Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Judging from the amount that the rest of the world seems to have raved about Avatar, it currently seems to be the most universally adored movie since Star Wars.

Avatar was released in the UK on December 10th 2009. Today was March 26th 2010, and it was still showing all week on this cinema’s only screen, albeit only mornings and late nights now. That should give you some idea.

With the Oscars over and its DVD / Blu-ray release imminent, Avatar actually seems to be getting into its third wind.

All that to say, seeing the film three months after its release, it’s somewhat hard to remain objective.

Well actually objectivity is the easy bit. It’s a doddle to sit there and rubbish the whole thing, secure in the knowledge that with every criticism that I make, I’m reinforcing my sense of superiority over the lesser-experienced rest of the world.

Here are a few ideas of smug things that I could write:

“I just can’t fathom why everyone raves about it so much.”

“I found it all rather generic, actually.”

“It was obvious how it was going to end.”

“The effects weren’t very good – you could tell they were done on computer.”

And of course the token positive remark to make the all those negative ones look credible: “But hey – the acting / music / trees were good.”

No, the difficult thing in the context of such popularity is how to avoid becoming too objective.

Anyway, watching the whole thing in IMAX, on the biggest screen in the country, in 3-D, and all within the positive context of catching up with old friend Brian to do so, I felt that I was giving Avatar every chance to stand on its own two feet.

The opening shots looked absolutely enthralling, especially in 3-D. The sense of weightlessness as I squinted at such a long line of soldiers awakening in deep space from suspended animation was disorientatingly effective. It felt like one of those lucid dreams when you realise that what you're looking at cannot be real, and marvel at how vivid it all is.

Note: vivid, not detailed.

I certainly found the colours better than the psychedelic polarized 3-D films that I'd been watching at the film convention last Saturday. The picture was also more memorable than the anaglyph of Spy Kids 3D, and thankfully didn't require the constant motion of Doctor Who: Dimensions In Time's Pulfrich effect.

However, at no point could it hold a candle to 2007's all-CGI Meet The Robinsons. Now that was awesome. And sharp. And solid. Since that film used the same RealD system for its 3-D, I guess it's a CGI-thing.

Still, the 3-D here enabled us to really look deep into this world and examine things in (some) detail. For example, I was particularly interested to note that the 2-D TV screens in 2154 were also displaying images in 3-D. That we could see them in 3-D however, along with how the characters didn’t put on glasses to watch them, implies that they are using a different system though. Or maybe they all wear contact lenses?

Anyway, onto the plot.

I'm afraid I got lost at the start.

Our hero – (can’t remember his name) – awakes from suspended animation to the news that his twin brother has been murdered while also in suspended animation, and he now has the chance to make a lot of money by taking his place. I think. In fact, I think I got that wrong, or how could he already have been in stasis? If he'd been contacted to replace his brother afterwards, then wouldn't he have arrived many months or years later?

My point is not that I think there was a mistake there, but that from the outset I didn’t understand that part of the premise. (I still don’t)

In any case, after that it didn’t seem to be a particularly story-driven film anyway.

Our hero Jake Sully (thanks Wikipedia) is sent-in as a diplomat to an alien jungle-species of humanoids (right down to the usual five digits on each hand) to negotiate a tribe’s relocation in three months’ time. A special hybrid human-alien body has been grown for him to spiritually posess, partially from his brother’s DNA, which I’m inferring is why it had the same voice as him. Coincidentally enough, the other character undergoing the same treatment gets to retain her voice too. Okay.

No mention is ever made of what became of this live body’s original soul. We do observe it moving of its own free will in the tank before the protagonist inhabits it, but no-one seems to notice. This theme of bodily domination is repeated throughout the film, with the good guys happily taking over the alien dragons too.

Most of the movie concerns the fellow’s fast-track immersion into the local tribal society, and here I found I could identify with much of what he was going through. For the past six years I’ve lead a bit of a double-life between the UK and New Zealand, and the self-doubt that he faces as he gambles his old life for advances within this new culture came through loud and clear.

Throughout the film the design and effects are beautiful. There are a lot of alien creatures (obviously not counting the bland humanoids) that reminded me of the left-field life-forms that we get in the jungle and under the sea on this planet. Those remote natural locations tend to get IMAX movies made of them anyway, so it was a shame that Avatar, like last summer’s Star Trek, turned out to not be a true IMAX movie, but merely the modern DMR blow-up version. Sort of an ‘IMAX-lite’. Drag.

I usually like quite long films, however with this one I actually was getting bored quite early on. This attitude really kicked-in at the moment when the army moved-in to destroy the natives, apparently on the very day when they would otherwise find out if the peace-negotiations had been successful. I couldn't figure that out. What was the motivation for the army there?

In fact, who was so in charge of everyone that they had invested all this time and money on having both the army and the diplomatic scientists working at the location toward the same goal, only to abandon the plan at the last, most cost-ineffective moment? There might well have been a reason, but if there was then I didn't catch it.

The army commander was such a typical straw villain, that I was reminded of Rhett's recent comments on my review of Patch Adams. Accordingly, at any moment I was expecting this guy to turn to camera and growl "So, do ya hate me yet?!"

When the villagers all resolved to fight back, there was so much music all building to a crescendo that I kept kidding myself that the film's conclusion might be open-ended, but it wasn't letting me escape that easily.

Yes, it's waaaaaaaaar.

I suppose the film has an anti-war message, but this seemed to be preaching to the converted. There were good guys and bad guys, just like in the movies, but in the real world everyone falls somewhere in-between. That might have been a more useful perspective to explore.

Afterwards, Brian and I both professed to be sincerely mistified as to why we'd heard so many people enthusing about this, and supposed with some disatisfaction that it might be because of the 3-D.

I guess for me the highlight had come at the start, when the visuals had represented a science-fiction world that doesn't exist in my life. I've never been on a spaceship, nor seen a planet from orbit, so when these absorbing images gave way to Earthy forests, cliffs and rooms, well, no wonder I got bored.

I'm sorry, I know that Avatar is a very well loved movie, and quite inoffensive, but I can't find a reason to recommend it. I hope you enjoy / enjoyed it.

We never get back to his brother's murder.

Available here.


2 comment(s):

At 6:43 am, Anonymous Sophie said...

Jakes twin was murdered prior to them taking off, but after Jake was injured so what you saw was him (Jake) waking up in hospital and being told that because their DNA was so alike that Jake could take his twins` place.

At 8:00 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thank you Sophie - I appreciate that.



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