Avatar (3D)

Posted on January 24, 2010. Filed under: Movies to see before you die, Reviews | Tags: , , , |

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)

However…

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.

**Beware spoilers**

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.

It's pretty, but what does it do?

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.

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24 Responses to “Avatar (3D)”

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“but just because a story has been told before doesn’t mean it’s not worth telling.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I absolutely loved this movie in spite of it’s flaws which tells me how great it really is. I absolutely loved this movie.

Thanks Heather. I really enjoyed the film, it’s not quite up there with the best, but I’m pretty sure that when I watch it for a second time I’ll love it even more. Cameron’s managed to create a world I want to know more about, which is handy since he’s apparently up for a sequel. I though this was a one off but looks kike we’re getting some more.

Nice work here Katie, I hate the backlash that has come to Avatar, it’s not my favourite of the year; but I don’t think it’s some beautiful but empty bauble that most have been calling it. Glad you liked it.

…nothing wrong with a story being told again and again but Avatar told it in such insipid fashion that I just couldn’t get into it.

Insipid how? I know there’s nothing new there, but it still worked for me.

Spot on. It was never really about the plot; it’s all been about the technique, the technology. I’d draw a lot of literary parallels here (Mrs Dalloway is a bit of a pants story – it’s the way Woolf tells it, etc) but I will respect the film-centric nature of this blog 😉

wow. we both did Avatar reviews within hours of each other. you and I are very much alike Jones…
Tim Burton is still lame though.

insipid in that it added nothing, heck it even backtracked, compared to previous outings for this type of tale… hence comments from fans like ‘it was never really about the plot’ – and the comparison to Mrs Dalloway is incorrect because Woolf’s writing makes the tale whilst Avatar has been given a boost by Cameron’s technology rather than technique / style as a director. Had you said Mrs Dalloway’s plot weaknesses can be over looked because woolf made the letters physically stand out from the page then that would be a correct comparison.

Rather than add anything new to the debate in true Avatar style I will copy something from the past. In this case a comment I made on Ross v Ross earlier today:

It’s one of those stupid situations where everything gets out of hand. I don’t think the film was as good as the original reviews but it isn’t as bad as the backlash is suggesting. Everyone expects you to be in the love it or hate it camp. I am neither but my leanings are more towards the positive than the negative.

damn you Fandango – we own that comment!
Cinema Scream… ‘Had you said Mrs Dalloway’s plot weaknesses can be over looked because woolf made the letters physically stand out from the page then that would be a correct comparison.’
that made me chortle

Thanks Josh, it’s nice to have us agreeing about a film for once. You’ve also managed to start a debate about a book I’ve never read, so you’re gonna have to field those questions for me.

Ross: Already our minds are becoming one. 😛 I’ll have to head over for a read. Knew you’d never resist the Tim Burton dig. He rules and you know it.

CinemaScream: I would say there’s more to the appeal of Avatar than just the 3D. And why doesn’t Cameron’s use of technology count as part of his dirrectorship? He waited ten years to make the films afterall, because he needed the technilogy to be right. I fear I’ll never convert you on this one.

Andy: I’m very much on your side there! I don’t think it’s one of the best films ever made, but it is a good movie and people should appreciate it. It has its faults, but not enough of them to consider it a failure. Sometimes when a film has a lot of hype aroudn it people feel the need to hate it just to prove they weren’t taken in.

I just have a picture in my head of James Cameron sitting in his boxers and dressing gown, watching DVDs of 24 and eating Coco Pops for ten years while he waits for the technology to catch up with his vision.

And I have visions of him declaring himself “king of the known universe” when he wins a second undeserved Oscar.

ha ha im pretty sure that’s what he was doing.

“CinemaScream: And why doesn’t Cameron’s use of technology count as part of his dirrectorship? ”

Yep – he has waited for the technology and big props for the technical achievement but for all the depth it was stylistically flat he really did nothing with it that wasn’t achieved in My Bloody Valentine 3D.

The thing is that he has made a film in 3D that will lose nothing in 2D because it does nothing more than make some things pointy which is not that big a deal unless you count thinking ‘ohh that bit was really 3d’ as being great cinema.

I make no bones about the fact that I think 3D is a bit of a nothing but I would love to be proved wrong…

…from the trailer Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland looks like a film that will actually be diminished in 2d because it seems as if creating a pop up book, which is a logical move given the source material, was his aim – JC (for it is he) is making films in 3D because he can not because it is integral.

I’m not talking about the 3D. In fact I discount it because I think the film would be just as good without it. What I mean by technology is the advances in MoCap and the ingenuity of the Weta Workshop in order for the Na’Vi to look seamless. The 3D is just an added effect because at the moment most production companies think the only way to make money is to have things jumping out of the screen. Luckily Cameron didn’t over usse it as badly as some, but the 3D has nothing to do with why the film is good.

I think we’ve ended up arguing about something we agree on.

i think so – really can’t wait for Alice in Wonderland

I absolutely love the Pocahontus comparison… I never even thought of that. What bothered me as far as the story was I actually saw a lot of Aliens in it. The final battle is actually almost identical only this time you’re rooting for the Alien. I agree it’s a must see as it will change the business but the story just didn’t do it for me.
Love the site… going to add to my blogroll. If you have a chance, check out mine at:
http://kaispace.wordpress.com
Keep up the good work!!!

Hi Kai welcome to the blog, nice to have you here!

I (shockingly) have not seen Aliens. Mainly because I wasn’t all that impressed by Alien. I realise that’s blasphemy though so I don’t expect anyone to understand.

I’ll be sure to keep and eye on your site

I can accept you weren’t “all that impressed by Alien”, you are entitled to your opinion however bizarre it may be! I do however implore you to watch Aliens it is a completely different film to Alien. It may even be James Cameron’s best movie.

Do me a favor and see Aliens please… that’s just a shame. I think it’s one of the greatest sequels of all time. And, though it’s unpopular to admit, I don’t rave over the original Alien either. Would also suggest The Abyss if you haven’t seen it. Every time it comes on cable I have to watch it to the end!

I do realise I’m completely inadequte for not seeing it. I just need to find a DVD of it somewhere.

Avatar is a brilliant movie experience. Note: I said experience, not movie. The plot was a bit thin and rehashed, but the actual 3d feel and beauty of the world definately makes up for it. Can’t wait to see what James Cameron will come up with next!

I finally got to see the movie tonight in theaters. It was my first 3D movie experience, and I really enjoyed it. I don’t go to movies to pick them apart for one reason or another, I go for the entertainment. I happened to be very entertained, and am looking forward to more 3D movies. 🙂


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