It's a bit late to produce a film review by now as I'm guessing all of you who are going to see Avatar have already done so. Due to circumstances Karen and I only got to see it yesterday - fashionably late, with the media not caring so much anymore and not in the much vaunted 3D.
But you know what? I do wonder if coming to the party late did us a big favour. The hype had died down. We'd read some reviews. We knew what to expect. And as for missing the 3D boat... well, who cares? I find 3D gimmickry way too distracting. Karen and I were in the mood last night just to settle back, relax and give ourselves without complication to a traditionally rendered (and CGI is becoming traditional) fantasy world for an hour or two.
And to be honest that's what we got. An uncomplicated fantasy world. Sure the effects were astounding and a real break-through (they managed to make Pete Jackson's Gollum look very ragged around the edges). And, yes, they were that old cliché: a must-see. But the story was just simple and honest. No twists. No mysteries. No surprises. And that isn't a criticism. It was just a decent story told competently. Utterly predictable. Let's just give the viewer what they want.
And we got it.
The forests are beautiful. The exotic flora and fauna rendered wonderfully. And the Navi are strangely (though, of course, deliberately) attractive. In fact Sigourney Weaver's Navi avatar was quite a fox. It's impossible not to fall in love with the entire world and tear up the arm of your cinema seat wanting them to kick every human butt off their planet and save their wonderful way of life.
This is the point of the movie of course. For all this is a fantasy it is also an allegory whose moral compass is in your face pretty much the whole time. Fine. This is fine. I agree with the message. If Avatar helps brings the point home to a few more Neanderthal petrol-heads all to the good.
But the cynic in me occasionally railed against the too simple story-telling. Nice to think us greedy humans would be so openhanded in our greed, isn't it? That we would go out and bear our teeth face-to-face so to speak; enjoin battle with some (read that as "tiny") sense of honour. Out in the open. Where every blow can be seen. Alas, history (and even the present) teaches us that us humans would be most likely to sell the natives blankets infected with cholera or accidentally poison rivers at their source and, oops, wipe out whole communities via disease and contagion... but hey we'll offer the survivors compensation to keep the moral gripes of the shareholders in check. And if all else fails, if, as in Avatar, we found our initial expeditionary force kicked off the planet with its tail between its legs (as opposed to communing with the local trees) you just know we'd go back all gung-ho to nuke the place and then rape the planet for what we wanted dressed in bio-suits.
Oh yeah. And that reminds me. "Unobtainium"? WTF? That was just lazy, Cameron. Why not call it "Perfectwomanium" or "winninglotteryticketium" and have done with it?
My other problem is that the magical forests of Pandora are just too magical. It's not enough that they could have healing properties on a biological level, no, the forest has got soul too. It's omniscient. So yeah, of course, we want it to be saved. We care about it now 'cos, to quote (or rather unquote) one of the grunts from the movie, suddenly it ain't "just trees". And this is where the allegory overplays its hand. The planet Cameron wants us to save is our own planet. And for all our trees are magical and wonderful in their own way and I have no doubt there is a cure for cancer somewhere in the rainforest... they don't speak to us or light up beneath our feet like the forests of Pandora. They're just trees. Now that is enough for me. But I suspect it is not enough for others. For others they are just trees. And while they may daydream idly about fighting to save the planet of Pandora or getting down and dirty with a giantly sensual blue alien they won't do the same for their own planet. The magic of Pandora is almost too dazzling. It makes our own world look rather drab by comparison. Too pedestrian. Not as "saveable" or "worthy of being saveable". Which is a shame and wrong.
So. Flawed. Flawed a little in the telling. But in terms of entertainment, in terms of suspending belief and creating a world that the viewer wholeheartedly wants to leap into (and wishes were real), yeah, a great great victory. I greatly enjoyed it. It was marvellous and I'd be happy to see it again. Happy to own it on DVD. Or even Blu-ray.
Glow in the dark trees and foxy half naked aliens. What more could you ask for?