That little James Cameron film

Posted by Lou. The time is 12.10pm here in London, UK.

Unlike seemingly everyone else in the Western world I'd managed to get through Avatar-mania without really knowing anything about the film other than who made it, where it was made, and the fact that it's made for 3D. This of course didn't stop me mocking it's march up the box office records table and up to the stage to receive various awards. So I thought it was about time to go and actually see it...

I'll start with the vomitous: According to James Cameron, in the year 2154 alpha white males still dominate. They are the good guys and the bad guys, the heroes and the villains, and everyone else - female, non-white, geek - is just filling up the space in between. Come on James! That is ridiculous - and such an unimaginative vision within a film that is defined by the wealth of imagination that has gone into its creation. Also ironic when the film is making such a desperate attempt at being liberal and leftie. But of course it is also completely fitting - James Cameron himself is one of the kings of an industry defined by their so-called liberal, leftist ideals and the contradictory exclusion of female and non-white.

Our "hero" Jake Sully: young, dumb and full of cum
(with a completely unexplained Australian accent)

Hand-in-hand with this, he has populated the film with the biggest character cliches imaginable - cliches so cliched it is laughable. Now, I'm going to state upfront that I think the film works because he kept it to a simple, straight-forward, familiar story arc - this allows the clarity and cohesion necessary for the audience to be able to go along with the high-concept nature of the world. But that doesn't mean having to go to such extreme lengths of horrific cliche - how can someone who has spent so long creating such a complex idea and world give us a Colonel Miles Quaritch? Even after the despicable characterisation that is Titanic's Jack Dawson, I was still shocked by just how terrible these characters are.

Need I say anything?

But let's put all that aside:

This film is amazing. I thought it was absolutely stunning. Weta - the Kiwi effects house that should be considered a national treasure - have really outdone themselves. Where Lord of the Rings took the technical art of cinema forward in great leaps, this takes it so far forward it's like a whole new world (well, literally I guess - its called "Pandora"). The effects are seamless and the world is staggeringly beautiful (staggeringly beautiful with a familiar touch of Kiwi to the flora). The simple - though high-concept - story allows the imagery to shine, with the slowly developing arc leaving the time and space for breathtaking flights through sumptuous landscapes... I was so taken in I didn't even think about looking at my watch till 90 minutes in, despite previously having worried about being stuck in there for 3 hours.

Nytiri - quite a spectacular physical performance by Zoe Saldana

For me it lost its way towards the 2 hour mark - Cameron becomes a bit too indulgent, over-estimating the extent to which he can hold the audience's attention before the crowning set piece begins (he has left Lord of the Rings-esque intake of breath before battle, without the benefit of Lord of the Rings-esque characters to absorb it). Where for those first 2 hours putting on the 3D glasses had for me seemed like stepping into the Avatar machine and entering a fantasy world, the last hour was more like sitting in a cinema watching a movie and wondering why it is taking so long to end.

Overall, the art of this film dominates and manages to - while you're there in the cinema watching - compensate for the pathetic characterisation. But the taste left in the mouth once the images have faded away is one of disappointment that Cameron couldn't have given us something better. I sort of feel like if it does get that big Oscar it should be jetting its way straight to Miramar, Wellington, Aotearoa.

3 thoughts on “That little James Cameron film”

  1. Actually the most remarkable thing about this film is that it uses the best technology houses in the world. Not just Weta but also ILM, Prime Focus among others.

    It's one of the first globally made films.

    (so um, I accept Avatar taking best picture but I really want Kathryn Bigelow to take director)

  2. Gahh - still haven't booked tickets. There is only one digital projector in Wellington and now I am fretting that I'm gonna to miss it with Burton's Alice starting next week!!

  3. Kathryn Bigelow totally has to take Best Director!! Even James Cameron knows she will based on his pre-emptive pretending like "she can have it" coz he's "already got one". Tosser.

    I'm choosing to believe that Avatar was 100% Kiwi made ;-P
    (Loved the Kiwi guy on the BAFTAs last night - when they won for Production Design I was all "oooh ooooh...." waiting for the distinctive kiwi tones, and sure enough there was one with an hilariously strong accent)