As I have already told some people, I was simply blown away by Avatar
. Not for years have I been as genuinely entranced, enchanted, perhaps even enlightened by a movie as by this. The night afterwards (some of which was spent writing the first review) my mind was still in the imaginary world of Pandora, swimming in her rivers, floating or soaring through her skies. Each character and their perspective were so real to me, my mind kept throwing up new situations for them to experience in the lands of Pandora. Morning came and I realised- I just had to see it again!
This time, I went to my second nearest cinema (Kashiwa Noha Lullaport’s Movix) for reasons of convenience, where I believe the polarised glasses being used are of the ‘active LCD shutter type’ (that imperceptibly quickly darken one eye and then the other, to produce the stereo effect), because they had a sensor on the top to keep the shutters in sync with the movie. If all this sounds like gobbledegook, well, it’s the same technology that the coming round of 3D HDTVs, as seen at the latest CES technology show. I’m not sure if the version in Otakanomori Takashimaya’s Toho Cinema had this sensor, which would mean they are the passive type. Was there any difference between them? Not much that I could tell, but perhaps the Toho experience was smoother, but a bit darker and the Movix one was a little less smooth, but also a little brighter- but all of this was pretty much imperceptible during viewing (luckily), as the magic quite securely takes over. Personally, I think the picture quality in Otakanomori is clearer and the sound has much better bass response. It’s basically a better cinema and this plays a part- though Movix is also very good, both of them being a world away from the average little cinema in Japan.
So , the movie came on and what do I do? At first I was remarking on all the incredible details- the magical realism of another world recreated in front of me. It really is impressive, but, I soon realised, watching like this is something like staring at the details of a painting and forgetting what the whole scene is, or listening to one background instrument in an orchestra- you can, but do you really want to? Missing the forest for the trees. The funny thing is, my realisation came at the same time as Jake Sully’s. He could either see the world he was exploring as real, as his own; or keep getting stuck in his grey and meaningless experience in the ‘real one’, tainted by human attempts to exploit the riches of the planet rather than appreciate it for what it is I find that the best art, which I class Avatar as being, often facilitates these moments of synchronicity with your own life experiences, so that multiple viewings are always fresh. Fatefully, he chose to go with his heart.
This is the key to understanding the movie, something which fortunately it was sop well done as to almost make this recommendation redundant; which is to see Avatar through your heart as well. When Jake says to Neytiri (his tribal girlfriend, in case you’re not too good with Na’vi names, I know I had to look it up!) that he has ‘fallen in love with the forest and her’, it is really meant. No longer is fear or excitement or the hope of reward directing him, but an awareness of the great beauty of her and Pandora. This realisation, a rebirth amidst the beauty of nature and of those who are in harmony with it, an awareness of the passion, the vitality, the sheer importance of their concerns in their own right, is an important part of Avatar’s message. He learns to sympathise, then even empathise; and finally to identify with this group of blue-skinned people, who make the forest their home, who feel at one with all that dwells there. There is no longer any room for cynical indifference, much less apathy- for he has discovered something he cares about, something with meaning. Essentially, Avatar is a love story in a fantasy setting, like all good love story from Romeo and Juliet onwards, offering a healing message for a deluded world living in a framework that puts love to the side, allowing callous, ultimately suicidal, injustice to take it’s place.
What first of all drags you into Avatar is the visual, almost visceral experience of ‘being there’. For this, it simply has to be seen in 3D. People I’ve met who’ve seen it in 2D often can’t help seeing flaws in the movie- seeing it as a movie amongst others, to be judged on similar terms and sometimes, by those standards, falling short; but this was not how the director intended it to be seen. It is a new form of entertainment that is experienced in a new way. Perhaps it is better to see it as a form of virtual reality, or as an immersive video-game, just to open your mind to the potential here for encountering another, believable, world. The high-resolution 3D allows for much richer detail, a more textured and rich world. The effect of having a different image for each eye almost doubles the resolution.
The characters have more presence and the astounding scenes (which could otherwise have the flatness that a lot of CGI suffers from, lending it an vacuous, contrived air) come to life before you. You are as amazed by the ‘Tree of Souls’ as Jack. The sheer height of their home tree awes you, as does the movements between the floating peaks of the Hallelujah Mountains. We are too numbed by pretty creations to really care about most CGI- but here it actually has a power to move. An important part of cinema has always been to move us, to help us see another’s vision through the screen. James Cameron has opened up a new way to do this, from which it will be hard to return. It is just so much easier to ‘suspend your disbelief’ when it is as well dispelled for you as this. From what I’ve heard, the Imax 3D version, which I’ll be seeing over the weekend, is even more immersive.
Avatar is epoch-making, in a way nothing much but the original Star Wars was. The fact keeps coming back to me and even for those that didn’t get into it, no-one can doubt the cultural shift it brought. In fact, I can throw caution to the wind and retract my earlier comment, to offer it my highest praise and say it is as good of, if not better than that that! The simple story and dialogue actually help a lot to make this clear. This is not designed to be a story of moral complications (though if you want to torture the point you could probably see it that way). Yes, the ‘humans’ are in the wrong, partly because of greed, but more exactly because of their cultural limitations and technology-related hubris (no doubt projected from what we already have) blind them to other spheres of value. Their planet ‘is dying’, yet they carry on as if it had never been alive in the first place. Their refusal to do anything to authentically communicate with the Navi, beyond the under-appreciated efforts of the scientists is not only their arrogance, but actually spells the doom of their plans. Will they return in greater numbers, or with new strategies in Avatar 2- the Return? Or will they find a way of accommodating one another, a kind of ‘sustainable development’ in space? Only James Cameron, and perhaps not even Cameron, knows…