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January 2nd, 2010

Filed under: FILM, BOOKS & TV


Avatar

This story of “Jakesully” and Neytiri in the world of Pandora is, as my sister described it to me yesterday, The Matrix meets Pocahontas.
Read all you want to know about the film on http://www.avatarmovie.com/index.html. What follows is a review of the film’s talent, story and production values.
On New Year’s Eve a friend recommended the film. I asked her who was in it. “Sigourney Weaver, and the rest are unknowns”. Oh no, not at all – the lead was not unknown to me. Crushworthy Jake Sully (as both the human and Na’vi man) is played by Sam Worthington, an Australian actor whose career I started to take notice of back in 2004 in his performance for the celebrated Somersault (die hard fans would have known of him even earlier). Of course he’s the newest Aussie rising star (possibly taking the Heath Ledger’s place, before his untimely death); he is in several diverse films to come out in ‘10, and also starred in the recent Terminator Salvation film. In Avatar, his accent is weird, I have to say, rolling from an American drawl (he is playing an ex-marine), to that familiar Antipodean banter-y drone. Even after all these years of watching Australians play on huge blockbusters, on the big screen, last night I bristled with pride to hear a fellow countryman’s twang come at me in surround sound in that Pathé theatre in Eindhoven. However, the accent isn’t important in this film. Worthington’s ex-marine trapped inside a paralysed body who finds freedom in this super-avatar was played with appropriate relish: no-frills and no Oscars – a good, solid adventure performance. His romantic interest, Neytiri, is played by Zoe Saldana who is stunning, blue bod and all. How these actors are still able to convey any type of emotion behind all the effects is a credit to all the artists involved. (Neytiri gets pretty angry and sad in this film and you can see it).

Now, the story. This one grabs a swag of themes and isn’t afraid to refer to them: colonialism, spirituality, environmentalism, true love, fulfilling your destiny and the triumph of indigenous people over the destruction perpetrated by ignorant foreign powers.  Okay, so it’s not a great story, the dialogue isn’t super, and the ideas in it aren’t new.  Aside from Sam, what does this film have to show for all the hype?

I have three words to say to you: superb production values.

Don’t we just shudder when we think back to the artificial, poorly rendered creatures in the Star Wars trilogy of the last decade, and Spiderman, come to think of it? The creatures in Avatar are so lifelike, from the fauna to the flora. The level of detail, the richness of imagination in the execution of every last spoor and pore is a feast for the visual senses. It seems logical to conceive of seeds that look like a cross between jellyfish and dandelion hairs, but to make them look so real! The notion of a plait of hair that operates as a tail and seat-belt-in-one is rather cool. And then you’ve got your garden type dragon with four eyes – and we’re not talking spectacles.

All right, what do I have to say to criticise this film, (for this wouldn’t be a review if I didn’t have some counter comments to make)? Okay, why is Sigourney Weaver in another alien film (well, why not, she’s good at them, and she’s looking great in this one)? Why assume that these Na’vi people would mate the way that humans do (but then again, why wouldn’t they, this is Hollywood!)? Why are the baddies so bad (um, they’re dumb humans), and the goodies so unflawed (er, they are enlightened beings)? Why oh why is the end title song I See You by Leona Lewis so cheesy and Celine Dionesque (folks, this is a James Cameron film)? The mish-mashing of African and native American Indian tribal references was somewhat cringe-inducing at times, from the tribal choral music to some of the ritual dance choreography, but remember – we are simple humans in 2010 with fairly limited references when it comes to other life forms (does this mean that James Cameron sees the indigenous peoples of Africa and North America as other life forms?). Can a horse with six legs really have the biomechanics to run as fast as horse with only four (duh, maybe faster)? Ach, it’s all completely forgivable when you consider how effectively you are transported in time and space for a full three hours.

One last thought – if we are making films like this in 2010, what on earth will be we be able to experience in 2, 5, 10 years from now? We are living in exciting times; I do feel kinda old when I make a statement like this, but I’m very happy to be living in this era. And as with all Hollywood celluloid, there’s a message. This time it’s that we need to take care of our planet. How’s that for a first day of the year message? And to date, Avatar is the film to most impress me in 2010.  Aheh.

3.75 out of 5

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