It’s the end of 2009 and what a year it has been. On a personal level I finished university, put one foot into the real world and planned a trip round to the Far East and Australia, which is now scarcely 18 days away. Chances are this will be my last real post before I leave and dedicate this blog to documenting my travels, so I decided to do a review of Avatar, A) as it is very much hyped at this point in time, B) I watched it the other day so it felt like a relevant topic.
I felt some trepidation before watching this film, as I am always very wary of films with a lot of hype behind them and also that this was touted to be the film that would make 3D big. I have to admit I’m no real lover of 3D films. All the films I’ve seen in 3D have left me questioning its point, unless the director purposely exploited the medium by repeatedly sticking objects in the face of the viewer. This was the reason I didn’t see Up in 3D as I felt it was good enough in 2D, but anyway I’m getting away from the point.
So anyway making a start on the actual film itself, it revolves around the human race exploiting a lush moon called Pandora for a special expensive mineral called ‘Unobtainium’ (I wonder why it’s called that, hmm… scientific naming is getting a bit lazy these days). As the atmosphere of Pandora is poisonous for humans, special human alien hybrids are created - based on the genetic code of the native Na’vi (the logical result of merging a cat, a smurf, and a man together) and the person who ‘drives’ the avatar – to explore Pandora and interact with the natives. Here we meet Jake Sully a paraplegic marine who’s been called in to replace his avatar driver twin brother, who has been murdered. Jake is naturally enthusiastic about the job, as it gives him his legs back. However, on his first journey out into the jungle with his team, he manages to fall foul of the local wildlife but is saved by Na’vi woman Neytiri. On gaining their trust Sully is put to work to infiltrate the Na’vi by security boss Col Miles Quaritch (played by Chip Hazard from Small Soldiers) and the owner of the base Parker Selfridge (played by just about every money minded ignorant capitalist ever seen in any film) in return for getting his real legs back. Of course on entering the Na’vi society Jake becomes less interesting in helping his people out, and his allegiance is truly tested when the humans discover that a huge ‘Unobtainium’ (I can’t say it with a straight face) pocket lies beneath the Na’vi tribe’s hometree, surely dooming them to live out the rest of their lives on some kind of Na’vi gambling reserve.
As you can see the story is fairly easy to predict and contains the usual archetypes of many films you’ve seen before, borrowing heavily from films like Last of the Mohicans. However, I was surprised to find myself not caring about this as the world is so believable and the story so involving that I forgave it for this. The performances and the fact that many of the characters are computer generated allow you to leave your doubts at the door and just indulge in the fantasy of this film. I actually also liked the 3D as the medium really lent itself to this kind of film. This is the kind of film that was made for 3D, instead of having 3D bolted on for the sake of it as with many other films. Of course this doesn’t mean that 3D has made it as a medium, oh no. 3D can only make it if more films like this are made, and if the 3D pretenders are done away with completely. It’s fairly safe to say that Avatar is 3D finding its niche though.
Also it goes without saying that the visuals of this film are amazing and also that Pandora is a beautifully designed world. However, that didn’t stop me from being awed by it. Normally visual design in movies is taken for granted by the audience as we come to expect it, but the world design and the imaginative character design has really been a labour of love for James Cameron and his team. It also goes to show that a simple story and spectacular visuals can still make for a good movie without it seeming to dumb the audience down. For that I accept this as an apology for Titanic.
A few other points about the film are firstly, beware this film if you find movie military characters annoying. What do I mean by ‘movie military characters’ you ask? Well to sum it up, imagine a muscle bound meat head that has a permanently confrontational demeanour, and only communicates through tough talking colloquialisms. Think that’s bad? Imagine that multiplied several times, as many of Pandora’s human inhabitants are marines serving as mercenaries, so this becomes prevalent in the early part of the film, and is very frustrating.
Also to begin with Jake Sully has the restraint of a toddler, whilst in his Avatar body, playing with every strange piece of Pandoran flora and faena before him. Also another point about Sully is how he, without any practise or training, is basically able to outdo his massively experienced team at nearly everything in the Avatar. This must be so soul destroying for someone who spent years trying to be an Avatar driver only to see some excitable marine come in and outdo him at everything first try. In computer gaming terms its like being continuously pwned by a noob.
All in all, despite some minor nitpicks which every film has anyway, Avatar is a really great use of two and half hours. It has a monster running time with lots to fit in, but this doesn’t become a chore like some longer films. This film doesn’t really have any superfluous material and everything you see feels like it’s there for a reason. 9 out of 10.