This is a damn hard one to write about. Let me just say right off the bat that Avatar is good. The only way you could possibly waste your money seeing Avatar is by not going to a 3D session. This is the first feature I’ve seen in 3D (my first exposure was that Captain EO short with Michael Jackson at Disneyland in 1988) and it’s definitely a fine example of the technology – because it just works. There aren’t any of the “engineered to have something jump out at you because wow it’s 3D” moments that confined the technology to novelty status in the past. We put the polarised, horn-rimmed plastic glasses on and within a few minutes forgot we were wearing them, even Vickie who had to wear her glasses underneath them. The 3D works just as well with the live action footage as it does with the CGI. I was even a bit worried when I walked out that dear old 2D, even hi-def, wouldn’t look quite as good any more.
Speaking of the CGI: It’s top notch. The conceit of the avatars – clone beings “piloted” by humans via mental link – really brings it home, because we got to meet the people whom the CGI character models are based on before we met the CGI character models. The real “holy shit!” moment for me wasn’t so much the waking of Sully’s (Sam Worthington) avatar so much as when another avatar walks in and talks to him and I thought, “Hey, that’s Sigourney Weaver, but that’s not Sigourney Weaver because she’s too tall and has blue skin and huge eyes, but that’s Sigourney Weaver!”
And the rest of it… well, it might be a bit too day-glow Disney wonderland, but what the hell, I loved it anyway. Director James Cameron manages to crank the Sense of Wonder up to eleven; Vickie’s decided that she’s moving to Pandora as soon as they grow her an avatar.
If Avatar falls down in any respect, it’s the plot. Not the story, so much; it flows well, it doesn’t feel stretched across the film’s three hours (although my bladder did), the dialogue is solid, the acting is fine (especially Stephen Lang as the menacing Colonel) and the action kicks arse.
Still and all, Avatar is this generation’s Dances With Wolves, with an extra helping of environmental consciousness. It’s not so in-your-face and preachy as Kevin Costner’s epic, but it doesn’t really dig into the themes it’s presenting. It’s a very black-and-white film, and while Cameron, cast and crew do such a great job that you don’t feel conned into investing in the movie, I came away wishing that it had included a few more shades of grey. All it seems to say is, “We humans suck.” I guess it’s meant to be a cautionary tale, a warning of what we are and how much worse we could get unless we change, but there’s gotta be hope in there, a better direction we could take if we choose to. Avatar didn’t really offer one.
On the other hand, it wasn’t trying so hard to club me over the head that it forgot to entertain. I found Avatar a fun film, a rollicking action-adventure, and I’d be glad to see any deeper greys left to the sequel that’s already being murmured about. Maybe this first film is the Star Wars to the next one’s Empire Strikes Back.
So go and see Avatar. Give me a ring or pop over afterward, ‘cos I’d like to talk with you about it, but see it and SEE IT IN 3D.