Sunday, May 02, 2010

Film Notes: Avatar

It was Mrs Hideous' film choice this weekend, and dismayed at my last choice of some Coen brothers film or other that "didn't have a proper ending" (sic) , she went for James Cameron's new epic Avatar, just released on DVD. The added incentive for her choice was that we promised to review the film for the kids in order to decide which, if any, of ours it might be suitable for. It's rated as a (12), but our experience is that the official ratings can be a bit erratic - or perhaps our kids reactions to different types of more 'grown-up' themes isn't consistent. One of ours for example, wasn't a bit bothered with the fantasy violence in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. In his mind that was so disconnected with reality as to be purely entertaining; unlike "Home Alone" whose innocent fun he thought was terrifyingly close to, er.. home. So I have the kids to thank for the fact that I wasn't sitting down to watch another predictable "Romantic Comedy", a genre I find singularly lacking in both those adjectives.

Instead we watched Avatar (at which this post has finally arrived). I must admit that I was skeptical from the outset, it wasn't that I had read critical reviews, it was that the only other film by Cameron I have seen is the woeful "Titanic". That film limps on for hour after excoriating hour until battered into submission by the cinematographical equivalent of Chinese water torture, the poor audience is left pleading for the wretched thing to sink so that they can retreat to the shelter of their homes. Titanic is perhaps the most undisciplined piece of editing in the history of film, with so much superfluous material left in it that it drowns itself in a sea of its own pretensions.

Avatar however proved to be a quite different prospect. Although the middle section of the film is rather slow in places, the unfolding story-line holding no surprises, and progressing towards its inevitable conclusion without enough purpose - the attention rarely wanes. The reason for this is singular and deeply impressive - the film is visually absolutely stunning. The visual concepts are brilliant, the filming is breathtaking, the integration of human actors and technology is perfect, and the beauty of nature as depicted on the planet on which the action is set is quite wonderful. The floating mountain range at one end of the size spectrum, and the floating, glowing insects at the other, were particularly impressive. On several occasions we drew breath at the power of the images - and we were watching in 2D on the TV screen. What the full 3D/cinema experience would have been like I cannot imagine!

The overpowering visual experience of Avatar is however a bit of a mask for some serious weaknesses in writing we felt. While the concept of the film (perhaps what The Lion Witch and Wardrobe are to Christianity, Avatar is to Gaia), failed to convince; the real weakness was the predictability of the plot and characters. Ironically, while millions had been spent in projecting the images of the characters in three dimensions, their personalities seemed rarely to peak above one! Virtually all the humans were 'irredeemable baddies', committed to environmental rape and destruction, while all the blue people were good, joyous, intergalactic hippies, all loved up and tuned into their mother-earth... (yawn). Brush strokes this broad are not the things of artists, but of house decorators.

Finally though, the film sits awkwardly between different levels of meaning. It seems that Cameron wants to use technology, fantasy violence and the power of imagination as commentary on America, particularly Iraq and the quest for oil. He wants to further a new-agey type environmentalism and foster the de rigeur liberal-western self-loathing. I'm not objecting to that per se - I mean, I'm all up for some serious self-loathing. What I do mean is that Cameron goes far enough into these themes to make them obvious and pointed; but surrounds them with so much flimsy hyperbole that any objector to his thrust can easily be met with the 'it's only a sci-fi film' rebuff. And it's true - how can you possibly take anything with a comic-book villain like Col Miles Quartich at its centre, remotely seriously!? What emerges is a curious mixture of different genres, all mingling together with the distinct influences of Dances with Wolves, crossed with Star Wars and Shrek (!).

All of these negatives however, didn't ruin what was a memorable visual spectacle.


lynn said...

sounds like you and Mrs H quite enjoyed it. In my mind I thought you might be a Driscoll fan - forgive me if I have remembered this wrongly - but you may in any case want to watch this clip.

lynn said...

PS I don't agree with him in the slightest, but then I am not a fan of his!

That Hideous Man said...

I've never discussed Driscoll on here! In fact the only American preacher I've mentioned is Tim Keller?

lynn said...

please extend forgiveness as the first comment asked :-)

I think I just had it in my mind because of other associations.

That Hideous Man said...

No forgiveness needed Lynn!