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Emma Townshend

The Independent on Sunday's gardening columnist, Emma Townshend has a garden in West London which she regularly hears passing children refer to as "the Amazon Jungle". She has spent years researching Victorian horticulture and teaching history of science in adult education, while growing the biggest plants she can. Her basic ambition in life is to keep up that important neighbourhood reputation.

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3D glasses got big! This is us on Friday night in the London IMAX, waiting for a sneak 15 minute preview of James Cameron's long-awaited 'Avatar'. Jim C has been talking about making this movie for a long time, almost since before 'Titanic', and it's quite amazing to see it all on screen at long last. The CGI is like watching a cross between a great big cartoon for grown-ups and the best of all possible computer games; but the script is, ahem, pre-post-colonial, to say the least. 

The film's opening has a hard, military feel, as Jake Sully, a soldier disabled in combat, arrives at a distant planet. Here he will be allowed to work as a soldier again: Sigourney Weaver's Dr Augustine has a system which will let him use his mind to control an external body. Jake's new body is fairly humanoid in appearance, but for me there's way too much whiff of Jar Jar Binks, the irritating quasi-Caribbean CGI alien who singlehandedly ruined Phantom Menace. Though the 3D bits are spectacular. 

It's once Jake gets out on the planet itself that the film takes a distinct turn for the worse. Jake strikes up a working relationship with a 'sexy native' called Neytiri, who speaks English (conveniently) but in half sentences reminiscent of 'me Tarzan, you Jane'. The rules of the alien jungle are explained with painful and obvious cringiness, as in scenes involving Jake mastering a bucking bronco pterosaur: "How will I know if he's the one for me?" "He will try to kill you," says Neytiri, in a surprisingly complete phrase. 

I just would have thought we'd got past having movies where the stupid but brave outsider is taught by the wise and innocent native. Especially one speaking this kind of broken English. There's something so deeply offensive about it, especially in the context of the clear references to current American imperialist adventures which litter the scenes we saw from the front of the film. There's been reams written about the crap English and crap accents non-white actors have been made to speak in movies about colonial settings over the years, and it's amazing that Cameron's team have chosen so totally to disregard it.  

 James Cameron has made great films ( 'The Abyss' stands as the most magical and strange of underwater fantasies) but I think this one scores high on the visuals and low on story and script. Perhaps the studios who funded the film knew all along that the film's core audience would be non-English speakers; and that therefore, in their calculations, the quality of the script never really mattered. Roll on December, when we can see if their maths was correct. 

Comments

mrjimmm wrote:
Tuesday, 9 February 2010 at 10:29 am (UTC)
By far the best movie I have ever seen!!

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Tuesday, 5 October 2010 at 09:53 am (UTC)
Of course AVATAR has a common script but this is not what this movie is all about; the way Cameron imagine and picture a completely different environment and biosphere is the very thing that makes the difference between a cartoon and this blockbuster.
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Wednesday, 15 December 2010 at 05:07 am (UTC)
Yes, the idea of living planet is very old. We can remember Garison (death world) and Strugatskie (pandorra) with this ideas...
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