Went to see The biggest film ever in the world, it’s official in 3d yesterday. Darling Husband (or DH, as Mumsnet would have it) weirdly decided it would be an ideal Valentine’s Day treat – though it didn’t exactly create a romantic mood as we both ended up with cracking headaches (3d always makes me feel as if my eyes are bouncing round a pinball machine and my brain is being squeezed out through my earholes…)
Anyway – Avatar left me feeling decidely unnerved, and not just from my 3d hangover. For pure visual spectacle, it is the most amazing film I’ve seen; the scenery of the world of Pandora is stunning, almost literally, as tree branches and fern fronds seem entirely likely to snap back and hit you round the head as the characters leap through their fabulous forest. The 3d adds to the trippy experience, making the film incredibly immersive – I noticed a young girl a few seats away from me reaching out her hands to try and catch dandelion-like seedpods that seemed to float only inches from our faces. Some audiences have formed support groups to deal with the loss and dejection they feel when the film ends, devastated that they have to ‘leave’ beautiful Pandora behind in the cinema (I’m guessing they were Americans.) I even felt a little trace of that strange artificial nostalgia for a place and a time that doesn’t actually exist, for I am secretly sad that I will never get to walk through the beautiful nighttime phosphorescence of the Pandoran rainforest, with the lush moss lighting up under my bare feet at every step, like some kind of eco-friendly Michael Jackson video.
But still… although it is a feat of astonishing technical wizardry, there is something faintly depressing about the film, quite apart from the rather heavy-handed enviro-message being perpetually undermined by the director’s pornographically lustful eye for a huge explosion. The quality of the story, for example, when looked at with a writer’s sensibility… well, it’s formulaic, verging on parodic. There are certain shots (for example, the hero accidentally pushing away his wheelchair in a moment of crisis) that are entirely predictable, places where the plot creaks with convenient devices, characters that are archetypes rather than people, dialogue that never rises beyond exposition or cliche. And then there’s the uneasy, queasy sensation you get when your brain catches up with your eyes and you realise that nothing you are watching is ‘real’, in an even more dramatic way than with most films, for the majority of the characters have been computer-born, spun from pixels and electricity. (Even more disturbing when you realise you’re starting to find these pixellated creations faintly attractive…)
So is Avatar the future of filmmaking? Now the technology is there, and the bar has been raised, I can only imagine that big-budget films will be getting even bigger (though the role of the actor may be diminishing…. discuss.) Terry Gilliam, for one, has expressed dismay at Avatar‘s success, worrying that the big bang boys are going to squeeze out all the small and quirky films that are driven (at least in part) by art rather than commerce. The temptation to create bigger and more spectacular visions has always been a part of filmmaking, but so has the desire to reflect, explore and illuminate human truths and emotions. So I’m just waiting for the film that manages to combine the beautiful landscape of Pandora with a warm and beating heart.