It sounds ludicrous, but finally, Avatar 3D on Blu-ray is available to purchase! Incredible really, I'm actually dumbstruck that that comment is true. Bar the old Panasonic route previously, until October this year, you couldn't buy the movie in 3D on Blu-ray. But finally, it's here folks.
Upon pulling my chair in and charging my coffee cup to make a start on this review, I realise something important. Very few people who will read this review will not have already seen the movie. That's because it was one of the most eagerly anticipated and prominently marketed movies of all time. If my job in writing this review is to give you an impartial, fair and balanced view on the movie in the hope that it might sway those of you who have had your head in the sand for the last couple of years to finally get round to parking your bum for the close to three hours it'll take to watch it, I'm going to struggle. The reason for this is that Avatar is a complete mess of ideas. It's braun over brains, style over substance, method over meaning.
When we first heard mumblings to the effect that James Cameron has been working on something big, we all got a little excited. Titanic remains to this day one of the biggest box office smash hits in history, and looking at his reportoire, we can be confident enough that Cameron knows how to do narrative, but ten years had passed since Titanic, and with little more than murmurs about his new project.
What could be taking so long?
Slowly, more and more bits and pieces of information began to trickle out. It appeared, at first, that he had some sort of well mannered eco-tale in store for us which, in all honesty, wasn't the kind of info that got people shifting in their seats. That came from the bold claims that this movie would give Hollywood something of a wake up call. It was being hailed as having the potential to change cinema forever. We all got a little more excited at that.
Still though, in eleven years, all we've had from Cameron is a couple of TV movies and some documentary type things that, frankly, no-one cares about. Why was it taking so long? I think we're quite within our rights to start throwing our toys out of our pram after such a long time. Then he hits us with a right hook out of nowhere. Cameron claims he has been waiting for technology to catch up to his ideas. Cue the knitted brow and sarcastic sideways looks. OK, did I hear that right? Because that sounded like one of the most conceited things that any director could possibly say of his own brainchild, no matter how long it's been in the pipeline. Wow. I'm pretty turned off this new venture now if I'm honest. I start to worry that it's all becoming too big a part of the hype machine, and I've been stung by that beast in the past. Once burned and all that.
Turns out, in actual fact, this outrageous claim wasn't actually that far off the truth.
However, and this is an almighty however, making a claim like that is a bit like a footballer wearing bright pink football boots – you gotta have some serious skills to get away with it. Suddenly, the internet is alight with speculation and rife with optimism for Cameron's “next big thing”. So does it hit the mark?
More than ten years in the making, Avatar was finally unveiled to audiences in 2009 and we were pretty evenly divided over it; we were a mess of emotions. On the one hand, we had a visual spectacle like nothing we have ever seen. An unparalleled visual feast that used technology like it had never been used before. We began to look to one another and say “hey, you know what, he really was waiting for technology to catch up before he could make this”. On the other hand, we quickly realised that Cameron had weaved together a fable that couldn't tell it's butt from it's elbow when it comes to story.
So what's wrong with it? In short, it's a well conceived but poorly executed story. It's narrative is meandering, and it's character development is clunky and clumsy. There's no real depth to any of the central characters, perhaps save for the main protagonist, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who's backstory is delivered with a rushed monologue at the beginning and stretched out over the course of the first hour with punctuating video diaries. Whilst there are some rather decent ideas in there, the story is awash with cliches and it spends the whole duration dully thudding some confused and morally misjudged ideas repeatedly against your forehead.
It's like this – Jake Sully is a marine. He lives and breathes the corps. Having lost his legs serving in the military, he is bound to a life in a wheelchair. That is until he's given an opportunity to work in a pioneering new field called The Avatar Program, which is a rather hopeless peaceful alternative to the military strong-arm approach to removing the natives on a mining planet called Pandora. Sully is sent to work with a group of science nerds who are trying to make friends with the natives by using these puppet things called Avatars.
You see, the Na'vi are an indigenous life form on the planet Pandora. They're a bit like 10 feet tall giant Smurfs only, without the nappies, and an Avatar is like a big remote controlled puppet, biologically grown from combined human and Na'vi DNA. They look like the natives, but they're controlled by humans in little coffins back at the military base. Are you with me so far?
Ok, the current sit-rep is as follows – There's the overly aggressive and ridiculously macho U.S. Space-marines, bellowing maniacal “yee-haw's” as they systematically wipe out the indigenous Na'vi people by blowing everything up. The space marines are the tiny shouty pink guys who spend most of their time steeple-ing their fingers greedily as they take the land enriched with a rare and extremely valuable mineral called “Unobtanium”. Yes, you read that name correctly. Now, moving swiftly on.
Before you get all up in arms about this and start climbing on your high horse about how unfair this sounds, it is, in some ways, not quite as upsetting as perhaps it should be. You see, the Na'vi are a terrifically dull and mundane people, constantly bleating on with a load of vacuous drivel about trees that have memories, or the life force of the universe having a consciousness or whatever. Basically, they're more than happy to preach a load of sanctimonious ecological mumbo jumbo, whilst chopping down trees for their bows and arrows and attacking the humans. They also have no qualms about killing animals for food despite this tree hugging ethos, but it's ok though because they whisper “sorry” into the dying animal's terrified little twitching ears as they watch the creature's life slowly ebb away.
Putting my misgivings about hating both the Humans and the Na'vi equally aside for a moment, it's clear to see that, in fact, the evil doers in all of this are the greedy, trigger happy humans. Pretty soon, Sully, who had been charged with infiltrating the Na'vi to expose their weaknesses, is won over by the Na'vi and their ways and decides to switch allegiance. Suddenly developing a conscience, he is thoroughly incensed at the flagrant disregard for the indeginous people's simple and unassuming lifestyle. What strikes me as odd though, is that the comparisons that can be drawn between the Space Marines wiping out the Na'vi and how American history tells a similar tale about the indigenous American Indians being all but wiped out by the white man, are truly startling. I'm not sure if this was an intentional move on Cameron's part, but surely having American audiences cheering for the Na'vi whilst sat in a cinema built on land that their ancestors took forcefully as their own is something of a sick contradiction. But yes, this is about the movie, not American History.
So we watch as Jake Sully's allegiance changes dramatically, thereby underlining his fickle nature. This change in attitude happens with the help of the science nerds I mentioned before, and in particular, Dr Grace Augistine (Sigourney Weaver) who happens to have an Avatar of her own that could give Michael Jordan a run for his dunkin' money with. Jake begins to sympathise with the plight of the Na'vi, and just as they begin to trust him more and welcome him into the tribe, the little pink space marines decide to make their move and try to wipe out the “Home-Tree”, which is a sort of massive hard drive where thousands of years of Na'vi memories are stored, only - it's in the shape of a big tree. All of this anger and bitterness and greed culminates in an epic battle between the blue guys and the pink guys, with a series of very pretty, but very long drawn out battle scenes with lots of slow motion and big stirring speeches that I can't remember.
When you struggle to care about the persecuted in a movie about how injust it is that they are being persecuted, you're always going to have some problems investing in it, but I suppose I can concede that the climax is, indeed, quite impressive. All in all, a bit of messy and far less enthralling “Last of the Mohicans” type affair.
The main problem with Avatar is it's a series of peaks and troughs. Not unlike most movies I guess, but here, the peaks are the stunning visual stimulus, and the troughs seem to happen when it tries to make you care about the story. That sounds terribly unkind, but sadly it's true. It's basic premise, though intriguing and potentially extremely complex in nature, is barely explored before it starts to throw colourful imagery at you, blinding you with plethora of “Oohs” and “Aahs” that serve only to mask the fact that what you're watching has the promise to be a Sci-fi classic but without bothering to put the groundwork in to achieve it. It's far too busy trying to dazzle you with things you've never seen before to notice that once you've watched it once, you're probably going to go back to it to find a story of substance that sadly doesn't exist.
And that really is my biggest bug-bear with the movie. For this story to work the way it's told, my emotional investment needs to be there, but for me to invest any emotion, some semblance of originality needs to be present, otherwise, I just cant find it in myself to give a hoot about any of the characters.
But I tell you what; it sure is pretty lookin'.
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