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Astounding “Avatar”

I finally managed to go and see AVATAR tonight, at the big VUE cinema down in Lancaster (first time there – very impressed: lovely studios, friendly, helpful staff, very clean, no chavs laughing and texting and eating nachos <talking of which…seriously, which ****ing genius decided nachos, possibly the crunchiest, loudest snack in the world, would make a good food for eating during a film?!?!?!>… 9/10)  and I have to say I was literally stunned by it. I went in thinking “Hmmm, it’ll be okay, but it won’t ‘change cinema forever’, will it?” Oh yes it will. I think it already has.

The 3D effects are simply awe-inspiring, but not because they’re flashy, or “Wow, that’s cool! That spear came right out of the screen!” gimmicky, but because they feel just natural and real. You actually feel like the screen is an open window and you’re looking into it. After maybe 10 minutes I forgot I was watching a “3D film” and just found myself inside the screen, part of the film.

Ok, so the film isn’t perfect. The dialogue is Clunky Cameron at its finest, and the story is essentially “Dances With Wolves Meets The Last Samauri” in space. The Na’vi humanoid natives of the jungle moon Pandora really do look a bit like stretched Smurfs, there’s no getting away from it. The love story at the heart of the film is an update of Pocahontas, and there is a lot of familiar Cameron technology in it which does make it feel a bit like “Aliens 2” in places. But the main characters are very well drawn, their relationships pretty convincing, and the action sequences are nothing less than jaw-dropping.

But the real star of the film, for me, was Pandora itself. It is realised so graphically, so perfectly, in so much minute, intricate detail, that when I came out of the cinema I genuinely felt like I’d been to an exoplanet. It all just looks so… whole. Everything fits together so naturally, so realistically, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place to visit for the film’s two and a half hours. The plants, the animals, the landscapes, they all look so perfect and so natural together it has the look of a Discovery channel documentary at times.

There are some sequences in the film that had me shaking my head in disbelief, they were so beautiful, in the true sense of the word. Not a spoiler, but there’s one scene where the manin “avatar” character stumbles upon a part of the forest that is just overflowing with fascinating plants and animals, all shown so convincingly, so realistically that I was sorely tempted to get up out of my chair and walk into the screen to join him. The colours of the animals and plants, the textures of their skins and leaves, the way the fronds moved in the breeze and the animals skittered and scattered up and down the trees and across the forest floor were overwhelming. In another sequence the hero and his new, tall blue girlfriend enter a secluded glade in the forest and everything is painted with light. Their footsteps make the forest floor glow, like in the “Billie Jean” video; delicate glowing fronds hang down from the sky in curtains of ethereal pink light; tiny airborne creatures, glowing, always glowing, float through the air… it’s just beautiful, and I know I’ve used that word too many times already in this post but I’m sorry, I just can’t think of another word for it.

One problem for me with Avatar was that it also left me feeling very frustrated by our current exoplanet catalogue. before I went into the cinema I was already a bit “hmmm, okay…” about all the dozens of ‘hot jupiters’ we’ve found whizzing around their parent stars; with their styrofoam-low densities, hotter-than-lava surface temperatures and few-days-long years I’m sorry but I just can’t bring myself to think of them as ‘planets’ you know? Those bodies are freaks of nature, even if they do turn out to be the norm ‘out there’, they’re going to be no use to anyone, there’s no possibility of life existing on or near them, and that’s what we’re looking for exoplanets for in the first place, isn’t it? To find life-bearing worlds? So, yes, I came out of AVATAR stunned and delighted but very frustrated too, and as we walked back to the car I looked up at the starry sky and thought “I don’t want hot jupiters, I want worlds of rock and stone! I want forests and waterfalls! I want mountains and seas! I want worlds with wave-kissed beaches to walk on, barefoot, and green hills to climb for the gorgeous view from the top…”

I know now what I really want from the search for exo-planets: I want Pandora.

Just imagine what will happen in a century’s time if we find a world, or even just a moon, like that. Imagine what it would be like to be alive at the time when the pictures from the first interstellar probe to reach that world arrive back on Earth… imagine sitting there at your computer as images come up on its screen of lush forests and glades, of gurgling rivers and streams… Imagine what it would be like to look at the screen and see living, alien creatures staring back at you from across the light years…

I was definitely born too soon. 😦

So, if you haven’t seen AVATAR yet, go see it. It really is stunning, and I don’t use the word lightly. Forget the cliches, forgive the dialogue, and just put on your 3D glasses and allow yourself to drown in the beauty of the alien lifeforms, Pandora’s flying mountains, dragon-sized birds and glowing flora.