There are some spoilers here, so if you haven’t seen the film, don’t read this. Simples…
This was visually gorgeous. Superb, astounding special effects and three-dee that generally made things clearer and managed to impart a sense of scale I’d never before seen in a film. That first zero gravity scene with the arriving humans leaving their hibernation pods had me gob-smacked. There were jungle scenes later where I occasionally moved my head aside to stop getting whipped in the face by some plant, and there were other scenes when you felt you could reach out and touch something on the screen. A slight disconnect between the size of the aliens and the humans – I was constantly surprised when an arrow shot from a Na’vi bow arrived the size of a spear to impale a human, but that might be due to mental assumptions on my part, generally because the Na’vi were too human. Also when both humans and avatars were together in the human base that didn’t quite work. Small points, irrelevant points – I’ve never seen effects done so well.
The alien life was excellent too. I particularly liked the hyena-like creatures our hero had to defend himself from during his first night on the planet, and the lizard that took off like fluorescent helicopter, and the plants (animals?) retracting their parts into the ground like tubeworms. I did, however, feel that the visual gorgeousness was taken a little to far into fairy-light territory and half expected to see a glowing Santa Claus crouching on one of the branches. And there also seemed to be a bit of a disconnect: why was it all the mammal-like creatures had six legs whilst the Na’vi were bipeds? Well, I can let that go – insects share our world and have six legs too. Just another small point, really.
But then we get to the story itself. I won’t go with the disparaging ‘Dances with Smurfs’, this was, as others have noted, ‘Dances with Aliens’. In fact it wasn’t even that because, really, the Na’vi were too human. They were Indians, American Indians with a touch of African native or maybe Aborigine tossed into the mix, but they were also so much less than that. Not run-o-the-mill Indians these, but noble savages and the realization of that myth of natives living in harmony with Mother Nature, who herself has been turned into a living force the natives could plug into without using mescaline. These were the anti-thesis of nature-raping evil capitalist imperialists and were not the dead before forty, one child in four surviving, eat grubs and be happy natives that we know.
The sheer joy of the visual effects was degraded by the large green mallet regularly smacking me in the forehead. Earth is no longer green, we are told. Humans can splice alien and human DNA and grow hybrid avatars, they can travel between the stars, but apparently growing plants is beyond them. Obviously Earth has been raped by the corporates who have now gone to the stars to rape other worlds for the allegorical unobtanium. Big mistake on Pandora, however, because between their first encounter with the human military and their second, the Na’vi apparently invented armour-piercing arrows, whilst the humans neglected to consider the utility of dropping a rock on them from orbit.
There are those who are speculating that Avatar cost near on half a billion dollars. So, half a billion on special effects, wages for actors and others, on marketing, all of that, so couldn’t they have just spent a bit more on the story? My feeling, after wards: huge talent and astounding effects wasted on a clumsy and shallow parable. Such a shame.
Update: But in the end, what the fuck do I know? I’ve just been told by someone on the inside that Avatar has done 1.4 billion in just a few weeks.