Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar: Cameron Reincarnated?

Why do we watch films? To get entertained? To get educated? To ogle at the things we can’t catch otherwise (I don’t mean anything vulgar here)?

Yes there are many reasons for watching films and when we bash a film this is because they fail to satisfy any of those criteria. Some people would argue that entertaining movies are mindlessly targeted and criticized at times by some people just because they do not offer any cerebral fodder. But I would like to point out that this is a very misplaced notion. People like me who are too nitpicky, actually abuse mindless entertainers when they fail to entertain and not when they actually entertain. Avatar is an excellent case study in this context.

Coming back to the film, I believe no one needs to be told what it is and in fact I’m sure no one even wants to read the plot once again. Just to reiterate, the plot is nothing new. A mélange of man Vs alien conflict, a thinly veiled environmental message (which also serendipitously coincides with hope-(less)-enhagen disaster), a semi dystopian futuristic tale and a star crossed love story, the plot never comes as a surprise, nor does the climax. Even the climactic battle might offer a seen before feeling although it is bigger and better than any of its predecessors excluding LOTR.

So, unsurprisingly again, the biggest asset of the film is its visual effects. This is the mother of all CGI vehicles and the makers have left no stone unturned to deliver a unique visual experience that can make even most cynical of the jaws drop. Cameron creates a brave new world here which is supposed to be alien but seems extremely relatable in reality. With all those dense forests full of exotic animals and humanoid aliens who have also learned to speak English, we can see that the spacecrafts are merely the new age allusions to the legendary Mayflowers or Santa Marías. But this realization never dilutes the impact of the visuals. Especially astounding are the shots of the Pandora skyline where multiple planets and moons loom large over the horizon, the meticulously created luminescent forest with fluorescent flora & fauna and also the alien versions of dinosaurs and pterodactyls.

The film boasts of a very competent cast with Sam Worthington, Zoë Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang and Michelle Rodriguez. But I am actually concerned about attributing the performance to those actors. Because as we know, large parts of the shots are CGI generated and hence I do not even know if those expressions were real or animated! Probably the makers can take that as a compliment! The background score is also being praised by many people, but I thought the visuals overpowered it & I never really noticed it.

Nevertheless, influences are more than visible in the plotline. Dances with the wolves (Native Vs White Americans), Pathfinder (Vikings Vs Americans), Pocahontas, Fern Gully (I haven’t seen the last two) etc have been quoted as the predecessors of the film in terms of the theme. But I found a more than striking resemblance of the film to Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece Mononoke-hime (1997), visually as well as thematically. The entire talk of forests spirits, mythical creatures and men Vs nature conflict kept me reminded of that film which might not be as well known as its Hollywood counterparts. I actually wrote a piece about it sometime ago.

So, just to wind up, it is a technically immaculate film and I am not even qualified to comment on Cameron’s directorial capabilities. It does qualify as a film that is supposed to entertain and does so very successfully despite being predictable. Also, let me clarify that I added the word “reincarnated” in the tile not because Cameron is making a film after 12 years but because he gets back to his roots after more that one and a half decade. I was never a fan of Titanic except for the painting scene. In Avatar, he underplays the romance and gives us more of the action and adventure. So, watch it if that is what you are looking for and don’t go there expecting another Titanic.