There are a select few filmmakers that I hold in the highest of my regards. James Cameron is one of those filmmakers. For essentially my entire film-going lifetime his films have captivated my imagination while bringing me hours upon hours of enjoyment. For the last 12 years though Cameron has been off the blockbuster radar as he pursued his dreams of being an underwater explorer, making a trio of undersea documentaries. However it was only a matter of time before he returned to Hollywood and attempted to wow us once again and his return has brought Avatar.
To say that Cameron had a lot to prove with Avatar is an understatement. As stated earlier, he has been away from the Hollywood machine for 12 years, the budget for the film reportedly topped over $500 million and Cameron spent a small fortune of his own (upwards of $20 million) developing an all new camera that would allow him to provide the most realistic 3D ever produced. And how exactly does Avatar perform? Well that is a mixed bag. On one hand Avatar is a technological marvel that may very well make good on its promise to change the way movies are made, on the other its a generic hodgepodge story that borrows from a half dozen other films, including some of Cameron’s own.
Avatar takes place on the world of Pandora, a beautiful moon of the gas giant Polyphemus. Pandora happens to be a ripe source of the valuable mineral Unobtanium (yes it is called that and yes it sounds just as ridiculous in the film when it is discussed) and thus a human corporation has set up shop colonizing the moon. The moon however is inhabited by a indigenous species of humanoid known as the Na’vi and they are not exactly receptive to the humans infringing upon their land and conflicts have erupted on a regular basis between the humans and the Na’vi.
In an attempt to diplomatically solve the differences and learn more about their culture the Avatar program was started. Avatars are genetically engineered Na’vi with the ability to link up with a human controller and so enters Jake Sully. Sully (Sam Worthington) is chosen to head to Pandora as an Avatar controller in place of his recently deceased twin brother. Sully however is not a scientist like his deceased twin but rather an ex-Marine who lost his legs while serving. This does not make head scientist, Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), a happy camper which generates a rift between Sully and the science crew. Once that rift is created he is quickly enlisted by the commanding officer of the private military group running security on Pandora to be their inside man and provide some much needed intelligence into the Na’vi. Sully agrees to provide the intelligence but soon grows to love the Na’vi, their culture and specifically their princess Neyteri (Zoe Saldana) and is forced to decide where his loyalties really lie.
If the story sounds like something you have seen before, it is because you most likely have in any number of other films but that doesn’t mean that Avatar is worse off because of it. Despite recycling themes from a variety of different films Cameron is able to make it completely engaging and entertaining. Yes, some of the dialog is cringe worthy but for the most part the writing is good, the acting is solid and of course it just flat out looks amazing.
Oftentimes there are movies with huge production budgets and while watching it you wonder where the money went (Superman Returns comes to mind), Avatar looks so beautiful that while I can’t specifically justify spending half a billion dollars on a film, I can certainly see that the money went to good use. A lot of arguments have been made against using so much CG in films: that it diminishes the human touch, that films just can’t feel real, or that CG created characters just lack that something extra; Cameron kills all those arguments with Avatar. Pandora has a depth that only real locales have ever had in a film before, the Na’vi are all completely computer rendered and for the first time ever in a film where I felt that the CG was lifelike, the certainly move as would be expected but most importantly they are able to convey emotion.
Are there problems with Avatar? Sure. The story is weak, predictable and generic. There are a couple lines of ham-fisted dialog. And at times the film feels directed at kids, despite having some mature subject matter, but ultimately none of these issues should sway you from seeing Avatar in theaters because this is truly a big screen movie. It was designed from the ground up to be a film going experience and boy what an experience it is.
4 out of 5