If there were any misgivings they’d be about the lack of subtlety in the environmentalist and political / foreign policy / war on terror messages in the film; although it’s worth noting that given the mess we’re all in with the planet in general and also fucking people over for the resources they happen to live on top of, the time for subtlety might be gone anyway.
It was nice however that the film didn’t go totally overboard on 3D by insisting on pointing everything at you; a couple of guns and bows and arrows was enough. As with films like Jurassic Park, some of the most impressive visuals were not about action but about detail. Jurassic Park had a lovely longshot of herds of dinosaurs grazing on an open plain, which at the time looked breathtaking, Avatar has tremendous shots of slightly defocussed insects floating in and out of shafts of light, or brief glimpses up through fern leafs into the forest canopy and the sunlight. Every bit as amazing as the full-on action.
Perhaps the most surprising thing for me, though, was how familiar the aesthetics were. Despite the contemporary politics and the bang up to date 3D delivery, the film actually took me back years and years. To the album covers of prog-rockers Yes, and the visionary artwork of Roger Dean (who also did their classic logo design).
It wasn’t only in the most obvious things like the floating mountains – a theme that Dean visited and experimented with on a number of occasions – but also things like the luminosity of Pandora’s forest landscape at night, the multicoloured dragons, and the arcs of stone surrounding the sacred tree (see the image attached for examples of Roger Dean’s originals; click for a larger view).
It could be said of course that Cameron has visited the territory of stuff like weird luminescence before in The Abyss – but there was a particular overall aesthetic approach to the whole ecosystem that had very very strong echoes of Dean’s artworks and worlds.
I have no idea if he was in any way a conscious influence or not, but it’s nice to be nodded into memories of another time and of such inspired pop art.
EDIT: Just found this website which tends to ask the same question, but is also worth a visit purely as a great selection of images of Roger Dean’s work.
And it’s not just James Cameron… Did anyone else think that the Ood’s homeworld in the Christmas episode of Doctor Who looked strikingly like the cover of “Relayer”?