I finally got my act together and took James to see Avatar at the weekend. And, despite a lot of the negative comments I've seen floating around the blogosphere, I thought it lived up to the hype. OK, I thought it was amazing!
I'll get what I thought to be the film's biggest weakness out of the way first: the plot. I've always liked films that have twists and turns, that surprise, and maybe even challenge you while they entertain you. Avatar doesn't really do that. The story of Evil Space-Capitalists versus Noble Alien Savages and Conflicted Human goes exactly where you expect it to go. Our hero, Jake Sully, is a paraplegic Marine who is dropped into the exotic world of Pandora in his remotely controlled Avatar body, with a mission to infiltrate the indigenous population ( the "Na'vi" ) and report back to his superiors all the information they need for their planned ethnic cleansing. Of course, he "goes native", realises his mission is wrong, falls in love with a native girl, and ends up fighting on the side of the locals against his own kind.
Most plot developments can be seen a mile off, but what counts here is the sheer verve and excitement of the story-telling. Come on, it's James Cameron after all! This is a director with a solid track record for emotional, engaging and thrilling movie-making, and here he pulls out all the stops. After all this time, Cameron is still the king of action set-pieces and I found myself being swept along with the narrative, forgetting any cynicism and just going with the flow.....
But, of course, where the film really triumphs is the awe-inspiring creation of a whole new world. Pandora is a living, breathing eco-system, a riot of colours and textures, all greens and blues in the daylight, flashes of fluorescent colour against the darkness in the night-time. The level of detail is staggering, from the woodgrain of the world-forest, to the skin pores of the Na'vi, to the solidity of the floating mountains. You soon forget that most of this world was built in a computer and you just believe. Seeing the film in 3D only serves to immerse you further in this green world, the effect being more than just a gimmick but acting as a portal to Pandora.
With all this visual wonderment, you'd almost expect the actors to get lost in the mix, but that's not the case. Sam Worthington is fine as Sully, low-key and quietly determined as his human self, increasingly confident and heroic as his Na'vi avatar. His rallying call of "This is OUR land!" to the assembled Na'vi brings a lump to the throat and is reminiscent of Aragorn's pre-battle speeches in the Rings movies. Zoe Saldana appears on the screen as animated pixels only, but still manages to bring passion, pride and sensuality to Neytiri the warrior-woman. There's stirling support work by Stephen Lang as bad-ass Colonel Quaritch, Joel Moore as geeky-but-heroic Spellman and, of course, the wonderful Sigourney Weaver as scientist Dr. Grace Augustine. Weaver brings out the humanity and warmth in her character's initially spiky personality and calls to mind the immortal Ellen Ripley when she rails against the callous company-drone in charge of the mission.
As you can see, I liked Avatar! And I'd definitely sign up for another tour of duty on Pandora. Over to you, Mr. Cameron.....
Soundtrack: In The Na'vi by Village People.
( Did I really just type that? )