Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Avatar - The Review

At two hours forty minutes Avatar is an epic fairy story. The plot is simple-minded in the extreme, a reworking of the wild-west from the point of view of the Indians. I confess to being mystified by the fondness of rich, liberal western film-makers for the stone-age lifestyle.

How many movies were recently produced by indigents in the Amazonian rain forests? The forests of Borneo? How many North American intellectuals recently trucked out of New York or San Francisco to savour their new aboriginal lives in the Australian outback?

Talk about biting the hand which feeds you ... give me a break!

Anyway, Pandora has valuable mineral deposits under the aboriginals' sacred tree. The expedition from earth, under the control of a mining corporation naturally, has a US marine force to give it some muscle. There is also a small scientific team to assuage the bleeding heart liberals back home and to gain valuable intelligence. The science folk use avatars looking like the natives which they remotely control from their couches.

The hero is a marine who has lost the use of his legs and who is drafted into the science team. Meant to report to the tough marine commander, he instead goes native as his avatar is inducted into the local customs by the chief's daughter, a warrior princess. Naturally and discreetly they become a mated pair in this 12A feature.

As even the pretext of negotiations fails, the marines pile in with gunships, troops and exoskeleton tanks against the natives defending their sacred ecology with spears and bows and arrows. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, you would need a heart of stone not to whoop with joy as missile systems take-out and demolish the towering totemic tree.

If the message of this film is ludicrous, the effects are staggering. The 3D evocation of Pandora is stunning, the creatures and the ten-foot tall blue natives are almost there - a lingering cartoonishness showing the limitations of Cameron's technology. The horse-like things were a bit clunky but little else was at fault.

On the way back we were making jokes about the inanities of the plotting. Even the US air force of 1945 knew how to sterilise a city-sized area without the least resistance. As in the film Starship Troopers, it is here advocated that the right way to take on primitive natives is on foot with Vietnam-style body armour and 20th century machine guns.

(Of course this is so that the aboriginals have a prayer of any kind of fight back).

In the end, the natives won this round for their version of Gaia and the remaining earthlings were dispatched back to Earth. Amazing: I could have done better with one Apache gunship. The film neglected to mention that the earthlings will be back next year with a few nukes.

Great spectacle! Watch and enjoy!

1. Alex mentioned that on the net this film is know as "Dances with Smurfs".

2. One plot-line I will give credit for is Cameron's solution to how his disabled marine hero can lead the Na'vi resistance while actually lying inert in a coffin: so easy to unplug! But Cameron manages it: respect!

3. One more thing. Cameron's film invites the audience to empathise with people on the receiving end of American certainties. This is surely positive for parochial Americans if not for everyone else.