Friday, January 15, 2010

King of yet another world

Image from

I'm having a bit of trouble finding something to say about Avatar because I enjoyed it. That in itself is not a problem. Having paid $11 to see a movie, it's preferable that I don't hate it. Although hating something certainly makes for a better blog post. Avatar I liked so much it's stupefied me. Clearly it's easier to critique from an adversarial point of view. If you find an offering wanting you can both list the shortfalls and express outrage at their audacity. A satisfying entertainment, like a hearty lunch, directs you to the sofa for a nice, long lie-down.

Avatar telegraphs its every intent in the first twenty minutes - normally a risky strategy where I'm concerned. I had better not find any unturned stones under those final credits or there will be trouble. Yet never have I been so sure a film would deliver all the items listed in exposition. You know from the get-go that the hero will morph. He's a paraplegic with no future earthside and an overdue appointment with redemption, why wouldn't he crave the ultimate tree-change? But suspense is somehow achieved. You know the Na'vi are going to beat off the sky-people. There are no complex layers of relativism to navigate. The scud-packing mineral pirates are just plain bad and the pterodactyl-riding, arbour-worshipping indigenes are just plain good, even though they don't have to be because there's no sub-prime mortgage on this moral high ground baby. But tension is maintained as the body count escalates and major characters get toasted.

The narrative certainly isn't challenging but satisfaction comes from having your every expectation met at exactly the right moment. Without any plot resolution anxiety, you're free to enjoy the art deco-influenced flora, Roger Dean-influenced landscape, Elvinesque dialogue and hammerhead rhinos. It plays your vanity like a virtuoso violinist. It says, I know you are a sophisticated film buff, so I am going to give you lots of shorthand and you are going to get it because you are that clever. It exploits your recent experience of CGI films that have no substance whatever and it gives you just enough cinematic protein. And wasn't that just a pork pie in need of an oven? You know you're being dicked with but you don't mind because somehow three hours just evaporates into a vortex of contentment. And I didn't even see it in 3-D. Perhaps films will all be like this in future. They will bond with you over mutually understood givens, like the Na'vi tame their mounts by entwining their hair strands. 

It may be more Pan's People than Pan's Labyrinth but there's nothing wrong with a little celluloid ethical clarity where pliable young minds are concerned. Imperialism, deforestation, racism and war are all bad things that happen too much and families might find engaging in conversations about them over burger and chips not a bad way to end a day. 

There's a joke doing the rounds of the British press which goes a little something like this - Avatar is the Tories' favourite movie because it's about blue people who save the world under the direction of a man called Cameron. Yep and he was also the skipper of a little vehicle called Titanic...