It’s back! James Cameron’s futuristic 3D megamovie, Avatar, is back in cinemas this week so the seven people who missed it last time can find out what all the fuss was about.
The main thought I had, the first time I saw this 171-minute Oscar-nominated epic, was “Holy shit! That must have been expensive.” This is the Dubai of films, the Man City of movies. For the same money this must have cost we could bail out a couple more banks, make poverty history and have another war in the Middle East. And we’d still have money left over for popcorn. In fact, such is the incredible detail with which Cameron has brought his fictional extra-terrestrial planet to life, it would probably have been cheaper for him to just go to a real one and film it on his iPhone.
Is it worth the money? Um... yeah... sort of... in a way... (you need to imagine me saying that out loud in an unconvinced and increasingly high-pitched voice there). It is amazing as a big visual thing to look at. The sweeping aerial shots of Planet Pandora, the film’s verdant alien setting, are really really impressive and make you feel like you’re watching a BBC nature documentary in HD. In fact, as a prank, they should send the footage to Sir David Attenborough and tell him it’s the new series of Planet Earth. He’s like 83 now so probably wouldn’t even realise, the senile old bastard (Joking!! Forgive me David).
The thing is though, it’s not really enough for Avatar to be an awe-inspiring visual spectacle; it also needs to be an actual, you know, film. With all those traditional film things like plot, characters and dramatic tension. In that respect it’s less good. Still fine and everything; watchable, entertaining, just nothing groundbreaking. We’re basically talking about something on a level with a Troy, an X-Men Origins or a War of the Worlds.
The plot runs something like this: in a galaxy far away human beings have discovered a green and beautiful planet called Pandora, home to a priceless mineral called ‘unobtainium’. (What this is or how it works is never really expanded on. They may as well have called it ‘random thingium’ or ‘plot deviceonium’). Standing in the way of the rapacious human colonists are Pandora’s indigenous nature-loving population, the Na’vi. As war threatens to break out between the two species, a paralysed former Marine named Jake Sully, who can control a lifelike Na’vi ‘avatar’, is sent in to either broker a peace or learn how the aliens can be defeated.
"This is the Dubai of films, the Man City of movies. For the same money this must have cost we could bail out a couple more banks, make poverty history and have another war in the Middle East."
Avatar was Cameron’s first film since he made Titanic 12 years ago. I’m not sure exactly what he was up to in that time but I’d hazard a guess that going on his Xbox played a significant role. The plot feels very computer gamey at times – it even features about an hour’s worth of ‘training mission’ scenes where Sully gets to grips with his Avatar and learns the ways of the Na’vi. This feels very much like those orientation bits you get at the start of videogames, which are ostensibly part of the plot but are really there to let you get the hang of not flying your pterodactyl into a wall all the time.
Then there are the Na’vi themselves. I don’t know what it is, but there’s something I find a lit-tle bit disconcerting about them. Somewhere out there is a perfect metaphor that really nails exactly what they remind me of. Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian described them as looking ‘like Angelina Jolie’s ugly sister’ which I quite liked. The best I can come up with is a species of giant blue Ronaldos. Also, I have a vague feeling that some ethnic minority or other are being massively patronised here. The Na’vi are essentially a composite of Native Americans, Aborigines, certain African tribes and the genie from the Disney version of Aladdin. They also really like Nature..
“Isn’t it wonderful” Cameron seems to be saying, “the way they eschew all our manmade cars and guns and internets and just commune with their Earth-mother and all her wonderful flowers? They may be primitive but they can really teach us something about environmental responsibility, you know, man?” There’s something about this that smacks a bit of condescending middle-class wankerdom. It’s like it’s not just the Na’vi’s appearance that has been computer generated, but their entire personalities and ethical values – if that computer had first been programmed to compile a list of everything Jeremy Clarkson disagrees with.
Overall though, Avatar is worth seeing if you haven’t already – I think it’s one of those films that basically everyone has to. Also, you should definitely see it in 3D on as big a fuck-off cinema screen as you can find. This isn’t a film where it’s fine to wait until it comes to ITV2 or, even worse, to watch a grainy illegally downloaded version on your laptop, pausing every so often to Alt F4 over to springbreakfucksluts.com. I saw it at the IMAX in Waterloo which was literally incredible. And, as mentioned on my Sabotage Times biog (alongside a profile picture that I’m rapidly starting to regret) after the screening I had a wee next to Jonathon Ross! I know, amazing right! That has easily supplanted Adrian Chiles as the most famous person I’ve ever wee’d next to. One day I’m hoping to bag Clooney, that’s the dream...
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