior woman was cradling this little rag-doll sized human she's recently serviced sexually in his avatar body, I couldn't help but wonder if that would be disappointing in exactly the same way Internet dating can be disappointing. Actually, Fatboy sent me a list all the moments during which our preview audience laughed out loud: "1. Kitty-fucking. 2. 'Not while I'm still breathing.' 3. Vasquez and Helichopter doing the Han Solo thing in matching warpaint. 4. AMP-suit Bowie Knife. 5. End-credits song. 6. There was one other bit of ludicrous dialogue -- I believe it fell out of Jake's head -- that made a woman in the back shouted out 'Oh, JESUS.'" The other thing that I could see happening with AVATAR -- I hope I'm wrong about this -- is that it's going to become a political football. The movie gets so gleeful with its goofy Gaia shit and killing of evil exploitative humans that I wouldn't be shocked (though I would be disappointed) if some jagoff at Fox News declared AVATAR an "eco-terror tract."

Andre_Dellamorte: Probably not FOX News, Mike.

Mike_Russell: Oh! Ha! Yeah, probably not. The ending is stupid, too.

Andre_Dellamorte: How stupid?

Mike_Russell: Big spoiler here.

Andre_Dellamorte: That's fine.

Mike_Russell: So the blue guys win, right, and there's this shot of the Nav'i at the human base they've taken over. The 12-foot-tall aliens are standing around with the human guns, marching the humans to their shuttle to send them home with their tails between their legs, right? And someone says to Ribisi's character, "Go back to your dying world," or something like that. And the only thing I could think, like, the whole time, over and over, is, "Nuke the site from orbit."

Andre_Dellamorte: So, basically, humans suck.

Mike_Russell: Yep. There's this bit where Lang, in his power-suit, calls Jake a race-traitor. Because ALL HUMANS ARE EVIL, ANDRE. ALL OF THEM.

Andre_Dellamorte: So wait -- are humans with avatars fine without their original human bodies?

Mike_Russell: Oh, you see, people can be uploaded into their avatars permanently through the Gaia planetary nervous system. You just have to put naked humans at the base of the Fiber Optic Tree, where their nethers are tastefully covered by Mother Nature's fiber-optic wires, and the blue people sing "Welcome Christmas / Fah who for-aze!," and it's all good.

Andre_Dellamorte: HA HA HA HA

Mike_Russell: The movie is that simple-minded. Listen, I'm pro-environment, pro-conservation, anti-pollution, anti-genocide --but parts of this movie make you feel like you're agreeing with the politics of a person who shouts his opinions all the time, you know? You kind of just want them to shut the hell up after a while.

Andre_Dellamorte: Someone on CHUD said reading a Cameron interview is like reading Ron Burgundy dialogue. Also, that's lame if the message overwhelms the narrative.

Mike_Russell: "Message overwhelms the narrative" sums up my issue nicely, to my thinking. I guess this might be one of those "Wah! They didn't make the movie I wanted them to make!" comparisons, but there's also a LOT of nuance in the Cameron mid-'90s AVATAR scriptment that's been lost, believe it or not. The scriptment is a much-subtler piece of work. I was disappointed that they left out one of my favorite bits of the scriptment -- there was originally this long intro on Earth where you saw how resources were drying up and every city on the planet as crowded as Calcutta. It actually gave you some understanding of why the humans might be so desperately eager to exploit Pandora. With that prologue gone, the humans are just plain evil. They're evil in the exact same way the Native-American-hating mountain men who turn up at the end of DANCES WITH WOLVES are evil.

Andre_Dellamorte: So at the end of the film, Earth is fucked?

Mike_Russell: Pretty much, yeah. Though, again, all I could think was, "They're just gonna come back with an army."

Andre_Dellamorte: And this mineral the humans are after is called -- no shit -- "unobtainium"? And it cures Earth?

Mike_Russell: Well, it's a superconducting metal. Lots of technical applications. The scriptment explains that it's a joke name that stuck for a room-temperature superconductor that occurs naturally on Pandora. There are also lots of interesting or explanatory grace notes in the scriptment that are missing from the final film.

Andre_Dellamorte: Such as?

Mike_Russell: Well, in the scriptment there's a Nav'i tribesman named N'deh who acts as a reluctant ambassador to the human camp. Not in the movie. There's a PR videographer character who keeps getting censored. Not in the movie. There's a corrupt "Bioethics Officer" who represents Earth's Green party who's casually on the take but starts feeling really bad about it as Quaritch ramps up the genocide, if memory serves. Not in the movie. There's a former Avatar operator who went nuts after his Avatar body was eaten alive. Not in the movie. Basically, there was this whole ALIENS-rich tapestry of bickering human characters in the scriptment, and in the name of simplifying the narrative for as broad an audience as possible, those characters have been simplified and consolidated or removed. Instead, we're left with Sigourney Weaver's character -- who's a chain-smoking, pissed-off scientist whenever she's in her human body, but is a gentle missionary-like teacher when she's in her Avatar body. She builds huts and teaches the Nav'i kids English in her Avatar body and wears khaki shorts and what might as well be a North Face vest. (And yet, for some reason, the Nav'i seem a bit confused by the whole concept of what an Avatar is. They're sort of selectively ignorant of human technology, like the cavemen who can somehow fly jets in BATTLEFIELD EARTH.)

Andre_Dellamorte: Mike D'Angelo pointed out that "Na'vi" is "Native" w/ "ET" taken out.

Mike_Russell: Interesting. Clever. But I think you get the idea. All the psychological subtlety you'd find in the scriptment -- and in ALIENS, for example -- has been discarded in favor of lectures, noble savages and black-hatted villains. Any character who might be playing both sides -- other that Jake -- was ejected between scriptment and final cut. It's really disappointing. Because that used to be the thing Cameron was best at, in my opinion. He hasn't whiffed it like Lucas did -- not even close -- but he HAS fallen in love with his technical toys and dumbed down his screenplay in the process of getting those technical toys financed. Andre_Dellamorte: Driving narrative is what Cameron is great at, in my humble. I don't care for TITANIC, but the narrative fucking hums. Mike_Russell: I totally agree. I always get snickered at for pointing out the last hour of TITANIC is a badass freight train of a perfect disaster-movie climax, but it is. Andre_Dellamorte: Oh yeah, it's just stupid. It's the freezing-water stuff, and Billy Zane.... But that's why the movie worked, so whatever.

Mike_Russell: People are always only laughing at that movie's two-hour buildup. Cameron saved the best for last on TITANIC. I kind of felt like he did the opposite here.

Andre_Dellamorte: Though even at the time, the effects in that film are dated.

Mike_Russell: They are. And you know what? Someday I suppose AVATAR is gonna comparatively look like crap, too. And then what will you be left with. I find myself preferring the incredible model work on ALIENS, myself. Those miniatures felt physical, gritty.

Andre_Dellamorte: It's funny -- at Thanksgiving, I was talking with friends about how T2 looks less dated now than it did five to 10 years ago. ALIENS still looks badass.

Mike_Russell: I recently re-watched JURASSIC PARK -- and I'm shocked that the T-rex attack in the rain is still among the best CGI effects sequences ever, in terms of impact.

Andre_Dellamorte: Oh yeah, and the stampede one of the worst.

Mike_Russell: The T-rex sequence works so well, still, because they had to plan more carefully, I think.

Andre_Dellamorte: The digital is used to enhance -- not completely take over.

Mike_Russell: Yeah. But hey, maybe I'm in the gross minority on AVATAR. THE ABYSS is pretty heavy-handed at the end, I didn't enjoy it in the theater, and now it's probably my favorite James Cameron movie. I do strongly suspect many people will be saying, "That was cool-looking" as they're buying tickets for "Sherlock Holmes" and not giving AVATAR a second viewing. The story slips out of your head like it was sprayed with Pam. I'm vaguely reminded of how people got all worked up for months over the equally ambitious WATCHMEN, and people who saw it said, "That was pretty good," and next week The Rock kicked its ass with RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. Anyway, I'm terrible at box-office prognostication.

Andre_Dellamorte: I think the other element is that the people who are going crazy for it are wowed with the technical achievement -- though I don't doubt Ebert's love, or anyone else's for that matter. Nobody's talking about how great the story is. Though I'm sure the action is ass-kicking.

Mike_Russell: Indeed. I begrudge no one their enjoyment. In fact, I'm jealous of it.

-- Mike Russell: the personal site, the e-mail addy.

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