Monday, 21 December 2009


Let me start by getting the standard line over with: Watching Avatar is an amazing experience and the plot and weaknesses of the movie don't significantly get in the way. This is what most people seem to be saying, and I agree. I have never seen a 3D pic before and I was surprised and impressed. The depth into the screen quickly becomes "normal" and real. When close objects move off the screen toward you, it is quite impressive but less real and more holographic - kind of gimmicky in a way that is fun but does detract from the realistic quality. The subject of the film - the exploration of a new world - is a great fit for this experience, though I would have preferred a world a little less hostile. I actually think this level of omnipresent danger is one of the weaknesses of the film and will return to that later. But first let me just say one more time - this film was a fun ride.

(Some mild spoilers may lurk herein - careful if you're touchy.)

So now let me get some weaknesses off my chest. The plot, especially in its resolution, is as cliched as many are saying. I was led astray by a reviewer who said that James Cameron will be written off by Fox News as a tree-hugging pacifist (which is probably true but then according to Fox News anyone who thinks it's better to ask someone a question before shooting them is probably a tree-hugging pacifist). This is clearly not a pacifist movie. But it could have been, which is the painful part. Instead we see the disappointing myth of redemptive violence, once again, in far too predictable a fashion.

One thing that would have helped a creative plot develop would have been bad guys who had even a little character. The colonel and the CEO are as caricatured as one could imagine. The colonel makes Chuck Norris seem like a total wimp and Selfridge is the pathological embodiment of all that makes corporations evil. Sure they're both tempting caricatures if you're making a movie critical of corporate and military evil, but a little complexity would have been nice. (And as many have asked, "How much integrity do you have criticizing corporate priorities while you're making a movie that costs $400 million?")

There's no question that there is a Gaia worldview being promoted here, but I don't feel too critical of that. I think they sold that piece okay without it being too shallow. The scene where the two main characters meet started that off well, I thought. Something that would have helped this to be more metaphorical and not quite so literal would have helped.

Maybe the hostility of the Pandoran world helps it to avoid a New Age shallowness. But it seems too hostile to me. In a way, it justifies the paranoid, fearmongering attitude of the colonel. And there is no easy way to understand the coexistence of the constant danger with the relatively peaceful existence of the Na'vi people.

The theme that I found most impressive in the movie is the exploration of the paradoxical relationship between knowledge and ignorance. The "childlike" ignorance of Jake Sully nearly kills him in the forest but his teachability transforms everything. If you take the meaning of meek in the New Testament as teachable, as I've heard said, you could say the movie demonstrates "the meek inheriting the earth" (or Pandora as it were). With a little effort and creativity this theme could have been the centerpiece of a very substantive story.

But this is not a movie that requires a substantive story to be amazing. The experience was wonderful and even if the plot caricatures the enemy, at least it's the right enemy. It will just be left to others to promote a better response to our militarized, corporate society. Still the film gets **** from me. Mugs up.


  1. I had also never seen a 3D movie before this one and was impressed. I'm pretty sure I even ducked a few times (I was sitting fairly close to the screen). Despite this, I was very disappointed by the ending. Not to spoil anything for those who have not watched it, but I found the 'resolution' unrealistic. There are too many loose ends. Too many unresolved problems which would come back to haunt the characters. In the end I was disappointed with shallow characters and loose ends, however eye-popping and dazzling the graphics.

    Great job again WETA.

  2. I completely understand and agree with the disappointment. I was just so high from the experience of the film that I couldn't let it dampen my enjoyment too much.

  3. So you beat me to Avatar. Well done. I won't comment on your review until after I've seen the film. I'm planning some major end of the year contributions to the blog, so stay tuned.

  4. Also disappointed by the uber-archtypes and the ending. A huge wasted opportunity to be as creative with the storytelling as he was with the film making. Though I have to wonder how much is tongue in cheek - come on - inobtainium?

  5. I loved the experience of Avatar but you put words to my plot issues. In a sense the disappointment for me was how "in the box" the plot was. The writers couldn't seem to be able to imagine a more creative resoluton than a machine-guns-and- transformers-war..."terror with terror" in the end. Kind of lost the message or something.

  6. I found myself thoroughly engaged by the movie but left with a couple of reactions to my first experience of 3D

    1 - Exhaustion: my eyes and head were worked far harder by the 3D than they would have been with 2D. I think part of it was 'being included' in the movie rather than 'watching' a movie. This was much more of a physical exercise than the emotional strain of watching The Lord of the Rings.

    2 - Virtigo: I felt quite sick by the end because of the endless views of tops of cliffs etc and by some of the quick movements which would have been OK in 2D but were too much to cope with in 3D.

    I also found it strange that despite the obvious intension of making some aspects of the native people 'life-like', their appearance of movement (walking & running) they were still obviously animated. Strange. I'm sure the techniques are available to overcome this had they wanted to.

  7. Saw Avatar tonight. Stay tuned for review of this and many other films and my top ten of 2009 and of third millennium - coming tomorrow.