Friday, January 8, 2010

Avatar - Movie Review

"From the director of the Titanic" and "made with a budget of 1500 crores" are perhaps the only tag lines for this movie - at least in Kerala. It's kind of a statement that this movie has nothing else to sell, and after watching it, I agree completely.

Avatar is a more of a visual spectacle than a story being told on screen. The period is set in the future (2034, if I remember correctly) and the humans have found business sense in invading another planet - Pandora. Pandora is inhabited by flora and fauna that are in many ways too similar to the ones on earth but weird in so many other ways. The biped species on Pandora (the human equivalents) are called "Na'vi". The company that leads the invasion want a rocky material called "Unobtanium" (see Unobtainium). It's not mentioned what this material is useful for, only that it's quite expensive to justify mining it from Pandora. The problem is that the Na'vi people live on a huge tree that sits on the biggest deposit of Unobtanium on Pandora. So, the company is trying to relocate the Na'vi savages and here's where the conflict of interest comes in.

In their attempt to influence the Na'vi's, the humans have created 'Avatars' - native biological Na'vi bodies, operated remotely by human drivers. Fortunately, perhaps, the exact technology is not described in the movie. The avatars are expected to kind of infiltrate the Na'vi community, learn their ways, gain their trust and negotiate a deal for their relocation. Our hero drives his Avatar deep in to the Na'vi tribe and get accepted as one of them. We all know what to expect next, don't we? The company gets impatient and attacks, the Avatar leads a Na'vi army and fights them off. Can't get any simpler than that!

What works
The visuals! The graphics and the special effects are amazing and deserve all the applause it gets. All the weird plants and animals of Pandora have been rendered flawlessly. Except in a few flying scenes, the visuals are super realistic. Kudos to James Cameron, who apparently has spent quite a lot of time on this movie!

What's not so cool
The imaginative animals of Pandora are sometimes a little too close to their counterparts on earth. The Na'vi people are way too similar to humans - they have the same physical structure as the humans (except being taller), their palms and feet exactly like those of humans, pretty much the same facial structure and they speak our language as well (with training, of course). Perhaps the producers want to suggest that the human design is so perfect that an alien race also evolved to the same structure!
Similarly, there are dogs, rhinos and lemurs (all generously weirdified though - the rhinos had hammer-heads!) etc. The smaller plants are generally different from earthly ones (they have UV glow in the dark), but the big trees are pretty much the same.

What spoils
The story, script and screen-play! It doesn't get any more simple and bland. The theme has been cliched to ground and every single minute of the movie is predictable. This movie is a potpurri of several popular Hollywood flicks. There's the ships of Star Wars, the love interest of The Titanic, elements of The Matrix, the inspirational speech of Independence Day, the robots of Transmormers and what not. You might even be surprised to find a tribal song similar to Jinga-la-la-ho.. hurr, hurr! in "Hum Bewafa" of Shalimar (1978) ;-)

The dialogues are mediocre at best and evoke no emotions - except for a few moments here and there. As I said in the beginning, except for the visuals and the staggering budget, this is not much of a story told on screen.

In Thiruvananthapuram, the 3D version of the movie was screened. There were very few scenes that seemed to specifically take advantage of the 3D feature. It just feels like an ordinary movie that happened to be shot in 3D.

Well, if somebody spends this much money and creates a visually impressive movie, then I guess that alone makes this a 'must-watch'. Moreover, it's not every day that you see the audience cheering when aliens kick some human butts! But I don't expect this one getting anywhere near the 'cult' status the Star Wars or The Matrix or even the Transformers movies enjoy.