James Cameron’s Avatar

People who know me best know that I have wanted a tail since, well since forever. But never have wanted a tail quite so badly as I did as I watched James Cameron’s Avatar.

I went to see a preview screening of this one last night in 3D. I came out of the Final Destination with a low-level migraine that not so much painful, but annoyingly persistent. At the prospect of spending three hours in the cinema with Avatar, I was certainly worried about staggering out with a headache that could stun a rhino. I’m pleased to say that wasn’t the case.

The 3D is a little grating during the opening sequence where there are several super-close ups of faces, and the 3D seems a little off, but they quickly get past that. From there on out, the 3D is handled with a deft touch similar to Disney-Pixar’s UP. The three-layer effect that was so mind-boggling annoying in the Final Destination is barely apparent during Avatar. They use the closest layer of 3D sparingly, occasional flecks of something small drifting across your vision which adds a layer of immersion that found me wanting to reach up and sweep something out of the air in more than one instance. The subtitles floating over the bottom of the image was a little disconcerting, but understandably the best way to handle them.

Sam Worthington is excellent as Jake. Emotive, expressive, and sympathetic. He plays the role of the jarhead taking orders well, and while the narration he provides over part of the movie and some of the dialogue is jarring, it is not through bad writing or delivery, but rather falls entirely within his character.

For a three-hour movie (are we sure about that one? It sure as hell didn’t feel like it), some parts of the story move too quickly. There is not a single scene in the entire movie that I felt carried on too long, no part of the story line that drags. Rather, the middle part of the story progresses too quickly, and could have been expanded without boring the audience. Indeed, it would have allowed for better development of the crucial turning point of the movie. The movie plays out like a well-paced novel.

The plot does have some major injections of cliché at a few points, especially during the final third of the plot line, making the story rather predictable; but as long as you’re not too jaded, it shouldn’t bother you too much.

Elements of the story show the degree of care with which this movie has been made. The fact that Pandora’s atmosphere is unbreathable for humans is a delight on a purely geeky level, but is also used to great effect to add tension to certain scenes. Possibly one of the best touches was, in one scene, we see Jake in his human body wheeling himself down a corridor wearing a pair of shorts. His painfully thin legs add a degree of vulnerability that was not necessary, but certainly appreciated.

CGI has been used to great effect throughout the movie and is almost seamless. I am personally pleased that the Na’vi are depicted with human-like hip/leg structures, rather than the more exotic but ultimately impractical “quadruped on two legs” style. The balance of real actors interacting with real objects to CG render has been struck well enough that the CG objects are, for the most part, highly believable. There is very little “float” (where CG objects seem to drift through a motion in a manner that seems unnatural), and even that can be handwaved away with the knowledge that Pandora is a low-gravity world.

Speaking of Pandora, perhaps the only disappointment of this movie was the setting. While I was expecting stunning landscapes of glorious colour and beauty, I actually felt a little let down.

For a start, the jungle is filled with impractical creatures that show an inexplicable propensity for hexipedal evolution (while, strangely, the Na’vi do not). Lemurs have four arms, and just about every land creature has six legs. At night the jungle lights up like Zangermarsh dropping acid. Everything bioluminesces, and when touched glows a little brighter. Even the Na’vi themselves light up. Although it is unquestionably beautiful, like that guy who doesn’t know when to quit with the Christmas decorations, the resulting effect is a touch overdone.

There are no sweeping landscapes or breath-taking panoramas to really immerse you in the unspoilt wilderness of Pandora, and I feel the movie suffered a little for that lack of wonder.

One aspect of the movie that wasn’t expressed in the trailer was just how large the Na’vi are. I was a little surprised to realise just how tall these elf-slender cat-people are.

There are also no easter eggs after the credits, so if you find Celine Dion particularly grating, feel free to bolt the moment the credits start rolling. If you can stomach the song that is about a hundred times worse than My Heart Will Go On, then you can enjoy some aerial views of Pandora before the real credits get going.

All in all, a hugely enjoyable experience, and I look forward to seeing this one again.

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~ by ghostwolfe on December 17, 2009.

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