28 Dec

Director: James Cameron (2009)

Ok, it has taken me a rather long time to get round to watching this film. Partly because I am not the biggest science fiction film fan. Partly because most cinemas were only showing it in 3D and I hate 3D films. Partly because I have better things to do than spend 3 hours of my life watching James Cameron epics… Except that I don’t. Hence why Christmas at my parent’s house seemed like the optimal time to watch it.

As you may have already discerned, any film they say you simply have to see otherwise your existence on this transient earth will have been utterly futile, I tend to avoid, refusing to transcribe to the film reviews that attempt to direct our lives and opinions. With the exception of my own, of course. Avatar was undoubtedly one of the biggest films of 2010. This accolade could be defined both financially – costing a relatively meagre $300million compared to the $2billion is took at the box office, throwing Cameron’s earlier disaster epic Titanic off the top spot for the first time in 12 years – and from the fact that people just did not STOP TALKING ABOUT IT!

So I was chastised for having not seen it and then I resolved to just not bother. Until the aforementioned trip home to the parent’s house where any reason for everyone to sit quietly is a welcome break. Particularly one that would make everyone be quiet for 171 minutes.

Avatar – thoughts. Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-marine who after his conveniently identical twin brother is killed in a robbery, is drafted in to join a crew of humans on Pandora, a huge moon populated by local tribe, the Na’vi and also a veritable treasure trove for a new precious mineral, in no way subtly called unobtanium. No prizes for guessing where the plot is going…

The human arrivals have been trying to mine the unobtanium but unfortunately this has led to some upset amongst the Na’vi. Oh and to make it even more apparent that they are not welcome in Pandora, the air is toxic. So, under the capable guidance of Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver – in a sci-fi film!?) the humans have created an ingenious way to get around this, namely the titular avatar programme. Expertly created in a lab, the clever scientists spliced human genetic material with that of the Na’vi so that once placed in a little pod, a human can operate his avatar around Pandora and get up close and personal with the natives. Hence why Jake’s genetic likeness to his dead brother is pretty handy, making him the perfect candidate to take over his brother’s position as avatar operator. Jake in Na’vi form fits in well on Pandora, so well in fact he hits it off with the beautiful Na’vi lady Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who rescues him from an attack from the local wildlife. With the approval of Eywa, the planet’s tree mother, Jake is welcomed into the fold and learns the way of the Na’vi and is accepted as one of their own. Which is why it is all the more terrible when the human miners storm in with their bulldozers to clear the land and destroy the Na’vi’s homes.

I notice that the tone of this article could be interpreted as negative so let me state that I actually loved Avatar. It is an incredible film – beautifully shot, well cast, stunningly visual and imaginative. Yes it is long and overindulgent. But so was Titanic. And – controversially – I loved Titanic; it seems to have become cool to hate poor Mr Cameron (it’s not just you, David). Besides, how could I possibly hate someone who clearly has such avid affection for one of my favourite childhood films – Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest. I know, I know, I am about 12 months too late to make this overdone comparison but I am going to make it anyway. The story is almost exactly the same. With the exception of Batty. Which I feel is perhaps where Cameron missed a trick. Tree chopper gets shrunk by a mischievous trainee fairy and is taken to live in the fairy kingdom and is seen as one of their own. That is until his human friends storm in with their bulldozers to clear the land and destroy the fairies homes. Hang on…. Yep, exactly the same.

But to me this doesn’t matter. Fern Gully was one of the defining environmental films for me as a child, and even now I may be known to sneakily pop it on when I am feeling blue. Like a Na’vi. In this sense, Avatar could be seen as a revival of the importance of environmental narratives in film, or the dangers of colonialism (see also: Pocahontas), or perhaps the importance that sometimes in the face of hype, you have to just have to admit defeat at watch. Either way, it is a stunning and engaging film from start to finish. Yes Cameron has blatantly ripped off Fern Gully but perhaps he was just paying the ultimate homage with a $300million makeover.

But I’d be willing to bet poor Bill Kroyer hasn’t seen a penny…


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