Spoiler alert. This review has lots of spoilers, not to mention a total story synopsis.
Avatar, James Cameron’s film that was a decade in the making is now in cinemas.
Last week when I told some friends I was going to see it soon one reply I got was ‘Oh, is that the funny looking cartoon thing?’ I did give her a bit of a hard time for that comment, however having now seen the film I have to say it does look somewhat artificial.
The Problem with the CGI
CGI when done well is impressive and it’s certainly much easier to generate ships, cars & buildings with hyper reality than organic stuff. The CG in this film, which has to be 60~70% of it, is good but not to a point where you forget it’s CG quite the opposite. It really does look cartoon like and the alien vistas of planet Pandora are somewhat over cooked. It’s like when you first get Photoshop and push all the colours and effects to the max and at the time it seems cool, but in reality it just looks too OTT. Less is more.
A lot of the alien scenes reminded me of being underwater in some abyssal phosphorescent sea creature environment, way too Disney for my liking. I think the mixture of real life with CGI did not help the film either. To my mind the 2001 film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is far superior in it’s efforts to create a believable world in CGI. As the entire film is CGI it’s easier to get sucked into the world, with Avatar you are jumping from one to another and they just look like two separate films spliced together.
The Problem with the 3D
The 3D for me was certainly not unobtrusive, I don’t think I ever forgot I was watching a 3D film. Perhaps it’s because of the novelty, the last 3D film I saw was Jaws 3D in 1983. Certainly the technology is much improved. I remember on Jaws you had to concentrate to get the 3D effect, rather like looking at autostereograms. The Avatar 3D effect is instant but still seemed a bit fuzzy and the colour was somewhat diluted. So I never felt lost in the moment.
The most impressive scene for me was in the very first couple of minutes where Jake Sully is revived from hypersleep on a ship in a massive chamber with technicians floating about in the weightless environment; as the camera is swaying slightly and as pretty much all of your vision is taken up with the huge IMAX screen I felt a bit of motion sickness. There were plenty of other parts of the film where I should have felt vertigo or other motion educed feelings but not for me, it was just that initial scene.
As would seem to be a tradition in 3D films there has to be at least one arrow or spear pointed out of the screen, Avatar had plenty of that. A nice collection of arrows sticking out of the screen can be found in the death of Colonel Miles Quaritch, which reminded me somewhat of a Strongbow advertisement. This character was the best thing about the film. Loved the scene where he stormed out of the control centre, exposing everyone to the toxic Pandoran air, and opened fire on the gunship being stolen by the main protagonist.
I will be interested to see the film again in 2D. I think 3D certainly has a place in the future, we see in 3D after all so it’s got to be the direction to go, no pun intended.
The problem with the story
The story is very shallow and long, real long, 162 minutes long. The plot is not that complex and somewhat Pocahontas:
- Humans arrive at planet Pandora to mine something called ‘Unobtanium’, seriously, Unobtanium!
- Pandora is populated by the Na’vi, tall blue hippies equipped with organic USB sockets in their pony tails to connect with other Pandoran wildlife & fauna with compatible USB sockets.
- The trees are in fact nodes in an organic planet wide internet. The planet is a big brain.
- The Na’vi have made there home (possibly squatting illegally) in a big tree on top of a vast deposit of Unobtanium.
- Humans want them moved and create Na’vi lookie-likies AKA Avatars remotely controlled by humans to infiltrate the Na’vi to win hearts and minds.
- This fails so they send in the marines to destroy their tree.
- One lookie-likie goes native and starts a revolt against the humans. They fail.
- The other non sentient USB equipped indigenous aliens (probably hippies also) get the message from the planets organic internet. A bit late to the party but perhaps they were on dial up or had not turned on there Twitter apps. Anyhoo, they rise up and defeat the humans.
‘Nuke em from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure’. That’s all that was going through my head. I had no sympathy for the Na’vi. They are living some stagnant existence in a forest where the coolest thing for them is making a bow from a sacred tree. They should have knelt down to the white man and handed over the Unobtanium, which I would guess would then have to be renamed Obtaindium.
You know the entire film is building up to a ‘Bows and arrows against the lightening’ thing but it takes an age to get there. The majority of the film is all rather ‘A Man Called Horse‘ learn to jump from vine to vine, learn to fire a bow (making sure arrow points out to camera), learn to ride horse thing, learn to ride bird/bat thing…. yawn. I just wanted to see the huge ass robotic exoskeleton and dirty big gun ships with nasty missiles fuck their blue arse hippie shit up. You have to wait a long old time for that to come.
Three quarters of the way through the film we see this awesome fire-power used against a tree. It was a big tree but was not much of a match, rather predictively the tree lost. Later we get the big ground/air war which thankfully came out looking better than the encounter at the end of Phantom Menace, the burning horse thing was a nice scene, but I still had no empathy whatsoever for the indigenous population.
On a technical point. When they move the Avatar control units to the floating mountain area where all electronic devices go haywire, how is it that these units still work? And why are those mountains floating anyway? Is it because they are made of Unobtanium? We see this stuff floating earlier but perhaps that’s just because of it’s display stand. If the floating mountains are Unobtanium then mining would be real easy. Confused.
Having said all that, according to IMDB it’s currently the 25th best film of all time, so what do I know?