Thursday, 17 December 2009

Avatar - Initial Thoughts [SPOILERS]

Okay, so I had mixed feelings about this film before I went to go see it. Usually I hate CGI, as it lacks that spark of life that makes a man in a suit look (to me) more realistic. It's something to do with layers: I can tell CGI elements have been added on top of or behind the 'real' elements. I'm also skeptical as to the point of 3D (does it really need to be done? Is it anything more than a gimmick?).

But I am a huge fan of Aliens, the first two Terminator films, True Lies and The Abyss. But I hated the slush of Titanic and feared that he was going to waffle with Avatar.

First of all, the film is a little too long, but is tolerable. In this case I'd have preferred a theatrical cut like Aliens and The Abyss with a special edition coming later. It's easier to watch longer versions of a film after you've seen the shorter version first. You're less impatient because you know what's coming next and how long you'll have till you can dash to the toilet. But as I said, it didn't drag like Titanic, and only slowed for a while in the latter half of the second act and the beginning of the third.

The CGI was also much better than I'd anticipated. No, that's a lie. I knew it would be top of the range, but I found it less intrusive than I expected, perhaps because of the 3G format. That extra depth compensated for the aforementioned 'layering' problem I have with CGI.

The 3G did take a few minutes to get used to, and I'm still not convinced it was essential, but it was at least an experience I can say I've done now. And it was better than Toy Story 3D. One thing that did irritate, however, was the palette used. There were way too many neon-like, unnatural colours in the CGI sequences, which made the whole thing look far more cartoonish than it should have been. Indeed, my overall impression of the 'look' of the film was of Aliens vs Fern Gully. With hippy spiritualism thrown in and good dose of patronising colonial sympathy for the 'oppressed' natives.

Despite this, Cameron does have a knack for spinning tales. He riddles his dialogue with cliche and exposition (the former moreso towards the end and the latter moreso at the beginning), but not so much most people would care. The plot was also rather predictable and the romance way too Hollywood for my liking, but there were times when I was generally moved (nearly all of them featuring Sigourney Weaver).

Sigourney does steal every scene she's in, and the sight of her coming out of a cryo-tube-like machine at the beginning and reflecting how ridiculous she must look was a nice head-nod to the beginning of the alien films. It's only when in avatar form that Sam Worthington really dominates his scenes. There's something about his lean, slender body that is graceful and beautiful, adding an element of softness to his 'jarhead' character that made him more appealing to me. He is a stock character, but develops nicely enough to make me care for him.

The Na'vi are a little too naive, and it paints a noble savage picture in my mind which, although I understand where Cameron is coming from, still seems to simplify imperial/colonial conflict. I'd have liked to see the Na'vi being cunts just once, to make them more real. I don't care for any character either wholly good or wholly bad. But their culture was interesting; I just didn't care much for the binary opposition we were presented with right from the start: the Na'vi like nature and are good; the humans like money and resources and are bad.

I liked especially the trees-as-synapses idea, and thought that could have been developed. If Cameron had perhaps taken a more neurological or psychological approach to the third act, with the planet-as-brain idea having a bigger impact on the climax, I'd have been more impressed. For example, how would the planet work if tapped into as a hive mind or collective consciousness? A battle scene of humans against Na'vi literally plugged into the trees would have looked spectacular. Or perhaps if the trees had been used as computers to access the mainframe of the humans' ships and deactivate their computers.

Seeing the Na'vi with more alien technology also would've been interesting. How could these tree synapses influence their machines and tools? Items they could divest memory into, for example, might have been neat, if those memories (or even personalities) were activated/utilised in unexpected ways. There were also some impractical alien lifeforms and floating mountains that bugged me the whole way through the film, but I liked Cameron's attention to detail at least.

I saw the ending coming a mile off, but it was satisfying nonetheless. I also liked that Sigourney doesn't survive. When she was shot, I thought, Will James Cameron really kill off his most popular SF actress to date? But he did, and her death was one of the more beautiful moments in the film.

When Jake transferred to his avatar body, that felt right, and was a powerful ending that speaks to hybridity as a means of bridge-formation between cultures.

There were a few Iraq/War on Terror references, to which I rolled my eyes, but that was almost inevitable given the current political climate and this being a war film, just as Aliens had an underlying Vietnam theme. Personally, however, I think Cameron could've made it more subtle than having a human character say 'We will fight terror with terror'. It was even more cringe-worthy when the same human character says to Jake, 'It's not over while I'm still breathing' and Jake replies, 'I kinda hoped you'd say that' (I'm paraphrasing, not having seen the film enough or having the script in front of me).

One other thing I have to confess to was finding Jake Sully oddly attractive in his avatar form. Maybe that makes me a queer pervert . . . and you'd probably be right.

But for now, these are my initial thoughts on Avatar. I may see the film again in 2D and see which version I prefer, and see if things change, but until then . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment