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Sun 27/12/09 at 03:21
Regular
Posts: 2,781
note: also appears on my film review site, TheFilmBlogger.com, thanks!

We’ve all heard the rumours, and by now we’ve all taken a stance based on the wealth of footage released online. Is James Cameron’s first film in over a decade a dodgy amalgam of Ferngully and Dances with Wolves, or does it preserve Big Jim’s critical and commercial winning streak, which culminated in 1997 with his monstrous $1.8bn blockbuster juggernaut Titanic. At the behest of nervous Fox executives and eager fanboys, and despite some outrageous detractors, it is safe to say that James Cameron has lost none of what has caused him to become affectionately known as the Martin Scorsese of action films. Avatar is a masterpiece in the art of visual amazement, and while it has an overly familiar narrative, it is, without doubt, one of the most vital and thrilling cinematic experiences of the year, the decade, and perhaps even further still.

Cameron’s epic takes place in the mid-22nd century, where, given that Earth is now a ravaged wasteland (although these scenes were reportedly cut for pacing purposes), large human corporations have begun attempting to harvest the precious mineral unobtanium from the alien land Pandora, which is inhabited by an indigenous population called the Na’vi, who are a giant, blue, spiritual species that the humans consider to be savage (even crudely nicknaming them “blue monkeys”). After his twin brother dies in action, paralysed former marine Jake Sully (Terminator Salvation’s bright spot, Sam Worthington) is given the opportunity to take over his sibling’s role, in entering the Avatar program, where his consciousness will be imported into a synthetic body that combines his own DNA with that of the Na’vi. His goal will be to infiltrate the Na’vi, find out their weaknesses and deliver strategic information to Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a stern, straight-shooter military-type who works under ruthless bureaucrat Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), with the goal being to drive the Na’vi off of their homeland so that the mineral is theirs for the taking.

However, the film does indeed follow the Dances with Wolves path, because Jake quickly becomes enamoured with not only regaining the use of his legs, but also the Na’vi way of life, and the alluring female warrior Neytiri (Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana). Soon enough he begins to question the righteousness of his and the other human’s actions, and so, along with lead scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Cameron’s Aliens star Sigourney Weaver), lab geek Norm (Joel David Moore) and tomboy pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez, in a role that’s a sure nod to Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez character from Aliens), they try to devise a way to repel the human forces and protect the Na’vi homeland. While to this token the plot is hardly original, and you’ll have the end in sight long before it arrives, this is a film not so much about the why and the when, but the how, and with his cutting-edge motion capture and digital rendering technology, Cameron has managed to create a film with, dare I say, near-perfect visual effects.

When the original teaser was released in mid-August, there was an outcry with regard to the quality of the visual effects in terms of what people were expecting from a supposed “game changer”, but of course, seeing this unfold on a 17” computer screen simply cannot be compared to the experience of, at the very least, watching it in a regular 3D cinema, and at best, gorging on this visual feast in a digital IMAX, an experience that, I must attest, is simply the most memorable, fascinating, and mind-meltingly gorgeous that I have ever had seeing a film. Plenty of films – such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and 2012 – have dazzled our eyes this year with exorbitant visual effects, but Avatar simply sets a new standard, one that is sure to win WETA Digital yet another well-earned Oscar to add to their mantle.

For years, the problem has been the dreaded Uncanny Valley effect, in which CGI characters are regarded as well-rendered, but fall short in areas such as the eyes, revealing their artifice and making them seem a tad creepy (as Robert Zemeckis suffered with most recently in A Christmas Carol) as they’re so very nearly human, but not quite. Cameron is the first filmmaker to entirely do away with this problem, and it isn’t gushing hyperbole to say that his blue-skinned creations are the most realistic and convincing computer-generated creatures that cinema has as yet seen. However, these creations would be impressively rendered, if soulless vessels were it not for the impressive performances that Cameron has captured out of a cast surely struggling to deal with such a bold and risky technological venture.

It really has been a fine year for Sam Worthington, starring not only as the best thing in McG’s hit-and-miss Terminator Salvation, but also well and truly becoming a star here, as a sympathetic, understated lead that isn’t all that showy, but demonstrates a man with the looks, charisma and requisite charm needed to become an action commodity. However, the real show-stealer in terms of marrying Weta’s impeccable technology with performance is undoubtedly Zoe Saldana as Cameron’s requisite female badass Neytiri. Simply, any notion that animated replicants cannot capture the emotion and gravitas of a real, organic performance, has been nullified here; Saldana’s facial expressions, of anger, of sadness, of happiness, are as convincingly captured as any human performance you’re likely to see, and there has already been talk of Saldana earning an Oscar nomination, a comment not too far out of turn. This isn’t to forget the well-captured performances of Weaver’s or Moore’s avatars either, for Cameron has especially outdone himself by using pictures of Weaver from the original 1979 Alien film as a frame of reference for her avatar’s countenance, which meshes unbelievably well with her present expressions. Also, particular praise must go to The Shield’s CCH Pounder, who, as Mo’at, the Na’vi spiritual mother, manages to, for my money, rouse the greatest emotional response; as she begs Sully’s avatar, “If you’re one of us, help us”, with tears streaming down her face, she proves that Avatar is no stunt; it is unequivocally the best melding of live action and CG elements that anyone has ever managed.

To that effect, the strictly human performances are also great; Weaver shines as the sympathetic, laconic scientist, while Michelle Rodriguez is thrown most of the drole one-liners. Stephen Lang, as the relentless Colonel Quaritch is already gaining esteem as the most entertaining blockbuster villain since The Dark Knight’s The Joker, and in a performance that few seem to have recognised so far, Giovanni Ribisi does a great job as the thoroughly dislikeable stuffed shirt who is driving this whole mess.

So, why not five stars? Well, Avatar isn’t quite perfect. Narratively speaking, it’s more than familiar, a claim Cameron quite rightly admits, and once Jake lands on Pandora and goes deep cover with the natives, the pacing does sag a tad as the dramatic urgency is drained somewhat. However, on the other hand, Cameron never bores; in much the same way as Terminator 2’s mid-film desert sequence allowed quiet contemplation on fatherhood and fate, Cameron’s second act is a fantastical calm before the storm, a visual trip that deals with more rudimentary tribal elements, while never reminding the viewer that they are in a cinema, and keeping them immersed in this staggeringly realised world. Those who find Cameron’s dialogue “goofy” will likely feel the same here, but to Cameron fans, they’ll probably find it charming as per usual. Much criticism has been drawn to the supposed heavy-handedness of the plot, that it is a shallow allegory of the Iraq war or an anti-industrialist critique, but you need only observe Cameron’s Titanic to see that he is a director with unpretentious aspirations to classic stories, be it the melodrama of Kate and Jack’s love story, or as is true here, the child-like feeling of exploring an imaginatively constructed new world. Scholars and average Joes alike may pick apart Avatar’s supposed allegorical implications (which are, admittedly, quite prominent), but its eco-friendly message, if it has one, isn’t ham-fisted, and Cameron is far more interested in telling a fun and engaging story than he is in hugging trees.

Try though I might to review Avatar, it is ultimately a film that can only really be summarised through one’s own experience. Go see it in a 3D screen (an IMAX preferably), and simply revel in its visual wonder if nothing else, for the film’s climactic battle-to-end-all-battles is easily one of the best that the genre has ever seen, and sits alongside the superlative set-pieces that Cameron has wowed audiences with in his Terminator films and, of course, Aliens. Cameron’s fans will surely love it, and it’s more a testament to the man’s talent than anything that something so unrestrained and visually nutty is a median entry into his oeuvre (ranking behind his two Terminators and Aliens, level pegging with The Abyss and better than Titanic and True Lies). Many children are going to be utterly infatuated with the film’s fantastical tone, amazing action and stupendous effects, gazing upon it in much the same way as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings demanded when they revitalised the science fiction and fantasy genres. Sceptics on the fence probably owe it to Cameron to at least give it a viewing, and surely curiosity will spur plenty of them to see it.

Cameron has, by and large, silenced those who figured he’d lost his groove, and, if early box office figures are any indication, also those who imagined he might fall out with Fox when the film flops. After twelve years away exploring the ocean deep, Cameron has emerged having lost none of his spark, and has crafted an amazing spectacle, an adventure that, much like The Abyss, is very much ahead of its time. While the film will surely sweep the technical aspects of the Oscars, it may well have secured a Best Picture slot also, if not for its screenplay (an area it will surely miss out on), then for its iconic stature as a “game changer”, and as a declaration from the Academy that they are hanging up the same stodgy tastes that saw The Dark Knight miss out on a gong last year.

Cameron has not so much raised the bar as he has smashed it into a thousand pieces.

9/10
Wed 30/12/09 at 17:39
Regular
"THFC"
Posts: 4,488
I really loved Avatar, me and a load of friends went to see it and really enjoyed every aspect of it. A lot of people are saying that the plot is weak etc but i think it works well.

The visuals are the big sell of course but i would happily watch it again in 2-D. It is a big statement to say it is you favourite film of all time but it is certainly up there for me.
Wed 30/12/09 at 13:01
Staff Moderator
"Freeola Ltd"
Posts: 3,299
I myself now rate this as my favourite film. There has never been anything better. That may be my love for the fantastical, but Cameron really really hit a nerve with me here.

Show Spoiler
I was emotionally involved without realising it. And when Hometree got wrecked, I was holding back the emotion[/SPOILER]

I genuinely came out of the cinema gobsmacked at how I could enjoy anything so much. I am desperately trying to find someone to go with to see it again.
Sun 27/12/09 at 08:57
Regular
"eat toast!"
Posts: 1,466
i watched avatar last sunday and it was good, if nothing spectacular plot wise. The 3d tech is good and i look forward to seeing more of it in the future. But after a while i found myself seeing a flat screen rather then actually 3d...

Its far too subtle in avatar. The adverts and trailers before the movie showed how much potential there was in it.

Oh and if you wear glasses, you can still experiernce the 3d.


The ending was one of the biggest cop outs ever. Reminds me of return of the jedi and stupid ewoks.
Sun 27/12/09 at 03:21
Regular
Posts: 2,781
note: also appears on my film review site, TheFilmBlogger.com, thanks!

We’ve all heard the rumours, and by now we’ve all taken a stance based on the wealth of footage released online. Is James Cameron’s first film in over a decade a dodgy amalgam of Ferngully and Dances with Wolves, or does it preserve Big Jim’s critical and commercial winning streak, which culminated in 1997 with his monstrous $1.8bn blockbuster juggernaut Titanic. At the behest of nervous Fox executives and eager fanboys, and despite some outrageous detractors, it is safe to say that James Cameron has lost none of what has caused him to become affectionately known as the Martin Scorsese of action films. Avatar is a masterpiece in the art of visual amazement, and while it has an overly familiar narrative, it is, without doubt, one of the most vital and thrilling cinematic experiences of the year, the decade, and perhaps even further still.

Cameron’s epic takes place in the mid-22nd century, where, given that Earth is now a ravaged wasteland (although these scenes were reportedly cut for pacing purposes), large human corporations have begun attempting to harvest the precious mineral unobtanium from the alien land Pandora, which is inhabited by an indigenous population called the Na’vi, who are a giant, blue, spiritual species that the humans consider to be savage (even crudely nicknaming them “blue monkeys”). After his twin brother dies in action, paralysed former marine Jake Sully (Terminator Salvation’s bright spot, Sam Worthington) is given the opportunity to take over his sibling’s role, in entering the Avatar program, where his consciousness will be imported into a synthetic body that combines his own DNA with that of the Na’vi. His goal will be to infiltrate the Na’vi, find out their weaknesses and deliver strategic information to Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a stern, straight-shooter military-type who works under ruthless bureaucrat Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), with the goal being to drive the Na’vi off of their homeland so that the mineral is theirs for the taking.

However, the film does indeed follow the Dances with Wolves path, because Jake quickly becomes enamoured with not only regaining the use of his legs, but also the Na’vi way of life, and the alluring female warrior Neytiri (Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana). Soon enough he begins to question the righteousness of his and the other human’s actions, and so, along with lead scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Cameron’s Aliens star Sigourney Weaver), lab geek Norm (Joel David Moore) and tomboy pilot Trudy (Michelle Rodriguez, in a role that’s a sure nod to Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez character from Aliens), they try to devise a way to repel the human forces and protect the Na’vi homeland. While to this token the plot is hardly original, and you’ll have the end in sight long before it arrives, this is a film not so much about the why and the when, but the how, and with his cutting-edge motion capture and digital rendering technology, Cameron has managed to create a film with, dare I say, near-perfect visual effects.

When the original teaser was released in mid-August, there was an outcry with regard to the quality of the visual effects in terms of what people were expecting from a supposed “game changer”, but of course, seeing this unfold on a 17” computer screen simply cannot be compared to the experience of, at the very least, watching it in a regular 3D cinema, and at best, gorging on this visual feast in a digital IMAX, an experience that, I must attest, is simply the most memorable, fascinating, and mind-meltingly gorgeous that I have ever had seeing a film. Plenty of films – such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, and 2012 – have dazzled our eyes this year with exorbitant visual effects, but Avatar simply sets a new standard, one that is sure to win WETA Digital yet another well-earned Oscar to add to their mantle.

For years, the problem has been the dreaded Uncanny Valley effect, in which CGI characters are regarded as well-rendered, but fall short in areas such as the eyes, revealing their artifice and making them seem a tad creepy (as Robert Zemeckis suffered with most recently in A Christmas Carol) as they’re so very nearly human, but not quite. Cameron is the first filmmaker to entirely do away with this problem, and it isn’t gushing hyperbole to say that his blue-skinned creations are the most realistic and convincing computer-generated creatures that cinema has as yet seen. However, these creations would be impressively rendered, if soulless vessels were it not for the impressive performances that Cameron has captured out of a cast surely struggling to deal with such a bold and risky technological venture.

It really has been a fine year for Sam Worthington, starring not only as the best thing in McG’s hit-and-miss Terminator Salvation, but also well and truly becoming a star here, as a sympathetic, understated lead that isn’t all that showy, but demonstrates a man with the looks, charisma and requisite charm needed to become an action commodity. However, the real show-stealer in terms of marrying Weta’s impeccable technology with performance is undoubtedly Zoe Saldana as Cameron’s requisite female badass Neytiri. Simply, any notion that animated replicants cannot capture the emotion and gravitas of a real, organic performance, has been nullified here; Saldana’s facial expressions, of anger, of sadness, of happiness, are as convincingly captured as any human performance you’re likely to see, and there has already been talk of Saldana earning an Oscar nomination, a comment not too far out of turn. This isn’t to forget the well-captured performances of Weaver’s or Moore’s avatars either, for Cameron has especially outdone himself by using pictures of Weaver from the original 1979 Alien film as a frame of reference for her avatar’s countenance, which meshes unbelievably well with her present expressions. Also, particular praise must go to The Shield’s CCH Pounder, who, as Mo’at, the Na’vi spiritual mother, manages to, for my money, rouse the greatest emotional response; as she begs Sully’s avatar, “If you’re one of us, help us”, with tears streaming down her face, she proves that Avatar is no stunt; it is unequivocally the best melding of live action and CG elements that anyone has ever managed.

To that effect, the strictly human performances are also great; Weaver shines as the sympathetic, laconic scientist, while Michelle Rodriguez is thrown most of the drole one-liners. Stephen Lang, as the relentless Colonel Quaritch is already gaining esteem as the most entertaining blockbuster villain since The Dark Knight’s The Joker, and in a performance that few seem to have recognised so far, Giovanni Ribisi does a great job as the thoroughly dislikeable stuffed shirt who is driving this whole mess.

So, why not five stars? Well, Avatar isn’t quite perfect. Narratively speaking, it’s more than familiar, a claim Cameron quite rightly admits, and once Jake lands on Pandora and goes deep cover with the natives, the pacing does sag a tad as the dramatic urgency is drained somewhat. However, on the other hand, Cameron never bores; in much the same way as Terminator 2’s mid-film desert sequence allowed quiet contemplation on fatherhood and fate, Cameron’s second act is a fantastical calm before the storm, a visual trip that deals with more rudimentary tribal elements, while never reminding the viewer that they are in a cinema, and keeping them immersed in this staggeringly realised world. Those who find Cameron’s dialogue “goofy” will likely feel the same here, but to Cameron fans, they’ll probably find it charming as per usual. Much criticism has been drawn to the supposed heavy-handedness of the plot, that it is a shallow allegory of the Iraq war or an anti-industrialist critique, but you need only observe Cameron’s Titanic to see that he is a director with unpretentious aspirations to classic stories, be it the melodrama of Kate and Jack’s love story, or as is true here, the child-like feeling of exploring an imaginatively constructed new world. Scholars and average Joes alike may pick apart Avatar’s supposed allegorical implications (which are, admittedly, quite prominent), but its eco-friendly message, if it has one, isn’t ham-fisted, and Cameron is far more interested in telling a fun and engaging story than he is in hugging trees.

Try though I might to review Avatar, it is ultimately a film that can only really be summarised through one’s own experience. Go see it in a 3D screen (an IMAX preferably), and simply revel in its visual wonder if nothing else, for the film’s climactic battle-to-end-all-battles is easily one of the best that the genre has ever seen, and sits alongside the superlative set-pieces that Cameron has wowed audiences with in his Terminator films and, of course, Aliens. Cameron’s fans will surely love it, and it’s more a testament to the man’s talent than anything that something so unrestrained and visually nutty is a median entry into his oeuvre (ranking behind his two Terminators and Aliens, level pegging with The Abyss and better than Titanic and True Lies). Many children are going to be utterly infatuated with the film’s fantastical tone, amazing action and stupendous effects, gazing upon it in much the same way as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings demanded when they revitalised the science fiction and fantasy genres. Sceptics on the fence probably owe it to Cameron to at least give it a viewing, and surely curiosity will spur plenty of them to see it.

Cameron has, by and large, silenced those who figured he’d lost his groove, and, if early box office figures are any indication, also those who imagined he might fall out with Fox when the film flops. After twelve years away exploring the ocean deep, Cameron has emerged having lost none of his spark, and has crafted an amazing spectacle, an adventure that, much like The Abyss, is very much ahead of its time. While the film will surely sweep the technical aspects of the Oscars, it may well have secured a Best Picture slot also, if not for its screenplay (an area it will surely miss out on), then for its iconic stature as a “game changer”, and as a declaration from the Academy that they are hanging up the same stodgy tastes that saw The Dark Knight miss out on a gong last year.

Cameron has not so much raised the bar as he has smashed it into a thousand pieces.

9/10

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