I normally only go to the cinema in the evenings for a few precious hours out of the cold. I like to choose the longer films to ensure that I get a decent sleep before the ushers drag me out into the street to forage amongst the still-warm bins. All I ask of a feature film is that it is quiet, long and interesting enough for the audience to stop talking and soften the grip on their coats.
Nonetheless, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Smurfatar, the first feature motion picture from James Cameron for twelve whole years, during which period he is reputed to have watched Titanic over seven hundred times. Anyone who waits that long to make a film is either mysterious and enigmatic or just very slow. Nonetheless, coming from the man responsible for blockbusters such as Xenogenesis and Piranha Part Two: The Spawning, I knew I was going to be in for one hell of a roller-coaster snooze.
The film stars that guy from the lead role in Avatar, who plays Jake Sully, a paraplegic ex-marine discharged from the armed forces with nothing to his name but an antique wheelchair and a slowly-emerging Hollywood moral code.
This tale is set far into the future, somewhere just after the emergence of gigantic robot exoskeletons, but just before the development of wheelchairs that don’t rely on wheels. Corporations are the new nations, sending out armies of conquistadors to new worlds, in search of mythical ores with stupid names.
Pandora is one such place; a far away land where everything is completely different from Earth; where, as you’d expect from an ecosystem that evolved eons away from our own, with a different number of suns, all of the animals are pretty much the same as they are here but with an extra pair of legs at the front. A planet of magic, of mystery, of broad, rambling political allegory.
In this land of majestically trite parables dwell the Na’vi, a noble race of tall blue humanoids who live in a tree and refuse to leave when the nice gentlemen with guns attempt to persuade them. Parker Selfridge plays an evil actor, hell-bent on performing badly in his films, who has been trying unsuccessfully to evict the Na’vi from their treasured ‘Hometree’ and move them to a less inconsiderate location. After several unsuccessful attempts, the logical solution appears to be to divert several trillion dollars away from the much-delayed wheelchair modernisation program and spend it on hybridising Na’vi genes with those of a soldier, to create an expensive Frankenstein diplomat and have him pilot it towards them in his sleep.
For reasons I won’t bore you with, Jack is selected for this position, and he accepts it for reasons that I will. Money. Money and legs. He is joined by Norman Sidekick, his trusted provider of blind optimism and ham-fisted humour-cues, the lesbian one from Lost, and a plethora of other thespian coat-hangers. According to non-studio sources, the casting crew were reported to have exhumed the putrefied remains of over four hundred actors before they settled on a choice for the role of ‘decaying celebrity cameo’. Action flic legend Sigourney Weaver plays Dr Grace Sigourneyweaverstein, the only part of this movie that was not in 3-D.
But all does not go to plan. Jake takes his magical Avatar body into the heart of the tribe, where he takes on the role of a bright-spirited but down-on-his-luck Irish unmanned drone, sent back in time to change history, who wins a ticket to ride in steerage on an unsinkable ship. When they arrive in The Americas, Jake soon learns that Pocahontas, the daughter of the Navajo chief, is set to be wed to a fierce cookie-shaped warrior, expertly played by a monotonous déjà-vu. Pocahontas and Jake fall instantly in hatred, warming to each other gradually over a tedious montage of nude portraits and bare-back riding on dragonesque birds. “I want you to paint me like those blue girls,” she tells him. But just as their love is consummated, an iceberg collides with their ship and Skynet becomes self-aware.
A war rages. Some Native Americans die. Some Vietcong die. Some Iraqis, Afghanis, Na’vi and Smurfs all die, as the forces of the West surge further into the infinite loop of historical tyranny in pursuit of the oil, gold and newly-named Obtanium. Fortunately, the Terminator realises that it is a machine and helps Dr Grace Sigourneyweaverstein to sacrifice herself to kill the last remaining alien that is gestating beneath her ribs. The bad guys die, the good guys die but come back to life again, the bad guys also come back to life, but only briefly so as to afford a different combination of good guys to also kill them, and then they all get back to a happy, simple life of jamming their long fleshy rods into anything that moves. They smile and unite, and the whole thing fades to black beneath the wailing of ‘it don’t matter if you’re blue or white’.
The central messages? That it’s okay to be handicapped, as long as you can walk by the closing credits. That all disabled people are heroes, but if you want to actually save people, you’re going to need some knees.
I’m not racist; I’ve got plenty of blue friends; but the Na’vi just did not work for me. I have found previous Cameron films disappointing, on the whole, and unlike every other film, Avatar was no exception. There was no narrative to speak of, without first finding out what a narrative is, and Cameron himself lists his inspirations for this project as, ‘everything else I’ve ever made’. So it’s obvious from the outset that we’re in for nothing new.
Nonetheless, Avatard is visually stunning; my eyes felt like they had been tasered by a cattle-prod by the time Smurfette finally capitulated to the advances of Jake’s sexual dreadlock, and when he zipped up his fly and told her that his friends were about to destroy her planet, I was unable to discern whether the tears that ran from my jaw like rain from a awning were those of pain, confusion or respect.
Nail-biting stuff. I made my way through two full buckets of popcorn while watching this. Exquisite, immense, finely crafted; it was a real shame to waste that flavour on such a drab satchel of fap.
3-D has come a long way since Michael Jackson first used it to brainwash children in the Tomorrowland area of Disney world. Here, the technology allows the viewing experience to expand in every direction, giving each shot a remarkable depth. Sadly it is as yet unable to do the same for the characters it depicts, but so immersed did I become in this magical experience, that at times I felt as if I could actually feel the trees; as if I were right there, in Pandora, sat just a few feet back from the action in a row of creaky flip-seats. It was eerie.
They were handing out glasses in the foyer, which I thought was nice, but they were charging two quid for them, and I already brought my shades. Nonetheless, the poster outside did mention ‘an incredible spectacles’ so I made sure to pick a pair up off the floor on my way out. They were rubbish.
Many very clever techniques were employed in the crafting of this ambitious and expansive work, but I can’t help thinking that some of the money spent on commissioning an actual professor of linguistics to develop a language for the Na’vi might have been more wisely spent on coming up with a better name than Pandora. Special mention should go to the CGI team, for their clever use of hat colours to differentiate between Papa Smurf and the rest of the Na’vi tribe.
The result of these twelve long years? A film so intense as to truly move its audience. Truly; only fifteen minutes in, most of the people around me had been moved. Some to tears, but most outside to the foyer for popcorn and refunds. It may have been the movie, it may have been the green stuff on the underside of my sandals, but you can’t argue with that level of emotion. I’m sure that all over the Western world, young, single women are melting tubs of Häagen-dazs with their warm, simple tears.
Me? I remain unconvinced. Sure, it was better than most films called Avatar, and I’m always game for having anti-war propaganda sneaked into my subconscious under the guise of a cartoon, but this film was so deeply poor that I barely got a wink of sleep. By the time I was evicted from the cinema i was tired and alone, with nothing for company but my memories of this film. I give it two thumbs up. Two thumbs up the butt-hole for being so shit.