Monday, 25 January 2010

It Seems Diplomacy Has Failed.

What else is there to say about the behemoth that is Avatar? It has recently become the fastest film to ever pass US$550mil at the US box office, is only the fifth film to ever take more than US$1bil at the global box office, and as of today (presumably, though definitely by tomorrow) it will have overtaken James Cameron's previous directorial feature film Titanic to become the highest grossing film of all time on the world stage. (Let's not start talking about adjusted grosses or inflated ticket prices for the 3D presentation, because that's all academic, and nor shall we bring in the fact that major markets such as China have greatly opened up since the time of Titanic. Just let the glory ride. After all, it was only a couple of years ago I remember reading an article stating that the honour of box office champion would remain with Titanic for many years to come due to the changing nature of film performance and blockbuster patterns, something that Avatar has just shot down.) It's also the first film to stay at number one of the US box office for more than five weeks since The Sixth Sense did it back in 1999. It's one of the most expensive films ever made (though the actual cost of it is impossible to find out.) And this is all purely fiscal. The film is also extraordinarily groundbreaking for its visuals - each frame of the CGI world took an average of somewhere between forty and fifty man hours to render. Each. Frame.

This film has been the subject of so much publicity for so many years that I'm not going to go into plot, I'm not going to touch on the politics, if you don't know it by now, you're obviously living under a rock. In fact, if you haven't seen it by now you must be living under a rock. And I'd strongly advise you to get out from under that rock and go and see it immediately in a large cinema with those 3D glasses on. It will take your breath away.

Cameron has acquitted himself quite nicely. This film could have gone either way. If the technology hadn't been up to it, the film would have been a disaster. There's no way one could get so involved with a world and a people unless they looked as good as they did. The landscape created for Pandora is phenomenally realistic, awe-inspiring. I want to all of the visual team Oscars, and then knight them all, and then marry them all. Weta and ILM were both responsible (the larger part, I believe, came from Weta) and no superlative does justice to the splendour witnessed on screen. And the film itself, reasonably basic and run of the mill as it is, managed to live up to years of hype and a month of incredible performance on everybody's lips quite nicely - I had such sky-high expectations that were not only met, but exceeded. Those scenes in the Hallelujah Mountains - breathtaking. It did, I think, owe some debts to the world created by George Lucas (without the CGI power of today) in the original Star Wars films. There were many moments I watched and had flashbacks to the many times I saw those films as children. But that was actually kind of touching - an homage to another blockbuster groundbreaker.

This totally doesn't do it justice. Imagine this image, but about a million times better. Or a billion!

Sigourney Weaver as the scientist in charge of the Avatar operation is fabulous, as always. I've long been a fan of hers, and lately she has been doing amazing things for me. How Snow Cake got ignored a few years back is beyond me. Giovanni Ribisi as the head of the company mounting the mining operation creating the conflict in the film is fantastic. I think he is a terrific supporting actor, though I've never seen him carry a film as a lead. Keep him in supporting and I'll keep turning out to see him. Stephen Lang pulls of the role as the head of the US Marine unit on Pandora with amazing style. It's a role that quite easily could have been overplayed and hammed up, but he kept it to the minimum amount of hamming he could get away with and leant his character an air of arrogance and determination the fits perfectly with the setting and story. Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, the prominent Na'vi character, does incredible work considering her character is all motion-captured. (And that motion capture! It's really them on screen! Really! You can see it in their faces! Their expressions! Holy shit!) Sam Worthington has never been my favourite actor, though I'll commend his efforts in Somersault, but he pulls off the role of Jake Sully fine, probably because he doesn't really need to do much. He plays a marine well, though he couldn't quite nail the accent. And maybe I've seen him in too many Aussie movies, because I kept expecting him to pull out that hysterical line in his broad accent from his role as Macbeth, 'Is that a dagger I see before me?' (you have to see the film to understand that hysteria, but I wouldn't recommend it as I just don't think it's any good.)

James Horner's score is a James Horner Score For A Major Motion Picture, which means it's sweeping and majestic and doesn't really try anything new. It suits the film, but I'm not about to go out and buy it. And besides, it's all about those visuals. Not to say the rest of the film doesn't matter (if the visuals had been that stunning but it was let down in story and performance, it would be a shit film), but it is definitely the major element. And I'm going to give James Cameron full credit and a hats off for managing to not only conceptualise it, but then to impart that concept to his team, reign in all the things that could go wrong and make it work, and then inject the humanity of the story and the truth of the performance.

Seriously, go and see it. I'm sure it's going to win a bunch of Oscars (though my pick for Best Picture and Best Director is still probably The Hurt Locker and Kathryn Bigelow, which is actually looking more and more likely as the days go on), and deservedly so. It's a mammoth blockbuster making packets of money that I'm not going to object to. It deserves its acclaim. Bring it.

5 stars.

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