December 27th, 2009

Holy smokes, I thought this was mind-blowing. Say what you like about James Cameron, the man hits what he aims at. With Avatar I think it’s safe to say he was aiming at big, big, big screen sci-fi action spectacular, and for me he fairly hit the bullseye.

You could say that the big blue skinny native aliens ticked pretty much every cliche in the noble savage book, that the eco-message was on the ham-fisted side, that the dialogue was occasinally a bit silly, that the lead character wasn’t particularly compelling, especially in human rather than alien guise, and that people occasionally did things that weren’t terribly believable, but it would be a stingy viewer who didn’t concede that most of that was utterly muscled aside by the stunning visuals, the incredible imagination, the sheer skill of the way it was put together. The alien world was like stepping into a fully realised Roger Dean painting, the human technology was just as believable, the action sequences really were amazing, and the story … well, it was a bit familiar, but I’m all for old stories done in new ways, especially when the overall experience is as astonishing as this is. It ain’t often I get to the end of a 2 hour 40 film wishing it was a bit longer…

It may partly be that it’s the first time I’ve seen anything in 3d at the cinema, and it may well be that in 2d, on the small screen, it’ll all look a bit lurid and pompous, but on the big screen, wow, utterly spectacular and involving.

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on December 27th, 2009.

24 comments so far

  • Elena says:

    hm. gotta disagree with you entirely on this one. i could barely sit through it. most boring movie i've seen in years–the visuals only held my interest for about 15 minutes. then i wondered where the story was. but i seem to be in the minority here, so i'm going to go swath myself in superiority now… 🙂

  • Matt says:

    I like to make the analogy that Dances With Wolves had a love-baby with Ferngully. But visual-wise, I'd agree that it was pretty sweet.

  • Elena,
    Or you could swathe yourself in sorrow and disappointment at having somehow missed out on an extraordinary experience…

    Haven't seen ferngully. Dances with Wolves is apt, as is a man called horse or probably a zillion other stories of the westerner learning to love the noble savage. I think complaining about the plot rather misses the point with this film, though…

    In general there seems to be a lot of tub-thumping from reviewers about how incredibly rubbish the story and characters were. I didn't really have that reaction. They seemed, well, good enough, I guess.

  • chris says:

    Whilst it looked spectacular and was totally imersive I feel that no 3d and just a regular sized screen will make its obvious flaws become even more apparent.
    Where The Wild Things Are! Now there was a great movie for 2009! Enjoyed it even more than Inglorious Basterds!

  • Anonymous says:

    This film is a "visual feast" (can you say that?) – and it has everything (and more) a Science Fiction or Fantasy movie should have.
    The plot is not as bad as some people claim, the characters are classic stereotypes – but they are alive.
    Lots of cool female characters (as in your books).
    While watching this movie, I felt like a boy again – and watching it the second time the movie seemed even better, but alas I didn't get any younger…

    If I want well developed characters and an original and surprising plot I read your books… anything else I find in "Avatar" 🙂

    Best film since "Return of the King".

    Sorry for my "creative" English and greetings from Germany

    P.S. Your latest novel even has a fitting title here in Germany "Racheklingen" ( "Blades of Revenge")… and it is a wonderful dark and cynical book, by the way. But after finishing it, "Avatar" made for a nice and welcome (and wonderful naive) change 🙂

  • Skout says:

    The colonel character was a bit silly, but the rest of the characters were pretty good, and of course the visuals worked wonders on the eyes, even in 2D, which I had to see because the wife's tummy can't handle such things.

    I was left wondering if it was worth another $14 to see it in 3D. I'm going to let the concept stew for a while before I decide.

    Definitely worth seeing, and definitely a slap in the face to anyone who supports the concept that hollywood can't make money anymore because of piracy.

  • chris says:

    Apparently its been nominated for a Golden Globe! (best drama)
    One of lifes great mysteries I suppose, up there with "who is KJ Parker and whens the next GRRM book coming out?"

  • Going to go and see it today. Was insanely more excited after having read your review, although I do expect a recycled story with plot falling to the wayside in lieu of special effects. We'll see if things fall how I think they will or if I am pleasantly surprised. I am sincerely hoping for pleasantly surprised.

  • Iain says:

    Joe – you are quite right when you say that those who gripe about the plot/characters/James Cameron telling us that the film will change the way movies are made miss the point completely.

    James Cameron sold this movie as an scifi event only to be fully appreciated in a 3D cinema wearing silly glasses. If you take it like that then what more could you want?

    I enjoyed it immensely, even scenes where the characters were doing nothing more than strolling throught the forests had me enthralled.

    If I had a tenner for every splenetic fanboy rant about this movie being a cross between Ferngully and Dances With Wolves I could retire a happy man. Seriously, can these twunts not come up with something more original? What about a cross between Little Big Man/Soldier Blue and the Smurfs?? Or as you say A Man called Horse which is a damn fine film if a little sore on the nipples.

    The last time I walked out of a cinema feeling I had spent my money well was after Return of the King. Even the revamped Star Trek which has been vaunted as the best ever left me a little dissappointed.

    Ho-hum, enough ranbling for now.

    Happy New Year, Joe.

    Skout – the evil colonel was my favourite character. It was obvious the actor had an absolute whale of time making this movie.

  • innokenti says:

    It gets marks for putting it all together. By all, I mean the things that have been achieved by visionary and dedicated people of the last decade (and more).

    Yeah, it was shiny and fluid and deep. But only in the 3D kind of sense. It really had no depth, no soul, no… no sense of doing anything more than putting good ideas in a basket and calling it a… omelette? I got a bit lost there.

    It was great to watch, but really just made me think of all the better things that had come before.

  • Jens & Iain,
    Seems like you had a similar response to me. I agree that the Colonel was actually one of my favourite things about it. A total archetype, maybe, but he was a can-do villain, and one of the reasons why I felt it wasn't utterly 2d in story terms. Oftentimes in the big hollywood blockbuster the villain will be relly dumb. He seemed a pretty astute tactical thinker on the whole. It also tickled me that it was the same actor who played General Pickett in Gettysburg…

    To me there was depth and soul in the technical achievement and the detail and realisation of the world, the way it was all married together and presented. Normally I'd be the first to say that's not enough to make a great movie, but I think in this case it was.

  • William says:

    Man, Joe, first time I have commented here so right off, love love love your books.

    Why do I love them? because of complex characters, endings I don't see coming, a new twist on old stereotypes, in other words, all the things I think Avatar lacked.

    I wanted to love it. I really did. I saw it not only in 3D but in IMAX and it was mind-blowing. But, visuals just don't stick with us. I saw it the first day and the visuals are gone. Now, when I remember it I remember the story and the characters. And, that, my friend, is not a pleasant memory. I'll be curious to see if you still feel the same way a year from now.

    It's a shame because there was potential here. There was a lot to say about a race of people who didn't need anything from modern technology, about the nature of individuality when everyone is networked together, about the nature of spirituality when one KNOWS some sort of afterlife exists. To me it is all one big missed opportunity. The myth of the Noble Savage, the exploitation of the environment, these are complex ideas and the colonel would have been the perfect person to illustrate some of the other side of the story. But, to Cameron, there isn't another side to the story. Everything is so simple.

    I am sorry. I wanted to love this but the more I think about it ….

  • chris says:

    Iain-My humble apologies for not agreeing with you. Clearly that makes me a 'twunt'! Good one!
    Thats right up there with
    "C U Next Tuesday!"

  • Skout says:

    Wow, I don't get the concept on the colonel at all, I guess. I mean, I understood where they initially tried to make him out as being sneaky and calculating, but then he just blundered right in without any tactics at all.

    What was worst, though, was that everything he said was cliches, and I guess if that's what they strove for, they got it pegged perfect, but it made both me and my wife look at one another and say "Cheeeeeese" more than once.

    Still wanna see it in 3D, though.

  • Anon,
    I would imagine he could be accused of ripping his plot off from hundreds of sources – as everyone's been saying, the plot is the least interesting element of this film anyway…

    Thanks for coming, glad you liked the books. Obviously my own taste tends towards the dark and complicated, but I don't require that I be challenged by everything I watch in every way. I think this film very much was pushing the boundaries of the form, and I think the experience of watching it probably will stick with me. I'll probably remember the plot being a little bit lame but, hey, Terminator II was pretty cheesey in places, didn't stop it being a sometimes groundbreaking and generally thoroughly entertaining film…

    Of course you don't have to agree with Iain. You have to agree with me.

    That's a lovely story…

  • Skout,
    I thought both the colonel and Giovanni Ribisi as the company guy filled the hole pretty nicely. Ribisi wasn't all out slime, he felt a bit conflicted about it all, wanted to give the scientists a go, but in the end he just couldn't be arsed thinking up a cleverer way to get rid of the smurfs. That seemed relatively convincing. Likewise, the colonel's choice to go softly at first and pick up as much intelligence as possible, but later to seize the initiative and launch a pre-emptive attack before the aliens were fully concentrated seemed to make reasonable sense. Then, when under pressure, I like how he thought fast and prioritised on a personal level. Shoot the smurf. That failing and the atmosphere going, get in the power armour THEN put the fire out. Things like that. He was just a human, you know. He didn't have the advantage of being ten foot tall and having a telepathic link to the world. He rolled with the punches, and I actually thought he was a lot more resourceful than the aliens. He would've won easily if it weren't for the fact the planet decided to come to their aid in the nick of time. Now THAT was cheesey.

  • Zafri Mollon says:

    spoiler alert

    yeah the whole planet coming to save them reeked of cheese. i mean, if you're going to do that, at least do some foreshadowing other than quiet voices talking when they connect their little ponytail/symbiote thing to the tree. Right?
    Also why couldn't the planet kick in earlier, if it's all connected (as the scientist suggests with the billinos of billions of connections between the trees and stuff) why couldn't the planet have sent those hard-headed dorks in first?
    special effects were amazing, that's what i went to see it for anyways, i realized ahead of time (based on reviews) that the plot was no blade itself

  • Anonymous says:

    Colonel: "You're not in Kansas anymore."
    Is it common knowledge in England, that this is a quote from "The Wizard of Oz"?
    Not everyone seems to get it here in Germany (not everyone knows the movie or film, unlike in the U.S. I'm told) … hence my question.

    Great quote, by the way – works on many different levels, one being James Camerons (self-deprecating?) statement: Here comes the next big thing! It also establishes the Colonel as a villain with some sort of humour, doesn't it?

    Great "classic" villain – the best since Alan Rickman's character in "Die Hard"…

    This whole "smurf"-analogy irritates me – Neytiri is way too sexy, to be a smurf!
    Please tell me, she is – otherwise I finally have the confirmation, that I'm weird (or a smurf)… that's what my wife calls me, anyway.
    Weird, not smurf.


  • Skout says:

    Maybe I'll like him better in 3D 😉

  • Zafri,
    Yeah, sudden, last minute intervention from the planet was the rubbishest thing in the film, along with the really bizarre implication that the humans, having been beaten once, wouldn't just try again, and in much larger numbers. History would seem to teach us that once those colonial exploiters find something they want, they don't just shuffle off easily…

    Smurf lover.

    You'll certainly find him … less 2 dimensional!

  • chris says:

    Jens- You've clearly never seen Smurfette! Apparently she goes like the clappers!

  • Anonymous says:

    Chris and Joe – you are right.
    Call me Weirdo Smurf.
    And the Colonel is Gargamel?
    But Gargamel created Smurfette… this makes "Avatar" turn into a whole new direction. Can't wait for "Avatar Part II – Attack of the Smurfs"

    Jensmurf, "Smurf Lover"

  • Elfy says:

    Joe, about the humans not coming back in bigger numbers, Cameron does have 2 sequels planned, so that may happen.
    I loved the film, yes the plot wasn't the best thing ever, but honestly what else could you do?
    As for nothing other than the visuals living with you, I still have Rodrigues' quote ringing in my head: 'I got a gun too, bitch!'

  • Colin says:

    I think one of the reasons some idiots don’t like Avatar is because of the music. It’s James Horner at his old-school worst. Having said that, I have the soundtrack, and it’s a good listen, when it’s detached from the movie.

    One of the problems is Horner’s constant reuse of older material (not the actual notes, necessarily, but the arrangement) — parts of this sound like they’re from Titanic, and other bits are from his Star Trek work.

    The score is way too manipulative – it doesn’t give us a chance to identify with the main character’s journey, it instructs us to.

    And yet, as I said, as music on its own, it’s just fine.

    But I think “sounded like Titanic” is a reason a lot of people subconsciously resist identifying with the main character. I wish Cameron and Horner would have another bitch-fight and not work together for the next ten years, like they did after Aliens.

    And, of course, I loved Avatar despite that. But then, I also loved Star Trek, and Moon (and a lot of other movies my local video shop have told me “No-one’s ever rented that twice before”). I guess my bar isn’t set very high…

    …but surely that’s what you *want* in a fan, right, Joe? 🙂

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