Avatar: An Imax 3D Experience * * * * *
Cert 12A, 161 mins
So here it is, merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun... and nobody more so than legendary film director James Cameron.
This year’s big cinematic stocking filler finally arrives with all of the advance hype – and doom mongers’ predictions of a mega flop – that we’ve come to expect with each of his releases from The Abyss to Terminator 2 and True Lies.
Given the size of its reputed £300 million budget, Avatar is another easy target.
Titanic, remember, was a disaster before it had even set sail in 1997, according to newspapers like The Guardian.
But Cameron’s last feature collected a record-breaking 11 wins from 14 Oscar nominations on top of a worldwide $1,843 million box office haul that’s still an astonishing $700 million ahead of its nearest challenger, The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King (2003).
Avatar is unlikely to hit those heights, but it’s still a hugely-entertaining, must-see example of how a filmmaker is prepared to risk everything in order to help the industry to remain competitive with home DVD systems and pirates alike.
Bravo! This is a new world, Jim, but not as we knew it.
The action is set on Pandora, a distant moon with a poisonous atmosphere and where the Earth-like environment is enhanced with mile-high trees and beautiful, floating mountains.
The land is rich in a rare mineral called Unobtanium, so humans have developed ‘avatars’ who can mix with the powerful natives in a bid to get them to move from the lucrative source.
Enter Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a marine who has lost the use of his legs. Thanks to his avatar, which is a mix of native and human DNA, he will soon be able to run and blend in with the ten foot tall Na’vi people, whose striking eyes are twice as wide apart as ours.
But, when his life is saved by a Na’vi female called Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he begins to see the indigenous population in a rather different light to scientist Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and trigger-happy Col Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang).
Cameron first filmed human actors using specially developed technology, then converted them into computer-generated, but super-lifelike characters. It’s Robert Zemeckis’s Polar Express motion capture technique with bells, whistles, horns and knobs on.
Although Cameron conceived the story in 1995, he waited until technology began to catch up with him before committing to a four-year production.
Thanks to the wizards of Weta in New Zealand, where The Lord of the Rings trilogy was produced, Avatar is now the most beautiful and immersive 3D film to date.
The whole point of Avatar is to reinvent the way films are made, with potential spin-off benefits even for those using home computers to make their own movies in the near future.
For a film which looks so splendid and is unerringly topical given its gestation, much of Avatar’s action and script is surprisingly derivative with copious references ranging from Apocalypse Now to Lord of the Rings, Rambo, Apocalypto and Jurassic Park.
Instead of pandering to jaded critics, Cameron wanted to entertain youngsters in their mid-teens with an old-fashioned thriller shot in a new way – and I think he’ll hit them right between the eyes.
Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakquel * * * *
Cert U, 88 mins
As enormously successful as it was unexpected, the original Alvin and the Chipmunks film is in the all time top 100 list across the pond where the US gross alone topped $200 million after its Christmas 2007 release.
The original movie was a trip down Memory Lane for fans of the characters created by Ross Bagdasarian half a century ago.
After helping struggling songwriter Dave Seville (Jason Lee) to have a hit at last, the Chipmunks found themselves facing an arduous coast-to-coast tour.
From its release next Monday, The Squeakquel will be another relevant companion for The X Factor series, with the competitive arrival of the Chipettes set to give the boys a kick up the pants lest they become too complacent with success.
Alvin is voiced by Justin Long, Simon by Matthew Gray Gubler and Theodore by Jess McCartney, but all eyes will now be on Britney (Christina Applegate), Eleanor (Amy Poehler) and Jeanette (Anna Faris) who are managed by the boys’ aggrieved former guru Ian Hawke (David Cross).
Opening with a high-pitched ‘We’re back’, the film is curiously watchable and often hugely entertaining despite itself.
I’m not sure what the toilet-dunking scenes have to say about the on-going problems with school bullying, but the film is generally about trying your best and staying true to yourself.
For its under-eight target audience, The Squeakquel will be just as much a hit as Avatar will be for teenagers.