FILM REVIEW AND TRAILER: Avatar (Cert 12A)

THE pre-release of Avatar has been interesting with arrogant echoes rippling from its presence even before the first trailer appeared. There was a countdown on the Apple website to the first website and (sadly) I was waiting to take a glimpse at this mys



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THE pre-release of Avatar has been interesting with arrogant echoes rippling from its presence even before the first trailer appeared.

There was a countdown on the Apple website to the first website and (sadly) I was waiting to take a glimpse at this mysterious release.

And I was pretty unimpressed.


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The second trailer has come and gone and there's not much in them to suggest anything groundbreaking, yet everyone else seems to be sure that this is the pinnacle of film-making.

Presumably we're in safe hands though, so I'm not completely dismissing the cries of 'revolution!' that some critics are uttering after preview screenings. James Cameron is pretty much as solid as they come in modern movie making, with truly great Hollywood entertainments in his back catalogue.

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The likes of Terminator, Aliens, Terminator 2 and of course Titanic are all truly revered in near-all circles and when it comes to the biggest spectacles he is one of the auteur of modern cinema.

He's managed to attract a crew that's pretty much the best in the business; people who've worked on the visuals in recent Star Wars films, classic Spielberg blockbusters, the Lord of the Rings trilogy...

So although the cast are a little bland (from unknowns to that one actress from Lost who no-one liked much) I have enough hope that the talents people on board can string together something half-decent.

It may look nothing special from the trailers (on the contrary it looks irritatingly 'meh') but there are big promises and a galaxy-sized hype machine steering this towards one of two directions; the year's biggest movie or the decades biggest flop.

Thoughts Afterwards

I press you that before reading this you forsake all previous thoughts about James Cameron's new return to sci-fi. There are those on the side that this will be the greatest thing since sliced bread (or Titanic) and then there are those who will go already convinced this will be (as South Park predicted) 'Dancing With Smurfs'.

I ask this of you because I went in with a little of each of these and as the credits rolled (to a drab Leona Lewis song) I realised that this is exactly how it was meant to be and how I imagine James Cameron has dreamt of wanting this to be for the years and years this has been but a pipe dream.

The protagonist of Cameron's dream is one Jake Sully, recruited after his brother's death to aid a mining expedition on some distant jungle planet. He merges his DNA with that of one of the natives of the planet and using technology we're not supposed to understand he is put in the body of an 'avatar', basically a hybrid body of the inhabitants of the planet (able to breathe the toxic air and interact with the locals inconspicuously). He is assigned to go into the jungle and see if there's a chance of a peaceful resolution for the natives to move, as what the humans crave to mine is buried underneath where one of the biggest tribes live. Naturally complications arise, especially when one of the sexy (by the end of the movie you'll agree!) locals takes an interest in Jake.

The story is a simple one, the type like Star Wars that can be followed by everyone but has enough to create a world deep enough for geeks and superfans to create fan-fiction for years to come.

And this is exactly what Cameron has done, and if any paragraph matters of this review it should be this one. A world was created with Avatar, one deep and awe-inspiring at times but also surprisingly relatable. Other directors have attempted to create worlds before (from Studio Ghibli to Ridley Scott to countless other attempts) but the world of Avatar, called Pandora, is quite easily the most realised fictional world cast onto reel.

Could this be possible without new technology? I was lucky enough to see the 3D version and as glowing plants, flying dragon-like creatures and roaring waterfalls from mammoth floating islands rip from the cinema screen, I had to shake my head with disbelief at the steps that we've come.

The 3D effects work on many levels but, however, it also fails on a number too. The landscape shots of Pandora are expectantly stunning and do immerse you into the world of the strange but intriguing blue inhabitants. But the scenes with us mere humans, which takes up much of the first 20 minutes and is then dotted across the rest of the running time, tend to strain the eye quite a lot - as 3D technology tends to work by focussing and bringing out one thing from a scene (usually the person talking) whilst everything else is out of focus, this is highly unnatural and during long bits of dialogue, where normally you'd wander your eyes to look at the mise-en-scene, you're left with strained eyes and slight frustration that you're forced to look at whatever is in focus.

The basic effects, especially the computer animated natives, look and feel real and you soon forget that ultimately half the characters in the film do not actually exist. The typical love subplot (repeated in near-all of Cameron's films) plays out ok, it's just a shame that Jake's 'avatar' character, who bonds so well with one Neytiri, looks like a smarmy alien idiot most of the time (especially when he smiles) - and I'm not quite sure if that's down to faltering technology or just how actor Sam Worthington looks.

At over two and a half hours, long by mainstream standards, it would have done well with some kind of pacing in the middle section (where Jake has three months to bond with the tribe, the audience is given little indication of how much time is trickling by). But the final third of the film is where Avatar really stands out and blows every action movie out of the water, leaving steaming robotic messes like that latest Transformers movie looking like a big budget advert for Meccano. Many longer movies offer up much character development and extra plotlines but often leave little pay-off by the end, Avatar yanks up the notches all the way until 11 and you can see exactly where the zillion pound budget went.

And with such a strong director and the pressure of the biggest movie flop in history on his shoulders, there is little doubt nothing was left to chance. All the cast hit the right notes held our hand down the visual path as it should. There's nothing glaringly bad if you take it just as a movie.

I could go into the glaringly bad morals and messages that I took from it though, but I won't. Not 'bad' in the sense that ethically they are wrong, as they are not, but being force fed environmental messages in such an obvious way leaves a slightly bitter taste (Westernises humans are 'so' bad!). The cringing New Age language that litters some scenes and then the laughably bad swaying chant scene was enough for me to nearly choke on my popcorn.

But I understand that's possibly a rare criticism, and if only that and slight headache-inducing 3D effects tarnish such a massively hyped release then that's a job well done for Cameron and Co.

It's not quite my movie of the year, though in many key areas it most certainly is (special effects, action sequences). This could be the future of movies right here and not seeing it at the cinema is a huge waste; in fact I'd go as far to say that if you miss out on this on the big screen (with the 3D glasses) then I'd not bother watching it at all. It'd be like Christmas lunch without the meat - some really great components but you won't be fulfilled at all.

TIM LINCE

4/5 STARS

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