Movie review: AVATAR

Sometime last month [I think, the days and weeks have been doing that blurring-into-each-other thing; not even having the decency to do any exciting whirling movie montages or pages flying off a calendar.  Just same old same old] Tux and I went to see Avatar

We went a few weeks after its release, so had read the reviews – the good and the bad, all the “Dancing With Smurfs” analogies, so I had fairly unbiased expectations either way, aside from a) a concern that Avatar would prove beyond doubt that James Cameron could no longer make movies as he used to [Aliens, Terminator and T2; let’s just ignore Titanic, okay?] and b) my nausea and vertigo might have “issues” with the 3D; I even had a plastic puke bucket handy, but in the event I had no difficulties at all. 

But oh oh OH!  What a spectacular Avatar proved to be!  Not only the awesome art direction and fabulous world building, but also the characterisation, the story and the messages / analogies / allegories within it.

In fact I fell so deeply, totally in love with the movie that I walked out of the cinema, and wanted to turn right round and go back in …. and yes I did see it again just a couple weeks later, and repeat viewings aren’t something I do; maybe only with The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  Although I prepared myself to be critical, and not be bowled over in that lust-at-first-sight way, I loved it even more.  Needless to say I can’t wait for the Blu-Ray release.

So yes, Cameron can still make movies.

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I realise I am biased as far as the pro-environmentalist message of the film is concerned.  I’m a leftie femmo greenie, and proud of it.  Yes, Cameron is heavy-handed with the messages in this film, but not without reason. 

The nurturing of the environment vs the ever-increasing need for resources; the natural world vs the industrial and mechanical; science vs the military; and perhaps most relevant at this point in the world’s history, governments vs corporations.  Let’s face it, OUR global environmental crisis will never be resolved due to the power that corporations [and their lobby groups] have over governments.

The environment of Pandora itself is as much a character in the film as Jake, or Neytiri.  The neural linkages between all the life forms, flora and fauna, and the humanoids that live and interact within it*, are Cameron’s way of furthering the Gaia hypothesis, and it’s simply beautiful – even spiritual.

* referred to snarkily around the internet as “TreeNet”; but I think it’s a great description!  Oh and while I’m dealing with snark – “unobtainium” is a REAL word;  according to Wikipedia it is “ . . . any extremely rare, costly, or physically impossible material . . “ It is also what scientists refer to as the element that would be the ultimate solution to energy crises.  So NYER.

The glittering phosphorescence and colours of Pandora have also been heavily criticised as being too Disney-like, all pink and blue and pretty-pretty.  Yet in the depths of our oceans, and on land as well, phosphorescence is utilised by many life-forms, and as for colour … birds of paradise, butterflies, tree-frogs, green mambas?

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I thoroughly enjoyed and became involved with the characters and their development. Naturally I totally related to Jake;  how could he not become more in love with being his other-self and that world than the “real” one, dull and grey and damaged?  One of my favourite moments in Avatar is when Jake first connects and becomes conscious in his other-self.  He sits up and wriggles his [blue, white stripey] toes and moans in disbelief and ecstasy, then is overcome with the absolute joy of his new self, wanting to run …Hey if I was given a choice to wake up in a ten-foot, athletic, pain-free body, that did what I told it, how could I say no?

Oh wow, Sigourney Weaver is amazing.  I loved her as Grace, how she warmed up to Jake,  how her avatar-self personality differed from her ”real” self, and how she became almost maternal toward Jake.  She stole every scene she was in, and definitely had the best lines: re the neural queue “don’t play with that, you’ll go blind” [which made me giggle, with its reference to the dangers of masturbation given out by the oh-so-virtuous Victorians, Christian Brothers, nuns et al].  Grace’s expressing the desire that she’d die to get some samples from the Tree of Souls … and then dying as she was laid by it made me giggle and sniffle at the same time.

The Na’avi themselves are a beautiful creation; their expressions, the movements of eyes, ears, and  tails, and the emotions implicit in those movements.  The neural queue itself, which allows the Na’avi to bond and become a part of the creatures around them, is a great concept.  Jake’s experiences with bonding the horse, and then his more successful life bond with his ikran [the dragon thing-y] were exciting and fun, but also very moving; Jake literally becoming as one with the environment. The same bond occurs with the Tree of Souls [I wondered, are the hanging strands plants or a different organism altogether?].

Jake’s journey and character arc was well-executed.  His disconnect between his two selves became more and more apparent as the film went on – the audience having the omniscient point of view could see this more than he could.  There’s his indoctrination in the military life and fulfilling his mission;  and his gradually becoming genuinely involved, fiercely enjoying and loving the world of his other self.   Jake’s character arc is used to show the messages of the film – the military, corporations, raping the natural world of its natural resources, vs fighting to protect it.

* * * * * * * * *

While Avatar was nominated for but didn’t win the “big” Oscars [Best Director and Picture], it won what I thought were the most important ones; Art Direction, Visual Effects, and Cinematography.  I thought it was an utterly incredible achievement of world-building, to create this totally different yet credible world, with all its flora and fauna, and the humanoids and their culture. 

It’s amazing to see how far things have come since Lord Of The Rings, with CGI and motion capture – yet it was Lord Of The Rings and its achievements [hello, Peter Jackson, Richard Taylor and WETA!] that made Cameron realise he could make the film he wanted.  And let’s face it, to have a completely original Science Fiction & Fantasy film being in the running for the top two Oscars is incredible of itself.  That SF&F and other genres are being accepted and nominated in the mainstream categories is a huge leap forward for movie-making.

[I have to admit, though – and this will prove I’m not completely, utterly biased –  I was not one teensy bit impressed by the score for Avatar – but then I have an ingrained dislike of James Horner so what can one do?]

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I really am so in love with this film.  Whether it is because I personally relate so strongly to wanting that “avatar-self”, to have that physical ability and agility, to live in that world, and bond with its creatures.  The world captured me so strongly, I want to live there.  Yes it’s wussy and no I am not going to turn into a weirdo who learns the Na’avi language and goes to Na’aviCons … but that world and the notion of an avatar has an intense draw.  And what else can one ask of world-making and art direction, that you want to BE THERE?  That is the ultimate award.


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