Film Review: Avatar

I’m not exactly sure why I never saw Avatar on the big screen. It just obviously wasn’t meant to be and in fact, it was only recently that I watched it at all. The reason being, that as director James Cameron virtually reinvented this modern stereoscopic 3D trend for the film, it seemed wrong to view it in any other format, and that meant waiting for me to get a 3D TV!

It is also the film that you can use to best sum up why I started my films reviews on this blog. Avatar is not actually a film about blue aliens at war with nasty humans who are intent on mining their natural resources, but rather, a social commentary by James Cameron about how the west invades the east because they have something we want. Or to put it another way: it’s America versus The Middle East over the control of oil, plus a few other things woven into the mix.

James Cameron - Avatar

Now, better people than me will write dissertation papers about that, and about Avatar’s views on the way war veterans are treated, or even look at its views on the complete interconnectedness of nature, but I will just write about whether or not I enjoyed it. That’s why I started my blog, to simply answer: would Avatar bore me with a political lecture or would it entertain me while it made it’s point?

Thankfully, it’s the latter. James Cameron is a director who knows how to create a polished final product, that while usually lengthy (Avatar is 162 minutes while you cannot forget the 192 minutes he pushed Titanic too,) somehow never feels like they are dragging. Cameron manages to tell his stories in a way that simply become long but involving, rather than an elongated slog of attrition. And Avatar is exactly the same. You can tell that it goes on and on but my mind never truly wandered.

Zoe Saldana, Sam Worthington & Sigourney Weaver - Avatar

I think the reason Avatar is able to keep you so hooked is because it is such a visual feast. The 3D works well, I think that this is partly down to the fact that it’s the native format Avatar was shot in, and partly down to the fact so much is computer generated (which never seems to suffer the foreshortening issues stereoscopy can bring); but more than that, it’s impossible to look past the world and the creatures created. They are truly stunning. You just end up completely mesmerised by the colours and shapes and forms and lose yourself into the world. It does somehow lack any sense so smell, but that doesn’t matter because the overload of visual style more than makes up for it. There is a slight sense of hindsight saying that the world is as colourful and as immersive as it is because they wanted to show off the capabilities of 3D technology, that it is almost too colourful and impressive, like an “in-store demo” on a new TV that doesn’t quite portray the imagery you find at home while watching the news. But that doesn’t matter, because at the time of watching it you just got lost in a fantasy tale that is so beautifully fantastical it draws you in and makes you fall in love with it.

It also helps that the characters are as wonderful as the world they live in. While they are all uniquely alien they are also completely unthreatening and friendly too. There are one or two moments when the sizes and scales of the world seem to get confusing. Times when things appear bigger or smaller than they normally do in a slightly off-putting and noticeable way, but you almost forgive it these slight oversights because the characters themselves are so affectionate and welcoming. Sam Worthington is strong in both human and avatar form and holds everything together well while Sigourney Weaver brings the most comforting maternal personality to her character that causes you to just long to spend time with her and Zoe Saldana, as the main Na’vi local, is warm and charming, and aside from spending time trying to picture her non CGI alien face from the few real life feature used, arguably created more empathy and compassion in me and in the story than anyone else.

Stephen Lang - Avatar

Michelle Rodriguez is a surprisingly interesting character, who does at times feel a little bit too close to her Fast & Furious character, but that didn’t stop me thinking she was sadly under utilized or explored with any depth. On the downside though, Stephen Lang just annoyed me as he felt and looked too much like Major Chip Hazard from Small Soldiers, while Giovanni Ribisi never looked convincing. He lacked enough slimy arrogance in his looks or manipulative aggression in his voice to make him feel like he welded the power he proclaimed to have. He just felt too weak to me.

Moving on, I don’t want to discuss the plot much (if you want to know about the themes Avatar is really discussing do a quick search of the internet) but I didn’t actually have a problem with how obviously superficial it’s attempts at hiding it’s real themes are. The film has the personality to carry off being so unsubtle with the points it’s really making and so you forgive it. In fact, I’d go as far and say that it’s for the first two-thirds of the film, when it’s truly is discussing it’s themes that it’s at its best. When the story is very narrative, it really grips you. It’s never dangerous, it never gets inside you with major panic or worry, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat desperately fearing or scared by what may happen next, it is very much a film of slow rumbling emotions, those unnoticed warm fuzzy feelings that simply sit in your stomach and are plucked into sight when required, before carefully being replaced; but that’s it’s strength, that’s what kept me hooked by it and lost in it’s story. The overwhelming nature of it all causing it’s running time to drift by.

Zoe Saldana & Sam Worthington - Avatar

The problem comes though when it reaches the final act and decides to move the tone away from it’s narrative discussion and directly into visual conflict. At which point, it just lost me. It doesn’t break by rather disband the array of emotions it stores within and so, loses your bond to it. the reason being when it makes this shift it simply becomes another mindless action sequence. It’s a simple good versus bad fight and it is essentially retold time and again in too many films to be interesting.

It’s this complete losing sight of the strengths of the first 100 minutes into a final 60 of monotonous and generic recycling that leave me torn by it as a film. I adore the first part so much, and get engulfed so deeply by it, that it honestly feels like it may or should be the first “perfect 10” film, but it’s change is so destructive to the sensations it creates that by the end I fall so far I almost wonder what the fuss is about. I am dissapointed that I never saw it on the big screen as visually, the sheer spectacle of it all must have been stunning, something I can remedy with Avatar 2, but the fact it’s returning with a sequel is my final confusion, because it’s story descends so far from it’s opening speech I don’t see where they will go when they return.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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