Saturday, January 02, 2010

Avatar - a mixed bag of a movie

Tonight I went to see the 3D version of Avatar, the latest mega-budget blockbuster by director James Cameron (Terminator; Aliens; Titanic).

It truly is a mixed bag. Starring English-born Australian actor, Sam Worthington, with Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldaña and Stephen Lang, Avatar has by far the best animation I've ever seen, but the storyline is so twee, and some of the acting so bad, it isn't worth a thumbs up. It also has the uncanny valley effect ("when robots and other facsimiles of humans look and act almost like actual humans, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers").

Worse even than Worthington's, Lang's and Weaver's acting is a soundtrack reminiscent of Superman and Indiana Jones - but unlike both of these, it is not done with amusing, clever irony. I get the impression that Cameron is serious, and that's a real worry. That's the scariest thing about this cliffhanger, just as it was with Cameron's Titanic and that dreadful unironic-but-one-first-assumes-must-be-ironic 1998 disaster film, Armageddon. The director is fair dinkum. Yikes! Be very, very afraid. Hollywood rampant.

For an ostensibly progressive 'message' film - and it's for this that conservative reviewers hate it - its message is disconcertingly, militarily violent, with the goodies just as prone as the baddies to resort to traditional warfare, Yank style. Stifle yawns. The aboriginal people of the fictional heavenly body, Pandora, rise up against the American imperialist army, with the help of lovely and heroic turncoats within the US military itself (one of whom is a woman who wears a pretty singlet that is not US Army issue), but do so in a classic Hollywood way, with the goodies beating the baddies with superior military tactics (plus some help from a ridiculously romanticized Mother Nature). Ugh! American heroes (albeit with blue skin) thrash the crude Snidely Whiplash American soldiers. American fight scenes every which way but true. They just can't help themselves, can they?

A splendid opportunity to present NVD (non-violent defence) was sadly missed by the Canadian-cum-American director, who methinks protests too much that he had something new to say. There is nothing new here apart from brilliant special effects, thanks to a reported budget somewhere in the vicinity of the GNP of a struggling nation.

The Noble Savage theme of the film is embarrassing. The acting is uniformly inadequate except when appalling. The score is often execrable. The script is mostly risible. The plot is an unapologetic melange of cliches.

But, oh boy, the computer animation is to die for. I'd even recommend you see the movie, just to see what American technology can do.

Just one more small point, about the 3D spectacles. After the first 40 minutes I had to leave the cinema so as not to vomit, as I had trouble with the 3D effect. The centre of the screen was in great 3D, but everything else was like looking through a broken glass. It really made me ill. However, I think this was something to do with my own preferred focal length (perhaps after a day with quite a lot of driving), and on my embarrassed return, disturbing audience members around me, I soon settled into its glories. It was a bit like those Magic Eye books, which I frustratingly couldn't 'get' for months, but once I 'got' it, I found each picture easy. Avatar is a long film (much too long, actually), and luckily I had nearly two hours of pretty good three-dimensional viewing after I grabbed some fresh air. I'm glad I saw it in 3D.

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