Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Avatar Review

I hated the Avatar trailer, which projected a corny plot and unbelievable, blue CGI creatures. I might not have gone to see the film at all if James Cameron hadn't been the director. But he was. So I did. I mean, the man created Aliens and Terminator 2 - both formative movie experiences for me. So I had to go.

That's the problem with trailers. There is no time to get immersed in the world of the film. Image and story are reduced to a few seconds. And these days the most likely place to see those images will be a small rectangle on the screen of your laptop.

But in a finely crafted film - as Avatar most certainly is - the film makers have the time and the tools. It is a testament to their skill that watching the movie itself, the strangeness of the imagery never burst the bubble of my belief. Even the flying mountains.

In Avatar James Cameron takes the European genocide of native American peoples and re-writes it, placing it on an alien planet and thus giving himself the space to re-cast the ending. The humans (European-American colonists) want the planet because of its mineral content. The indigenous blue tinted humanoids (native Americans) just want to live in harmony with the ecosystem.

But the humans have a trick that is going to get them into native culture and discover its weaknesses. A human mind can be made to temporarily inhabit a lab-grown alien body. And thus our paralysed hero gets to walk again - as a tall, blue skinned native. And of course, there is love interest along the way. Who was it who called this film 'Smurfahontas'?

Cameron cleverly uses imagery evocative of the destruction of the World Trade Centre to help us feel the obscenity of the destruction of native peoples. (I'm not saying there is any kind of moral equivalence between the two. But that is the power of metaphor - taking feelings that were attached to one event and juxtaposing them with another, without ever having to define logical equations of meaning.)

The film is not carried on the strength of the sci-fi story. The major act climaxes were obvious some 45 minutes before they arrived. This is Hollywood. We know where we're heading. The film is carried by its imagery, movement, immersion and, yes, emotion. It caught me up. I was enthralled. And, unexpectedly, I found myself weeping with emotional release at one particular moment near the end.

It is not, in my opinion, as perfect a film as Aliens or Terminator 2. But is is excellent none-the-less. Don't wait for it to come out on DVD. This is one for the big screen. As for 3D or 2D - perhaps that can wait for another blog posting.


Paul said...

I kinda hated the film. It made me feel like that the only that mattered were graphics(or visual) for pleasure. While rest everything was so sub-standard.

Rod Duncan said...

That's what I'd expected to feel, Paul. It was a surprise to me to feel otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Rod, I think you missed something in the destruction sequence. I don't think it was supposed to be The World Trade Center, I think that whole sequence is taken out of Apocalypse Now. The shots of the aircraft are exactly the shots of helicopters taken from that movie. I don't think we're supposed to see it as a terrorist act; I think we're supposed to see as genocide, a whole different level.
Dave M

Rod Duncan said...

Hi Dave, I have no doubt that I missed many things. :-)

But isn't that the beauty of metaphor and imagery - it works on many levels. It can be both those things and more.

Anonymous said...

..And now it's in 3D, there are layers as well as levels :)

Dave M