The Emperor's New 3D Clothes
Last night was one of those rare evenings when my wife Sally and I had no childcare issues, and had cleared the diaries of work, so we headed off to see a film together. For ages I've wanted to see Avatar in 3D, and so wanted to catch it in the cinemas before it disappeared forever, or I have to spend thousands of pounds to install a TV/DVD system in the house to watch digital 3D at home if/when it arrives.
Only problem... Sally booked the tickets and went ahead of me to get them while I found a parking space for the car, but didn't realise that it was Avatar 3D I wanted to see. So I arrived at the cinema and asked where we picked up the glasses? "What glasses?" asked Sally. Cue one enormous huff... If ever there was proof that I am an unreconstructed spoilt brat in a middle-aged man's body last night was it.
I was determined I wasn't going to enjoy the film... And you know what... I didn't... But actually it wasn't simply because of a bad attitude... It was because, stripped of the magic of 3D, there was little left of substance that hasn't been done better in many other films.
Scoffers have described the Na'vi as 8 foot tall Smurfs and the film itself as "Pocahontas in Space" and they're not far wrong... That mixed with a late 1960s western (sympathetic to the Native American cause) rendered in CGI... they even use some pseudo-Native American terminology, such as the self-designation of the aboriginal people as "The People" and had "horse" riding tribes on the plains... Throw in a bit of post Vietnam/Iraq angst and some Gaian hocus-pocus about a planet-wide consciousness and you've got the whole thing down to a tee.
The only thing less three dimensional than the pictures (I really can't let it go) were the characters... not least the war-mongering ex-Marine Colonel, with all his macho-posturing and dialogue littered with references to "clicks". But at the end of the day it is the war-mongering approach that wins out in this film, as in most Hollywood films. Generally I don't mind that... some of my favourite films are old-fashioned westerns where "justice" blossoms (if not peace) from the barrel of a gun. But in this film the native people of Pandora are held up as some sort of paragon of what it means to be at one with the planet. Yet when push comes to shove, it is good old violence that saves the day, and the local deity/planetary consciousness even gets the wildlife to join in. Good job planet earth doesn't do the same with us... we'd have had our butts kicked long ago...
But on top of a dreadful script, paper-thin characters and an appalling half-baked underlying philosophy, the other thing is that it is way too long... Did no-one show Mr. Cameron how to use the scissors (or their digital equivalent) after "Titanic", which lasted almost as long as the ship's actual working life? 3 hours is WAY to long to watch so shallow a movie... especially in a huff. I haven't seen "The Hurt Locker" but I'm glad that it won the BAFTA for best picture and I hope that it, or anything else, wins the Oscar tonight. If nothing else they will be shorter than this... and that alone would get my vote... In this case less would definitely be more.
Actually in a small way I'm glad I saw this thing in 2D, because if the 3D effects are as amazing as people say it may have distracted me from the deficiencies in this. And that can often happen. We are now so blown away by the smoke and mirrors of movies these days, we miss the fact that many of them are totally insubstantial, like the Wizard of Oz whipping up a storm of special effects to cover up for his inadequacies. One of the few profound moments last night was when Jake Sully, the paraplegic "dreamwalker" (don't ask if you haven't seen it, I can't be bothered explaining) stated that he found it hard to tell what was reality any more... his paraplegic existence or as the Avatar. And that is increasingly true in movies; who knows what is real and what is little more than an up-market computer generated cartoon?
In this case without the rose-tinted (or should that be blue-tinted) 3D spectacles, we have, at best, an average movie. "I've seen the future and it's blue" said one enthusiastic advocate for the movie... I've seen the future, however, and its depressing...