No film in recent memory has been surrounded by more hype and more internet chatter than James Cameron’s sci-fi epic Avatar. After a decade in development, the cutting edge CGI work and 3D effects were said to mark a new era in film making. This was meant to be the film that kick started the 3D revolution that Cameron himself so passionately touts as the future of cinema.
As early reviews began to trickle out, a general consensus began to appear amongst the journalistic community. Whilst the plot itself was a fairly run-of-the-mill sci-fi actioner, the 3D CGI work was impressive and very much lived up to its hype. Cameron’s pioneering vision that he spent nearly a decade perfecting was wowing audiences and even cynical reviewers were acknowledging the film’s technological leap forward.
Thanks to this vast media coverage it was always going to be impossible to go and see Avatar without a few pre-conceptions already in place. Settling down into my cinema seat, fetching 3D glasses in place, I was all set to be mesmerised by Cameron’s brave new cinematic world.
Unfortunately, 160 long minutes later, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed and underwhelmed by the whole experience. Perhaps I hoped the for too much from Avatar and the end result could never quite meet the expectations generated by the unprecedented media blitz that greeted its release. Regardless of what caused it, the film was as mundane as predicted, and unfortunately the 3D effects just weren’t impressive enough to make up for it.
The plot itself is truly epic sci-fi action by numbers and offers little originality whatsoever. Cutting a long story short, the film sees a crippled US marine recruited by a team of scientists to carry out his recently deceased brother’s work on the planet of Pandora. Here an unlikely (nay unbelievable) alliance of compassionate scientists, heartless businessmen and aggressive military types are establishing a burgeoning human colony but with very different intentions. The scientists want to study and learn from the Na’vi tribe. The corporate bigwig financing the operation, played with usual gusto by the underrated Giovanni Ribisi, is there purely to get his hands on the planet’s vast natural resources. The military are there for protection and of course general muscle flexing.
The scientists, led by a reliably steady Sigourney Weaver, have developed a technology whereby they can transplant a human into a fully functional Na’vi body, an Avatar if you will. For crippled Jake, this means he can not only continue his brother’s work, but also once again appreciate the small things people take for granted like running in the open air and feeling the earth between his toes.
The Avatar’s are then used to interact with the native Na’vi and learn their ways. Their secondary objective however, pushed by the businessmen and their military muscle, is to gain the tribe’s trust and convince them to move off their spiritual homeland to pastures new. Unfortunately for the natives, their land is positioned directly over a rich reserve of natural resources. This is where the thinly veiled critique of American imperiliasm as the expense of indiginous peoples and the environment comes to the fore.
As the film progresses, Jake inevitably gains the tribes trust and begins to fall in love with their culture, and more crucially one of their females (luckily this alien race not only has human like concepts of male and female gender roles, but also the art of french kissing). What follows is a Dances with Wolves type scenario where the former US soldier sides with the native tribes people who he has come to live alongside, and takes up arms against his own kind.
Every step of the way you can predict the plot development with great ease. Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully inevitably falls in love with the Na’vi way of life and ultimately sides with them against the evil corporation. No surprises there. Naturally he struggles to win over their trust but ultimately becomes the warrior leader they need. Who’d of thought it. The US military team are a suitably heartless bunch of roughnecks who of course have no time for the spirituality of the savages they need to remove. There’s a shock.
As the film goes on and the 3D novelty wears off, the formulaic plot becomes more and more tedious until you find yourself checking your watch and realising just how long 160 minutes can be.
Special mention must go to Stephen Lang as the archetypal military hard-ass Colonel Miles Quaritch however. He injects a charismatic bravado into his character that ensures this cinematic stereotype never becomes too cartoonish. Whether he’s nonchalantly sipping his coffee as arrows fly towards him, or stoically holding his breath rather than wearing a breathing mask (the air on Pandora is unfit for humans of course) as he shoots venomously at fleeing escapees, Quaritch is a classic movie hard man.
The acting on show isn’t terrible by any means, but some characters, such as Michelle Rodriquez’s soldier-with-a-conscience Trudy Chacon, are painfully one dimensional and struggle to rise above action movie cliche. Such choice lines as “You’re not the only one with a gun, Bitch!” and “Screw this. I didn’t sign up for this shit!”, are typically cringe worthy and pepper Avatar’s script.
Nevertheless, the final battle scenes as well as the military attack on the Na’vi homeland are fairly engrossing and do look mightily impressive. Visually there is much on offer here. It’s comfortably the best looking mega-budget actioner you’ll see in quite some time.
As a whole however, Avatar is an underwhelming experience. Going off the myriad of reviews I saw before viewing the film myself, I was expecting to be blown away by Cameron’s technological advances. Unfortunately, they weren’t impressive enough to make up for the lacklustre and unoriginal plot.