OK then, once again I have singularly failed to write a 1,000 word or fewer review for the Sci-Fi channel. o for those who like to know a little more I'm putting the full monty on here. A little short of 2,500 words, I wrote this immediately upon my return from one of the most important films in cinema history,and fortunately one of the best too. So a sprawling, rambling middle of the night attempt to convey in poor, pathetic words just how different, how awe inspiring and how emotional this film is. Virtually nothing looks anything other than real and there are nothing but excellent performances throughout.
Anyway here it is.........
All of this has happened before? No, it hasn’t.
Kick Ass, hella cool, ill, sweet, wicked, sick, dark, quality, Stunning, amazing, dope, the shi*, off the hook, or just plain bloody good stuff. Pick your superlatives, your adjectives, your colloquialisms, your slang and just plain made up words that sound good, for shizzle. They are all useless, redundant and not fit to lace the boots of the person who cleans James Cameron’s toilet. The man is a cinematic genius. Unparallel in his ability to convey visually and through complete and utter total Mise-En-Scene. You have not seen anything like this before; ever.
I'm writing a review but feel that I can't do it justice on one pitiful viewing. I’m insulting the film, insulting the readers and perhaps showing a little hubris in thinking that I’m going to be able to sum up and appraise the work of YEARS, work that took 47 hours per FRAME to bring to life in a few short paragraphs; having seen, no having experienced this event just once. I feel I should be doing what I had to do for G.C.S.E Media studies or A-Level film studies; that I should see the film 2, 3 or 4 times before I dare to write it up. I wrote a fairly decent essay on Cameron’s The Abyss, a criminally underrated movie, for Media Studies.
I’d already watched the film umpteen times but watched it again several more, taking notes and I even screened in the common room at college and observed people’s reactions to the film. I did the same for the classic Western “The Searchers”. I was certain I was going to hate the film but fortunately I loved it. I watched the film several times and wrote several thousand words about it. Sure it was work I needed to do for academic reasons as opposed to a movie review but I’m not just reviewing a movie here. It’s an event, a pivotal moment in cinema history at least on a par with “The Jazz Singer (1927) the first feature length “talking picture” with Synchronised sound in several scenes. How about the first full length Technicolor films, or watching the Wizard Of Oz for the first time and seeing the Sepia tinged “black & white” world of Kansas disappear and get replaced by a stunning vivid primary coloured world?
In the film the character Quaritch, played to absolute perfection by Stephen Lang, states “You are not in Kansas anymore”; almost as if to remind the viewer that a jump has been made in this film too. It may not be as obvious as going from sepia to colour, the entire film is in glorious yet invisible 3D, (stereoscopic 3D for the nitpickers), but a nudge in the direction that whilst what you are looking at may not seem too different from the 2D film you saw last week with “only” the depth of field to remind you at first, no spears or yo-yos flying into your eyes saying THREE DEE, look we’re in THREE DEE! But the whole experience is just, better because of it. Sure you can watch Star Wars & Star Trek or Goodfellas, The Godfather or Crouching Tiger on an old style 24 inch CRT TV set; the films are still good, well acted, well made but you’re in no way going to enjoy the experience or get close to what was intended visually as much as you will with a 40 inch plus 1080p HD TV with digital 5:1 or 7:1 surround sound. You just aren’t.
Avatar is filmed in a way no other film comes close to. Not Beowulf, not Coraline, certainly not the soulless “Disney’s A Christmas Carol”. Everything is just that bit more real, that extra bit more thrilling or heart breaking. Here is the use for 3D. All movie making tools, like tools in real life, can be used well or used poorly. The reverse Zoom remains one of the most potent and useful tools in a directors armoury. Though it may as yet never have had a better use than in Jaws when poor Chief Brody sees a shark in the water and that magnificent reverse zoom draws the background in close and keeps his face in close up focus is movie legend. In the hands of a lesser director, Roland Emmerich please step forward, it gets wasted, not only because it is used more than once in quick succession completely taking away the impact of the technique but also because it was poorly paced and, in one case, cut partway through. The green screen colour shenanigans of Sin City and 300 are central to the success of those films but, sadly, a complete waste of space in The Spirit. Cameron is a master for sure and he has shown what can be done if 3D is used as a means to further the story, to better tell a story in a visual medium with the best, most immersive visual tools available.
Once again it is a must see film. Whether the story appeals to you or not, whether it is the kind of film you would normally watch or not it is simply a film that anyone who has any idea that they are a film lover simply must see.
To take it back to film studies I had to study a film called “The Birth Of A Nation”. It’s an infamous film for two reasons. Firstly the film is about the birth of the Ku-Klux-Klan. It portrays them as brave heroes banding together to protect the poor white Southern belles who were left behind whilst their husbands, brother and sons went off to war with the slave freeing North. The ladies all being at the mercy of the nasty, savage lusty Negroes. All important black characters played by white actors in black make up of course. The other reason is because it is simply a magnificent film. So many of what we still take for granted in film lore was showcased in that film. Cross cutting with dramatic music from one set of characters racing to get somewhere and another set being attacked, or setting up an ambush. A horrible film, but very important. What has this got to do with Avatar? It’s just a reminder that you don’t always have to like something, or what something has to say to appreciate its significance or that it is a genuine milestone. You may find the film’s nature VS technology storyline isn’t to your tastes, being a huge Miyazaki fan I loved it, but you can still appreciate the sheer beauty of the film and the way that the 3D enhances the genuine three dimensional feel of the film. Swooping up and down Pandora, through Pandora is just so much more vital, kinetic and real because of the enhancements of the 3D filming.
There were tears at the screening I went to, from several people. I don’t know if it’s because I went to the film with women, and there were several others around where I sat that made it seem to have more of an emotional resonance with the audience than it actually did but yes there were tears. I found myself in the bizarre situation of feeling sad about the death of a tree. A tree “dies” in this film and it is tragic, heartbreaking I dare say as tragic as any death I may have seen in any film. A TREE! That’s how good this film is. It is so well directed, so well written, so well performed AND with an amazing motion capture system that translates the facial expressions, the nuances and most importantly the eyes of the actors. You get a genuine performance here and it serves to make the Na’vi look even more real than the fantastic FX guys could have dreamed. James Cameron gets everything right here, including the dialogue. The perfect use of two simple words “my Jake” shows as much. Still a master of banter, see Aliens & The Abyss for a refresher course, Avatar is sprinkled lots of subtle jokes and a decent share of laugh out loud moments to counter balance the many themes and allusions. From both Gulf wars, in particular the treatment of wounded or ill soldiers, to the dangers of losing sight of nature through the support of ever better technology, the pursuit of money at all costs; The displacement of “weaker” species and the assumption that we are smarter than everyone else. The film is not, by any means, anti technology, here Sigourney Weaver and her colleagues are using cutting edge tech to learn and enhance mankind’s knowledge and understanding. Like Star Wars before it this film draws on many others; from Last of The Mohicans to The Princess Mononoke and Castle in The Sky, the story of Pocahontas, The Mission and more. Once again Cameron takes social commentary and hides it in a spectacular film.
Here’s where I get to the problem. You see I liked Iron Man. I thought it was lots of fun and very well made. I have been looking forward to the trailer for Iron Man II and have high hopes for it being even better than 1. But here in Avatar we’ve had flights on the back of “Dragons”, taking us in all 3 dimensions. Again it isn’t the fact that we get a lot of objects thrown in our faces, it’s the depth of field, the way that the makes the action come alive. In a way that 2D just cannot replicate. So no matter how good it looks or how fantastic the action it will be it won’t be in 3D. It won’t have that extra thrill that bit of good old movie magic.
Yes the state of the art has improved people and it’s going to be a while before we see the likes of Avatar again. It will be interesting to see if the Screen Actors’ Guild finally gets over their fear of being supplanted by Synthespians and look at the performances here. The eyes the facial expressions as well as the body language has been masterfully captured and transferred, unerringly to the CGI Na’vi and Avatars. If you’ve ever seen Sigourney Weaver act you can see that her Avatar, her young mid 20s looking Avatar, is a perfect transfer of her performance. Zoe Saldana gets a larger role than she had in Star Trek but delivers another excellent performance. Here she acts as well as any other actress I’ve seen this year and there is a real chemistry between her and Worthington’s Jake Sully. A chemistry that transcends the CGI rendering of their performances. Whilst Saldana had the privilege of being in another good Sci-Fi film this year, playing Uhura in Star Trek, Worthington had the misfortune of being one of only about 3 good things in the poorly written and poorly realised Terminator Salvation. He has remarked that he’ll have to take a much closer look at his scripts in the future to make sure the quality of film he is in better in the future. Well I doubt he thought twice when offered the chance to be in a James Cameron film and there’s a whole universe of difference in the calibre of Avatar as compared to Terminator Salvation. Of course this is again there’s some irony here given that Cameron created the Terminator and his writing and directing skills have been sorely missed in parts 3 & 4 of that series. I cannot overstate how “real” everything looks. Whilst talking about the film on the way home we were all talking about how much we’d like to live there and how we’d love to live there as Na’vi.
So there you have it as spoiler free as it can be. I know it meant I spent a lot of words on things not directly to do with Avatar itself but I really wanted to put the film into a proper context, to show why it is the most important film at least 30 years and to convey that despite what has been sinfully dubbed as a “tree hugger” storyline we have a film that without 3D would go down as one of the most exciting AND best Sci-Fi films of the 21st century and of all time and that may, in the fullness of time and repeated viewing, Join a few of Cameron’s earlier films in the list of best films of all time.
Golden Globe nominations for best film and Director are sure to be replicated come Oscar nom time, the only question remains will any of the actors will make it. Some of them deserve to, I’ll let you make up your own minds as to who they are when you watch the film. I haven’t seen a better film this year, although I have yet to see “Up in The Air” or “Invictus”. There have been several comments made about the film’s ability to surpass Titanic as the biggest film of all time. Such talk is daft and putting way too much pressure on the film.....
Not because of the quality of it compared to Titanic but just because that film was such a freak in modern movie going times. Making more money every week then dropping tiny amounts in it’ weekend grosses for weeks then months at a time. In the era of huge openings then large drop off Titanic performed like a film from the golden age when TV was still a novelty and black & white there were no video games and going to movies was a way of life. It certainly has the quality to make a LOT of money and to do so for a long period. Having seen it in 3D many people will want to go IMAX, people will watch this film again and again, especially as there will be no way to own this movie in True 3D, at an affordable price, for some time yet.
I have to go but I’ll say it again. A tree “dies” and people in the audience cried. A film has made me feel an emotional tie to a TREE. That’s how good it is.
You are the resistance.
See this film, see it again in IMAX show Hollywood that whilst popcorn movies are fun this, this is our kind of film and we want more please. Clone Cameron now!