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January 4, 2010 / Siobhan Argent

Avatar


Posted on 23 December 2009
 
After sitting through 160 minutes of James Cameron’s latest epic, I feel more than qualified to comment on Avatar – in 3D.

Firstly, the viewer needs to overcome the fact that watching Avatar in 3D involves wearing glasses in the style of Buddy Holly. Second, prepare your butt for a numbed session of sitting. And third, don’t think too hard, lest the film’s severely weak plot explodes and crumbles under the pressure.

Avatar’s storyline revolves around the planet of Pandora and its tribal inhabitants, the Na’vi people, who are dedicated to preserving the pristine forest in which they live. When a human militant settlement on Pandora sets its sights on a massive mineral deposit underneath the Na’vi’s ancient home ground, the inevitable natives-versus-newcomers battle for territory begins. To facilitate a peaceful evacuation of the Na’vi from the land on which the resources are buried, paraplegic marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) joins a group of scientists who inhabit Na’vi avatar bodies in order to bond with the tribe.

Sigourney Weaver does an odd job of the role of Dr. Grace Augustine, a scientist dedicated to preserving Pandora’s natural beauties. Someone apparently thought that shoving a cigarette in her mouth made her appear tougher, but it only appears contrived, detracting from the fact that she carries off the role with a convincing level of passion for Pandora’s plight.

Sam Worthington seems naturally adept at playing a somewhat-cavalier character, but his face remains more or less motionless (and emotionless) throughout the entire film. And for Gods’ sake, he desperately needs to work on his American accent. Any non-American actor who can’t do a tolerable Yankee voice will only distract viewers, particularly when the character in question is supposed to be a U.S. marine.

The graphics of the film are duly spectacular, as they should be. 3D heightens the gasp-in-shock effects that see characters leaping off cliffs and portray mythical animals with incredibly life-like detail. The entire movie is a colour-bomb, a fantastic excuse to seduce the viewer with vivid blends of tropical colours and an entire forest that glows with the fluorescent brilliance of neon lighting at night.

While the film’s visual offerings will seduce the eyes, less can be said for its efforts to entertain the mind. The plot serves only to connect one action sequence after another – one scene even vaguely insults the intelligent viewer, given that it was clearly created solely for the purpose of serving the finale’s predictable outcome.

There is also a problem with the division of ‘good’ and ‘evil in this film. The scriptwriters have crafted pathetically two-dimensional characters who are either wholly idealistic or aggressive, nasty and ridiculously obstinate. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) is a beefed up knucklehead who spends most of the movie scowling and complaining about environmentalists. And Parker Selfridge (the ever-enigmatic Giovanni Ribisi) is inconsiderate, illogically stubborn and just plain nasty. There is no thin grey line upon which the characters tread; the environmentalists are on one side, without any consideration for economic imperatives, and the militant resource collectors can give no consideration to the impact their destructive ways may wreak on the Na’vi.

But by far the most unimaginative part of the film is the name of the mineral being pursued by the humans. Called unobtainium, it is symbolic of the enormously lazy attempt on the part of the scriptwriters to make a moral point about the  depletion and destruction of Earth’s natural resources.

There are innumerable issues with this film; it’s stating the obvious to say that anyone wanting an intellectually-stimulating film shouldn’t avoid paying good money to see this overhyped action/fantasy. But it is a milestone film in its own way; never before has  visual artistry been displayed with such an incredible level of detail and clarity. The film sets a new standard that the next decade of action movies will now strive to better. James Cameron evidently felt he couldn’t make another movie unless he could beat Titanic in some way; visually speaking, the vessel has met its match.

There is little doubt that Avatar will achieve its aim as a marker for technical wizardry; but as a film of respectable plot and tangible acting skills, it will be forgotten in this respect as soon as it has disappeared from our screens.

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