Avatar review and some Oscar thoughts

Over the weekend I finally saw Avatar. I have to admit, the major reason for seeing it was because it’s been Oscar nominated and I wanted to know whether it was worthy of its nominations. After all, this year there are two (or is it three?) genre movies up for Best Picture nods and that’s quite thrilling. Everything I’ve heard about District 9 (need to see the DVD) is that it’s an intelligent sci-fi movie that deserves its nomination and probably should have had an acting nom as well. I remain hopeful for it in the Adapted Screenplay category, although there are two other movies that I think are more likely.

Anyway, as Avatar is still at the theatres I thought that it was high time that I saw it. The major reason that I had been putting it off is James Cameron. He makes spectacular movies, but not particularly intelligent, thoughtful ones.

Firstly, the plus points: it was visually stunning and the 3D technology was brilliant. It worked best when the action was slow, so the big fight scenes could be a bit disorienting but I kept want to reach out and touch the pollen spores and firebugs. Avatar really should clean up in the technical categories. It’s a movie that really has to be seen at the cinema for the 3D experience. That alone persuaded me that it wasn’t a waste of money and three hours of my life.

The minus points: er, there are a lot of them. Avatar didn’t get any acting or writing credits because it simply didn’t deserve them. The acting wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the kind of movie where you sat up and thought “wow, these guys did so well!”. That was largely because the script was very workhorse and didn’t give the actors anything challenging. The dialogue was clumsy in places and there was nothing remotely subtle about the environmental themes. At times I felt uncomfortably like was watching the kind of bad ‘living with the natives’ documentary that people were making thirty years ago. It wasn’t dreadful, but without the whizz-bang visuals there would have been nothing to really keep me interested. The less said about the scenery-chewing corporate villains the better.

To my mind, Avatar doesn’t deserve it’s Best Picture nomination. It’s very flashy, but it’s all flash with no substance and that makes it a very uneven film. The Best Director nomination is harder to argue: on the one hand, this was a shallow yet entertaining move, nothing special. On the other hand, Cameron used the new technology perfectly and managed to combine it all seamlessly. It doesn’t deserve to win the director prize, but it’s not totally uncalled-for to see it on the list.

All in all, it’s a fun movie and worth seeing on the big screen. I feel no need to buy it on DVD or make a point of watching it on broadcast TV because without all the flashy 3D effect there’s nothing to make it special. It’s not a movie that I’ll want to see again particularly: it’s not got quite the sense of fun that other light movies have or the depths that make you see new things with each viewing.

I need to see how many of the Oscar films I can source and watch before the ceremony, largely because I’m quite divided about some the categories. I’d like to see what Colin Firth did in A Single Man. Carey Mulligan is a terrific actress – but what did she do in the role she was nominated for? I’ve heard a lot of things about Up in the Air and An Education: are they really as good as they say?

I’d love to see Coraline get the animated award, but I rather suspect that Up will steal that one because it’s not going to get Best Picture. Ah, well, Gaiman will get there one day. It would be nice to see Star Trek get one of the behind the scenes awards (sound mixing would be good – it’s amazing how much difference that can make to a movie) but I suspect that’s where Avatar will clean up. I’m not even going to pretend that Avatar isn’t a shoo-in for visual effects. Hmm, Avatar isn’t up for the Make-up award. That might be where Star Trek gets something…

Of course, my biggest dilemma will be how much of it I watch and how much I tape. Plus, of course, whether I can get through Monday without finding out the results if I do tape it!

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