Caffeinated Clint : Avatar


Now what was the first James Cameron movie I first saw on the big screen?


Let me think….

I remember I didn’t see The Terminator until it hit VHS about a year later (The sequel, however, I saw first day – and returned it to numerous times over its theatrical run. God, I still remember how excited I got when I saw the ‘teaser’ poster for Judgment Day in one of those overpriced magazines I used to have my local newsagent import from the states!) – and I regret it. While I was sitting in some overcrowded theater watching “Police Academy 2 : Their First Assignment”, a few grinning sods in the adjacent cinema were witnessing the climb of both Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger. What an experience that would’ve been – – much more than seeing Steve Guttenberg go undercover as a ‘punk’.

It had to have been Aliens, right? I was likely only twelve or thirteen, but it was the most-talked about movie of the schoolyard – The kids were raving about the special effects, the ‘big alien at the end’, and the ‘get away from her your bitch!’ line – so there was no way I wasn’t going to get in on that action!

And I remember going to see it with another youngster who bought his own homemade ice-cream bucket full of popcorn (frickin dag!)… and I remember the same youngster hooraying and yahooing through the whole thing. So much so that I believe I had to rent the VHS as soon as it came out just so I catch quiet little Carrie Henn’s dialogue, having not been able to hear it first time around. Bastard!

So Aliens, as opposed to his earlier film the Terminator, was the first Cameron film I saw on the big screen. And as sad as it is to have not seen the latter theatrically, Aliens was probably a good one to start with- after all, the man hit that one out of the park! Story-wise, effects-wise, cast-wise… it was the film-of-films… still is!

Later, I remember catching The Abyss as part of a late night triple feature – it was an advanced screening of that, I believe. Good flick. Had a crush on Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

In the 90s, I remember lining up – for miles – to get into True Lies at the Greater Union theater in Russell Street (I remember thinking ‘Wow, Last Action Hero didn’t hurt Arnie at all!’). I also remember the ‘full house’ sign being pulled out just as I was about to enter the final lap of the line (insert frown face here). In other words, I had to wait a full-bloody-day to see The Oak ram Art Malik with a fighter-jet!

Still, great stuff – True Lies was made for the big screen!

But I really feel for anyone that didn’t get to see Aliens on the big screen – just as you that saw The Terminator on the big screen likely feel for me having to see Bobcat Goldthwait’s debut as ‘Zed’ over Linda Hamilton’s ‘Sarah’ – it was a movie made for cinemas. You didn’t get half as drawn into it on DVD as you did “at the pictures”. Shit, what an experience!

I made sure to catch every Cameron film after that on the big screen (even the ones he merely produced, like Point Break) – the most recent, of course, being Titanic (speaking of film-films here, not doco-films; I saw Ghost of the Abyss on DVD). And again, bloody impressive on the big screen!

Cameron doesn’t make movies for video, or as is now the case DVD, he makes them for the big top!

And his latest – based on an idea he had some 14 years ago, back when I was finishing High School! – is no exception!

If you don’t plan on seeing Avatar on the big screen, you might as well not watch it at all!

Avatar is a film for the big kid in all of us – well, most of us.

It’s a film so wonderfully weird, imaginative, and blatantly outlandish that you’ve just got to be in your 12-year-old mindset to enjoy it.

But with James Cameron guiding the way, that’s entirely possible.

If Francis Bacon weren’t Cameron’s middle names, it’d be implausible. He’s the king of – the world, but also – the out-of-this-world story.  And Avatar is no different to Aliens, True Lies, The Abyss or Terminator 2: Judgement Day – the realism to ridiculous meter has the needle weighing heavily in the box of the latter… maybe even more than ever before.

For instance, there’s a scene towards the end of the film, where one of the jungle-living natives at the heart of the film precedes to take on the film’s lead rogue, a chisel-jawed mission-first people-second marine (riding in his 9 foot tall stomping machine, no less) whose in the former’s backyard with one purpose – to vehemently tear it down. And of course, nothing – not even a horde of bow-and-arrow carrying primitives – will stand in the marine’s way. Though he’s only got primordial weapons to defend himself with, compared to the marine’s state-of-the-art cache of contemporary firepower, the native seemingly outsmarts the rogue – and rather effortlessly, too.

It was right then and there that I – besides having a flashback to the Ewoks vs. the Stormtroopers sequence in Return of the Jedi – had to remind myself that Jim Cameron had made a fan for big kids – as opposed to the wider demographic that his previous film, 1998’s Titanic appealed to. “You can scoff all you want Clint, but you’re doing yourself a great injustice by not joining Jim on this journey”, I could hear producer Jon Landau’s apparition whisper in my ear. “Go with it son. Believe. Believe in Pandora”.

And he would’ve been right. It’d have been a big mistake to not join the Oscar Winning filmmaker on his latest jaunt. Why? Because it’s a bloody great time! That’s why!

Can’t relinquish realism, accept the far-fetchedness of fantasy cinema, and accept someone else’s vision? Then buy a ticket for The Blind Side…. Avatar is not for you.

Oh, and those that never liked reading the same book as a kid, or watching the same movie over and over? You might as well sit this one out too.

You see Avatar’s plot isn’t anything new – for better or worse, it’s Pocahontas… with blue guys.

In essence, it’s the old ‘outsider, initially an enemy, befriends an alien race, is welcomed in, and ultimately chooses their side in a battle’ story – but with a few extra bells and whistles.

Sorry, my mistake… did I say a few extra bells and whistles!? I meant $300 million dollars worth of bells and whistles!!

Which brings me to my next point: Who gives a shit about the film’s well-worn and over-the-top plot when the film looks this bloody good!!?

It’s the future. We are in Space. Paraplegic Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a former Marine whose been asked to participate in something called ‘the Avatar program’ in exchange for a new pair of working legs.

Pandora, we quickly discover, is home to the Na’vi, a humanoid race that lives at what we consider to be a primate level, but they are actually much more evolved than humans. Ten feet tall and blue skinned, the Na’vi live harmoniously within their unspoiled world.

The government, who’ve set up a base on Pandora, with the military basically running the show, transform Jake, his friend Norm (Joel David Moore) and legendary scientist Grace (Sigourney Weaver, reuniting with Cameron for the first time since 1986s Aliens) into human-Na’vi hybrids, or Avatars.

Humans are unable to breathe the air on Pandora, but by turning them into Avatars – who are living, breathing bodies in the real world, controlled by a human driver through a technology that links the driver’s mind to the Avatar body – they’re free to get around as much as they want. And on Pandora, through his Avatar body, Jake can be whole once again.

Despite being the one in his team who knows the least about the Na’vi, it’s the somewhat over-enthusiastic Jake who makes the biggest breakthrough with them – or rather, with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who saves the outside from imminent death by a horde of hungry dog-esque creatures.

Before too long Neytiri takes a shine to her new blue pal, and Jake to her – and her people – but the friendship is threatened when the merciless Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang – back with a vengeance! Where’s he been!?) orders the young marine to help him evict the Na’vi from their homes.

‘’You haven’t got lost in the woods, have you?”, Quaritch asks a torn Jake. “You still remember what team you’re playing for?”

Knowing what Cameron’s best at, most won’t be headed to Avatar for a groundbreaking plot or Oscar worthy dialogue (which you definitely won’t get here) anyway – they’re going for the magic…. The magic of the movies! And they’re gonna get it… in spades!

You can have your realistic, freshly-written Sandra Bullock vehicle mama… I’m sticking with this Avatar thing!

Four-and-a-half years it’s taken Cameron to bring this film to fruition – and you’ll realize after seeing it, why it took so long. There’s just so much in here… so much… beauty… amazing effects…. such depth (visually-speaking).  This thing is inspiring. It’s just a visually orgasmic experience.

Not to say the acting isn’t half decent – Sam Worthington (despite having not quite nailed the U.S accent yet), Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang (playing in-arguably this year’s most devilish screen villain), are all very good – it’s just that the imagery overshadows everything else going on here. And I’m sure that was Cameron’s intention. He is, after all, the captain of the new technologies boat – and he essentially wanted to make the movie to show off his new toys.

Mainly, Cameron wants to demonstrate his style of 3D.

We know, having seen My Bloody Valentine and Journey to the Centre of the Earth play in the medium, that 3D has come a long way since ‘Bruce’ lunged at Dennis Quaid in Jaws 3D all those years ago – but it’s just got even better! Cameron has absolutely mastered it. And what’s great about it is that the visionary filmmaker hasn’t used it as gimmick, but as an aid in the storytelling. There’s only a couple of instances where things poke at the camera, most of the time the 3-D is simply used to add depth to the film – for instance, when the main characters are in a chopper, or climbing a floating mountain, you actually feel like you’re in the air with them. In some instances, you may even feel a bit nauseous – that’s how real it all feels.

There’s enough going on screen that you won’t grow too restless in the films 150 minutes either.

Oh, I didn’t mention that? Yeah it runs for 2-and-a-half hours. And that might be the film’s chief slipup. It runs way too long – there’ll be much watch checking in the films leisurely middle. Cameron obviously doesn’t like to cut – most filmmakers don’t, but are usually ordered to do some by studio execs – but he really needs to learn to let go. There are quite a few moments in the film that could’ve easily been extracted – mostly, the sequences that make up the second act of the film. Some of the scenes start to feel the same… some of the moments completely unnecessary… but hey, maybe Cameron was just doing us all a favour and writing in a toilet-break sequence or two? If so, thanks!

Running-time nitpicking aside, things pick up speed in the last 45 minutes or so of the film – significantly. The third act is some of the best cinema you’re likely to see all year. The final battle, for instance, proves just how much George Lucas missed the ball by with his, in some ways, similar-themed Star Wars prequel films. See George, you can give your characters as much depth and detail as the computer-generated robots!

In short : Avatar is an astounding success. It’s the type of awe-inspiring fantasy blockbuster we haven’t seen in years, Not since the days of the ‘Village Candy Counter is right where you should be, so whatever takes your fancy come on out and see’ pre-show ad, will you find yourself caught up in something so bizarre, so easily.

“You should see your faces” one of the film’s characters says to a group of marines as they arrive on the planet Pandora…. or is she talking to the audience? I’m not sure, she could be… in fact, I’d believe it if she was – I hadn’t seen that many wide-open mouths since my bucks night at Goldfingers.