To say that Avatar is director James Cameron’s most heavily anticipated film is a bit of a misnomer. True, the $300 million dollar pet-project has been nearly 12 years in the making. Yes, it has been heralded by many as the “film that will reinvent modern cinema,” but much of this is old hat to Cameron. The “King of the World” is no stranger to great expectations and even greater success. With a pedigree that sports aliens, terminators and sinking ships, Cameron’s work has certainly been lauded as groundbreaking in the past. So, with the unveiling of what appears to be his magnum opus, does the King still sit strong on his mountain?
Yes indeed. And I approve of this.
Avatar is a beautifully sprawling epic film whose seamless integration of CGI with the real-world outshines any missteps that its familiar story might make. It is a testament to Cameron’s patience (a main reason for the 12 year wait was to allow current technology to “catch up” to his vision) and most certainly a spot-on construct of his imagination. Everything onscreen, from the vivid technicolor inhabitants of the planet Pandora to the cold and brutal confines of the human base, is almost indescribably gorgeous. Despite this, the story that Cameron has set out to tell is certainly bereft of originality. But with visuals like these, maybe that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The film’s plot, such as it is, involves a group of “aliens” (that would be us dirty humans) who have invaded and plan to strip-mine valuable resources from the lush planet of Pandora. The Na’vi, Pandora’s dominant indigenous species, don’t take kindly to this as their existence depends on both a spiritual and physical link to the planet’s ecosystem. Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-Marine who has volunteered to serve as a mitigation of sorts between the humans and the Na’vi. He does this through the use of an avatar, a genetically engineered Na’vi who receives a daily download of Sully’s consciousness. Sully’s job is simple: integrate himself into the Na’vi society and convince the race of 8′ tall cat-people that walking away from their homeland is a better choice than fighting the impending onslaught of mankind’s largest and most destructive arsenal. This of course doesn’t go over as well as expected and Sully finds himself the turncoat, ultimately defending the Na’vi, their way of life and his new found mobility.
So yes, the themes present in Avatar (along with some of it’s characters) aren’t exactly new. In fact, you can likely subtitle this film as Lt. John J. Dunbar and Clan Wallace Fight the Colonial Marines to Save Ferngully. The film also stars a foul-mouthed, cigarette-smoking Sigourney Weaver whose performance as Dr. Grace Augustine channels both Ellen Ripley and even a bit of Cameron himself. Stephen Lang finally gets his shot at Aliens redemption (he tried out for a role in the film) and literally tears apart the scenery as the film’s principal villain, Col. Miles Quaritch. Michelle Rodriguez does her best Vasquez impersonation as Trudy Chacon, a pilot whose shifting alliances makes for one of the movie’s most righteous fist-pumping moments. These characters don’t do much to distance Avatar from Cameron’s previous efforts, but after the first 30 minutes, you are so completely immersed in the visuals that you can forget (or rather give into) the fact that you’ve seen this movie before.
One of the main questions for most will be whether to see Avatar in 3D. The answer is most certainly yes. This film incorporates by far the best utilization of 3D technology that has ever been shown onscreen. Even better, Cameron presents the technology (again, one of his pet projects) as something that aids in bringing Pandora to life, instead of limiting its use to cheap “gotcha” effects. As the movie makes it’s shift from the human world to that of the Na’vi, the blending of CGI with real actors becomes more seamless. At the crescendo of it all, the movie delivers a nearly 20-minute battle sequence that simply cannot be comprehended without the aide of 3D. Simply put, Pandora was meant to be seen with this technology and on the largest possible screen. It is only then that you can truly see every plant, creature and landscape as it was undoubtedly conceived in Cameron’s mind’s eye.
You can’t help but to applaud Cameron’s efforts with Avatar. Also serving as the film’s writer, he has created more than just a visual world with Pandora. Everything from the language of the Na’vi to the technology in which the story is presented to the audience has seen his input. It is indeed a glorious thing when a creator’s passion and determination translate into something that can be experienced by all in the way that it was originally intended. Avatar is very much a visual experience and even though the story is lacking in depth, the strides that Cameron takes in creating a true three-dimensional film makes it a creation worthy of my praise. This movie may not ring everyone’s bell, but the more you give yourself over to the world of Pandora, despite it’s cliched themes, the more you will find yourself smiling at the end.
Perhaps now, more than ever, it is indeed good to be the King.