Thursday, December 31, 2009


Avatar (2009; dir. James Cameron) was thoroughly entertaining, even enthralling. If one scrutinizes too carefully, weaknesses will appear. But from a purely vicarious point of view, it is hard to beat. It is also perhaps the only film I have seen so far that effectively uses 3-D technology. The setting is vividly realized—a fusion of Maxfield Parrish and Henri Rousseau and Frank Frazetta. On the one hand there is no doubt that the alien world of the Na’vi is a digital graphics world, but it is detailed, colorful, and detailed and it draws one in. It’s artfully created and deeply realized, with a geography and biology and culture that, while borrowed in various ways from the world we know best, are convincing. The plot is not particularly novel (there are similarities to Dances with Wolves), but it is substantial enough, and the world in which it takes place more than overshadows any deficiencies. The film’s pace is break neck, with few lapses in action. With a culture partially drawn from Africa and partially from Native America, with a large dose of New Age hoo-hah thrown in for good measure, the Na’vi world is one whose veracity you rarely doubt, however implausible it might sometimes seem. Some might term this film science fiction, and certainly there are sci-fi elements here. To me it is straightforward fantasy. Avatar is so well done that it more than lives up to all the hype. Among the best scenes is one in which the central character Jake is waylaid at night in the Na’vi forest and chased by fantastic beasts. In another Jake is accepted into the Na’vi culture when he learns to ride a huge flying reptile—the sequences in which he rides this creature and soars through the air are the highpoint of the film. There are many other such scenes. Avatar will certainly reward subsequent viewings.

1 comment:

M. Davíde said...

James Cameron certainly shows craftsmanship by regularly introducing elements earlier in his films which will later reappear full-fledged. For example, we see the loader in which Ripley fights off the queen much earlier in "Aliens", during a brief exchange with Sgt. Apone (holding a large crate, she says, "Where would you like me to put this?") and somewhere in the back of our minds we know we're going to see THAT again. Same with "Avatar", but almost to the point of being rote. No doubt all the $400,000,000 is right there on the screen, but I was eventually just waiting for it to be over. A serious amount of tech in service of not much of a story. The two films I'd seen immediately prior to "Avatar" were "The Road" and "The Hurt Locker", so you'd think this would have been a welcome change of pace, but it was not to be.