#146 Avatar

(2009, James Cameron)

“One life ends, another begins”

The new wave of endless 3D movies both annoys and depresses me. It annoys me due to the movie industry’s obsession with it and apparent desire to shoehorn it into every movie ever made even when it has no place being there. It depresses me because people fall for it, buying into the fad when the effect is no better than the previous 3D crazes of the fifties and the eighties. And we can blame this on James Cameron and the success of Avatar.

Not that it’s entirely his fault. Avatar was merely using new 3D technology to attempt something different, and the pioneers usually produce better work than those who lazily copy the formula for money. So ignoring its responsibility for causing the new wave of 3D movies, is Avatar actually any good?

Let’s take a look at the plot. The year is 2154, and Earth’s natural resources have been severely depleted; however, humanity has discovered a remote habitable moon named Pandora which is rich in a mineral known as “unobtainium”, which may help in the resource drought. Paraplegic former Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is brought in to replace his recently deceased brother on the Avatar program, which allows the scientists on the planet to send out specially made, controllable biological bodies designed to resemble the Na’vi, the native humanoid race of Pandora. They hope to study the natives, but the Marines and the corporation they’ve been employed by have other plans that involve a lot more killing.

So following Titanic, Avatar is well known for being another film in which James Cameron threw vast amounts of money at making a big “event” movie. It’s one of the most expensive movies ever made, not least because of the fancy motion capture technology and 3D cameras developed especially for the project, but also for Cameron’s insistence that the Na’vi are all played by virtual CGI actors.

Visually, this massive budget pays off. The film looks absolutely stunning, with incredible attention to detail. From the cold steel of the human base with all their fancy hologram computers to the lush landscapes of Pandora, the movie is always showing off something impressive. Although much of the movie was generated by CGI, it’s really easy to believe you’re looking at a real living landscape. There is a great level of detail in the backgrounds and in the designs of the CG actors. On initial appearances, it seems that the budget was well-spent.

But then the realisation comes that, visuals aside, we’ve seen this movie a million times before. The “space mission to find new resources for our dead planet” is far from a new idea in sci-fi. The idea of remote controlled bodies seems new, but seems an awful lot like The Matrix at the same time. Not to mention the central plot thread to the movie is almost identical to movies like Pocahontas, Dances With Wolves and even FernGully.

Everything in the movie is predictable and derivative. What’s worse is that James Cameron was acting like his movie was a revolutionary tale of environmentalism, but everything is already well-trodden ground. It’s sad to think that so much money was spent on revolutionary technology just to make a movie that’s already been done on a lower budget. Titanic’s huge budget makes some degree of sense, since it was trying to depict a historical event in a scale and accuracy that no one had achieved before, but this really doesn’t seem justified.

In fact, what we have here is the same movie that Cameron had made 23 years prior with fancier graphics and friendlier aliens. Both movies have Sigourney Weaver playing a no-nonsense brainy space type. Michelle Rodriguez is basically the 2009 Vasquez. Giovanni Ribisi plays the exact same character Paul Reiser did in 1986. Both movies feature an attempt by the humans to torch the alien “mother”. What’s worse is that, ultimately, Aliens is the better movie, and was made on a fraction of the budget.

Avatar is entertaining enough, but it’s your typical popcorn blockbuster that’s fun to watch but is ultimately fluff. Very decorative and expensive fluff, but still fluff. I will admit to getting swept along in the fun of it all, but it still left me with a feeling that it was all a bit of a waste of time and not really getting what all the fuss was about.

For its budget and the millions of years spent on developing it into a finished movie, the movie-going audience should really expect more than just a re-hash of every blockbuster movie already made up to that point. And I still hate it for reviving the 3D fad.

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore & Giovanni Ribisi
Written by James Cameron
Produced by James Cameron & Jon Landau
Music by James Horner
Cinematography by Mauro Fiore
Edited by James Cameron, John Refoua & Stephen E. Rivkin

Favourite Scene: Pretty much anytime either Sigourney Weaver or Michelle Rodriguez were on screen
Scene That Bugged Me: The rather predictable final shot. It merely cements the film’s lack of originality

Watch it if: You bought into the 3D fad
Avoid it if: You’ve already seen Pocahontas

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Posted on December 27, 2012, in 2000s, Action, Adventure, Sci Fi and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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