Posted: 23rd December 2009 by Get No Happy in Reviews

So Avatar, James Cameron’s game changing, sci-fi, CGI epic…

It’s alright.

OK, The Good
Yes the CG is spectacular: The mix of real and fake actors is seamless, the world is beautiful and the scenes with the flying mountains actually gave me a touch of vertigo. Certainly benefited from all the CG touching up of the live cast; if everything is stylized the visual logic of the film remains in tact. Yes its very pretty, yes it will likely change movie-making. Can we move on.

Cameron is also clearly a great director; especially for action sequences (No real surprise there) which are fantastic, but also in general. For example; we learn through ‘acting’ that one of the other avatar pilots is jealous of Jake, we know Ms Weaver is bitter at something, that the Colonal is a bastard; all without a “THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I THINK scene. Small things yes, but highlights a deft touch in direction and scripting; the purposeful leaving of things unsaid. It’s actually a rather dire comment on the state of recent blockbusters that the absence of incessant soliloquising is worthy of note. It’s shows restraint in story telling, that everything need not be explained.

The acting is fine. In fact that’s almost a negative point. Everything takes such a back stage to the CG, you hardly notice performances. Suppose you would if they were bad though. So like I said, acting is fine.

Lastly, and without giving away spoilers, the ending was pretty good. While not quite ideal, it certainly wasn’t the battle of Endor I had feared since initially seeing the trailers. Still, I don’t see why a kinetic or nuclear strike from orbit was out of the question…

Now The bad
The story is awful. Not Uwe Boll/George Lucas awful, but still a stunted, feeble retelling of a worn out tale. Yes, it is A man called Horse, it is Dances with wolves, it is Fern Gully and it is New World. Worse, more than any of the films just mentioned, it resembles The Last Samurai, which starred everyone’s favourite gurning midget cult member. It’s a tired formula that Avatar really does nothing more than repackage, shiny as the new package is. Given Jake’s cultural transformation is somewhat more literal than other movies, it may actually have removed something from said formula. Sodium maybe.

Ah, this brings us nicely to ‘politics’ of the piece. A technologically advanced race of invaders, who care nothing for the indigenous inhabitants, or their ways, who just want to pillage the world. OMFGW, that like so happened in our history, and is still happening now (says the 17 year-old in the Che t-shirt to the hot wiccan girl he’s trying to ‘seduce’). I get the feeling there was initially more to this Unobtainium than made it into the final cut and a little fleshing out could have made a great deal of difference. Why it’s so expensive? We hear that earth is dying, a throw away “This is keeping the O2 plants working back home” or something would have at least given the tiniest moral uncertainty to the actions of the characters. It would have made Jake’s choices a genuine betrayal. As it is one may as well call the company ‘EvilCorp’ and the mineral ‘Baby Seal Tears’

Also, it’s too long, far far too long. There’s only so many hours a guy can sit and watch two happy blue Thunder Cats skip merrily through a landscape designed on the morning the dictionary calendar revealed “bio-luminescence” to be the word of the day. I understand the desire to show off ones lovingly crafted world, but a film also has to be entertaining; LotR tried my patients with it’s continual vista shots courtesy of the New Zealand tourist board, and at least there was an added “oooo, I could actually visit that” element to these. With Avatar I felt like a parent whose offspring is demanding continual attention as s/he attempts cartwheels or whatever; “But your not looking!!!!!!” Cameron continually cries.

Finally, I still think there is a way to go before CG characters, especially alien ones, can elicit an emotional reaction. I can’t say I felt much for the Na’vi, they still looked very CGI (maybe it was the bright blue skin, or the USB 2.0 tail interface). It’s not impossible, Gollum was a fantastic character, but here I didn’t feel anything for them. Granted it could be I really dislike the idea of the noble savage in touch with nature; it’s as archaic a belief as that which once proposed Europeans to be “more evolved” than others, and therefore couldn’t get past the subtext. More reasonably, human face recognition is so complex the technology simply isn’t up to “tricking” our brains properly yet. Use the Avatar tech for the world crafting and leave the emoting to the organics for now.

Avatar is a good film; it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s entertaining and some of the visuals are breathtaking. However, much like an expense courtesan, it is superficial in it’s exotic delights. There’s nothing too it. Ste and I left the cinema with nothing to discuss, because there is nothing too discuss. Good guys are good, bad bugs are bad and things on Pandora haven’t quite grasped the ‘not glowing’ part of nocturnal behaviour.