02 January 2010
First Impressions: AVABAR
These impressions are a bit late I'm sure, but there's a lot to AVABAR and I'll try to get in as much as I can. This is by every right an absolutely massive film. Its scope is tremendous, the locations, the creatures, the effects, everything is extraordinary. There's a lot that's really nice to look at going on around the world and the one thing Jim Cameron does that I haven't seen in a film in years is truly establish and then cement a world that looks like it could exist, regardless of its fantastic elements. Let us journey deeper, SPOILERS probably abound:
The visuals are by and large AVABAR's greatest strength. It's been said hundreds of times all over the internet and papers by now, but this really is quite a feat. The CGI realism is astounding and the monsters and hovering rock mountains and shit are all very new and exciting. Seeing it in 3-D slightly enhanced the film but I'll tread some deep water here and say it was not essential to the experience. I will say, however, that seeing it on a huge movie theater screen IS essential to the experience, so go give Jim $10 of your money and watch this thing in theaters, it is worth it.
Where the visual experience is stratomospheric, the film falters due to its lackluster story and characters. It feels like something that we've seen a few times before. I've read other articles comparing it to FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) and Dances with Wolves (1990), both of which are spot on. It's got a lot of typical characters, from the spunky Indian Princess, the gruff Indian boyfriend, distant Indian father, angry Army Colonel, greedy Corporate dudes. While the characters at times are bland, though, the performances do shine through very well. Sigourney Weaver has a great deal of depth to her empathetic yet demanding scientist as does Joel David Moore as a fellow AVABAR to protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) who is able to conceal his justified jealousy behind a mask of duty and desire for knowledge. Actually, his character arc I really enjoyed and would have liked to see more of, of course pushing that into an already two and a half hour film is a bit taxing.
I'll also praise Stephen Lang as making Colonel Miles Quaritch probably one of the greatest villains of the decade. He is absolutely a product of a militaristic and patriotic tradition, driven by his duty alone without regard to what life may come in his way. He does elevate his archetype to a bit higher level than what may have been done with someone more typical. His hatred for Pandora is justifiable, but you can tell he really was merely biding his time until he was able to get the go-ahead to wipe out the natives. Jingoistic and soulless, Quaritch is a delight.
Strutting down this path, I took some issue with the ridiculous anti-military message of this movie. It's so unforgivingly pro-green and pro-environment to the point of ludicrosity. Now, I'm a liberal guy who's a big fan of Kyoto and all that shit, but I would have liked to see some more balance between nature and machine. But that wasn't really the point of the film, instead Jim tries to purely distinguish his troops (with a few exceptions), which in the end is fine, if not showing immense bias.
Another strength, though, lies within the empathetic element. Some of the best moments come from little scenes between Worthington and the Blue-Cat Lady, and discovering these little wonders like big ballooney flowers or force-raping monster pterodactyls into doing their bidding. The film's length aids in this regard, it feels like a journey in itself and these intimate moments are sandwiched (and sometimes in the midst of) these huge epic scenes.
The sprituality is very high and ultimately very real. I liked how there were both spiritual and biological explanations for the connectivity of the planet. It's something wholly alien, and the deus ex of the planet coming together as one to repel the foreign invaders seemed less forced after both these spiritual and biological explanations were given at earlier stages in the film. You can't help but leaving the theaters a bit touched by how the Cat-Smurfs live in such harmony with their world while it is impossible now to treat ours the same way.
I have some lasting complaints here: Firstly, the mineral the Corporate Military dudes were seeking is called "Unobtanium." Ugh. I wouldn't have as much of a problem with the name if it hadn't already been used as such in The Core (2003). It just seems like an unoriginal sci-fi standard at a point where Jim could have easily made up a name as equally iconic as the rest of the film. The point of course, is that it doesn't really matter what the name is or what it does, just that it's there and valuable. Yes, this movie will be used for the next fifty years in film schools to teach what MacGuffins are, it's so easily emplified as such. Going back to The Core though, I guess my main problem is that in that wretchedly awful Sci-Fi movie they treated the name "unobtainium" as the stupid punny joke it is, but AVABAR takes it so seriously and it shouldn't. This whole thing should be a minor issue but I'm nitpicky and it still bothers me. A lot.
The last thing I'll mention here is sex. AVABAR is a fucking sexy film. But it's weird inter-species sex that gives my dick all kinds of strange feelings. The intimacy of Blue Cat-Lady and Sam Worthington moments, including their sweet Tree of Voices getting-it-on-jungle-hump fest really push this boundary. I am wary, however, for this a slippery slope here, Jim, I'm not sure you know exactly what you're fucking with. Hey, I don't either. Are the Cat-People even mammals with good sets of junk? They're modest about it at least, I don't know. This ultimately is just one of many unanswered questions about AVABAR.
I guess we'll have to wait until the fabled AVABAR 2: The Reckoning (2011) to find out. Boy howdy.