Posted by: Dr P | December 20, 2009

Avatar (3D)

James Cameron has quite the reputation for producing cinematic treats, and creating visuals and new effects to wow the audiences. Remember T2’s liquid metal or the wondrous effects of the Abyss? Or maybe the moment the camera panned upwards as the Titanic flipped up on its end and broke in two? Or even the moment when Kate “I’ll never Let Go” Winslet, um, let go? Well, “you ain’t seen nothing” to compare with the astonishing visuals of Avatar. Nothing close to it in fact.

If your cinema is showing this in 3D, go the extra mile and make sure you take advantage. If your previous experience of 3D is wonky red and green glasses, or Jaws 3D, then once again you are in for a complete feast of eye candy. The 3D in this film blows everything seen before totally out of the water. It’s astonishing.

The other good thing about getting 3D glasses is that you can muck about with them in the foyer. I put them on and pretended to walk about in a zombie-like state, which was amusing enough, but then Big G decided to copy me and accidentally walked straight into someone. Hilarious! Of course I was trying to keep a safe distance from my erstwhile companion as he had previously announced he was “a bit frisky” on arriving at the cinema – must be the cold weather.

Given that the film has been 14 years in the making and with a boundless budget, you may be forgiven for thinking I might be going a bit OTT about the effects and the visuals – you’ll think again when you see it. The wondrous imagination on display, the stunning landscapes created on the mystical world of Pandora, the sheer range, depth, clarity and ingenuity of the director’s vision are a marvel.

But what of the story? Has all the budget gone on effects and left nothing for the plot? Nope. I was pleasantly surprised by the way the storyline engaged me. With planet Earth finally stripped bare of resources, the planet of Pandora has been targeted for its rich vein of a rare mineral which is worth 20 million dollars a kilo (about the same as anhydrous scandium III, the material with which I did much of my PhD). The main obstacle to the mining is the local population and the fact that their headquarters is sited right on top of the richest deposit.

Into the delicate situation comes paraplegic marine Jake Sulley. Despite losing both his legs in combat, he is determined to make a difference, and becomes an “Avatar” driver – his mind is placed in the body of a remote-control native body, and his orders are to infiltrate the Na’vi population and persuade them to yield their home. Should the natives resist, the gung-ho Colonel in charge of miltary operations is set to blow them to kingdom come.

The wonders of Pandora soon unfold as Jake starts to learn the ways of the Na’vi, explores the astounding country and forests, and falls in love with his teacher and guide, Neytiri. This throws up a massive personal conflict, as he must decide whether to continue to provide military intelligence to the warmongering Colonel, or work out how to save the natives and repel the army.

“Avatar” is of course a term familiar to most gamers, as it represents the player’s form in the game, Thank goodness we’ve moved on from the 90s or this film might have been called “Sprite” – imagine the product placement …

In many ways, this film is reminiscent of a giant computer game – aliens vs humans, warfare, good and evil, weapons, battles etc. But it is so much moire than that. The underlying conflict that Sam Worthington’s character goes through is very engaging, and the quality on view from the rest of the cast, notably Sigourney Weaver, is terrific in a film that puts so much stock on visual appeal.

If you are not a fan of sci-fi or fantasy, then don’t dismiss this – as a cinematic event it really is one not to miss – you won’t see a leap forward like this again in a hurry. It’s not Shakespeare, it’s not the best script, but it’s thoroughly engaging, utterly jaw-dropping and you’ll come out of it wondering just how on earth they thought up all the ideas.

Love or hate James Cameron (I’m firmly in the former camp), you can’t fail to say that the 14 years planning and making this movie were well worth every second. An absolute gem.

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