Thursday, December 31, 2009

AVATAR (yet another) Review

An old description of 'Critic' is : ' A commentator, not being creative themselves, who thus hates ALL creative people equally.'

I was set back a fair amount by all the pre release commentary by the film critics related to AVATAR, especially those from those few who I actually (normally) respect the opinion of. What I saw in early stills and clips as some obvious swiping of Roger Dean's visions in the concept art also displeased me. But frankly, neither would have stopped me from seeing this film.

Now I personally found that the oh so obvious duplication of American Indian cultural aspects in the alien Na'vi NOT as annoying as I thought I might (given the Critic's harping on this). The sequence with our hero Jake Sulley (as Na'vi) being introduced to the tribe was almost a rotoscope from the 1992 'Last of the Mohicans'. (I kept waiting for that first blow to fall, like it did on Hawkeye as he entered the Mohawk village.) I did find the circle chants of the mystic calling of power near the end of the film a bit trite. It is a bit disappointing that after Cameron insisting on so much loving detail. The language of the Na'vi and the depth of care on the environment of Pandora as the best examples. I was thus surprised that the anthropology of an ALIEN culture was not delved into. Did Cameron think the audience could not empathize with The People if we could not see something oh so familiar? Even considering our human tribal cultures as a model, there could have been much more use of gesture in communications as a good example. (Anyone remember 'Quest for Fire'?) Personally, this lack of depth in the Na'vi culture I found the films biggest disappointment for me.

Like others, I would have like to have seen a bit more depth to the dialog, a few more characters not so very black and white in their depiction. And 'Unatainium' - come on! I also found the care lavished on the ecology of Pandora and the language of the Na'vi did not extend to the human military depictions. Although the smaller ducted combat machines were wonderful, the larger craft 'hung in the air the way a brick doesn't'. There were just too many plain stupid aspects to the human ground combat equipment and behaviours of the troops. A hand gun worn in an off leg reverse draw holster? It may have looked kool - but just plain dumb for what was supposed to be a long seasoned veteran.

But this film is a visual triumph. And perhaps those of you out there hooked on dialog might consider AVATAR as an artist would - as story through images. Yes, there could have been more development of sharing of opposing world views between Jake and Neytiri. But really, its all there in the visuals.
If the overall plot had a weakness for me, it was its predictability. Yes, sometimes two cultures just will NOT have a point of understanding and intersection. "We just don't have anything they want" precludes the kind of (often tedious) deep phsycological angst that the critics seemed to be insisting on from James Cameron. Yes the hero gets the girl, saves the day and makes the predictable choice at the end of the film. What did you expect?

As for the use of digitalized performances - was just astounding. I was completely drawn in after the first five minutes of the introduction of the avatar bodies. Maybe because the integration of actor and animation was itself a convincing avatar, and there was so much other eye candy to focus on. The facial features and reactions were visibly correct, so quickly I just stopped considering it a 'trick'. Sigourney Weaver, in digitized alien form, was instantly recognizable. And forget any whining that actors are being replaced here. Body language and all the details of facial expression were clearly the actors own. Truthfully, I was completely drawn in by the characterizations.

As a piece of stunning visuals around a solid piece of action adventure, Avatar delivers. I quite enjoyed it, and very glad we made the difficult trip through bad winter weather down to Orangeville to see it on the big screen. (Others have commented on the power of IMAX and 3-D - never to be seen in small town Ontario!) As fate would have it, the blowing snow had us arrive mid way through the trailers (and bloody commercials!) so we ended up sitting dead centre, and pretty close. Not IMAX maybe, but close enough to fall into the action.

A quite intelligent review from Grondzilla is worth reading too.

Images seen here are stolen from the 'Coming Soon' web site (

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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