No blue fairies
I saw Avatar the other night. I was wondering if I’d bother because I’m not a great fan of animation in films. Yep, Bambi and the whole Disney thing never appealed to me. But the premise of the film looked intriguing, so when a great friend said let’s go and see Avatar (plus Invictus) in one blockbuster evening, I was all for it. I am a great sci-fi fan but glimpses of those 10-feet tall, cat-like blue creatures in Avatar posters had me a bit worried that the film might be full of nasty aliens (why is it that our fear of the unknown is always played out in sci-fi as predator-like aliens out to destroy humans or conquer Earth?).
Anyway, I have to say that Avatar is mesmerising for its visual effects. And the blue aliens are no Tinkerbell-style blue fairies. If you haven’t seen it, rush to the cinema theatre now. I had a few minutes of hassle with the 3D business and trying to eat something whilst having the 3D glasses on in a dark theatre (we were in comfy Gold Class – the only way to watch a film). But after this, I was pulled into the Pandoran world. When the jellyfish-like creatures floating to and from the Tree of Souls are seemingly in front of your eyes, it’s quite an experience.
Aside from the fact that James Cameron is clearly some sort of genius for coming up with the 3D fusion camera system, the film is multi-layered and in my view concentrates on the notions of imperialism and complexity (because of the premise that the trees on Pandora form an intelligent, interconnected network and the Pandoran people are a part of this neural network).
It might depend on your country of origin as to how you view this film. I found it VERY uncomfortable, for example, watching the Tree of Voices come crashing down. There was a clear reference for me to the Norse story of the tree Yggdrasil, which supports the cosmos and, as it collapses, so does the universe. But if American, I can well imagine you viewing this as the World Trade Center toppling. Personally, I felt it was an indictment on globalisation and population explosion – our need for more space, more food, more everything means that the Amazonian rainforest is under threat and the habitats of remote tribes are shrinking due to urbanisation and the need for more farming land (for Maccas burgers).
I sensed references to some classic stories: Journey to the Center of the Earth with its imaginary, dangerous world full of giant lizards, subterranean oceans and humongous mushrooms; Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai and the notion of a disenchanted army officer learning about a gentler culture and eventually protecting and fighting for that culture; and the Emerald Forest. Really, it’s the ultimate noble savage tale.
At first, the Na’vi—the humanoids indigenous to Pandora – look pretty weird but by the end of the film, you start to see them as attractive, which I think is the really clever thing about the film. These are not alien creatures to be feared and reviled; these are creatures that are expressionistically human. Should you be inclined, you can now learn Na’vi, which has about 1,000 words and was created by Paul Frommer, a professor at USC with a doctorate in linguistics. I’m planning to check it out as the language was very credible and quite beautiful. I’ve never liked the sound of Klingon as it doesn’t sound credible (sorry Klingon fans). But I have to say the English used in the film grated on me: full of phrases and cliches that are so 2010 and not what you might imagine could be from 2154, the year the film is set in. In this sense, the narrative was somewhat limited. And couldn’t we have had a non-white male as the protagonist?
In fact, there were aspects of the story I found disappointing or predictable:
- evil corporate dudes (and IMHO a miscasting of Giovanni Ribisi) who have plundered Earth’s natural resources and have travelled to Pandora to get their hands on Unobtainium. Pandora is full of spiritual, nature-loving types. Obvious big cat fight ahead between evil humans and gentle, noble savages;
- an over-the-top psychopath, Colonel Quaritch, a marine hell bent on getting revenge on Jake Scully, the Na’vi, or anyone in close proximity to him;
- an inconsistency with Sigourney Weaver’s character (and how good does she look for a woman aged 60. What the hell? she’s 60??). She starts off in the film as an angry, cigarette smoking scientist, with shades of Ellen Ripley, but ends up as Earth Mother;
- Michelle Rodriguez playing….well, Michelle Rodriguez. Sneers, brooding looks, fabulously toned arms, toting guns and shooting bad guys – you get the picture;
- Sam Worthington – I didn’t take to him. Bland, very one-dimensional;
- an inconsistency in the storyline – at first we think Evil Corporation are after Unobtainium because they’ll rake in the profits but at the end of the film, we discover that Unobtainium could have saved the Earth;
- the animals were a bit predictable: horses with six legs with some funky colours added;
- but the plant life was impressive (particularly the phosphorescent Tree of Souls) and the long hair-braids of the Na’vi people, which allows them to create a physical link to the animals of Pandora and to their Na’vi ancestors through the Tree of Souls was genius.
Personally, I think Cameron’s Titanic is a far better film but Avatar sets the standard going forward for 3D films. I would have liked a less thinly written storyline. I also wasn’t keen on the film’s music or theme song by Leonna Lewis, which was cringingly like Titanic’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’. I don’t think this film is as mind-blowing as reviewers are saying but it’s visually breathtaking – so see it for that reason.