Sunday, 23 May 2010

Avatar - Review

Lets get the story out of the way first.  It's ok.  Does pretty much what anyone who's seen a trailer is going to expect, with Cameron trying to pull on your heart strings, but never quite getting there.  The 'mother nature creating it's own internet' is a theme that anyone who's read an Alastair Reynolds' book is going to be familiar with but it's an interesting idea that never gets properly explored here.

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a former Marine sent to the distant planet of Pandora in the year 2154 to help cement relationships with the local population in order to give the human visitors access to the mineral unobtanium.  Things are tense on the planet, the developers growing frustrated by the indigenous peoples lack of cooperation.  Jake is wheel chair bound, thanks to an incident during a mission and in order to become friends with the Na'vi he becomes one, taking a biologically grown body of a Na'vi, mixed with some of his own twin brother's DNA, as an 'avatar'.  There have been previous attempts at this, there are already plenty of other human/Na'vi hybrids but Jake gets accepted by the the Na'vi as one of them.  Eventually.  His twin brother was a scientists who had been killed during a robbery but the Na'vi are more interested in Jake's warrior status.

The story doesn't really surprise at all, although  it is an environmentalists wet dream.  But on BluRay the planet of Pandora comes alive.  The images in full HD will stir far more emotion than the story, it is quite simply the most beautifully realised CGI fest you can buy.  Ok there are segments that are reminiscent of a Final Fantasy cut scene but at times you become so drawn into the sheer wealth and depth of the world that any question over whether what your seeing is real or not gets lost in the wonder of it all.  Breathtaking vistas and stunning forest scenes where every single detail has been pixeled to perfection.  Regular readers will know that anything that's clearly a labour of love is gonna get praised here and the imagination, dedication and sheer bloody mindedness that's gone into Avatar screams out on BluRay.

When the story (at its best) and the visuals blend together the result is several stunning scenes.  Jake taking on a flying banshee (sort of a pterodactyl/dragon thingy) so that he can 'bond' with it USB style and take it as his own, is just jaw dropping in its sense of scale.  The scenery and action feeling joined up and achingly believable.

The Na'vi are brought to life superbly, their movement and characterisation beautifully done, George Lucas must have watched this and had a part of himself die inside.

Does it lose anything not being in 3D on the small screen? I suspect the story is easier to scrutinise because of the lack of the distraction but when this gets re-released in August with another 6 minutes of footage, at the cinema, crowds are going to flock back to see it in 3D again.  There are more films planned with Cameron talking about taking the narrative out from Pandora to other planets in the system.  Hopefully some of the ground work that's done in the first movie, nature building it's own technology on this fascinating planet, can be explored further and equally it will be interesting to see if he can build the story further.  The characters within could become as iconic as anything we had with Star Wars if he can steer away from the saccharine and inject a tad more humour to the mix.

If you own a BluRay player and a 1080p TV this is a joy to watch.  It'll make you realise what true HD can do when the camera frame rate is as good as the frame rate on your television.  The tech here is mind blowing.  Usually with a BluRay your jaw drops for the first few minutes before you settle into the film and accept the quality.  With Avatar your senses are relentlessly pursued by the quality of the picture, time and time again.

Ultimately Avatar is all style over substance.  Sometimes that can be enough.