Avatar – adventures in 3-D

AVATAR (12a) **(*)
3-D cinema’s fairly obvious answer to millions of 2-D films

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver and Stephen Lang
Written and directed by James Cameron
Running Times 162 minutes

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic American marine replaces his twin brother in a scientific project where he becomes an animated avatar on a distant planet with its beautiful inhabitants, the Na’vi. Can the Americans keep their hands off the valuable minerals under the Tree of Life?

They say:

“Avatar, essentially, is a film we’ve seen before, boldly made to look like nothing we’ve seen before. It is truly the Star Wars of our age.” The Times

“Spectacular? Unique? Beautiful? Unique? Yes, yes, yes and oh HELL yes. It’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen and believe me – you need to see it.” News of the World

“Trippy, but not as deep as it thinks it is.” Sky Movies

Wolfie says:

I crossed into a new dimension as Avatar’s marketing department told me to and had my first experience of the brave new world of 3-D cinema with James Cameron’s technically impressive but thematically cliched movie about the clash between the Wicked West (really America circa Iraq War with memories of Vietnam) and the noble savage – nice very tall animated people in loin cloths, body paint and kitten eyes.

It was an amazing cinema moment, no question, I felt that I was at the dawning of a new age.

Never before had I worn two pairs of glasses, one on top of the other, let alone in the cinema.

They were big black framed affairs and I felt like a jazz singer taking my seat in the darkened theatre. The woman next to me looked like Jacqueline Kennedy. It was all very cool, we might even have looked like a Buddy Holly convention. In reality I suspect we just looked like a load of prats.

Actually the glasses were the most unexpected thing about the experience even though I have to admit that the 3-D technology was amazing enough to make me feel like those Victorian audiences who ran screaming from the theatre when they saw that first film of a slowly moving steam train.

It really was a new experience and we will never be quite the same again. The clever use of foreground, middle ground and background mostly worked superbly in Mr Cameron’s ground-breaking film. Sometimes there were weirdly unconvincing moments when the middle middle distance seemed like a cardboard set stuck in the middle of more realistic effects and, mostly, the animated scenes worked more convincingly that the real action scenes with non-animated actors. Most amazingly to my virgin eyes was when the images come out of the screen and you are seeing stuff right over the heads of the audience in front of you.

Every now and then though the most breath-taking moments were in the close-up scenes, an opening eye where you can count every eye lash, the feel of glass screens or faces in mirrors. It was in these moments that 3-D felt astonishingly lifelike.

No, there is no question about it, this film is visually stunning.

It is, of course, really a computer game with a sugary soul and if you have a taste for hi-tech tosh then this is the movie for you. The animated characterisation of the giant and very cute aboriginal inhabitants of the planet Pandora was also fantastically effective but we were never left in any doubt as to whose side we were on.

Sadly, if you have ever seen Planet of the Apes, Apocalypse Now, Jason and the Argonauts, Jurassic Park, Pocahontas and The Little Mermaid or any one of dozens of other movies you will have seen the contents of this film, 3-D apart, many times before.

The bad guys, the American army, are after mineral wealth under the beautiful natural Pandoran environment, so innocence and ancient wisdom is doomed unless an all-American hero can save the day. Will he win against all the odds? Will he get the beautiful indigenous princess? Will he accepted as a warrior hero? Will the bad guys get their comeuppance?

Well, what do you think?

Actually, everyone on screen, including a now matronly Sigourney Weaver, act very convincingly and, if the movie wasn’t so damned long and its plot so glaringly obvious, I would have come out exhilarated and chastened by the message of peace, respect for the environment and for the wonders of modern cinematographic inventiveness.

In the end though, nothing was surprizing. The amazing beasts were all our old friends from the age of dinosaurs and the good guys and bad guys stuck strictly to the conventions we have long grown familiar with and the plot joined up all those dots which have delineated Hollywood scripts for nearly a hundred years.

Sadly, the cliches about a rich developed nation crushing apparently simpler traditional cultures in the pursuit of mineral wealth is also one which we are only too familiar with too – just by reading our daily newspapers.

The central idea, about the American marine who becomes an animated avatar is, apart from the wonders of 3-D, the one great idea which obviously sold the script to the money men. It is a story of our times and anyone who has ever got hooked on a virtual reality game will understand just how tempting it is to cross over from the real world into a more idealistic virtual environment.

Whatever else you may think about this film, it has to be seen for its introduction of three-dimensional cinema even though it won’t be long before some of its more gimmicky moments will look as quaintly old-fashioned as those big plastic glasses that we all have to wear.

3 Comments

  1. I'm just waiting for the subtitled 3D version to be available next week in London cinemas, and getting quite excited about the sheer 3Dness of the 3D that everyone keeps going on about. Sounds quite spectacular, even if the actual James Cameron content is predictable Hollywood fare. Apparently the subtitles look rather spectacular in 3D too. The Charles Dickens thing was the first 3D film to be subtitled.

  2. It is definitely worth going to see for the 3-D alone. I really felt like it was a revolution visually even if it is not all perfect.

    The Hollywood liberal ethics are fine and undemanding but painfully predictable in such a long film.

  3. The titles were worth watching in their own right with the lettering appearing somewhere in the middle of the room…..subtitles, I hope, will be just as entertainingly placed.

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