Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Long in the making, with cutting-edge computer animation and 'the best ever' 3D, James Cameron's sci-fi fairytale 'Avatar' is breaking box office and winning big prizes. The question is, why?
After his scientist brother dies in a shooting, Sam Worthington's paraplegic marine, Jake Sully, must go to the faraway planet of Pandora to play puppetmaster to a ten foot tall synthetic alien. Why? Well, to convince those darn tree-hugging blue locals to move off some valuable mineral deposits those nasty corporations have their eye on. And if they don't? Why then the army good old boys will make them. Will the locals put up a fight? Will Jake forget his roots among those of Pandora? Will he fall in love with Smurfette?
It would be easy to write it off as total junk, but I can't say it's that; after all it holds the attention for the guts of three hours. The action is effective and the simplistic message is laudable. You even forget it's in 3D after a while. No, it's a pretty enough foray into an imagined land. But when you start wondering to yourself, 'Isn't this just a little absurd?', you know it's lost in its demands on your credulity. And seeing a sea of blue aliens waving their arms while singing some hippy chant had me reaching for the empty popcorn bag.
Strange to say, there's really not a lot of imagination on show here. Maybe Cameron, who also wrote this, has imagined a believeable society, I don't know, but it looks like some Hollywood version of an Amazon tribe to me. And I stress the 'Hollywood version' quality, because I'm damn sure it's like no real Amazon tribe. And let's think about this imagined world for an instant. Is it all that alien? Not really. There are more strange planets and stranger organisms in 1 page of Olaf Stapledon's 'Starmaker', than there are in this entire film. What we have instead are not too distant analogues for dogs, horses, frogs, rhinos, you name it. The humanoids, as has been said repeatedly by others, are closely related to the Thundercats of children's tv. Blue skin and height apart are they really that different? Even the big flying bats which stick with their rider for life (what happened to Jake's when he switched saddles?), hell, they might be a teenager's first car. And let's not forget, folks, Pandora is a forest planet full of nice green trees. Not even red or blue, but normal everyday green trees.
Still what imagination goes into the world of Pandora is a million times more startling than that which was expended on the plot. It has been described as 'Dances with Smurfs' and it's not difficult to see the parallels with Kevin Costner's epic. A soldier goes to the frontier to deal with the savages, before it's gone, and gradually gets seduced by their culture, ultimately turning on his own. With both wars in Iraq still sore in the communal memory, Cameron tries to inject some more contemporary criticism of American Imperialism. Again it's a nicely moral take - bad capitalists wanting to destroy what a good environment-loving people want to protect - but it's a story that was old when our ape ancestors were wondering whether to climb out of the trees, and the new context doesn't change that.
Regardless of what others might think, Cameron couldn't do 'epic' if his middle name was Homer and his dad was Greek. (And please don't claim 'Titanic' was epic!) Simply turning up the volume on James Horner's instantly forgettable choral music just won't cut it, at least not for me. Despite battles featuring thousands, we always seem to concentrate on the same small group who always seem to do the real hard work.
In the end, 'Avatar' is not a bad movie, but it's as far from being the great cinematic event Cameron evidently intended, as Earth is from Pandora. It is a children's movie, no more, and no less. How it got the Golden Globe I will never know, and I will be even more stunned if it gets the Oscar. I mean I can't remember any Pixar movies winning the Best Movie gong, and they deserved it, so why should this, when it doesn't? And I went from 'A Prophet' to this!

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home