Cameron and Avatar

Somehow I forgot to point this out last Fall. There was an interesting article by Dana Goodyear in the New Yorker on James Cameron, creator of so many giant films you may know of, and of course, of the recent juggernaut Avatar. It is definitely worth a read, as is Goodyear’s related chat online with readers here.

I went to see Avatar in its proper setting (late night showing in the Dome at the Arclight of course) a fortnight ago and can report a few things of interest:

* The cheeky alternate name Smurfohantas (I heard this name on Kermode and Mayo’s BBC Radio 5 show) is not far off the mark if you are in a cynical mood. It’s a very standard story, rather straightforwardly told, but using striking tall blue people. (There is nothing wrong with re-telling stories, by the way, so don’t get me wrong. Arguably, most stories are in large part old stories). I just don’t see this version as particularly well told, just merely functional. There’s a slightly more interesting angle buried under there somewhere about the whole idea of avatars, and maybe even something about disability, and so forth, but only if you really really dig for it.

* It is not a great film, but it is an interesting and entertaining film to watch. I have a soft spot for Cameron’s work since I do like his use of strong female characters in the genre as well as his anti-war, suspicion-of-corporation, and environmental politics, which resonate throughout so much of his film work (go back and look again at his earlier work if you missed it). In that regard, I think he does a far better job of getting his messages across subtly in Aliens, or in the Terminator films. Here, he’s shouting it at you in a sort of lecturing-to-a-ten-year-old way that is, frankly, a bit annoying.

* I really like his portrayal of science and scientists on the film overall. They’re not completely cardboard cutout geeks, for a change. They show a genuine passion for their subject, and go about it in a way that is pretty convincing-looking. And yes, someone was obviously very taken with bioluminescence. Which leads me to…

* It is a visual treat. No question. Stunning at times. If you’re interested in landmarks in filmmaking from a technical standpoint, I recommend it.

I’ve no idea why anyone older than 18 would think it was even remotely a short list contender in a Best Film category though. This is a mystery to me.

-cvj

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