Some films are big, some are everywhere, and some are genuine cultural phenomenons in their own right. Think ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jaws’, or today’s film ‘Avatar’. James Cameron’s eco-fantasy is currently the highest-grossing film of all time, and the second highest if adjusted for inflation (the first, in case you’re wondering, is ‘Gone With the Wind’, destined to be featured later in our list).
But whereas ‘Star Wars’ (‘use the force’), Jaws (‘you’re going to need a bigger boat’) or ‘Gone With the Wind’ (‘frankly my dear…’) have winning dialogue and compelling central performances, what does ‘Avatar’ have? That’s not a rhetorical question by the way, please someone in the comments tell me what it is that they positively remember about Avatar, other than it sort of looking quite nice.
Because I watched this film about two weeks ago in preparation for this series, and almost nothing has stuck with me from it other than the following:
- How horrible and weirdly bestiality-reminiscent that ‘connect with your animal through your hair’ thing is, and why no one at any point in its writing process didn’t get how gross it is.
- Wondering whether they bothered to use the real Sigourney Weaver or whether that is actually just one of the clones from ‘Alien:Resurrection’, because for all the Ripley-ing she does in this film IT MIGHT AS FUCKING WELL HAVE BEEN
- How I presumed it would only get ridiculous later on, but it pretty much just starts out ridiculous when we find out a guy has died so rather than find someone similarly qualified they just hire the guy’s twin brother, despite him having no training whatsoever. I mean, we all hold our suspicions about the job market, but surely nepotism can’t be that bad…
- Oh and there are some blue people in it.
This is not me being facetious, by the way, or me set against a popular film just to be contrary. I genuinely remember very little about this film other than its visuals. Clearly this was enough for the hundreds of millions who have seen and loved it worldwide. To understand why they did, I think it’s important to think about when it was made. Digital 3D was a fairly new innovation in 2009, and the films that had used it to best effect had either been seasonal and animated in a way that was often full-on dead-behind-the-eyes horror (‘The Polar Express’) or only featured brief 3D moments in mostly 2D films (‘Superman Returns’, ‘The Dark Knight’)
‘Avatar’ in contrast, was an all 3D, all alive film that was not just for Christmas. And, for sure, the quality of its 3D is superb, especially if you can compare it to a time where most film weren’t available in 3D. Viewers are presented with a whole magical realm, of lights and colours and movements, a world so beautiful and shiny it is easy to forget that everything being said in this realm is ridiculous.
Considered as a purely visual piece, then, ‘Avatar’ is a success, much in the same way that abstract films from the 50s and 60s were a success: they are stunning explorations of the filmmaking form over six minutes, but over two hours with a tacked on environmental message and a script that’s little more than a bag of clichés? Too much.
Imagine watching the above film from master Len Lye for two hours and you will get an idea of how I felt about Avatar.
But with an Avatar 2 and 3 set to be released, in a world where its visuals are not so new any more, time will tell how Avatar as a film will fare. But as films take its examples and pile up the visual thrills over well-written chills, one could argue that Avatar is the film most typical of its time out of all those I have looked at so far. And what a terrifying omen that is. Thank goodness this series is moving backwards.
Next: on the subject of the strange phenomenons of the modern movie making business, our next film will be the original Swedish ‘Let the Right One In’, and we will be discussing Hollywood’s need to remake, reuse, recycle. Until then, you can catch up with the series so far by clicking here >>