I have a nostalgic affection for James Cameron’s 80’s output. The Terminator, Aliens and The Abyss have long been amongst my favourite films of the sci-fi genre. I was not impressed by his nineties output. True Lies was more like ‘False Promises’ and Titanic was a poor man’s Moby Dick. A bit like listening to Chris Rea when Mark Knopfler’s just next door.
Still, Avatar showed signs of promise. The trailers looked good and I was becoming interested in the new 3D technology. Pami and I had gone to see A Christmas Carol a month ago and loved that film. Some of the 3D sequences in that were breathtaking. Previous to that, the last 3D film I had seen was Jaws 3D back in 1984, which still used the red/blue paper glasses technology. These days the visors you get wouldn’t look out of place in the Mos Eisley cantina.
So the lights dim, we sit back clutching our tubes of Swiss milk chocolate buttons and the film begins. Within twenty minutes the main character, Jake Sully, has inhabited his ‘Avatar’ and is exploring the moon of Pandora. Pandora is a richly detailed, lush world of bright green and purple vegetation which lends itself fully to 3D technology. Tiny aliens that look like dandelion seeds blow in and out of shot, appearing to float an inch from my face and dirt thrown up by the bare souls of the Avatars as they run across the forest floor is thrown up out of the screen and into the auditorium. Initially, even the 3D effect of a person’s face in close up was fascinating to see and every single pimple, folicule and scar rotated in a beautifully realised 3D world.
However, the film is two hours and forty minutes long and after roughly an hour the novelty of 3D began to wane. In fact, towards the end I had to pinch myself into remembering this was a 3D film. Whether my eyes got used to the effect and began to compensate for it, I don’t know, but the 3D seemed to lose its impact and there were fewer scenes that utilised it effectively by the second half of the film.
Which leaves us with the story.
The Na’vi are the natives of Pandora. Humans want to mine Pandora. The Na’vi object. There is a war between the humans and the Na’vi.
That is the story in a nutshell. However, it is fleshed out by giving the Na’vi a mythology comprising of numerous deities, gods and rituals. If some thought were given to this, say for example, thirteen years of thought (which coincidentally is the time that Tolkien took to write Lord Of The Rings, a book which includes a rich, detailed mythology too) then maybe the Na’vi and their plight would have some weight and we would feel for them. As it is, the parallels with modern day concerns about our ecology have been drawn with such broad brush strokes that you end up not giving a toss about the Na’vi and start wishing you could maybe deep fry them in batter and have them in a tortilla with a bit of hot salsa.
The idea of Gaia was a wonderful science fiction idea that appeared in the 1979 book ‘Gaia: A new look at life on Earth’ by James Lovelock and had some cultural impact throughout the eighties. This idea has been used in the film in a greatly watered down version that has no depth or feeling to it. The Na’vi believe that all their trees are spiritually interconnected via their root system. That is a throwaway line given by one character to another and not pursued at all to give it any meaning. Like all ideas in the film really. Which neatly brings me to the dialogue itself. The dialogue – and there is plenty of it – seems to have been written for readers of The Sun. Characters speak in short staccato sentences, mainly to deliver a piece of information solely for the purposes of furthering the plot. Sometimes a question is asked by Jake Sully only for another character to sit down, light a pipe and take ten minutes to congratulate Jake on asking such a wonderful question as now all the viewers will understand a bit more of what is going on.
The climatic battle scene *is* well choregraphed however and for action fans there is plenty of eye candy on show. But we all knew James Cameron could do that – we were just expecting so much more from him after his thirteen year hiatus after the overwhelming success of Titanic.
More like Shitavar.