Friday, 18 December 2009


A spectacle without spark ...

In the distance future, the human race have discovered a unique planet, Pandora, in which a humanoid alien species, the Na'vi, exists. A highly valuable natural resource can be harvested from Pandora, and great lengths are taken to gain some control of the planet. Jake Sully, a paraplegic war veteran, is offered the chance to take part in a mission to help communication links between humans and the Na'vi by using an 'Avatar' which resemble the Na'vi in appearance. This involves him accidentally getting into the position of getting to know the Na'vi as well as possible in order to eventually persuade them to allow the humans to extract Pandora's valuable natural resource.

There is an obvious colonialist subtext which clings to the narrative of Avatar from the film's opening minutes and this is quite possibly the most rich the narrative ever becomes with little else to provide much depth to the films essence. The story for Avatar is interesting but it is far too cluttered with linear directions on how the film should flow from one scene to the next that by the credits it feels like Avatar has accomplished very little. This is mainly due to the lack of insight provided into the world of Pandora and even the nuances of the Na'vi themselves. Both are explored purely on a foreign viewpoint and it can be argued that this works in conjunction with the world being presented by the human character of Jake, but even when he begins to fuse his being with that of the Na'vi, not much more is presented to the viewer. There is a lot going for the film but it is disappointing that more is not made of it. Another problem lies with the Na'vi themselves. Their language, voices, dress code and cultural mannerism lack any distinct criteria beyond metaphorical elaboration. The Na'vi are, simply put, a mere fantasy retelling of the indigenous tribes of Africa or even American Indians. While this does help the colonialist theme of the film and in making the narrative appear more real, it nevertheless makes the story less unique and only disregards any originality the Na'vi could have as a species. It does not come as a surprise then that the human protagonists are mainly Caucasian and the Na'vi counterparts are African or Native American.

Acting is a slightly better department but the actors don't have much to work with as characters fall into defined stereotypes and the odd lines of dialogue lack consistency. Giovanni Ribisi is one of the more spirited actors but he plays a conventional power hungry executive: he becomes representative of the two-dimensional nature of the villains. Caricatures do not stop there but they are less identifiable in the heroes of the story. Worthington provides a more delicate approach to his character showing a clear distinctness in tone between his human and Na'vi selves. This does become questionable at times when even at times of unease his human self appears somewhat lackluster. Zoe Saldana is a pleasure to watch, even though she is a Na'vi, and this is purely because she is more in tune with her character than any other actor. At the end of the day, character development is on the weak side, with one character seemingly deciding to make certain decisions even when little evidence was provided for the character to do so. This also goes as far as character relationships being glazed over, even by the last third of the film where characters seem closer than originally expected.

From a technical standpoint the musical score and computer generated imagery work wonders. The music definitely adds to the emotion and feel of the film heightening the more sad and courageous moments while also aiding in scene transition. The computer imagery is staggering in scope encompassing an entire environment. There is the odd scene where textures lose their realistic look but it is in the quality of the animation of characters, creatures and flora where Avatar shines.

While sex is implied, there is no nudity beyond the Na'vi wearing little in terms of clothing. Language consists of mild profanities and the odd blasphemous term, while violence ranges from a variety of gunfire and stabbings among others; violence is never gory with minimal blood visible, though some acts can be a little extreme.

Avatar is an ambitious film and it deserves to be so with the majestic landscape of Pandora, and her inhabitants, nearly being adequate substitutes for reality. With the well conceived musical score, Avatar has the technical factors nailed but it all falls apart when the film's core narrative is added to the mix. For all the possibilities available, the film forgoes depth for simplicity and convention. If anything, Avatar is an enjoyable film but an enjoyable film with substance that does not equate to its hype.


Screen date: 18 December 2009
Release date: 18 December 2009

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