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1/14/2010 12:45 PM 

This was the first movie I had seen in what is known as Real 3D.  I had been putting off paying somewhat more at a different cinema to get the full 3D experience, but considered that James Cameron’s latest offering would be the one to try.

First just a few words about the new 3D viewing experience at the big screen.  Normally I resent the endless stream of commercials and trailers before a film I have paid to see.  However, on this occasion there were a few 3D advertisements which gave me the opportunity to practice my viewing technique.  It is interesting that the viewing experience appears to be made more pleasant if one relaxes into the film.  Staring into infinity gives the best sense of depth. I noticed in fast moving scenes that there were some occasional blurring or perspective shifts that were apparent.  I suspect what was happening was that in intense moments of the film I (the viewer) would peer more intently at one section of the screen and try and focus at the action and spoil the real 3D.  So the trick seems to be to sit back and allow yourself to be immersed in the visuals without attempting to focus on a specific area or item of action.

The technological wizardry behind this film is immense.  Not only must the director consider all the usual cinematic issues for 2 cameras but also everything that gives a film its look must work well in 3D.  A normal backdrop or back projection will presumably be very obvious in 3D.  As a result most of the mainstream 3D films to date have been wholly computer-animated affairs.  In Avatar there is still a huge amount of 3D graphics but there is some live-action.  More impressively the actors playing the avatar aliens all used the same sort of technology used in ‘Lord of the Rings’.  This enabled Andy Serkis to act the part of Gollum without looking like a Hobbit distorted by the effects of the ‘One Ring’.

As a film Avatar has a simple plot line, albeit with a few interesting details thrown in.  Humankind’s advancements have lead them to discover a planet “Pandora” in another solar system where there are precious resources waiting to be mined.  The only thing in the way are the inhabitants of the planet, the Na’vi, a supposedly primitive race of humanoids.  While the Na’vi are in some ways superior in physicality to humans they are viewed with scepticism and partially dismissed by mankind due to their simple, environmentally wholesome lifestyles.

Enter Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a partially paralysed space marine whose twin brother was part of the “Avatar Program” before being killed in battle.  This program has grown man-made aliens similar to the Na’vi, controlled by humans by inhabiting their conscience, to act as scouts and diplomats.  Each avatar is genetically linked to their controller and so Jake Sully is immediately recruited to prevent an expensive avatar going to waste.

As well as the Avatar Program the military presence on Pandora is strong and fierce, and as Cameron fans will be familiar the evil presence of the corporation lurks in the form of Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi).  The head of the Program Dr. Grace Augustine is none other than Sigourney Weaver; who has had plenty of experience with Aliens in her film career!

So with the stage set Jake Sully sets about getting to know the Na’vi in this story with obvious messages about the environment and the human condition.

In fact the amazing visual realisation of this film quite overwhelms the plot line.  In 3D the sequences in the jungle were quite extraordinary with flies and insects appearing to dart around in front of your face.  While the plot twists were pretty obvious to guess, and the “message” was literally rammed down your throat, the film was still engrossing and entertaining throughout.

The only thing that let the film down in my view was some of the score.  Those fans familiar with Cameron’s ‘Aliens’ will no doubt recognise some of the music, especially in various action sequences.  For a film that reputedly cost a few hundred million dollars I would have expected completely new music to be included in the price!

Overall a very good, if not great film.  The bar of movie production values has certainly been raised.  It is a shame that the plot is a mere mish-mash of ‘Aliens’, ‘Star Wars’, and ‘Being John Malkovitch’!  If the film recoups its finances then a follow-up (or two) is inevitable but I would hope for a serious dollop of writing talent to be applied to take the film forward in an interesting direction.

****1/2 (out of 5)



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