Sunday, 20 December 2009

Do I Want To Date His Avatar?

What can I say about Avatar?

I'm probably not the best person to ask, actually (not that anyone has, technically). Partially this is because Cameron is the man responsible for my favourite movie of all time (and two others that must come in the top 200 at least), so I've been deliberately ratcheting down my expectations; partially it's because it's harder to enjoy the application of film-making as thrill-ride when just getting to the cinema provides one with all the nail-biting tension one could ask for (apparently we'll hit -8C tonight); and partially it's because Avatar is a film that is very much preaching, and doing so in a context in which I can very much be considered converted.

Spoilers follow.




I've heard Avatar described by several people as a souped-up Fern Gully film. That is unfair. If anything, it's the bastard love child of Fern Gully and Dances With Wolves that was born during an explosion storm. Caused by climate change.

Seriously, if anything ever gets to be called liberal porn, it's this film. At least, it is right up until the end, at which point some war porn is stapled on to make sure no-one feels like they've wasted their money. Up to the (admittedly spectacular) conclusion, though, it's hand-holding, we're-all-the-same-inside, some-things-can't-be-bought-with-money, tree-hugging, circle-of-life stuff all the way. Frankly, if you're going to have your plot hover so close to that of The Lion King, I'd think twice about making your alien race look so much like anthropomorphic cats.

We feel bad that humanity wants to displace an indigenous population to get at the resources they're too "primitive" to use. We talk about "hearts and minds" whilst reaching for our machine guns. We come to paradise having fucked our own planet and then wonder what we can do to shaft this new one. We poo-poo nature's cycle and end up with the Big N. kicking our arses. Christ, there's even a healthcare reference in there; since the hero is stuck in his wheelchair purely because "the Man" won't pay to have his legs fixed "in this economy".

Of course, the fact that the message is simple doesn't mean it's wrong. And perhaps it's inherently ludicrous asking for subtlety and restraint in a film which features cat-people on dinosaurs fighting giant robots (controlled by men inside matching their movements, and it is thanks to this film that we can scientifically state that no matter how much bullet-proof metallic robo-death a man is surrounded by, he will still look like a dick when he mimes shooting a gun). We also need to consider George Romero's plight, whereby no matter how gratingly obvious he thought his subtexts were, people would always complain that they were too hard to see (presumably this is a problem that did not survive Diary Of The Dead).

Even so, it's difficult to watch this sort of thing and not feel like you haven't seen it a hundred times before. And that's fatal for a film promising to raise the bar of what cinema can achieve.

Having said all that, it's mind-bogglingly pretty, there are some great moments, the central concept of the Avatar is well done (if a little underexplored), and it never drags despite the patented Cameron ueber-runtime. And, at the end of the day, in a world in which hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead for no reason, international climate summits can end with each nation being given a blank piece of paper to write their own targets onto, and Michele Bachmann can organise a prayer session to make sure twenty to forty thousand Americans die each year, maybe we really do need films like this.

Seriously, though: a little restraint would kill you?

One last word: if you're going to make a big deal out of a major character dying because she couldn't be gotten to the Tree of Souls in time to save her life, best not have her change costume in the interim. It kind of ruins the impact. If those lunatic kitty-men hadn't spent so much time draping vines over Ripley's naughty-bits, she might have taped a machine gun to a flame-thrower and killed Alien Queen Scar-Faced Marine Dick. Just sayin'

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