Last night, Gemma, Jon and I went to see James Cameron’s new movie, Avatar. I don’t usually go to see big-budget blockbusters at the cinema but with all the hype that had built up around this film (pernicious hype!), I’d started to think that if I didn’t see it on the big screen, I might regret it in years to come. It is, after all, far better to regret that you wasted time doing something than it is to regret sitting on your arse at home, reading a good book and drinking some good red wine. Or something like that.
We saw Avatar at the Yelmo Cineplex Icària, near the Ciutadella metro stop. The Icària cinema is one of those awful new-style multiplex joints with 15 fairly small screens. Nowhere near as atmospheric or impressive as the Odeon or Cannon of my youth in Plymouth. But the seats are more comfortable. The tickets cost €10.50 (Estafadors!), apparently because the film was popular. We were each given a pair of heavy, highly tinted sunglasses as we took our seats: these would make the 3-D work.
Yes, that’s right: Avatar is a movie which employs that most current of fads: pretend 3-D. Touted by many idiots in the film industry as being ‘as important as colour!’, pretend 3-D essentially makes the background a bit blurry while whichever character is in the foreground looks a bit shiny. More on this later.
The film itself is incredibly bad. Everything about it is bad. That is to say, it has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The storyline is basically Pocahontas with more explosions. The script is unbelievably explanatory – at no point was the viewer able to question what might be happening, because everything had been clumsily foreshadowed in the first 25 minutes. The acting was melodramatic and amateurish. The ‘goodies’ were flawlessly ‘good’, the baddies seemed like they were involved in some sort of excruciating self-parody. Except they weren’t. There wasn’t a single moment of intended humour, soul or suspense – all in a film that lasted three hours. Three long, dull hours.
As I mentioned, the story is effectively Pocahontas: invading outsider meets beautiful warrior princess, they fight then become friends, she introduces him to her dad (the king), and her betrothed one (a warrior); no one likes the invader but he proves himself by undergoing their initiation rites; invader has sex with princess; invader’s fellow invaders turn up, intent on killing everyone; invader decides to be warrior, fights on the side of the tribe, big battle ensues, invader and princess survive, FIN.
Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with that: it’s an old story which, when done properly, can be very moving. The problem with Avatar is that James Cameron failed to do anything about the fact that we already know this story. So nothing happened that you couldn’t predict from the beginning.
The film has been praised in other reviews for the richness of its visuals and the lush imaginary landscapes which Cameron invented for the land of Pandora (yes, Pandora). Actually, the visuals were not particularly stunning and watching the Blu-ray of the BBC’s Planet Earth allows you to experience stunningly beautiful and far more detailed landscapes and forests… and it’s all real!
Other annoying aspects of the film include: the annoying American insistence on rousing speeches just before a confrontation (cf. Independence Day, a movie that at least had some humour) – the main character’s pre-battle speech in Avatar wouldn’t have sounded out of place had it been barked by George W. Bush. Sigourney Weaver, who I once thought was a great actress, proves that like most actors she’s actually not that bright and prefers $$$ to quality. Near-constant music. Action scenes that lack any excitement. 3-D.
The very idea of making films in ’3-D’ is flawed. As has been pointed out, we are not dogs. As humans, most of us are capable of seeing a flat image and perceiving depth. It’s why we have films in the first place. And anyway, 3-D in films isn’t 3-D at all. It’s 2-D with an effect applied to it. It can’t touch you and it is no more ‘realistic’ or thrilling than standard 2-D. As well as these systematic flaws, Cameron clearly didn’t want to be accused of just employing a gimmick, giving the audience cheap thrills by making objects jump out of the screen at them. So he didn’t have any of that in the film. Surely, if 3-D is to have a point, it’s to make stuff jump out of the screen at you?!
Instead, the pretend 3-D in Avatar is done more ‘subtly’, making characters in the foreground appear more defined than what’s going on in the background. What this means is that the cheap trick of messing with depth of field in order to stop the viewer from seeing into the distance, finds its zenith in Avatar. At no point are you really able to enjoy the visuals. At no point does the ‘camera’ slow down enough to take in any of the allegedly stunning vistas. What’s worse is that because you’re forced to wear these heavy, uncomfortable corrective spectacles all the way through the film (I took mine off quite a lot, though, as it seemed to have little effect on my enjoyment), there are plenty of parts of the film that are actually not 3-D at all. When you see these scenes through the glasses, what you see is a hell of a lot of shimmering and glitching that simply should be there.
And that’s the funniest thing about Avatar: the film that was supposed to bring 3-D to life for cinema audiences, like Gone With The Wind or the Wizard Of Oz did for colour, actually confirms 3-D to be a technology that doesn’t look great and that we don’t need. I doubt that I’ll ever watch another film in 3-D – at least, not if I can help it.
thebadrash.com’s binary review: Avatar – 2009 – Dir. James Cameron. 0/1