Does Avatar live up to the hype?

A little over ten years after the mega-hit ‘Titanic‘, James Cameron finally brings us ‘Avatar‘. I say ‘brings us’ because I can’t help but have been exposed to the overwhelming hype coming from all corners of the fanboy kingdom (note for my parents: fanboys are the over eager film/game geeks who follow the progress of films so closely that they feel like they own the film & the filmmakers and almost always seem disappointed when the film isn’t exactly how they wanted. They also complain loudly on every internet forum possible about how rubbish it was. And dress up. They often dress up as their heroes, i.e. Spock)

Cameron has been working on ‘Avatar‘ for a long long time. Partly because he had to wait for the technology to catch up to his vision and partly because his vision for the film was massive. Over 800 people at Weta Digital have been working on this film for the past few years. It is huge. Which is why the fanboys are all so hyped up about it, because nothing on this scale has been made before. It’s like LOTR when that first came out – but maybe bigger.
I’ve been trying to ignore all the hype, mainly because the ones doing the hyping are the first to diss the film. So knowing as little as possible about ‘Avatar‘ (which was still a considerable amount considering all the non-fanboy film geeks I’m surrounded with) I went into the film at 11.50pm last night, hoping I wouldn’t fall asleep during the 3 hour runtime.
My overall impression was quite simply: Wow!
We went to the 3D screening of course and it was simply stunning. The movement, lighting, textures and framing of every scene were beautifully done. Which you would obviously expect from a film like this so I’ll move on…
The story, briefly, follows a paraplegic marine, Jake Sully played by Sam Worthington, in the year 2154, who is asked to replace his dead scientist twin brother in an off-world experiment because their DNA is an exact match. The planet he travels to is inhabited by the Na’vi – a giant blue humanoid species who are in touch with their Mother Earth-side. Unfortunately they’re ‘hometree’ happens to be over a large mineral deposit which Phoebe’s-brother-off-Friends (Giovanni Ribisi looking much older) wants to mine for the millions it’s worth. So he’s about to send soldiers in to destroy them, but Sigourney Weaver’s genetic scientist/doctor has created ‘avatar’ Na’vi bodies which Jake & co can inhabit to try ‘connect/bond’ with the natives, i.e. spy on them and make them move.
So Jake finds himself being taught the Na’vi ways, whilst spying for the soldiers and reporting to the scientists. Gradually his loyalty shifts, somewhat predictably, but not unjustifiably towards the Na’vi and he tries to save them and their planet. The soldiers and Phoebe’s-brother don’t like this. So Stuff Happens. (Go watch the movie if you want a complete rundown.)
Yep, the story is along similar lines to Pocahontas or Dances with Wolves. It’s not completely unique, but then what story truly is? The important thing is that it’s told well. You believe the characters, the dialogue, their actions/reactions. The world is so well fleshed out, it feels like another Middle Earth in its complexity and details. And their eyes, faces, expressions are so real. Yes, they’re big blue aliens, but at the end they seem more human than the homo sapiens walking round with guns.
The effects are amazing but not over-whelming. I mean that in a good way – they don’t take over. While watching the film, you don’t sit there going “Wow, that computer generated character looks so real” or “I can barely see the border between what’s real and what’s not” or “I wonder who Andy Serkis is playing?”. While watching the film you watch the film.
And that possibly is Cameron’s greatest achievement: to create a mostly CG film, which is in no way distracting, which is utterly convincing and real, and which is enthralling and a bloody good yarn.
Go see it. Everyone’s going to be talking about it for the next 6 months, so if you want to know what they’re going on about, go see it. Or go see it because it’s just good entertainment and a great way to kill 3 hours!
Here’s a trailer for ya:
NB. On a scale of 1 – 10 in my list of 3D movies/scenes I’ve seen I’d say this is one of the best/easiest on the eye. The 3D looks real (Mike has the bruises to prove it – I had a brief moment of vertigo), and it’s not gimmicky or painful to watch. I’m slowly turning around on the 3D debate. If done well, it looks really really cool. (If done badly, it’s still a tacky gimmick though.)

One response to “Does Avatar live up to the hype?

  1. Oops, I forgot to mention my one critique: In a film rumoured to have cost $250 – $350 million, they use Papyrus as the subtitle font? Really?!? Bog standard, on every-second-antique-shop-sign or anniversary-invite 'Papyrus'? I may be a font geek, but I noticed. And I found it weird. Freak out over. Thanks for listening…

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