Avatar, James Cameron’s 3D spectacular, had its world premiere in London. Stand by for the official verdict from the Guardian, but the shock of the night is that everyone else seems to have loved it
A fortnight ago it all looked so different. An early review of selected footage from James Cameron’s space opera, posted anonymously on Gawker, comprehensively panned what had been hailed as a game-changingly ambitious and successful foray into the world of 3D. Avatar, said the writer, apparently an industry insider, was “literally vomit inducing”. Despite some “beautiful moments”, concluded the review, “overall it’s a horrible piece of shit”.
The first official reviews are in, and the anticipated sneers, jeers and retches have been gazumped by notices that will afford the poster designers an embarrassment of riches. “Bottom Line: A titanic entertainment – movie magic is back!” ran the first line of the Hollywood Reporter’s rave.
“A dozen years later,” it continues – referring to 1997’s game-changing Titanic, “James Cameron has proven his point: He is king of the world.” The trade paper’s chief critic, Kirk Honeycutt, goes on to call the film a “jaw-dropping wonder”, and to praise all aspects of the film, from the acting to the special effects to the pace (never flagging, apparently). There will be no danger of Twentieth Century Fox failing to recoup their investment, he concludes. The only note of caution is wondering how Cameron can ever top this?
Every one of the 10 reviews listed on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives it a “fresh” rating. Hollywood bible Variety, whose newly-introduced paywall doesn’t seem to impede access to its review, raises a few more doubts: there’s a certain lack of explanation, and the politics are foggy. But the experience, says Todd McCarthy, is “all-enveloping and transporting”. He even quashes doubts about the dramatic plausibility of the alien Na’vi race, whose unusual appearance has been unfavourably compared with Smurfs: “But once they’re introduced in the context of the picture, these blue-skinned, yellow-eyed creatures quickly become captivating, even sexy, with their rangy height, slim and elongated bodies and skimpy wardrobe.” Special praise is reserved for Sigourney Weaver, as “a scientist so unimpeachable that she can get away with cigarettesmall.biz/buy/marlboro an intergalactic spaceship”.
We’ll presumably have to wait until next Thursday, when the film is released, to hear the opinion of newly-appointed film critic Alex Zane in the Sun, as last night’s verdict was delivered by his anonymous predecessor, the Sneak. Still, one doesn’t feel he need fear the wrath of the publicists too much: “It’s unashamedly populist. Just like Titanic,” he tells readers, before reassuring them: “But don’t worry. This isn’t a preachy story. It’s big action. The only reason that Avatar won’t top Titanic at the box office is that there are not enough digital screens around the world to show it in all its 3D wonder.” The Sneak rounds things up with a shout-out to Avatar’s studio, Fox, part of the Murdoch News International empire that, happily, also owns the Sun: “But you have to admire the film’s backers for being brave enough to take a risk on funding such ground-breaking technology. The Sneak’s advice is to make sure you can say you were there when the future of cinema began.”
Their News Corp sister paper the Times contains a more qualified rave by film critic Wendy Ide, that doesn’t detract from the Sun’s enthusiasm but does sound the odd note of caution. In a four-star review, Ide describes “a world that takes a little getting used to,” referencing Cameron’s nods to both Hayao Miyazaki and naff Aussie animation FernGully: The Last Rainforest – early reviews of the trailer had also been struck by the similarity. “At times,” admits Ide, “it verges on the tacky, like a futuristic air freshener advertisement with the colour contrast turned up to the max”.
“Actually rather good,” was the Independent’s take: Anna Keir confirmed that you could sit through it without feeling ill, though she admitted such a long stretch in 3D does lead to some eye-rubbing.
That Empire felt moved to give Avatar five stars was less of a shock, though reviewer Chris Hewitt does manage to contain himself long enough to take a pop at the Leona Lewis’s closing credits theme tune (“bloody awful”) and the “New Age-y, hippy-dippy language and images that suggest that Cameron is one mung bean away from dropping out, man, and going all Swampy on our asses”. He’s also the only reviewer to point out “a fair amount of unintentional laughter [to be] had from watching hundreds of Na’vi, swaying like extras from the Zion rave scene in The Matrix Reloaded, surrounding something called the Tree Of Souls and banging on about becoming one with Mother Eywo … But it’s hard to imagine even the most jaded and cynical having any issues with the last forty minutes, in which Cameron uncorks the action and shows all the young pretenders – the Bays and the Emmerichs and the Von Triers – how it’s done.”
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