Friday, January 8, 2010

The bowl is half empty

Congratulations to the Alabama Crimson Tide, winner of last night's so-called "National Championship Bowl" and holder of this year's mythical NCAA football crown. I say "mythical" because, while I believe they have a good claim to the title, for some reason we still don't have a true playoff system to definitively settle the matter. (Mr. President... ahem... I believe this was one of your campaign promises...)

Boise State finished the season undefeated with an impressive-looking victory over also-undefeated TCU. And season-long-favorites Florida looked like #1 crushing an undefeated Cincinnati. Either of those teams has a legitimate right to demand an asterisk.

But I'd like to imagine a world in which we had been treated to a month of playoff-level excitement. A world where we had gotten to see 16 of the season's top-ranked college football teams battle for the ultimate, indisputable title.
Here is what it might have looked like. I have bracketed and seeded the teams according to their final regular-season BCS rankings, with some consideration given to tradition (e.g., Pac 10 and Big Ten champions in the Rose Bowl bracket) and geography. I also used the rule of no more than one team per conference in any given bracket.

Rose Bowl Bracket

1st seed TCU (12-0, Mountain West) vs. 4th seed Miami (9-3, ACC) -- winner: TCU

2nd seed Oregon (10-2, Pac-10) vs. 3rd seed Ohio State (10-2, Big Ten) -- winner: Ohio State

Rose Bowl: Ohio State over TCU. The Buckeyes looked great in their real-world Rose Bowl victory over the Ducks, while the Horned Frogs looked dismal in their real-world Fiesta Bowl loss. I expect a match-up between the two would have produced similar results.

Fiesta Bowl Bracket

1st seed Texas (13-0, Big 12) vs. 4th seed BYU (10-2, Mountain West) -- winner: Texas

2nd seed Boise State (13-0, WAC) vs. 3rd seed LSU (9-3, SEC) -- winner: Boise State

Fiesta Bowl: Texas over Boise State. I think the Broncos would have played admirably and kept it a lot closer than most people think, but I have to believe the Longhorns would prevail in the end.

Sugar Bowl Bracket

1st seed Alabama (13-0, SEC) vs. 4th seed West Virginia (9-3, Big East) -- winner: Alabama

2nd seed Georgia Tech (11-2, ACC) vs. 3rd seed Iowa (10-2, Big Ten) -- winner: Iowa

Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Iowa. The Hawkeyes looked solid in their real-world Orange Bowl victory over the Yellow Jackets, but the Crimson Tide would have probably poked holes in them.

Orange Bowl Bracket

1st seed Cincinnati (12-0, Big East) vs. 4th seed Penn State (10-2, Big Ten) -- winner: Penn State

2nd seed Florida (12-1, SEC) vs. 3rd seed Virginia Tech (9-3, ACC) -- winner: Florida

Orange Bowl: Florida over Penn State. Cincinnati looked overwhelmed against Florida. Joe Pa's leadership could have lead the Nittany Lions to an upset victory over the Bearcats, but they would have looked just as overwhelmed against the Gators.

Final Four

Eastern Semifinal: Alabama over Florida. The Crimson Tide won the teams' first match-up in the SEC championship game, and while they might not be so lucky in a rematch, that victory was decisive enough for me to give them the nod over the Gators.

Western Semifinal: Texas over Ohio State. The Longhorns are clearly the better team, but if the up-and-down Buckeyes were firing on all cylinders, they could make it interesting.

National Championship Bowl: Well, we all know the answer to this one. Or do we? If we had actually gotten to see this play out, I wouldn't have been surprised in the least to see a Cinderella Ohio State team battling the mighty Gators in the big game. And who knows, just maybe there's a reason the major conference schools all seem to be scared to play Boise State. Sadly, for this season at least, we'll never know.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

James Cameron jumps the (glowing, blue, four-eyed) shark

I saw James Cameron's Avatar yesterday, and it was a huge disappointment. I certainly didn't expect it to be able to live up to the over-the-top, "best-thing-since-Star Wars" hype, but I also didn't expect it to suck as thoroughly as it did. Fail, fail, fail.

I would give it three stars *** (worthwhile), but only barely. If the novelty wears off as I suspect it to, I'll drop it to two stars ** (tolerable). In any case, I would recommend waiting for video. ("But wait," you say, "don't I need to see it in 3D?" You don't need to see anything in 3D!)

On the plus side, the special effects were good and some of the action scenes were very well done. I like Sam Worthington as an actor, too, and he did a good job in this movie despite the thin script.

The CGI was good - better than anything previous - but it's not the tremendous leap forward that it was hyped to be. At the end of the day, it still looks like a glorified video game. The motion capture thing has been done before, and I thought Who Framed Roger Rabbit was a bigger technical leap forward in marrying live action and animation.

Maybe I would feel different if the story were worth watching, but that is where this movie really falls apart. It is a three-dimensional movie with one-dimensional characters and a a one-dimensional plot. Here are my complaints (SPOILERS!):
  • Have you seen Dances with Wolves and Braveheart? Then you're familiar with this plot. Have you seen any of Cameron's previous movies? Then you've heard this dialogue. Cameron recycled so much of Aliens that he should sue himself for copyright infringement: space marines, an evil all-powerful corporation represented by a sleazy corporate executive, mechanical robot suits... he even used Sigourney Weaver! That familiarity alone wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing, but Cameron's style is so heavy-handed and clichéd that it was painful.
  • The physiology of the main alien species, the Na'vi, is completely incompatible with that of the rest of the fauna on Pandora. All of the other alien species have six legs, four eyes, feathery antennae and no hair. The Na'vi have bodies that look like ours. Sure, that makes them more personable, but it also makes them look out of place.
  • All of the animal species on Pandora look and behave like glowing blue, six-legged versions of Earth species. There are Pandoran dogs and horses and pterodactyls and jungle cats. I saw a great 2005 Discovery Channel special called Alien Planet that had more interesting life forms. If the Discovery Channel could do something like that on a shoestring, why couldn't Cameron do the same with his billion-dollar production budget? Also, with only a few exceptions, the plants and trees look like Earth plants and trees.
  • Unobtainium? Please. Yes, it's a real word, but it's cutesy. Just like naming the planet Pandora. (roll eyes)
  • The Na'vi physically bond with animals on Pandora using biological, fiber optic-like tentacles that emerge from the end of their ponytails. Wait... what? I can't believe I just typed that.
  • In the movie's most dramatic moment, the humans destroy the giant tree where the Na'vi live. The allusion to the 9-11 attack on the Twin Towers was not appreciated, especially since Cameron has Americans committing this act of horror. In scene after scene, he depicts the vast majority of these humans as insensitive and eager to spill Na'vi blood. I not only found this unbelievable, I also found it despicable. Shame on you, James Cameron.
  • There was a lot of pointless potty talk. My seven-year-old would have really liked a lot of things in this movie, but there's no way I'll let him watch it until he's older. There's no reason Cameron couldn't have made this movie more family-friendly. And to be honest, it would have worked much better that way: if you have a ridiculous and cliché-filled plot, why not add a touch of wonder and whimsy, so those deficiencies aren't so glaring?
So here is my movie review quote (for the back of the Blu-ray packaging): "best-thing-since-Star Wars... I would recommend... very well done... technical leap forward... unbelievable."

And here is the Crazy People quote: "A huge disappointment... fail, fail fail... one-dimensional... heavy-handed and clichéd... painful... despicable... shame on you, James Cameron."

P.S. - Want a second opinion? Click here for a rant from Red Letter Media.