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Notes On A Film: Avatar

Avatar was the last film I saw in the cinema in 2009; there is some symmetry in this because Avatar was supposed to take us into the new era of cinema with its immersive 3D technology, wowing audiences the world over and changing the way we interact with movies. This was wrong: the only thing that has changed is the way film studios see a way to make more money by charging extra for 3D, even with films that aren’t filmed in 3D (such as Alice In Wonderland and Clash Of The Titans).

Avatar looks pretty spectacular, it has to be said – I was worried that we’d be watching an extended cut scene from a computer game. The scenes on Pandora, particularly with the Na’vi in their natural environment, are quite stunning to look at, although perhaps not for two and a half hours. However, I don’t think that’s to do with the 3D – it’s just an impressive CGI realisation of an alien world, fully fleshed out by the years of development. The 3D doesn’t help that.

What’s impressive is how bloody long the film is – 150 minutes, which feels longer at times, full of people (or aliens) talking and talking in expository dialogue (as Mark Kermode puts it, people explaining the plot to each other). The storyline is so simple and straightforward, I’m amazed that James Cameron was able to string it out for so long. Every character is a one-dimensional plot component, every plot development is telegraphed, every aspect is explained and made so obvious – there is nothing left for the audience to do but sit there and supposedly be dazzled by the visuals, as if there was no room for any possible misunderstanding. I mean, Unobtanium? Come on. Really?

I still don’t see why Sam Worthington is considered a big deal as an action hero – he’s so bland, even as a Na’vi – and the other actors who are not pixellated are not excelling themselves (although it was quite funny to see Sigourney Weaver’s Na’vi avatar). The best acting comes from Zoe Saldana as the Na’vi love interest – she gives a great performance, powerful and believable, and in the made-up language.

The film is not without merit – the action is entertaining, as would be expected from Cameron; the alien world is fully realised, which is nice to see thought put into it; and it does look good – but the simplistic storyline, the length of the film, the stupidity of the ending (the native aliens and the creatures of the planet have seen off a small group of soldiers, oblivious to the fact that they’ll send a full force to obliterate them) and the fact that you’ve had to watch it all with the silly glasses on mean that Avatar feels like a disappointment that will only be a cinematic footnote (and not just because it didn’t win those Oscars up against The Hurt Locker).

Rating: VID

[See here for my film rating system]

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