A rumoured $350 million production budget. James Cameron’s first film in 12 years. The invention of an entirely new camera to facilitate filming.
To say that Avatar has been suffering from pre-release hype would be to put it mildly. James “King of the World” Cameron has hailed it as a masterpiece, the template for which all future film-making will take it’s cue. I finally got to see the spectacle tonight, and one word summed it up: Underwhelming.
Before I get assailed by legions of fanboys who seem to track Cameron’s every waking movement, let me first say that Avatar succeeds to some extent. The 3D technology and clarity of definition is certainly impressive, as is the imagination Cameron to create the world of Pandora.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news runs out, as we are subjected to a turgid storyline, clunky script and woefully predictable action sequences. For a film that has been announced as groundbreaking, Avatar does nothing new. The Matrix’s bullet time technology was so fascinating that we’d never seen it’s like before. Avatar rehashes action film clichés again, and again, and again. If this is the future of film then I’m worried about the direction that cinema is headed.
We have the peaceful Na’Vi of planet Pandora set upon by the human military, in order to get a precious stone which is worth untold millions of dollars. Parallels drawn with the American war on terror are easily made, with the words “shock and awe” actually making it into the script. Besides some occasionally stunning visuals, the animation fails to convince at every turn. The reason why Lord of the Rings was so successful is that it triumphantly married two worlds together. On one hand, the skilful artifice of computer technicians at Weta Workshop, creating monsters which both looked ferocious but intriguing, mythical but somehow realistic. The animation had a lived in quality. Beasts were animated to look dirty, tired and look as though they were battle-hardned. On the other hand, we had real depth of character in each actor and a realistic effort was made to develop and explore storylines.
Avatar does none of this. The world of Pandora looks too perfect, it’s edges too smooth, and it’s people with no sense of realism at all. Likewise, it’s proof that CGI effects and explosions are no substitute for old fashioned storytelling. James Cameron certainly knows how to throw the kitchen sink at a production budget, but there’s little evidence here of any craft or diligence to create a good plot.
I wanted to love Avatar, I really did. But it’s such a pristine and squeaky clean looking film, that there’s no emotional heart to it. Like both Transformers films before it, one simply can’t get over the fact that you’re watching a computer game, a collection of graphics and a dull, uniform battle scene.
I didn’t care about any of the main characters, be they bad or good. Even Sigourney Weaver fails to save the day. This type of film normally relies on its hero being a maverick, slightly out of his league, or wise-cracking. Jake Sully, Avatar’s central character, is none of these. He’s an uncharismatic paraplegic marine, who you simply don’t believe when he’s in the middle of delivering a cod-inspirational speech (in the same league as Leonidas’s “This is Sparta” tirade. That bad, honestly).
Avatar is guaranteed to be a box office smash. Perfectly timed in order to lap up the Christmas holidays market, it’s set to be a big draw. Indeed the London Imax is sold out until January 11th for every single screening. All I can ask is don’t part with your money to go and see this trash, it simultaneously fails to be anything revolutionary, whilst not even offering mindless entertainment. It bored me. How sad.