Directed by James Cameron
Staring Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release date: December 18, 2009
James Cameron’s Avatar has been in development for more years than some of its viewers have been alive. This has been a passion project for Cameron, and much like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, it’s nice to see him finally complete the film, if only so he can move on to other projects I’d like to see (cough, Battle Angel, cough). Now that it’s out, is the movie worth the wait and the hype we’ve gone through before its release?
Paralyzed ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) finds himself in a unique situation when he is given the chance to take over for his recently deceased twin brother and take part in the Avatar program. The goal of the Avatar program is to explore the planet of Pandora and increase diplomatic relations with the indigenous population of the planet, a group of people called the Na’vi. The Avatar program allows humans to walk around in genetically engineered Na’vi bodies, which they then use to explore the planet and interact with the locals. The Na’vi are tall humanoids with blue skin and mostly cat-like features that are very reminiscent of Native Americans in their culture. They are very in tune with the land, and as with the Native Americans, their village is sitting on top of a large amount of valuable metal that a large corporation wants to get their hands on. Jake is able to take his brother’s place on the team because they are genetically duplicate, so he is shipped off to Pandora, even though he’s not a scientist. The company wants to put his military training to use by having him get intel on the Na’vi village so they can invade and remove them. Of course, Jake is able to gain a place in the tribe, where he comes to identify with them and eventually seeks to protect them.
Since The Abyss, Cameron has been able to raise the bar on computer-generated visuals with every successive movie, and he really tops himself with Avatar. Basically every shot has some form of CG work going on in it, and it’s all blended together perfectly. Even though most of the location shots are all CG, you always feel like this could be a real place. Special attention was paid to the plant and animal life on the planet, and the environment of Pandora is as much of a character in the film as any of the actors.
The real magic of the film comes from the enhanced motion capture work used to turn the human actors into their Na’vi counterparts. Since so much of the film is spent among the Na’vi, it was very important that they look like real people, and the CG work goes a long way towards making the whole film believable. You can always see the subtle emotions on people’s faces and you soon forget that the characters don’t really exist outside of a computer. There are no real twists in the story, and the film rests entirely on the audience identifying with the characters, so if they had failed to make these aliens look believable the whole thing would have fallen apart. Fortunately, that is not a problem, and I never for once was taken out of the film because I was thinking more about how the effects looked, I was only interested in what happened to the characters next.
Is the story amazing? No. Every story element is predictable and can be seen coming ten minutes before it arrives on screen. It’s basically a Frankenstein’s monster of a plot, stealing parts of Dune, Dances with Wolves, and Princess Mononoke. However, Titanic didn’t have an original plot either (I mean, who didn’t see that iceberg coming) and it’s the most successful movie ever, and as with that movie, Avatar is all about the ride. Cameron is a smart enough director to know when he needs to focus on the characters and when he needs to put in a kick ass action sequence, and there are plenty of those in this film. The aerial sequences are amazing and the last half hour of the movie has a very enjoyable battle sequence, and if it was for those few scenes alone, I’d recommend seeing this, but there are plenty of other moments that make this a fun movie to watch.
If you do decide to see this movie, there are several different ways to see it. There is the traditional 2D version, which is just like any other movie you’ve seen, albeit with some amazing CG work. Then there is the 3D version, which uses the RealD technology to project the film, so you use the clear glasses, instead of the annoying red and blue glasses. Option number three is the IMAX 3D version. So you’ve got plenty of choices to make, depending on the area you live in. I was able to see the film twice on regular theater size screens, once in 2D and once in 3D. Granted, I had a miserable theater experience when I saw it in 2D, but if I had to choose, I would say that seeing it in 3D is the way to go. From the very beginning of the film, you can see that most of the shots were made to be seen in 3D. More importantly, this is a film that is all about the location, and Cameron’s use of 3D really immerses the viewer in the world and makes you feel like you are actually on this new world. Seeing it in 2D is just like seeing any other movie, well made as it is. 3D adds another layer to the film and I found myself enjoying the film much more when I saw it in 3D. I would compare the 3D experience to seeing the director’s cut of Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven. If you’re not seeing Avatar in 3D, you’re not getting the director’s true vision of what the film is, in the same way that if you don’t see the director’s cut of Kingdom of Heaven you haven’t really seen the film as intended.
This is a movie that at the very least must be seen in a theater. This is a spectacle, and the only way to really appreciate the visuals that Cameron has put so much effort into is to see it on the big screen. Is it the greatest film ever made? Not really, but there are a lot of fun moments and the action scenes are worth the price of admission alone. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it and if you can, see it in 3D.