Avatar review

By Michael Upton | 21/01/2010

Avatar review

You must have heard of Avatar, right? This is the film expected to rip up the celluloid status quo and literally represent a blueprint for the future of big screen entertainmentmost of the characters are blue for a start.

James Cameron, the man who brought you Titanic, Terminator 2 and Aliens, has spent 15 years bringing his vision to life.

He reportedly wrote the script in two weeks but was so visionary that he had to wait for special effects technology to catch up with his imagination before considering it able to do the story justice.

The end result has already smashed a slew of box office records on its way to becoming the second biggest hit everand the No 1 spot is certainly within reach at this rate.

But is it any good? Weve been here before with Cameron. Big box office does not necessarily mean quality product.

What Titanic did well - the sinking ship, mainly- it did really well, but it was still a load of old hokum littered with silly performances (it's hardly Kate Winslet's finest hour) and some horrendously clunky dialogue.

So is Avatar any different? The answer is not really, but thats not necessarily the end of the world.

For those who have been living in a cave all winter, heres a brief plot summary.

Wheelchair-bound ex-marine Jake Sully is called up in place of his dead brother to join a mission to Pandora, a distant planet where humans aim to mine the precious metal unobtainium.

On arrival, Sully is recruited by a team of scientists researching the planets wildlife and its native humanoid speciesthe blue-skinned, 12ft Na'vi peopleby projecting their minds and thoughts into avatarspurpose-grown bodies closely resembling the natives.

More by luck than judgement, Sully finds himself absorbed into the Nav'is culture and community, muddying the waters of his mind and calling him to question his loyalty to his military commanders.

If youve seen Dances With Wolves or plenty of other films where the hero is thrust into a strange, new environment, you'll be able to work out much of the story.

While Avatar is occasionally shocking and surprising, thats not down to the storytelling.

However, there is a feel of attention to detail throughout and the more intimate and personal sequences are handled with care and class.

Sam Worthington as Sully and Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, his Na'vi love interestfilmed, like all the Navi, using the magic of "motion-capture"are sympathetic leads, while Stephen Langs scenery-chewing Col Quaritch is so pantomime you cant fail to enjoy his performance.

Special mention should also go Giovanni Ribisi as fantastically fiendish corporate boss Parker Selfridge.

Having said that, there is a shortage of truly stellar performances and Id be surprised to see any acting nominations coming the stars way.

Where Cameron's 161-minute epic does find its feet and where it could clean up on the spring's big nights is in the technical categories.

Make no mistake, Avatar is great looking and some of the CGI effects are unquestionably impressive.

The flying, riding and fight sequences in particular are fresh examples of Cameron's mastery and the 3D treatment adds dramatic perspective and to already-dizzying scenes. It also has the added bonus of creating an auditorium full of Buddy Holly lookalikes.

A pivotal attack on the Na'vi's home is a horrifying vision of carnage brought to life and the climactic battle is so compelling you'll be throwing the popcorn down your throat in excitement.

Not every scene is as convincing, though. There are times a distinct sense of deja vu sets in and its hard to suppress a smirk at some of the more hippy-dippy sequences.

Not to mention that the central conceptBig business: bad. Peace, love and looking after the planet: goodis as subtle as the human baddies giant bulldozers.

Much of the dialogue (eg: Stop! Go! Go!) is hardly Oscar-worthy, while other lines amount to little more than cliched platitudes.

Id be lying, though, if I said Id emerged from the cinema feeling short-changed and not entertained.

Avatar's lengthy running time never dragged - even the young children in front of me kept their fidgeting to a minimum - and its eco-friendly message is not without its merits (although its a slightly hypocritical one coming from a mega-bucks film made by one of the worlds biggest corporation).

As a big budget blockbuster, it ticks practically every box, and, as a special effects showcase, its in a class of its own.

Cameron has taken the first few steps down an exciting new road. It will be fascinating to see where it leads.