The last two films I’ve seen in the cinema have been in 3D. (That’s right folks, I’ve finally made it back!) Last time I wrote about how I wasn’t entirely convinced by the 3D revolution and I’m still not completely there. There’s a worrying trend for films being made solely because they’ll look good in 3D; and the fact that this showing was prefixed by a trailer for “Streetdance 3D” only served to confirm that fear. With the coming of HD DVD and the impressive quality of home cinema systems nowadays, the theatres need something that will pull the people in and at the moment 3D is that key selling point. I definitely think too many films are being made in 3D just for the sake of it, Alice In Wonderland for instance, doesn’t need to be in 3D, and I fear it will detract from the classic Burton look (Go ahead RossvRoss, take your shots)
Avatar is the film that might just change my mind on the whole subject. Unlike with Up, I didn’t find the 3D distracting (except for a few times), instead it added a lot to the already stunning visuals. And with that, I’ll get on with the review.
I went in to Avatar with lowered expectations, having heard from many friends and bloggers that while it looked amazing, the plot wasn’t up to much. I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that I really loved it! Yes, it is basically Pocahontas with blue people, but just because a story has been told before doesn’t mean it’s not worth telling. How many classic battles of good versus evil are there out there, or tales of unrequited love? Yet we’ll still go and watch them if they are told well enough. The idea of technology and man made products destroying what is good and natural and then being overcome by a so-called primitive race has been done time and again ( The Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, The Ents in Two Towers, even the infamous Gunguns in Phantom Menace) so in a way it is getting tired, but the fact that they get made shows that people will still lap it up, especially in a time when we’re worrying about the effect we have on out planet.. Movies of this genre always have an underlying political statement and apart from the obvious, Avatar has the added a comment on current affairs summed up neatly in the line: “This is how it works, when people are sitting on something you want, you make them the enemy.”
The beginning is slow. It takes a while for everything to really get going, which is strange since not a lot of time is given over to explaining what is actually going on. We know that our leads brother is dead, and that for some reason we all live in space and are after a ridiculously named rock called “Unobtanium” (ouch) which can only be found on the planet of Pandora. That’s about it for back story, and while that can rankle some, for someone like me who wants the action to get going as soon as possible, I don’t mind having to figure some of it out for myself. Having said that, not very much happens early on, and for a film with a running time of 2 hours and 42 minutes you do start to drift off, but once it gets going, it keeps your attention till the end.
The plot can be predictable, but it’s still engaging, owed in no small part to the world that Cameron has created for the indigenous Na’vi. It simply is beautiful. The film would look just as awe-inspiring in 2D, but the scenes in the forest really do come alive with the help of the extra dimension. I particularly liked the UV glow that both the Na’vi and all other Pandoran life took on at night, giving an amazing backdrop of colour to the action. (You can tell just how much I liked the look of it by the amount of pictures on this post!)
Of course, everyone talks about the visual effects in this film, and for good reason. It’s flawless. MoCap has come a long way since Gollum, and with Richard Taylor’s Weta Workshop on board it was always going to be brilliant, but it surpassed my expectations in the reality they managed to create. There was no point where I thought, “this bits real, she’s been put in later,” even in the interactions between humans and Na’vi, where there is no hint of the huge amounts of post production behind every frame.
I’d argue that a lot of the tech in this movie has been borrowed from The Matrix. The way that the humans link up with their Avatars is kind of familiar (although in this version, if you die in the Matrix, you can still come back) and the Iron Man style robot suits were very familiar for any one who’s seen the final battle in Revolutions. There were some new ideas too though. I really liked the look of the helicopter/planes that the army guys fly, and the psychic style link the Na’vi have with the creatures via their hair sounds completely ridiculous on paper but works surprisingly well on screen.
As for the characters, there’s isn’t a particularly deep characterisation but you do care, and when things start to go bad for the Na’vi I did find myself getting involved. Probably my only criticism of the film is that is doesn’t quite have the heart of some of it’s predecessors; a bit too much time spent on the visuals and maybe not enough on the story arc, but it doesn’t fall into the trap as far as Reign of Fire did, and our two lead characters are sympathetic enough to keeps us locked in.
I am a fantasy junkie, and I can see how this film might not appeal to a wider market, but even with it’s flaws I think Avatar really is a film that has to be seen. A colleague at work said that it reminded her of when she first saw Jurassic Park, which I think is a fair comment. A decade ago we wouldn’t have been able to make a film like this, but special effects are now moving at such a pace that nothing is impossible anymore. It might not go down in history as one of the best stories ever told, but it will be remembered for being told in a way that was unlike anything we’d seen before.