Years in the making, James Cameron’s first film since Titantic is a bombastic sci-fi spectacle that is enjoyable – though far from the second coming of cinema, writes Donald Clarke
Was it worth waiting 12 years for Avatar? Donald Clarke’s review,
AVATAR Directed by James Cameron. Starring Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder 12A cert, gen release,
SO, HERE IT is. After 12 long years, James Cameron has finally delivered his follow-up to the bewilderingly successful Titanic. Such has been the wait and such has been the hype that the patient filmgoer could be forgiven for expecting not just a movie, but also the inauguration of a whole new medium: Cinema 2.0 in Cameronvision with enhanced Transcendo, perhaps.
On the other hand, if you attended the puffing on the internet during the summer – Jim’s epic space drama was parodied as Dances with Smurfs on a recent South Park – you might have resigned yourself to a catastrophe of Phantom Menace proportions.
The truth is somewhere in between. The 3-D cinematography and motion-captured performances are much better than those in, say, Disney’s A Christmas Carol, but you couldn’t honestly say they herald a mighty paradigm shift. Much of the imagined world does, indeed, look like My Little Pony’s holiday retreat, but there’s enough old-fashioned boom and bang to distract you from the frequent offences against aesthetics.
Put simply, Avatar is a modestly intelligent, passably entertaining exercise in noisy sci-fi pulp (complete with industry-standard Godawful dialogue and the usual dire score by James Horner). Spreading a small knob of thin story over a vast plane of cinema, the film details the interaction between a rapacious cadre of 22nd century human conquistadors (boo!) and a tribe of enormous blue monkey-things named the Na’vi (yay!).
The humans, led by a shouty general (Stephen Lang) who looks and sounds like Superintendent Chalmers from The Simpsons, are pursuing an extremely useful mineral, large deposits of which lie beneath the Blue Nicies’ sacred tree.
The colonisers have a cunning plan. For some time, a group of kindly anthropologists (led by Cameron’s old pal, Sigourney Weaver) have been insinuating their consciousnesses into Na’vi bodies and going among the tribe for research purposes. Gen McBellow instructs a tough marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who now uses a wheelchair, to join the programme and pass on intelligence about the Na’vi’s movements.
However, after inhabiting his big blue body, Jake falls in with a female Nicie (Zoë Saldaña), becomes enamoured with the alien culture, and begins assisting with a violent insurrection against the invaders. So, yes, as the South Park team divined, there is a lot of Dances with Wolves in the story, but there’s a fair amount of Rambo III to boot.
Cameron piles on explicit condemnations of American follies from Wounded Knee through Vietnam and Iraq. The phrase “shock and awe” appears and somebody even suggests that they should “fight terror with terror”.
Yet the most interesting political discussions here are surely taking place between different sectors of James Cameron’s brain: the master orchestrator of cinematic military mayhem (those humans with their deliciously destructive machines) stands against the
Alien encounter: Sam Worthington meets Zoë Saldaña’s avatar