Avatar (IMAX 3D)

Rating – ****

Avatar is a melting pot of all the themes James Cameron has visited throughout his career. It simultaneously echoes The Abyss (bioluminescent creatures, environmental themes) and Titanic (star crossed lovers). But it certainly doesn’t hold out on total “bad-ass” Cameron either (for lack of a better phrase) In fact it’s like revisiting a dysfunctional family you’ve always loved. And that family is comprised of US Marines, dangerous man eating aliens, and heavy duty military robot firepower. So fear not, the Cameron who gave us The Terminator and Aliens is not just alive and well, he’s taken things to another level! Firstly I’ll address the most common criticism aimed at Avatar, a story described as clichéd or weak. Clichéd yes, but weak? Last time I checked, the Pocahontas myth is a timeless concept which resonates with people from every culture and corner of the earth. There’s a reason that it’s been retold for centuries… it’s a damn good story with an undeniable truth to it. At no point does Cameron shy from this, he flat out embraces every familiar archetype. I’ve read countless blogs where people seem to think they’re on to something when they bring this up, as if they’ve caught Cameron red handed “ah ha, he’s actually just copying!” …No shit Sherlock. Familiarity has never been a problem for Disney or the countless retellings of Shakespeare, just go with it. One other thing I can’t ignore, I’ve heard so many people scoff at the nickname of the crucial rare mineral (upon which everything hinges). “Unobtanium” is actually a word commonly used by real scientists “a facetious term used for any extremely rare, costly, or physically impossible material needed to fulfill a given design for a given application” This is a minor detail, but once again, people really have their knives out for “The King of the World”.

Much of the joy of Avatar comes from the breathtaking detail in the realisation of Pandora, it’s feels like a real ecosystem right down to flecks of dirt which swirl in the droplets of dew on feathery moss… growing on twisted vines… which hang from the trees! Upon logical reflection (oh, and the fact that I was working at one of the VFX studios that part of created it) I know that every element of the environment was CGI, but I never questioned it’s existence while I was sitting in the Imax and it all unfolded in front of my eyes. The VFX work in Avatar truly surpasses every previous example of epic “world building”. Not to diminish the flair and imagination of similar examples such as King Kong and Revenge of the Sith, but everything in Avatar oozes with a tangible weight no matter how far fetched the underlying concept may be. James Horner’s score brings added majesty to this alien wilderness. Even the bloody Leona Lewis song fits over the end credits! 

But the real triumph of this film is sealed by the characters. You will care about them, human or not. Sam Worthington is engaging as Jake Sully mainly because his reaction to the bizarre world around him feels legitimate. He’s not a smart man and he’s not always good with words, but this keeps him human (even when he’s in his 10ft tall blue Avatar body) My favourite character by far is Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch, a wonderful pantomime villain (I mean that in a good way) He’s the sort of guy that most US right wing nuts will assume is the films hero. He doesn’t give a shit about trees, or the natives. In fact I’m not so sure he’s even motivated by financial greed like his employers; he’s just looking for an excuse to start a fight. And he certainly achieves that goal, it’s a joy to watch. Quaritch doesn’t let minor issues like being on fire or inhaling toxic gas stand in the way of a good punch up!

Inevitably I’ll have missed many other details worthy of discussion. But Avatar is so rich that it’s too overwhelming to process everything without this becoming a full blown essay. Criticisms? Sigourney Weaver’s fern leaf bikini (thankfully only in one scene) was a bit too silly. Some of the creature sounds were literally stolen from Jurassic Park, but perhaps this was a tribute/in joke? I could have done without some of the tribal dialogue and ceremonies, despite the Baraka vibe they created. And who decided to use Papyrus (beloved by curry houses nationwide) as the subtitle font? None of this detracts from a overwhelming, joyous, and mind-blowingly well executed trip to cinematic nirvana. It’s destined to join the ranks of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, and The Matrix when people reflect on the films that made them say “WOW!” I’ll be plugging back in to Avatar again very soon.

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~ by thewholebuffalo on December 19, 2009.

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