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Terminator 2 is possibly the greatest bit of breakneck, pulsating, effects-heavy smash-up in cinema, so you can see why James Cameron might want to plough new furrows and put the old toys away. He’s the boss, basically, of magnificent, hair-raising juggernaut B-movies you all know and he hammered, for what it was worth to him (misinterpreted, tipsy Oscar showboating aside) the all-time box-office numbers. So where do you go from the top?

In his case, you either recycle the same ideas and make a few more viscera-rattling thrill-rides with snappy, adrenalised, cynical heroes or you cut a hole in the top and check out what’s there. Just for the fun of it; you’ve got the keys to Hollywood so why not? In the first instance of his speculative technology escapade, many years in the gestation, cultivation and finally riotous anticipation, we end up with Avatar.

So is it a perfectly-primed justifiably painstaking game-changer or a shallow, soullessly impressive tiger-tank with no teeth? Neither.

Cameron was recently referred to, by ex-wife Linda Hamilton, as having said, ‘Anyone can be a father. There’s five or six guys who can do this, and I’m going after that.’ What he’s gone after is a world derived of ground-breaking 3-D technology, and he has postulated that we deserve to experience our entertainment in the same way that we experience our lives – as realistically as possible. All well and good. ‘Game-changing’ cinema and industry revolution aside, we need to know whether the first example of such endeavours works.

First up, I have no idea whether the film is seriously compromised on an ordinary multiplex screen, though it does offer up a lot of perks for those with 3D specs. In the form it was meant to be seen, it’s hard to take your eyes off it, if only to get a few quivers out of the novelty of more plant fronds brushing past your face. It’s a world that works, due to perplexed, impressed curiosity initially, and then simply because it’s a world that’s been exquisitely imagined.

And it’s fair to say that audiences long since crushed under anti-climactic and egregious nonsense pile-ups like Transformers must be thankful that all the bolt-ons work, and that at least crap action films of the future might at least offer up a few jazzy visual variations courtesy of the ground that’s been laid.

There are moments in the film, if we can take a moment to look at the minutae of this new-fangled cinemascape, that are genuinely gasp-inducing. Plants and insects that seem neon-lit, radiant and luminous, graceful and effulgent bespoke creatures, a glorious, mesmerising series of lifeforms put into life with meticulous care. It’s an often astonishing environment replete with abundant, complex, vivid, convincingly rendered creations. And it’s only fair to tip the hat to such brilliant showmanship. There are sequences entirely about your presumed wonderment at the visual elements – if he’d got that wrong, he’d have very little in this instance. But you’re frequently dazzled into deference.

The Pocahontas similarities, as lampooned in a rife, finger-pointing internet campaign ribbing the humourless innovator are inarguable, and it’s hard to refute claims that the story itself is merely an off-the-peg ecological framework to hang everything on.

In a nutshell: Pandora is the Middle East/Earth and the Na’vi locals and the resplendent local landscape are a handy microcosm of Earth getting tonked by bad old Man. The environment is extremely important and is in serious trouble, and just in case you didn’t know, here is another helpful reminder.

It’s an insipidly delivered tale, with feeble coinages replacing much in the way of dialogue exchanges or even exposition at times. The script was clearly banged out whilst Cameron was tinkering with pixels.

In spite of that, it’s an enjoyable romp as you’ve never quite seen it (even though a lot of the 3D elements seem to be subsumed by the sheer pace of many of the scenes and are therefore presumably much ado about can’t quite tell what you’ve done there, Jim). You get your moneys’ worth, no question – even if it does all feel a little bit like handing over your Willy Wonka golden ticket at the gates only to be waylaid in the foyer by a few dancing Ooompa-Loompas with diverting hors d’oeuvres before being glass-elevatored round the place in a gaudy blur.  

The performances? The ‘non-computerised’ footage: Sam Worthington is far better here than he was in Terminator Salvation, and gives the standard ‘Michael Biehn’ Cameron performance. Sigourney Weaver is the Greenpeace Ripley. Stephen Lang is a stick-on military fruitcake, and Giovanni Ribisi is yet another 2D dyspeptic wisecracker. Zoe Saldana is, according to Cameron, extremely good, but I can’t tell whether she is, or isn’t, or even if it’s Zoe Saldana.

Should Avatar trounce, as expected, The Hurt Locker or even Up In The Air at the Oscars it’ll be a travesty of ‘you’ve earned it, we love our envelope-pushing tryers’ proportions. It’s not remotely a great film; it’s a great experience. Big difference. And now Cameron’s marshalled the virtual troops effectively and mastered the sexy computerised geek techno-tomfoolery, perhaps bothering to come up with a decent story mightn’t be too much of a stretch next time. You do wonder: where is he going to go with this? It’ll be interesting finding out.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Mary
    February 16, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Didn’t you just cringe at the hard bitten hard smokin’woman scientist with the heart of gold? Or the wise shaman Na’vi Mum goddess-like in her wisdom? Or that the Na’vi girl was the sprog of the chief not some ugly old prole? Despite the cast of gazillions it all came down to that last one on one High Noon gunfight like every other cheesy cliche ridden Hollywood blockbuster. Some nice SFX though.

    • February 16, 2010 at 11:57 am

      Indeed I did. Stick-on caricatures were clearly all Cameron had time left for after he’d finished tweaking his toys. And the arc and finale are, I suppose, inevitable if he wants to tinker to his heart’s content into his dotage. He will have had studio heads shivering at the prospect of a non-formulaic vehicle after all that money. So I guess it’s one for the 3D geeks until he can (surely) spend more time on a decent, original story.

  2. April 1, 2010 at 3:40 am

    This movie is very good, all the visual effects and sound looks very real. I liked this movie

    • April 1, 2010 at 8:53 am

      I agree. And I liked it, I just didn’t love it. And the more I think about it, the less it means and the worse it gets.

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