Avatar is a whole new world of movie-making but the 3D technology doesn’t make up for the flat characters.
Breaking more records than Usain Bolt, it’s difficult to ignore Avatar. Billed as the cinematic event of the year/decade/century?, it’s an enormous piece of work that uses its amazing looks to make its point. In that respect it’s rather like Pamela Anderson campaigning for PETA. In terms of movies, it’s Braveheart but with even more blue, Dances with wolves on another planet.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around Jake Sully, a US Marine sent to the planet Pandora to work for a human mining company whose economic interests are in direct conflict with the indigenous population, the Na’vi. Over the course of two and a half hours, Sully goes from thoughtless alien exploiter to connected native defender, and director James Cameron hopes to have made his point about ecological connectedness.
The film’s morality comes from its pantheism: god is everywhere, we are all connected, so act accordingly or else. A movie this big is always going to seem like something of a clunking fist when it comes to delivering its message: there’s hardly a joke worthy of the name, and the early stages involve multiple human warnings to “Watch out”, which is meant to contrast with the Na’vi greeting of “I see you.” Earthmen rarely see, it appears. But most of the time Cameron’s story-telling is more skilful than this. Rather than using long speeches to make his point, he employs the exemplary beauty and harmony of the Na’vi and their planet. In contrast, Earth is never seen, simply referred to as desperate and dying, allowing us to conjure our own visions of the apocalyptic horror that awaits us and our children if we don’t change our ways. The characterisation is less subtle, however, with clichéd stock filling up every scene – hardly surprising for a big-budget movie but disappointing nevertheless.
Far more important to Avatar than things likes character and plot is experience – this is an “immersive” movie that draws you into its blue-tinged world. The 3D technology is rarely used dramatically (it is not until almost the very end that an arrow is fired straight at the audience) but it consistently gives richness and depth to the environment. By making this seem normal, it’s revolutionary. Pretty much everything looks incredible but, conscious of the much-hyped artistic vision, it’s difficult to get caught up in wonder: ‘That’s just a horse with an extra pair of legs… That’s a rhino with an extra pair of legs. Hey, hang on…’ The climactic battle scenes are extraordinary but, with an obvious plot and uninvolving characters it’s difficult to care. But so long as your interest is visual rather than cerebral (and why not?) you'll probably have a good time.