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One of the most excellent things about the 3D issue is that despite all the hype and fuss and pre-sales chatter with which this film has been heralded, no-one can see the 3D effect until they have paid for their ticket (plus the extra for seeing a 3D film, plus the cost of the dorky glasses), are sitting in the cinema, specs on, and watching the movie.
I approached Smurfahontas Goes to the Moon with neutrality; I enjoyed Terminator 2, was alarmed by Aliens and sat through Titanic. Could Cameron's new film compete for spectacle? I had a feeling it wouldn’t get close to the sci-fi edge of the Terminator franchise, and I had a vague hope it might be positive about female characters…
I’m going to moan first and end positively, just for a change. The script was practically non-existent, and characterisation wasn’t top of the list of Things To Be Achieved. After all, this was blockbuster fare, designed to thrill the great unwashed, rather than – oh, no, hang on, there is an educational theme, as once again we are pounded over the head by a film-maker with an ecological/new age axe to grind. The bad guys destroyed earth and now they want to destroy this planet… they hounded the native Americans (and the Vietnamese and probably the Afghans) and that was very wrong of them… they sent in spies without training them to be just as bad as they were… they have no respect for folk religion.
Somehow I resist being moved by the plight of the tall blue aliens (is it me, or is there something Yellow Submarine about the aliens?), as the CGI was a constant reminder that they were pretend; indeed, the tone of the film - people pretend to be alien, understand the alien culture more than they do, become misunderstood and then redeem themselves, despite the sad death of one of the good guys - was so dully predictable and soaked in ‘pretend’ that I was all too aware of the unreal nature of the story.
Sigourney Weaver (yes, Ripley out of Alien and the voice of the computer in Wall-E) was brilliant as a feisty botanist, and evil colonel Stephen Lang bit great lumps out of the scenery whenever he appeared on screen.
But the main stars were less-known to me, coloured blue, had yellow eyes and tended to run in only two gears – blurringly fast and stop. They had some emotional life as CGI trouble with cement-face seems to have been solved.
Clearly, throw enough money at the problem, and it can be eliminated. Unfortunately, I still didn’t care. I was bothered about the real corporal, with the damaged legs, but I go to the flicks to see larger-than-life-size close ups of the leading lady, and to feel something about her – intense dislike, sadness, a minor frisson of attraction, even – but passion of some sort. The Great Blueness didn’t do it for me, and my boat stayed in dry dock throughout.
Obviously this movie is a triumph for 3D, and probably breaks new ground within that particular special effect. However, that’s all it will be remembered for. The immersive effects are quite breathtaking.
Bear with me, if you will, as I recall similar events in my film-viewing history… In Jurassic Park, the camera pans around and for the first time ever, you see the dinosaurs (approx half a hour into the movie, once the characters have been established). Or the shots in the Alien film, where the scale of the Nostromo fills the screen… Or the final reveal about Tyler Durden in Fight Club. They were WOW moments.
And this movie had several of those, especially when the incidental things happen: a droplet of water hangs in the air near the corporal’s face as he emerges from the stasis-tube in weightlessness; the jellyfish as they fly from the Greenwood Tree; those ‘biologically interesting’ fronds of worship. Each of these are just additions which helped me believe in the planet, while the pointy-pointy machine gun or the ‘Midland bank symbol swoops right out onto the audience’ moments were a reminder of how clever the special effects team were, which cut the strings on my suspension of disbelief. I really enjoyed the 5:1 sound, and was dazzled by the panoramic beauty of the new world being created in front of me (and, it really did seem, all around me).
Is this the way forward for cinema? I hope not, because at the moment, getting the DVD is something to be looked forward to even though the picture will always be smaller and the experience less cinema-like, plus there's the extras (minor-part actors’ commentary, captions in Hebrew, trailers, still photos of posters of other movies distributed by the same company – I jest of course).
But at least with the DVD you can stop and rewind good bits, check dialogue with captions, brave the Making Of in case it’s been done interestingly (and some have). But you’d never be able to reproduce the immersive 3D effect, would you? The recent series of 3D shows on Channel 4 (using the red/blue filter method, which is very tiring on the right eye) was a good attempt, but the clips they showed were mostly ‘pointy-pointy’ – notably the pitchfork with which the bad guy was stabbed in Friday the 13th 3D or the severed hand which floats unbidden and unwelcome into the cinema during Jaws 3D.
So. See it, because you have to see it.
But don’t be fooled into thinking the message justifies the medium in this case. The story is very one dimensional, and the emotion I want to feel when I go to the cinema was mostly directed at the special effects team. They deserve the Oscars. Let’s not fool ourselves about this being a great film, though, eh?
And for goodness' sake, please don't be fooled by any claims which may be madeabout this being the top-grossing film of all time (making the most money, that is). Take into account the change in ticket prices since Titanic or Sound of Music or the original Jazz Singer, and then factor in the extra charge levied for the 3D effect (not forgetting the additional extra for the specs, perhaps), and Avatar will have to beat 2nd place by about 160% to really qualify.
STOP PRESS 27.1.10 The top-grossing claims have started.
Of course the story is about a fasle incarnation, a false messiah, new age tree-hugging and a false salvation, but then worse criticisms could be levelled at so many other films. Why major on the minors again? Critique the film for being predicable, unengaging and one dimensional, surely, rather than seeking a demon under every floating jellyfish...His wild statement about 'emotionally engaging with the story' must surely refer to some other movie? And he's been hoodwinked into buying into the lie about this film being the 'most popular ever'- no, Mark, it's just the highest-grossing, in part due to inflated cinema prices to pay for the 3D equipment and the horrible specs.
BAFTA report on bbc.co.uk: 'James Cameron's 3D epic Avatar, also up for eight prizes, only came away with two - for special visual effects and production design.'
Both of those, richly deserved. But no acting, writing or directing awards. Which is nice.