Last year, I got into a free screening of a 15-minute preview of James Cameron's Avatar. You might remember that I wasn't particularly enthused. Hence my not reviewing the film when it came out in December, instead waiting until the New Year to bother seeing it. Was it worth it? Let's find out.
Avatar takes place in the future, on a dangerous, distant alien world called Pandora (note the name). Humans are there for the sole purpose of robbing it of its natural resources, an element called "unobtanium" (note the name). Along with the military forces is a team of scientists, lead by a lady named Grace (note the name) who wishes to learn of the planet rather than rape it.
The humans are obviously at odds with Pandora's natives, a race of blue anthropomorphic cats, hereafter referred to as "furries." The furries are primitive, living with nature, wearing little clothing, and fighting with bows and knives. Some uptight people would probably get upset and draw comparisons between the furries and African tribes (and there's a lot of evidence for them, believe me).
To get closer to furries and attempt any kind of communication, Grace's team technologically transmits their consciousnesses into some lab-made furry bodies. With these "avatars," they are able to roam Pandora and interact with the natives. But not all goes well, as you'd imagine.
The world of Avatar is very well-designed and feels complete. The humans have incredible technology: holograms, cryosleep, badass mech suits, and of course, the avatar technology. The furries have their own culture, their own customs, their own language, and their world is beautiful. Some of the scenery is breathtaking. And the animals of the world are frighteningly unusual. There's a real sense of being on another world. This isn't just New Zealand with a giant fibreglass tree, people.
But a fleshed-out world is nothing without characters. Unfortunately, Avatar's characters are dull archetypes. You have the Unlikely Hero/Chosen One (complete with troubled past!), the Geek Who Learns to Be A Man, the Hotshot Driver, the Gruff Drill Sergeant military guy, the Profiteer, etc. None of the characters are particularly fleshed out. They all feel very flat and uncompelling. The story has been done before. Ever seen Dances With Wolves? Then you've seen Avatar. Combine uninteresting characters with a generic, predictable lacklustre story, and what do you get? A letdown of an overhyped blockbluster.
But what about the amazing IMAX DIGITAL 4-D? Surely the stunning visual effects will redeem Cameron's flick? While I enjoyed the 3D of the 15-minute preview, those scenes were obviously chosen to demonstrate said 3D. In the final film, though, the pop-up visuals really don't stand out. While other 3D flicks milk their AMAZING 4-D GRAPHICS for all its worth with gimmicks such as axes flying "through" the screen and other objects "reaching out" towards the audience, Avatar features none of that crap. You will notice the 3D and in some scenes it looks great - just look at the hologram projectors. But as they've avoided obvious shots such as spaceships flying out of the screen, nothing in particular stands out. The 3D ends up feeling underused, and, outside of a few scenes, you'll wonder why you bothered paying so much for an Imax 3D ticket in the first place. Don't get me wrong. The 3D is constant throughout the film, it just doesn't seem to add much. Perhaps it would have ha dit not been so subtle.
Avatar is an overhyped version of Dances With Wolves set in space, with elements of Alien thrown in and some freaky furry crap off Deviant Art somehow made the cut. The good action scenes and terrific creature design do nothing to save the film's uncaptivating story and flat characters. Yet another disappointing overmarketed blockbluster.