Thursday 17 December 2009

Review: Avatar

Year: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi

Synopsis is here

One of the things I like about writing a personal film blog is that my opinion is my own. Call me a cynic, but it's very hard at times to take certain print press reviews as is due to the huge amount of coverage and hype they force down a readers throat. From the first screenshot reveals to the XX page spread two months before hand. When your bombarded with information about a said film and then greeted with a gushing, glowing five star review at the end, it's hard not to get a little weary. And so with over TWELVE years of preloaded hype, self-proclaimed "king of the world" James Cameron returns with what many consider to be his opus; Avatar.

I've read the early reviews and many have bleated about how great this movie is, and granted in another twelve years I believe that we will be still talking about the EFFECTS of this movie and how far CGI has advanced because of it. However when it comes to how it AFFECTS us, I'm not so sure. Avatar features some of the most astonishing visuals for a film I've ever seen in my short time here on this planet, however when a film has taken so long to prefect in looks it's a shame that we are given a script that doesn't seem to have progressed as well as it's SFX.

It's an odd meld of something you haven't seen before with something you've seen maybe far too often. My mouth dropped to the floor when Jake takes his first Na'vi steps into the world of Pandorum, but I also had to cover the same mouth to stop myself from laughing at some of the trite and corny dialogue. The film's world is one of the most beautifully realized conceptions this year nay DECADE, but the films characters are as bland and dry as crackers. This conflict goes on throughout the film and unfortunately it's stronger than the friction that's meant to be going on up on the screen.

Not like this matters when the action takes hold of the film. Avatar is strongest when it says nothing and it's set pieces say that best, with some glorious sequences that put the likes of Lucas, Bay, Emmerich and the rest to shame. The effects money is up on the screen for all to see and with no horrible editing techniques to distract. One of the issues i had with My Bloody Valentine 3D is that it's was hacked up so much that the 3D just simply didn't work. Here, along with the effects it's seamless, in fact it becomes second nature and Cameron and his P.C nerds have played with the depth of field inwards instead of outwards to make 3D something almost worth investing. With this said...will anyone else have £300 Million to make the 3D this good? I think not. Good luck to seeing 2 of this a year, let alone 10.

Script problems aside, the acting is more than adequate, Sam Worthington makes a great grunt and has enough screen presence to make sure he's not another face in the crowd. Zoe Saldana is emotional but not too memorable as the Na'vi love interest Neytiri, while Stephen Lang chews the entire screen like welsh taffy as Col. Miles Quaritch. The rest of the performances are nothing to shout about but then they aren't written to be anything more than generic support characters. in fact I'm hard pressed to remember their names.

Which once again brings me to what stops Avatar being a great film for me, it's story. Many have made jokes, likening the film to Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, Ferngully and the like, and to be fair, that IS all in there. I didn't expect mind blowing originality, but Cameron does nothing to make the movie feel fresh other than the out of this world visuals, and that's not enough. A clear allegory to the Iraq War is made and once again this year inter-racial politics raises it's head and it's all handled well. However, there's nothing narrative wise that matches Neil Blomkamp's District 9 or dare I say this... The Hurt Locker (directed by Cameron's Ex-wife Kathryn Bigalow).

But when it's all said and done, Avatar is an event film and one that will bring in punters and is enjoyable. To get action set pieces like what we see here makes up for the poor showing we got during the summer, and for all the narrative issue, Cameron once again shows that given a large budget he can put most of it to good use. But for all the hype, coverage and five star reviews, I feel a little down that Avatar has only been taken for face value. Game-Changer? Only if we start judging books by their covers.

Note: I know it's hard and you've probably already seen it but try not to watch the Trailer for Avatar, it tells the viewer the WHOLE story in 3 minutes. The run time for the film is almost three hours, you may feel cheated.