Sunday, 3 January 2010

Thoughts on Avatar

Had I seen Avatar before I did my end of year review, it would have replaced District 9 as the best film I saw last year. 

The opinion I'd garnered from the interwebs prior to seeing the film was mixed; there was a plethora of different reactions, ranging from hugely critical to gushing appreciation. It was hard to pinpoint a majority consensus, though the statement I saw most often was one along the lines of "Don't let the weak storyline and hamfisted ecological message ruin what is a visual, action-packed masterpiece."

I think that's roughly the opinion I hold of Avatar. The story itself has come under fire for being too simplistic, with the criticism that it was largely left undeveloped due to the focus on visuals. While this is largely true, personally I don't feel the film needed a more detailed story. Sure, it's a fairly simple plot, but I don't feel this detracts from the quality of the film. In fact, it can be seen as a strength - a more complicated storyline may have proved confusing and undermined the power of the film. I think the story suits the film's needs perfectly. 

As for the 'hamfisted' environmental message, I didn't have a problem with it. Some viewers suggested it was clunky and oppressive, but it wasn't for me. It's there if you want to embrace it, but it's no problem if you don't. It's not like the message is rammed down your throat. In any case, I think it's a decent statement and adds a nice thematic edge to the film. 

As you'd expect, the visuals are easily the film's strongest point. The world of Pandara is wonderfully realised and surely ranks as one of the greatest examples of world building in film history. I found it utterly convincing and absorbing, not to mention stunning to look at. The colours are beautifully done and there's some great ideas in terms of flora and fauna that make the film a really impressive spectacle (and the CGI is first class). These visuals, when combined with some thrilling action sequences, make for a seriously exciting watch. Make no mistake, this is a truly epic film and it is jaw-dropping at times. I'd recommend seeing it in 3D, which is what I watched it in, though I'd imagine it would be equally good in 2d (hard to judge how much the 3D elements really adds to it). 

Characterisation isn't a strong point, but it's satisfactory. There's one or two cliches, but it doesn't detract from a film which is all about visuals and action - and on these two elements it delivers with ease. I very rarely make a point of seeing a film more than once on the big screen, but Avatar is probably going to be one of the few exceptions. 

To sum up in one word - exhilarating. 


Kristopher A. Denby said...

I believe I said to wife and son as we left the theater "This is why I go to the movies!"

I felt pretty much the same way about the film. I would add that I thought the cast was pretty strong. Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, and company helped elevate the film to something more than what could otherwise just have been a pretty SFX film with a hackneyed storyline.

I did have a few problems with some inconsistencies with Cameron's worldview, but all in all it was a great film. Cameron has set the bar very high, yet again.

Well said.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on Sherlock Holmes (if you go in for that sort of thing).

Nate said...

One or two cliches?

My main gripe with the plot is that it's so obvious in its motives. "Guilt-assuaging", someone said; the naturalistic natives drive out the technologically superior capitalist invaders with the power of the earth to help them. Don't pay too much attention to the fact that the natives are basically useless until a white guy takes pity on them and helps them out.

Kian Ryan said...

We went to see it in 3D. I want to see it again in 2D so I can actually appreciate the visuals (we weren't greatly positioned and the projection was too dark).

We took away two conclusions from this story.
1) cripples are *useless* without artifical bodies. All those disabled people out there - James Cameron says you're useless until technology has advanced further.
2) The commander, general or whatever his name is is infact Guybrush Threepwood - mighty pirate (and can hold his breath for 10 minutes)

Kristopher A. Denby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristopher A. Denby said...

@ Nate

I thought the same thing. Yet another story where the Caucasian saves the poor natives. In the end, I had to look past that.

@ Kian

I'd be pretty quick to jump at the chance to get my legs back in some form or fashion after having had the use of them all my life. I don't think the film insinuated at all that people with disabilities are useless.

Man, I hope that was sarcasm.

Hagelrat said...

watched it tonight and absolutely loved it. All pretty and shiny and gorgeous. yea yeah yeah I know why people grumble about it from all sorts of very meaningful points of view, but it's a shiny entertaining movie and really I don't go to the pictures to be deep and meaningful. I go for fun and it delivered that plenty.

ediFanoB said...

For me you hit the bull's eye.
My wife and I watched Avatar in 3D before Christmas. We absolutely loved it. And the 160 minutes passed so fast...

Jebus said...

Pretty much exactly how I feel about the film except for one thing - I thought the facial expressions of the aliens could have been a little more pronounced - if you compare them to Gollum they just seem more wooden which is strange cosidering it was Weta that did both. But that is a very minor quibble.

It's an entertaining blockbuster that delivers on all fronts so long as you don't go in expecting a masterpiece script.

It's Dances With Wolves meets Fern Gully with some stunning visual effects.

Sam Sykes said...

It was fun. If the conflict had been a little messier, it would have been great. I think that there was a tremendous opportunity missed with the whole "dying earth" thing; if it had been a matter of the humans surviving or dying instead of "huh huh huh profits huh huh money is evil huh huh" and trying to come to terms with the natives over that, I would have loved it.

Since it was "huh huh huh," it was just fun.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to see a film as hyped as this one and go away impressed - and yet that's what happened when my husband and I saw Avatar in 3D. Yes, it uses some tried and true plot-lines (to pretty good effect), and yes the baddies are pretty one dimensional, but how amazing is it visually? I could sit through it again in a heartbeat. And, as an Australian, it was pretty cool to see/hear Sam Worthington in a world dominating movie.

RobB said...

Good, fair review James. The more I think about Avatar the more I'm coming to realize this was just the groundwork for future movies.

In that sense, it really does succeed.

Anonymous said...

I’m disappointed with this film. I expected that the story would be as strong as in Aliens. James Cameron wrote the screenplay for Aliens and directed it himself, just as Avatar. The story in Aliens is waaaaay better than in Avatar.
I believe the story is much more important than visuals. And frankly the 3d effects could be better used. Some commercials before the film gave me better feeling of 3d depth than Avatar. The beauty of Avatar lies in scenery, not in 3d effects.