Saturday, August 22, 2009

Avatar Movie - Want to know what it's all about?

Today I was fortunate to attend the 30 minute teaser premiere of James Cameron's latest flick, AVATAR. I watched it on the world's largest 3D screen, which at the moment is here in South Africa, at the Nu Metro Montecasino cinema. It really is huge, and curved, and somewhat smaller than an IMAX screen, but probably 2-3 times the size of conventional silver screens. And of course, it provides cinema in 3D. So what is AVATAR all about?

NOTE: Below is a review based on a 30 minute preview of the flick. Read my updated review after watching the full feature a second time HERE.

First of all, this is the first project since Cameron made Titanic - er...the highest grossing movie ever. Some of the journalists present commented that Cameron's movies are soulless. Well...they certainly are more innovative and technically refined than a lot of films, and perhaps this distracts Cameron from a more cogent storyline and more fleshed out characters. As an engineer Cameron has brought us some useful and really creative work, from the submarine The Abyss to the groundbreaking Terminator franchise. Cameron was not involved in 2009's Terminator permutation, and you can sense the Cameron magic is somehow not there. John Connor [played by Christian Bale] somehow became a central character that was hard to care about in this year's Terminator, but let's not forget, Worthington stole the show, and he's the male lead here, in AVATAR, so Cameron must like him.

Okay, so there's the pedigree of the director, and one of the main actors. Cameron waited several years for the technology to be ready to bring his very elaborate vision on screen, and as you can guess, he wanted it rendered in 3D. This required building special cameras. And to watch it, you'll be wearing those special flat black geeky glasses.

And the film itself. Well, it features the likes of Sigourney Weaver [ALIENS], and, yes, Sam Worthington, who plays the legless Jake Sully. It's no coincidence that in AVATAR he asks a female alien why she rescued him, and she replies, "I see how have an unusually strong heart," or words to that effect [echoing stuff said about him in Terminator.]

Initially I was impressed with the opening volley of scenes. It looked fresh. But there were a bunch of scenes that reminded me of, at turns, Jurassic Park, some have suggested the aliens resemble Gollum, there's a scene stolen from Star Wars [a lush planet features during the extermination of the Jedi's], and perhaps even Planet of the Apes. It is also irritating that the lingua galactica happens to be English. And if you want to make a film about dangerous creatures, why not do a documentary about crime in Johannesburg, or some poisonous frogs in the Amazon, why fly all over the galaxy, and when you find life, why must you immediately start conquering and fighting? So I found that somewhat juvenileand not very elegantly done and possibly not very well thought out. But then this is fantasy and I suppose anything goes then - right?

So those are a few reservations, but there are also some breathtaking moments, and it's the sort of magic you can see filtering into game platforms and making hundreds of millions. There's a beautiful sequence that evokes the breaking in of flying dragons. So AVATAR is likely to be a big deal. I'm not inclined to gush over it, though, as some reviewers have. It's good, but it's not breathlessly magnificent. And as I say, the Jurassic Park scene [where Worthington's character battles a dinasaur like creature for what felt like a really long time] seemed more about showcasing 3D cinema, an advertisement therefore, than having any other point.

I also have an idea about the storyline [remember we only watched 30 minutes worth of snippets]. I'm guessing that it's a sort of Alien-based Dances with Wolves. Worthington's character falls in love with a rebellious but somewhat protective, and aggressive alien lovely, Neytiri [Zoe Saldana], and when it comes time to return to base, he decides to rather fight with them, allied to the new love of his life, and against the coming [human] invasion. That's a guess. It's obviously possible the flick will be far more elaborate than that, but the dinosaur scene tends to make me think the plot will be less fanciful and intricate than the blue-skinned aliens.

But there you have it. Some of the hype is deserved. Like District 9 it's originality and novelty factor will pull in titanic shiploads of people. Will it break box office records? Well, the 3D feature is also it's limiting factor - see there just ain't that many 3D cinemas around. I personally didn't fall out of my chair when I saw some of the 3D effects. I thought they were good, but I'm not ready to say it's the future of cinema. Dark Knight was a perfectly rendered 2 dimensional film, and it is the quality of the picture and the power of the story that are still by far the most important. That said, I'm pretty sure Cameron's work will be something of a triumph, and the breaking of new ground in cinema is always exciting. And AVATAR certainly is that.

Score: Tough one on 30 minutes. 7-8/10.

No comments: