“Avatar” – An unbiased, measured review

The Blue Man Group's new member felt somehow different...

I’ve been remiss in updating this blog recently – life, things, the usual excuses all figure in any explanation of my tardiness.

Luckily, I have a reason to post anew – James Cameron’s film “Avatar” is finally here after years of speculation, hype and backlash. And it’s a corker.

Let’s get some caveats out of the way – Cameron’s writing is often clunky, betraying an over-reliance on archetypes in lieu of fully-realised characters. The story is nothing to get too excited about – it is, without doubt, an obvious riff on themes previously seen in “Dances with Wolves”, “Pocahontas”, “The New World”, not to mention a military presence whose reliance on technology and hardware screams ‘Colonial Marines’ during their appearances on screen.

If such things aggrieve you, the environmental meta-text and unsubtle references to Bush Jnr’s ‘War on Terror’ may prove a lecture too far and take you out of the carefully crafted world that Cameron and his technical personnel have wrought – because, let’s get this clear, my reservations and minor annoyances should not distract you from my conviction that “Avatar” is an extraordinary picture – a veritable master work from a director whose grasp of popular entertainment remains gloriously, thrillingly intact.  Whatever else this film may be described as, it is a command performance from Cameron – this is no “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”-style disappointment.

Refreshingly, the acting is top-notch – be it Sam Worthington’s wounded, fallen soldier seeking redemption and freedom on an alien world or Zoe Saldana’s awards calibre turn as a fearless, iconic warrior princess.  Sigourney Weaver’s scientist could have been a sketch in a different movie – her history with Cameron pays off and results in a multi-layered, at times not especially likeable study of a scientist whose ego forces her to make some very hard compromises.  Perhaps best of all is Stephen Lang, as villain Miles Quaritch, whose splendidly evil turn results in a cinematic bad guy to rival  Alan Rickman in “Die Hard”.

The urge to say "Get Away From Him, You Bitch!" was too hard to resist...

I should point out that this review is based on a viewing of the 2D print – this is, of course, the film which promises to be at the vanguard of a 3D revolution in cinema.  And it’s no hypebole to suggest that Cameron’s adventure is every bit as exciting a film in it’s standard configuration as it promises to be in three dimensions.  The scale, the visual splendour, the utterly breathtaking special effects are not short-changed by being viewed in a conventional cinema – far from it.  “Avatar” is Hollywood eye candy of the highest order, no matter what kind of cinema you see it in.

That said, I will be seeing the film’s 3D print at my local multiplex on Monday 22nd December and I hope that it delivers the extra layer of visual information and staging that the initial reviews have suggested it does.  I’ve enjoyed the likes of “Monsters Vs Aliens” and “Beowulf” in the Real D format and I hope that Cameron does something with the presentational possibilities of the medium beyond what we’ve seen to date – I’m looking for dimensionality and scale, perspective and the use of this technology in a storytelling capacity.

It’s hard to tell how this film will do at the box office – it’s not a sequel, a comic book adaptation or a riff on a video game, and has chiefly Cameron’s reputation and back catalogue to attract the floating voter to hand over their money.  There’s a lot of cynicism regarding the movie – not helped by early publicity which seemed to suggest that this film would raise the infirm from their beds, remove pollution from the atmosphere and turn my blue eyes brown.  But that cynicism should hopefully be met convincingly by the end result of Cameron’s labours – this is, at the core, a brilliant exercise in popular entertainment.  It’s an action adventure from a master of the genre – and one can only hope that we won’t have to wait another twelve years for a new Cameron salvo.

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