Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar: One, Two, Three Dimensional

The last thing I expected from the latest blockbuster, Avatar in 3D, was to come away satiated. And not just because it’s so long. My fairly low expectations were easily exceeded, with the possible exception of the plot. James Cameron’s old fashioned, escapist entertainment is pitched at pubescents and above. That’s despite the M classification in Oz.

This is a cross genre movie. It’s part sci-fi with clear ancestors in Stars Wars, Dune and Jurassic Park, part fantasy with dragons aplenty borrowed from Excalibur and Lord of the Rings, plus cowboys and indians thrown in for good measure. There are echoes of the Age of Chivalry as the White and Black Knights joust futuristically, more Monty Python than Camelot. This time they are following the U.S. Marine’s creed, which seems to have two distinct versions.

The story is easy to follow if a bit laboured. It doesn’t really require most of the protagonist’s narration and video log voice-over. It is suitably predictable but then it’s action, not suspense or mystery. It also helps when the aliens know a little English.

The cast earn their pay but our hero is essentially two-dimensional. There isn’t much depth to any of the characters but who was expecting it. Sam Worthington as Jake Sully makes a better human-Navi hybrid than a disabled marine but that’s a no-brainer. His potentially witty lines don’t have the impact of Harrison Ford quips but Sam’s not quite in his league. Nevertheless he’s another in the long line of graduates of Australia’s NIDA who play many of the big roles in Hollywood.

Worthington is well complemented by Sigourney Weaver as the head scientist and Zoe Saldana who plays Neytiri. I’m still pondering why Weaver’s character smokes. Product placement perhaps or a way of giving her more depth. Stephen Lang is the archetypal villain as the Colonel.

Those looking for a message will probably find it, but be warned it’s not much of an allegory. It may have upset some conservative commentators, but not all tree-huggers, gaia greenies or animal libbers will embrace it either. The indigenous people are full-on meat eaters.

Ultimately god/gaia is an anti-colonial, anti-globalisation, save-the-planet, peace warrior. She’s called Eyra on Pandora. The 'mother" doesn’t take sides, she just gets even.

Speaking of trees, who said size doesn’t count! Avatar is a visual extravaganza. 3D has come a long way in the decades since I last peeked through the red and blue. Still a way to go but the smudgy glitches are outweighed by the overall sensual impact. The music score adds to the mood despite being over the top at times. I couldn’t work out if it was tongue-in-cheek when slipping into ‘here come the cavalry’ or Indiana Jones orchestration.

The Na’vi aliens grow on you although they’re not nearly as interesting as the prawns in District 9. The Banshee flying dragons are impressive, as are the other ferocious forest creatures. Like 3D, computer graphics can be taken for granted now.

So one for the story, two for the acting and three for the technology.

There has to be an Avatar II. We all know that the white man always came back with more troops to finish the job.

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