Visuals good, story bad.

IN 1895, two French dudes decided to freak out a paying audience by making them think they were going to be run over by a train. The film was called L’arrive d’un train a la citoat, and even though we as a species are probabaly never going to have that sort of experience again, it’s hard not to draw comparisons with Avatar.

Is Avatar going to totally change the way we look at film as a medium? No, but you can’t help but feel sitting in the audience with your non-hokey 3D glasses that this may just be the start of something beautiful.

Whereas other films that have gone the 3D route have relied on drawing attention to itself with schlock-tactics (Oh my God! A ball is heading right for us!), Avatar doesn’t do that. Certainly there are moments where the beauty of the 3D will have you gasping in excitement but this is perhaps the first film that builds a whole world in three dimensions.

After about 30 minutes of what I like to call ‘what the balls?’ time, you learn to accept the world is just in 3D. It’s no longer a one-trick pony but instead the 3D just is, because it is. The 3D just becomes part of the fabric of the film, and extremely pretty part of the fabric, but just one part of the whole.

James Cameron in designing Avatar has evidently put a lot of thought into what he wanted his world to look like, and the minutiae of Pandora points towards this. Cameron has designed gorgeous and lush forests, fantastic creatures and menacing mechs to inhabit his 3D space.

The sights, sounds and colours of Avatar would probably be worth the price of admission in plain ol' 2D but to experience them in the 3D makes the experience infinitely richer. It's just a a cruel joke on the part of Cameron that while he presents a lush and beautiful 3D world, the storyline is distinctly one-dimenional.
There’s a reason I waited this long to mention the story. It’s because although there is some kind of story about an indigenous culture being taken over by a large multi-national corporation, it’s by far the least engaging part of the experience.

By about the three-second mark of the film, you know how it's all going to end. Boy sent to infiltrate local tribe which is blocking the way of evil corporation. Boy falls in love with culture and freaky blue alien. War ensues. Aliens win. That's it, that's the entire story.

Unfortunately, with a dazzling array of visual and aural delights the story and emotions driven from it manage to be just so-so. Beacuse you know exactly what’s going to happen,  it’s hard to derive any sort of emotional resonance from the story. That isn’t to say it isn’t a well-told story, it’s just a story we’ve seen a kajillion times before. You can't help but to feel frustrated that this wondeful technology has been used to tell such an underwhelmnig tale.

The performances in many regards match the script. You can’t say that any actor stands out in this digital faire, but then again not much is being demanded of them. Susan Sarandon walks it as the eco-scientist and Sam Worthington does an OK job of being the military grunt finding meaning and love with freaky blue aliens. Zoe Salanda plays the freaky blue love interest effectively enough, but it's hard to tell whether the performances are good or not because of the technology between the audience and the actors.

There are some nice touches here and there, such as the comparison to life on base to that with the Nav’i, but it’s just so damned predictable. It’s a shame, because if a little more time had been set on narrative and emotional engagement, this could have truly been a watershed moment in cinema history.

As it is, people are probably still going to look back at this film as the start of a whole new movement and you should most definitely go and see it, but one gets the feeling it is to experience a new type of cinema rather than take in a good yarn.

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, go and see it. It’s one of those movies that you have to see to be part of the cultural mass consciousness. Aliteration aside, The Anti-Cookie approves of Avatar and it's freaky blue aliens.

4 stars out of 5

- James McGrath


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