Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar is a film that's been about a dozen years in the making. James Cameron hasn't made a movie since the monster hit Titanic back in 1997 and so there has been so much expectation for this picture that if it wasn't the greatest film ever made, then people would be whingeing constantly. I went to see Avatar at a press screening at the IMAX cinema in Waterloo on Monday night. I only managed to get the press tickets that morning so I wasn't even sure if I was going. My expectations were mixed too as the couple of trailers I saw didn't necessarily fill me with optimism about its quality. But I have to say that from the opening sequence where we are introduced to Jake Scully (Sam Worthington), it did have me hooked. In a near future, Scully is a US marine whose brother was killed and so he is sent to replace him in a programme on a fictional far-flung planet Pandora, where the US have developed sentient artificial versions of the native Na'avi, bodies that can be linked to the minds of humans via technology that projects the subject into the body. So Scully is projected into one of these Avatars with the aim of learning more about the culture of the native Na'avi. But Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has an ulterior motive: the humans want to drive the natives away so they can access a valuable source of energy. Scully makes a number of trips to the interior of the planet and falls in with the Na'avi, initially thanks to an encounter with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana from Star Trek), who saves him from peril at the claws of one of the planet's many deadly animal occupants. Scully is joined by the avatar of Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), a scientist whose interest in the natives is benign. But impatient to extract the material, the corporation and Colonel Quaritch accelerate their programme to destroy the Na'avi's most sacred spot and grab the valuable Unobtainium (a reference to an engineering term for an element in a design that is impossible). So Scully is trapped between his own people and the natives, who he has become very attached to. In a wheelchair, in his avatar body, Scully is able to live an active life and that is partly what makes it so appealing. Some critics have accused Avatar of having an overly simplistic and unsubtle eco-friendly plot and while its plot and occasionally its script have flaws, they are decent enough that they carry you along for the duration of the film. Visually though it does take cinema to a whole other level: I've never been to such an immersive film before and there were moments when you are such an engrossed observer that you forget you're watching a movie. There are also occasions which make you feel a little bit wobbly, as if you were actually there. The flora and fauna of Pandora look alien but mostly credible and Scully's integration into Na'avi society, while hugely conventional and pretty predictable, is enjoyable with some spectacular set pieces. The animation of the indigenous peoples is nothing short of incredible and they should be applauded. You really do have to slap yourself sometimes to remember that the Na'avi bodies are nothing more than extremely sophisticated motion capture CGI and the planet itself also looks like literally nothing on Earth, yet it obeys the laws that Cameron have set for himself. After over a decade away, James Cameron has created the ultimate cinematic event, directed and orchestrated with the deftness of touch that his previous best efforts (Aliens, Terminator 2) have also displayed. The efforts of people like Weta, Framestore, Gentle Giant and the rest have elevated what can be achieved on the big screen and everyone else has to follow their lead. Avatar is astounding and shows that James Cameron is one of the most impressive directors currently working in big-budget Hollywood today. It is a film that will be talked about for decades to comeā€¦

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Blogger jamie said...

haven't seen it yet,but some cow referred to it as this generations star wars on radio 4 the other day.
bollocks to that!

10:40 pm  

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