So What Are You Waiting For?

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC So What Are You Waiting For?

Reviews by walt.

Whenever a film is released to the fanfare of hype surrounding James Cameron’sAvatar, there will always be a percentage of the cinema going public who will stubbornly resist being lured in by the rave reviews and good word of mouth. So the film got the five star treatment in Empire and Total Film – so what? All your friends are telling you it’s a must see – what do they know? The fact that everyone else in the world has seen it seems like a perfectly adequate reason why not to watch it – after all, I’m an individual, not one of the herd.

Despite tumbling box-office records and Oscar nominations galore, there are some of us who think that the rest of world’s gone mad, and we’re the only ones left with a modicum of good taste. So we formulate a list of reasons why we’re not going to get pulled in like every other sucker. Top of the list, we have James Cameron himself. OK, so he may have made Aliens and the first two Terminator films, but he also madeTitanic and frankly the memory of his “I’m the King of the World” Oscar acceptance speech still makes my teeth itch. If that’s not enough, you may have an aversion to CGI-laden 3-D blockbusters, or perhaps Dr. Manhattan’s giant schlong in Watchmen put you off all things blue. Or maybe it’s simply because, like me, you like your movies to be character driven films, about real people, experiencing real emotions, living in the real world.

It’s probably no surprise to you that I was amongst the naysayers who have been avoiding the movie since it’s release last December. However, as a self-respecting film blogger I finally decided I had a duty to watch the film. I’m constantly telling off my 5 year-old daughter for saying she doesn’t like mushrooms, when I know for a fact she’s never even tried one. So without wanting to sound like a hypocrite, I at least owed it to myself to watch the film first to know exactly what it was I didn’t like about it. It’s all about informed opinions. So 3-D glasses perched on the end of my nose, I prepared myself for two and half hours of abject misery at my local multiplex.

For all of you like-minded cynics who are avoiding seeing this film let me attempt to dispel some of your pre-formed prejudices. Firstly, this isn’t just another blockbuster movie. This is cinema as an event, the likes of which I don’t think has been seen since the original 1977 release of Star Wars. Like Lucas’ film, this movie has to be experienced in all its glory on the cinema screen. The world that Cameron has created by blending motion capture and 3-D visuals is probably the most remarkable visual entity I have ever seen. So those of you waiting for the more bladder friendly DVD release, stay off fluids for a couple of hours and get yourself down to your local cinema.

Secondly, this film isn’t all about the CGI effects and 3-D experience, as impressive as all that is. There is a depth to the story, themes and characters that ensures this is not another case of Hollywood style over substance. For me, the real moments of pure beauty in this film derive mainly from the characters. We experience the joy, wonder and fear of Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) as he is introduced to the Na’vi world by his alien guide Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Impressive visuals can only take you so far. What sustains the audience and ensures their engagement for the entire journey is the emotional empathy we are made to feel with the characters. Despite Avatar being a science fiction film about an alien world, it’s these real, human emotions that strike a chord with the audience. There’s an endearing naivety about Jake as he explores this new world through his avatar body, and a touching tenderness between Sully and Neytiri as she teaches him the ways of the Na’vi people.

It’s not all perfection. Cameron’s writing, especially the dialogue, is prone to cliché and a tendency towards the absurd. There’s a regurgitation of themes and scenes fromAliens and Titanic which brings into question the film’s originality. Whilst Jake and Neytiri are fully rounded characters, some of the supporting roles are ineffective. Giovanni Ribisi is wasted playing the superficial corporate bad guy, and Michelle Rodriguez is limited to rehashing the iconic role of Pvt. Vasquez from Aliens. Worst of all is Stephen Lang’s portrayal of Colonel Quaritch, a badly written, over-acted cartoon caricature whose descent into madness for the film’s finale is as predictable as it is unsubtle.

What truly disappoints about Avatar is Cameron’s lack of ambition with his story. Having taken the time to create and develop (both visually and thematically) this extraordinary world, and the relationship between Jake, Neytiri and the Na’vi people, Cameron then devotes the final third of the film to a high-octane action finale. It feels like a missed opportunity. Here was a chance to say something special about the relationship between two different races, yet Cameron opts for the road more commonly travelled, by presenting us with a familiar story about the human race entering into a war with an alien culture they don’t understand.

These flaws aside, it remains a must-see – an essential cinematic experience for anybody who loves film. And for those of you who are scared of what Avatar’ssuccess means for the future of cinema, fear not. Many critics have claimed that this movie will change the face of film and filmmaking forever more. Yet whilst 3-D motion capture will undoubtedly be the way forward for the Hollywood blockbuster, these films will never come to represent the medium of film as a whole. In the year that spawnedAvatar, we also had the likes of (500) Days of Summer, Adventureland, Mesrine,Looking For Eric, Inglourious Basterds and Gran Torino to name but a few. All character driven films with little or no reliance upon CGI wizardry. The future of cinema will be much like it’s past, where big-budget escapist entertainment pieces co-exist with character driven personal films about life, love and society. Don’t fearAvatar – embrace it as a new development in the rich history of cinema, and then rent out the brilliant (500) Days of Summer to remind yourself that at opposite ends of the filmmaking spectrum people find different ways to give voice to human stories.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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