Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang
Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Cinematography: Mauro Fiore, Vince Pace
Original Score: James Horner
Running Time: 150 Mins.
James Cameron, as we all know, is the self-proclaimed king of the world but which world might that be, not so much the Earth but more the king of actually “creating” worlds, there is no denying the infamously control-freakish director has a knack for immersing his audience a world from the bottom up, whether it be the postapocalyptic future of the Terminator films, an Aliens planet or, indeed a great big (doomed) Titanic sized ship. So it would be prudent to assume that in creating a whole new world (called Pandora) for his latest opus, topically named Avatar, that he would once more succeed in bringing this Pandora to fully immersive, believable and most importantly entertaining, life.
Couple Cameron’s past repertoire with the tools he has at his disposal, most notably a totally new way of shooting in 3D and hugely advanced mo-cap techniques that put Zemeckis‘ Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol to shame, and you should have a product well worth the 11 year wait even in the face of an insurmountable level of hype…
So, does the final product add up to the sum of its parts? Well, to answer diplomatically, yes, and no, you see for all the strengths Avatar has it also has equally as many weaknesses, some you can overlook while others prove too pertinent for even lush visuals to paper over. And what visuals they are and always were destined to be the crowning achievement of Avatar, in creating his Pandora James Cameron has brought to life a world as lush and most importantly realistic as anything you have seen on-screen before, in the same way that Peter Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings, from a visual point of view at least,we are transported to the world inhabited by a vast array weird and wondrous creatures.
It is obvious, even to the most oblivious viewer, that Cameron has spent the last decade crafting this world with meticulous loving care, enhanced furthermore not so much by the 3D element (more on this later) but more the emotion conveyed by the Na’vi, the blue skinned indigenous population of Pandora, always a strong writer of female characters Avatar presents yet another fine example of this, with both Sigourney Weaver and particularly Zoe Saldana’s Na’vi, Neytiri, as the stand out performances. Though kudos must go to Sam Worthington, surely now destined to become one of the biggest A-List action stars following his promise in Terminator: Salvation and now a much more nuanced performance here.
That these three stand out so well is purely down to performance and charisma, and not script, for this is the film’s biggest failing, in crafting Pandora, its look and inhabitants Cameron seems to have neglected to write a script that matches the technical achievement, at its worst it invokes the weakest parts of the Star Wars prequels (no good thing I assure you) and at best it’s simply clichéd and predictable. The story itself is so hackneyed and has a terrible “seen it all before” air about it. and yes the question as to what is truly “original” nowadays in film remains but there are ways around making things feel not so stale, and injecting something you have seen before with a bit of energy can liven it up. But here the suggestions that we were being faced with Dances With Wolves or Pocahontas in Space, and Ferngully with blue aliens are fully deserved, not so much in a derivative way but more disappointingly.
The best example of this stereotyping comes in Stephen Lang’s villainous General Quarritch, he isn’t an actor lacking in menace but simply written so two dimensionally you can play dot to dot with the plot and his character arc, so badass he can breathe in the usually lethal air of Pandora this is the closest we get to characterisation.
Though to be to down on the film for a lack of good script may seem harsh given its achievements but without substance behind the sheen I simply cannot endorse something on the same level as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings or even Cameron’s own Titanic, which suffered the same stereotyping but overcame with real emotion. Even the final 40 minutes of action fail to hold a single stand out scene, which is gravely disappointing in the face of the fact that a.) this is the who gave us Terminator 2: Judgement Day and b.) the potential that exists in the film’s world, hopefully in the suggested sequel these issues can be rectified…
On a final note much has been made of Avatar’s 3D, and it is true this is the best example of it yet, however it still has a rather needless feel, given the version of the film I saw was digitally presented the hi-def alone does enough to enrich the world of Pandora and the 3D aspect left me feeling more distracted than in awe by the supposed revolutionary advances, something not helped by the increased hike in price for the privilege of this new technology.
Avatar has a stunning outer shell and there is no question as to the amount of time and effort that has gone into making it look good with or without the 3D “upgrade”, however what lay underneath is greatly lacking meaning that while your eyes will be in awe your brain will wish that Cameron had spent as much time scripting as he did on the mind-blowing visuals.