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Animated Film review by Charlie Minnion Avatar (2009) Directed by James Cameron.

For this review I will be primarily looking at Spectacle and Narrative. Its interesting to note that this modern blockbuster film is the highest earning movie of all time. I believe that this is down to the unadulterated use of spectacle, marketing and press that generated a lot of buzz and curiosity. Aesthetically, it is almost unique with the creation of a believable and beautiful 3D world occupied by photo real blue inhabitants that imitate us in form. Technologically its a marvellous achievement as Empire put it: Avatar is an astonishing feast for eyes and ears, with shots and sequences that boggle the mind. The science fiction genre with its limitless imaginative possibilities allows for the justification of spectacle to its full degree.

Andrew Darley has bought our attention to new formal attributes to be looked at in the modern blockbuster film: The growth of spectacle, and the fascination with image as image, in the sense both of visual exci tation and technological density (artifice), is one indication that attention to formal facets - means and pure perceptual play - are finding a place within mass entertainment forms. (2000: 114)

Spectacle in terms of means and pure perceptual play to a greater or lesser extent has been used consistently across the whole film. We are introduced to it gradually to start with. In the first few scenes were in space, then in the military base and science lab on Pandora. Here we see hi-tech technology with spectacular holographic 3D imaging. Soon after this, Jake inhabits his Avatar (a body that imitates the natives.) He leaves the lab into Pandora where we encounter an outdoor mid-way zone with human built exercise equipment and finally he leaves this zone and were immersed into the world of Pandora. Soon after this we are fully immersed in Pandora when they make their first visit to the Jungle. The first shot of this section is of the military futuristic helicopter flying amongst a flock of flying purple dragons. This is followed by shots of

humongous trees and vast waterfalls. In the Jungle we are greeted by fantastic photo real creatures and disappearing plants. Later in the night when Jake first meets Neytiri (a female Navi) our senses are swamped with glowing plants that stand out brightly in the dark blue night. This leads up to a stunning shot where bright white delicate floating seeds of the sacred tree cover Jakes avatar. These shots exemplify means and pure perceptual play, calling attention to themselves as stunning imagery. The use of spectacle is built up gradually, increasing the audiences awe throughout the film with it peaking at the Ikran flight sequences which I will talk about in more detail later.

Darleys theory that scenes where moments of heightened spectacle [] encourages a curiosity or fascination which wrests it from narrative subordination (2000: 113) are also very evident here. The film delivers spectacle alongside narrative, however there are many sequences in which spectacle dominates. For example the emotionally lifting sequence where Jake and Neytiri both master the flying the Ikrans. Mid shots heighten our empathy with the characters exhilaration and celebration, long shots draw our attention to the stunning flying Ikran and wide shots are used to situate them in all their glory smoothly navigating around floating islands high up in the air and immersing us to the full extent in this dazzling planet. We nose dive with Jake and Neytiri and practically feel their exhilaration as we travel with them at ultra fast speeds down the side of a cliff face. We may not be quite so aware of the significance of this - that not only has he achieved his dream of flying shown in the first shot of the film but subsequently, his skill at flying Ikran allows him to win ultimate respect from the Navi and gives him the key to winning the conflict with the military in the latter half of the film. We are pre-occupied with sensual delight at the extraordinary nature of imagery that we are witnessing.

This brings me to narrative. We can use Bordwell and Thompsons observations to help define the narrative form being used here. Its safe to say that mainly the form sticks to Classical Hollywood Cinema. It uses a goal-orientated plot that is driven by the protagonists and other characters psychological drives. One of Jakes

key traits is desire first of all to get new legs, but then to protect the Navi and win their respect. He is also driven forwards by his persistence and courage (Jake narrates I told myself I could pass any test.) His ignorance allows him to be first manipulated by the military but then become enlightened and learned through the Navi resulting in his significant change of side. The narration is mainly objective with moments of subjectivity (we discover Jakes thoughts in his voice over narration and his video logs.) There is both restricted and unrestricted narration with perhaps more time spent knowing only what Jake knows. Time is subordinated to the cause-effect chain and the plot moves chronologically. Plot time is also dependent on the 3 month deadline and a series of appointments which involve Jakes meetings with other significant characters. Theres considerable counterforce with the conflict between the Navi and the US military and the story has a strong sense of closure.

This film supports Darleys ideas that in blockbuster film Spectacular imagery and action equal status with narrative content and meaning.(2000: 1) In terms of meaning in Avatar I would say Darley is in a bit of a grey area. I argue that spectacle allows for full sensual engagement with the film, heightening audiences empathy with the characters and situations. We care more about what is being presented and this adds weight to the meanings. Theres emphasis throughout the film on the novel way in which the Navi are all interconnected which is delivered through beautiful aesthetics. We are angered by the vast destruction which is cast upon the inhabitants. Implicitly, one meaning suggests that we need to become more open minded in order to learn and understand other cultures and not be blinded by our own ignorance. Explicitly, we learn that war is unjust and fuelled by greed.


Avatar. (2009). Directed by James Cameron. [DVD]. UK: Twentieth Century Fox

Darley, Andrew. (2000).Visual digital Culture. Oxon : Routledge

Bordwell, David. Thompson, Kristin. (2008). Film Art: an Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill

Hewitt, Chris. (2010) Avatar (2009). In: Empire. XMAS 2010. UK: Bauer Media