Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Voice Of The People

Avatar Navi NeytiriIt'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?


28 comments:

Heather said...

I'm looking forward to this one coming out here to our tiny little cinema. It certainly seems worth watching.

Steve said...

Heather: it is - it's certainly a visual spectacle that will genuinely blow you away but the story is not a work of genius. A bit like Star Wars really - basic story but groundbreaking effects. However, it's got a lot more heart that Star Wars.

Gypsy said...

I've heard that the colours in this movie are just dazzling and from your review I take it the forest is probably what they are talking about. I must say I don't feel tempted to rush off and see this but if I ever feel lazy and there's a copy lying about I might just give it a look see.

I'm glad you and Karen got a few hours of enjoyable escapism. Absolutely mandatory when you are the parents of young children.

Steve said...

Gyspy: I must admit I didn't feel an overwhelming urge to rush put and see it - I think the rising tide of hyperbole at the time put me off - but now that I have, I'm glad I have and would actually like to see it again. Definitely worth a trip out to the big screen.

KAZ said...

Very interesting and useful review Steve.
What do you need for 3D - IMAX? Cardboard glasses?
I'm just wondering whether to wait for the DVD.

Steve said...

Kaz: I think you need an IMAX or a 3D comptible cinema... and I think they supply a better class of 3D glasses than were originally available in the late eighties (but still nothing you would want to be seen dead in). ;-)

The Crow said...

You asked: "Glow in the dark trees and foxy half naked aliens. What more could you ask for?"

Oh, I don't know...how about lasting world peace, everyone with a decent standard of living...and all the chocolate one could ever want...wait...we're talking about in a movie, aren't we?

Never mind.

Steve said...

The Crow: even Charlie & The Chocolate Factory only got 1 out of those 3...! ;-)

Selina Kingston said...

I'm looking forward to seeing this at some point but I make it a point now never to go see heavily hyped films when they are released as I invariably feel let down....

Steve said...

Selina: this one may buck that trend - it is a must-see. Not genius by any means but certainly visionary.

The Sagittarian said...

I haven't seen that yet but my youngest daughter went to see it and has raved about it ever since! I think part of the movie was actually filmed here in NZ so I guess I must be a complete movie sloth, having missed this one plus all the Lord of the Rings movies....
I do know that my daughter would leap at the chance to see it again tho'.

Steve said...

Amanda: funnily enough the film has a number or reference points and LOTR is one of them... aong with The Matrix, Dances With Wolves and the Pern stories by Anne McCaffrey. Go see it - it will be an afternoon well spent.

Gina said...

As you know I have a real hatred of cinemas so I have not seen this yet. My daughter took the boys to see it and they really enjoyed it. I'm sure I'll catch it when it is out on dvd although perhaps I need to invest in a better TV to get the full effects! My TV is one of the old type. The boys complain constantly how "everyone else" has a "proper" TV!

Loved the mim-mill thing. So sweet. We have a wind-mill thing in this house too - we call them window bines as that is what my little one thought they were for ages (wind turbines - we're modern here, you see!)

Hope you had a good half-term.

Steve said...

Gina: the cinema we go to has so many screens and Karen and I end up going so late during a film's release that the theatre is usually half empty... I actually prefer that than having to sit in the midst of hundreds of noisy, inconsiderate people! It's worth seeing - even with or without a "proper TV" (we haven't got one yet either)!

French Fancy said...

I've still not seen it (don't get me started about everything being dubbed into French out here and me hating dubbed films - Version Originales are few and far between and only in the big cities really) - but I'm planning to get it on DVD and watch it on our wall (with the projector we bought to get us over the first long bracketed comment).

You make me want to see it more than most of the gushing verbose reviews that were around on its release

Steve said...

FF: I'm just amazed at how many people who have commented so far also haven't seen it. And I thought Karen and I were the only ones! So much for being fashionably late!

femminismo said...

We (me and the Mister) haven't seen it yet either. Too much good weather. I want to come back when I can spend more time reading ... and maybe after I've seen "it."

Steve said...

Femminismo: how can this film have grossed so much money when nobody appears to have seen it?! ;-)

Owen said...

Hi Steve, well, you can add me to the ranks of those who haven't seen it yet... just haven't gotten around to it, and haven't felt terribly compelled to go see yet another fantasy story... too much going on in the real world that I hardly have time to attend to, yet alone escape into fantasyland... not that I don't enjoy a good escape every now and then... Thanks for the review though, I agree with the others above who said your coverage here has given them more desire to see it than the glowing stories in the press did. One of these days, if it is still around...

Steve said...

Owen: tell Mr Cameron I sent you (and he owes me money).

Angie Muresan said...

My husband and son have gone and watched it twice. As for me, I preferred to sit and read my book in front of the fire. You've given a beautiful description of it, though. Perhaps one day I will see it too.

Steve said...

Angie: cosy books and warm fires are certainly great... but sometimes it is worth braving the cold outside to see a real spectacle!

Joe Bloggs said...

Glad to see the Fantasy genre tickles your fancy, Steve.

I suspect you're not fanatical about it though, perhaps more a Sc-Fi fan?

Although there aren't any foxy aliens, if any, in the link below it's quite a neat read...well, messy and long winded actually, but it's a laugh how some people can't draw the line between fact and fantasy, don't you think?

http://www.enterprisemission.com/Norway-Message3.htm

Having said that, I've always found fiction is a poor escape from the fact that facts are usually much stranger than fiction.

Having said that, I find a lot of facts fictional and a lot of facts in fiction.

Belief? For the superstitious! I want facts, evidence, proof.

However, my intuition tells me I'm a cartoonyloony living in a world of my own.

What's your diagnosis, Steve?

Steve said...

Joe Bloggs: the proof of the pudding is in the eating and I've yet to have any conclusive custard with regards UFO's but I'm up for a summer pudding if I can actually touch and taste the damned thing myself. Love the pics on the link - crop circles in the clouds or just cloud cuckoos? Who knows? I'm still holding out for abduction by foxy she-aliens though. Gotta dream.

A Write Blog said...

I've not seen it yet and probably won't which is a surprise as I like escapist fantasy.

However I found the previews and trailers all a bit trite. I may be wrong but it comes over to me as one of those films where good and evil are presented in so simplistic a way that I find it patronising.

...and a cop out. I wonder if films like that encourage people to believe that good and evil is a simple choice; that the baddies are obviously bad whilst the goodies so obviously good.

Messages presented in so simple and in your face manner become a destraction in my view.

A film with a subtle message is so much more beautiful for then you can enjoy the message if you choose or ignore it it if you wish too.

Steve said...

AWB: it is a bit over simplified but I guess the twist is we're the bad guys while the aliens (who see us quite rightly as the aliens) are rendered good by our exploitation of them. As other bloggers have pointed out the nearest reference point is Dances With Wolves. If you liked that you'll like Avatar.

lunarossa said...

Got here through Tim's blog as I was intrigued by your comments about Avatar. Liked your review, sincere and factual. I was thinking of "boycott" it but now I might give it a try. Many thanks. Ciao. Antonella

Steve said...

Antonella: thank you for dropping by - do hope I'll see you again. It's worth a look if you have the spare time and money certainly. I must confess I rather liked it a lot.