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Avatar (2009)

Review: written Dec 2009

Spectacle of the Decade

Avatar (2009)

It wasn’t just the most talked about movie of the year – it was over a decade James Cameron was building to this - so it would seem that Cameron built expectation too high and that the movie could only disappoint. And yet, while not a perfect movie, he certainly has pulled something special out of the bag - a real spectacle of a movie, something new, and finally - a film where the 3D is not a distraction (or worse, a headache).

For the record, I saw this in IMAX, so perhaps this helps the immersive nature of the 3D. While it is still to my way of thinking a gimmick which does not truly add to the experience, it does have the virtue in this case of actually working, rather than distracting you. Cameron seems to be the first to make a feature in 3D where there are certainly moments of things shooting out of the screen (Look, floating drops of liquid! Duck, the flamethrower is coming this way!), but always within the confines of the story development, and never shoehorned in because of the medium. What we are treated to is utterly spectacular worlds which are entirely a figment of the creator's imagination, believable in a way that cgi has seldom, if ever, been before. There's a richness of lore and background here that will actually make this worth watching twice to catch the detail.

Avatar (2009)

But what about the movie itself... The story is vintage Cameron, and has been much discussed - enough to say it wears it's anti-war and pro-environment credentials very much on its sleeve. The planet Pandora has been targeted by one of those big cumbersome corporations Cameron specialises in, with big brutish machinery and military to back it up, to take a valuable mineral in large strip mining operations. However, the planet's population don't take too kindly to this. To interact with the 10 foot high Na'vi and this world where everything is oversized, genetically created Avatars are used. It's the `user' of one of these Avatars who becomes the lynchpin of the story - an ex-marine, who now has to decide whether to gain his redemption by fulfilling his marine training, or to embrace the new Gaia he finds on Pandora. Sam Worthington is perfect in the role - it works that he is relatively unknown, so that we just accept him in the role. Sigourney Weaver is also her usual terrific self and several other character actors fill out the other roles. However, the natives (who are to all intents and purposes like Native Americans), and the bad guys (the evil land-raping corporation with its attendant military) are just too stereotypically bad.. there's no feeling that you can get inside their heads or understand them.. they are just ciphers in the story to make a point. Perhaps that's ok when it's a point well made, but the bluntness and obvious nature of the message here will grate with some.

At over two hours long, the movie seems just a little long, but it would be tough to decide which spectacle you'd like to cut to make it shorter - the floating mountains? The aerial battles? The flying.. well ok, enough said, I don't want to give any more away...

So a popcorn chewing event movie it is, classic cinema it isn't. It might not be spectacularly good - but it's certainly spectacular. Frankly, with all the hype, and with all the new cinematic technology on display, if you don't go see it to make up your own mind, you're going to find yourself left out of a few conversations...

Avatar (2009)

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