I was ambivalent about going to watch Avatar. The trailer, as with many Hollywood trailers nowadays, doesn’t leave a taste of mystery, but rather exposes too much of the thrust of the story, and revealed it to be a fairly standard, even cliched, tale.

And so it was.

Dances with Smurfs, as South Park lampooned it.

The story wasn’t a surprise, but the visuals were. The sheer amount of them. They were endemic in the film. In 3D, the film certainly looked 300 million dollars (or whatever it cost). With a budget like that I suppose the last thing they could afford to do was take risks with the story. It ticked all the psychological boxes, straight out of film-writing school: hero with a goal that changes half way through, meets beautiful girl, falls in love, earns the hand of said young blue maiden, big battle with the baddies at the end, good prevail over evil.

The themes of the story are surprisingly prescient, considering the story must have been written years earlier. James Cameron tapped into the zeitgeist of the time, and it seems even stronger now. Like many American films, the military figures dominantly, but this time they are the bad guys (or rather the unquestioning warmongering mentally is the enemy). It has a strong ecological theme too. It reminded me, in many ways of Final Fantasy. Remember that one? The last great reinvention of film, before Avatar. How quickly we forget reinventions!

One of the striking differences of the visuals in Avatar is the use of colour and light. Why is it that CGI has always been to represent dark a gloomly things thus far? It was nice to see something artificial realized so vivaciously. It enhances the themes too – the good guys full of colour and light, and their militaristic counterfoils in bland steel greys and muted khakis.

Is it the groundbreaking reinvention of cinema claimed by the hype? No: after all, how many films will have a budget like that? Perhaps it is a milestone though, a landmark consolidation of the state of CGI, thanks again largely to Weta Digital. The reinvention will come when such quality visuals become even more affordable for the average film budget of a non-blockbuster film that can afford to take risks with more original stories.

My expectations were low, but I did enjoy it more than I expected I would. At the very least, Avatar is a fantastic, immersive, vibrant, and entertaining sojourn from the real. Much needed in these times.

Add comment December 18th, 2009

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