So. Avatar then. Hardly a small-budget independent movie with no hype whatsoever. No, indeed it is the latest movie from a director whose last was the highest-grossing film ever made, and who planned it so long ago that it couldn’t be made until the technology had caught up with his ideas. For those who have been living under a rock, the director is James Cameron, the last movie was Titanic, and this was the most anticipated feature of the year, and quite possibly the decade.
I went in not knowing what to expect: a film entirely in 3-D sounded gimmicky, I hated the aforementioned boat-disaster film, but I couldn’t help being excited upon entering the cinema for what I knew would be, at least, an entirely novel experience. What I didn’t know was that it would also be a fantastic one.
The plot is nothing outstanding: it’s 2154, and paraplegic Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington – he’s so hot right now) travels to distant planet Pandora to replace his twin brother in the Avatar program, run by Sigourney Weaver’s Dr. Grace Augustine. His mind is placed in the body of a Na’vi (the indigenous Pandoran people) and his job is to negotiate a relocation settlement with them so that businessman Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) can mine the planet’s valuable resources for transport back to earth. Also present is Stephen Lang’s gung-ho Colonel Miles Quaritch, who wants to get the Na’vi out by force; Sully acts as his spy at first, but then he meets Na’vi babe Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the shit hits the blue fan…
So how does it stack up visually after all the hype? Well, Cameron’s film is astonishing to behold, an honest-to-God cinematic experience that you simply do not want to leave. The world of Pandora has been meticulously designed, from the bioluminescent flowers that cover its surface to the winged Ekran that dazzle its skies, full of impossible creatures and places, yet all the while seeming utterly real. The quality of ‘CG’ (if it can be so called) is phenomenal, and Pandora feels absolutely concrete, which is obviously essential to the plot. We feel as enveloped in this world as Jake does, and it is easy to understand how he falls so in love with it – when the camera is back in the human environments, it feels dreary and somehow less real. The 3-D, far from just throwing things at your face, adds to the ambience of Pandora, and ensures the audience is as caught up in it as Jake is.
The Avatars and Na’vi themselves look brilliant, with each really resembling the actor behind the blue skin and enabling us to enjoy the actors’ performances as much as their characters fantastical actions. Worthington does well with a character notionally not too interesting, drawing us in with Jake’s gradual desperation to join the Na’vi and making us cheer against the humans, no mean feat. Saldana is also a standout: her Neytiri is feral yet compassionate, a strong warriorress and a tender spiritualist all at once, without being a stereotypical lover or fighter. The biggest stereotype in the film – Lang’s Col. Quaritch – could be an absolute disaster, but Lang has such a blast with the character that it’s easy to enjoy his performance as well. Playing a royal arsehole is not as easy as it sounds, and whilst Lang’s thespian background doesn’t exactly lend itself to a 3-D mega-movie, his commander is all ‘semper fi!’ and ‘GET SOME!’, which is so at odds with the Na’vi’s spirituality that he is very easy to hate but also extremely charismatic on screen.
However, much as the actors deserve a ton of credit for doing such a good job with ironically pretty 2-D roles and what must have been a bizarre shoot, Avatar should not objectively critiqued as most films are. Cameron’s latest is so utterly immersive that the experience is really what counts – you get so drawn in by the film’s premise and visuals that you are desperate to see the film’s conclusion. It’s easy to forgive Avatar for its flaws – and there are some, don’t get me wrong – because it is downright fucking magical to watch, and makes you wish to God you were blue and cavorting around a planet so beautiful it makes Aurora Borealis look like headlights in Sainsbury’s car park.
See Avatar. See it in 3-D, and if you don’t come out of the cinema wishing to be transported far away to a brilliant and bizarre planet, I’m probably going to be convinced you’ve got no soul.
10/10 – How can I give it less than full marks? James Cameron has delivered a film which is light on exposition but heavy on cinematic magic, and I cannot foresee anyone leaving the cinema without feeling like a gobsmacked six year-old. And that’s what cinema is all about, at the end of the day, is it not?