2D or not to 2D? That’s one of the questions to ask before buying this release.
Another one involves a mighty whinge, so let’s blow first. James Cameron’s space-safari adventure is about to execute a switcheroo: from new chapter in the cinema of sensation to latest installment in scurrilous home-ents release mischief.
A let-down? Yes. We don’t want to suggest it would be like Jake Sully turning round to baddie Quaritch and saying, “Yeah, nuke the buggering blue lot of them,” but we are narked that a film so generous in luminous excess should emerge on disc sporting pasty shades of vanilla. (The only add-ons come with the £40 online Steelbook Edition – art cards, t-shirt, book.)
This extras-parched release is galling because Cameron spent 12 years preparing to realise his fantasy and make us love every bioluminescent inch of it. There might be stories in that, right? But instead of getting them on disc, we’re offered a costly film-only revisit to Pandora first, before an extras-boosted incentive down the line and the 3D version after that. Welcome to the future of home viewing: less the gift that keeps on giving, more the punter who keeps on paying. Box office returns not enough? “Look at all that cheddar,” indeed.
Boo to the corporations, then. On a brighter note, Avatar shines on in 2D. Claims that extras were lost to free up the space needed to display Cameron’s vision at optimum capacity sound weak – “disc two”, anybody? – but the disc is the look of lush. Granted, you miss 3D at times, like Sully at base camp pining for the forest. Between ranks of retreating cryo-tanks and the licking flames you swore you could smell at the flicks, that visual correlative to our immersion is lost... partially.
But the price is worth paying, for now, partly because of the muted colouration on current home 3D and partly because 2D viewings allow us to assess and embrace Avatar’s more basic virtues. Yes, Cameron sees boldly, writes simply. But he does bring a crisp pulp punch to his plot, tethering it to Sully’s arc with the focus needed to harness one of those testy dragon-steed-type Ikran things.
The premise is simple and archetypal but muscular. Sam Worthington’s marine loses his brother and the use of his legs, inherits said bro’s virtual pins and “goes native” to aid the relocation of mining moon Pandora’s indigenous folks. Instead, he dives into the blue and falls for Zoe Saldana’s Na’vi princess. As guiding motif, the eyes have it: peepers opening bookend the film, Sully’s rebirths paralleling Cameron’s mission to deliver a senses-led experience.
Once we’re in, Cameron gives his love story wings. Technical razzledazzle and imaginative worlds liberate his often pent-up emotions: Titanic’s lovers pretended to fly, Sully and Neytiri ride dragons’ backs. Even if you never read Tolkien as a teenager, the pulp poetry in the fantasy sweeps you up.
Props also go to Saldana, Worthington and the revitalised mocap process, fiery eyes roasting memories of The Polar Express’ zombiefied Hanks-o-vision. Saldana especially blazes in any dimension with a force that transcends token ‘feistiness’.
Cameron casts keenly, his leads intuiting what’s needed in the space left by his curt dialogue and generating vividly iconic figures from nearstereotypes. Sigourney Weaver fuels her Dr Grace with smarts, snark, warmth and corporate butt-kicking clout. The villains are cut-and-dried – real 2D! – but parables tend to trade in archetypes and, as Quaritch, Stephen Lang rises manfully to the job. Meagre differentiation among the Na’vi does do damage, those ‘noble savage’ charges lingering, but CCH Pounder’s anguish after Hometree’s fall at least makes us see through Moat’s eyes.
Through Cameron’s eyes, even in 2D, we fall for Pandora’s groovy wonderland. Glowing fauna seduces the senses as surely as sinuous pack animals see off any sentimentality – this land is deadly.
Among up-scaled threats and wonders, Cameron illuminates the little things: fireflies, dust motes. Sound mix is equally alive, the whumpwhump of an Ikran’s wings pure sonic fetishism. Yes, Pandora occasionally resembles a ’70s prog-rock album cover. But Cameron’s rapturous, total realisation of his world in sound, vision and concept consummately disarms our cynicism.
The idea of a bio-botanical neuro network connecting Pandora’s natural things might re-arm our defences, were it not that Cameron’s fascination in the notion seems sincere. Its linkage of nature and internet-era notions develops the exchange programme powering his career – the troughs and triumphs of the interface between nature and technology thread through the film, from Quaritch’s power-loader to Sully’s avatar-enabled rebirth.
The quixotic midwifery of Cameron’s weird, verdant, alien vision ‘rebirths’ spectacle cinema, delivering another stage in its evolution. Avatar is not all new. Nor is it film’s future entire. But it is a leap of faith forward and a thoroughly intoxicating event-movie high, even without 3D. Next stop, Cameron patents home tech we can plug our hair into. Just imagine the cheddar...
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