CGI Eden just another Dick Thingby Tobina Mackenzie / 10.01.2010
OK so we’re a little behind the curve with our Avatar review. Still at least we got round to it.
Visually Avatar is seamless. The success of the CGI beings and world of the planet Pandora is superlative. The hero, a crippled Marine, who gets to run around and enjoy super avatar strength inhabiting a 7 foot tall Navi being’s body. For me the main tension of the film was the ‘pod’ which was the vessel for him to transmogrify, as everytime he falls asleep in his blue Pandora self, he is returned to being a crippled Marine. Whether this tension was intended by James Cameron, who disappointingly lapses into cliches intermittently, who knows. He may have thought the love interest, or the United-States-dick-metaphor was the main crux, but for me it is the slipping between worlds. And so for the first half of the film the utter fantasticness of the technological achievement of this CGI triumph, draws you into the world and the story. The references are all there, both to other films and to the world stage. The planet Pandora is exquisite, and the detail of the over ripe nature is a veritable garden of Eden (with a hint of the rotten worm also).
The message is that the Navi people live in unity with Mother Nature, and are a peaceful tribe. Yet the females are warriors/amazonians, no Disney princesses. Their bodies and movements are sensual and dramatic. The blue world they inhabit is lit up by luminous floating tendrils and jellyfish type creatures, representing Nature’s blessings. The animals are a bit weak, with antidiluvian references to the jurassic creatures we have in our store of mental images. But the pterodactyl-like creatures that fly, demonstrate the muscle of this primitive yet advanced world. There is some charming suggestiveness and bewitching ideas. It’s the global warming message. The humans destory their world, and are now on Pandora looking for mineral riches, intent on destroying their world in the process. You could see Pandora as Africa, with the colonizers out to take everything. I’m not sure if Cameron has enough sense of self irony to be having a swing at the United States in the Middle East, and if he does, he does it with no imaginative penetration.
For me this is where the film started to fall apart. You are carried along seamlessly, until the last hour when he lapses into cliche. It is his Titanic moment of capsize.
The screenplay breaks down and suddenly you are reminded of half a dozen banal things such as: the Terminator, George Bush’s, “we will fight terror with terror”, helicopters brazening the dream world like a Vietnam jungle, and it becomes a dick thing. I thought to myself – all these computer nerds at their screens creating image by image, drawing some of the motions and the character features of the actor/actresses and putting them into giant blue avatars brilliantly, creating a paradise that is a kind of acid trip at the same time with its obvious Pandora’s box full of surprises. Then suddenly they are creating robots and military airships that could be in anybody’s movie, gigantic sort of lego pieces which move the story away from imaginative brilliance to just making bigger and more action packed same old same old.
Perhaps the movie fails because it cannot make the imaginative leap your mind asks of it once drawn into the magic of this planet. And if Mr Cameron was thinking to make something that raises the bar, or gives a glimpse of movies of the future, he doesnt fully succeed. Except technically. Apparently he promises sequels. But it is a real treat visually and for more than half of the film I was completely impressed by the cleverness of the human mind which has developed computer technology to this degree. You truly start to believe the Navi people are real, and that their world could exist. You go there. It is beyond digital, beyond Pixar, it is magic. The world of the Navi is shamanistic (and at one point the creatures start to have a Navajo feel) – at times there is even a kind of subliminal eroticism. Perhaps Mr Cameron then just reaches his limit as far as a storyline goes. He is American after all.