James Cameron is a storied director whose films have been landmarks of their time. Like he did in the ’80s and ’90s with both Terminator films, he returns from his 10-year hiatus without missing a beat, shepherding audiences into the future of cinema with progressive film-making done with the most advanced technology. “Avatar” is a miraculous visual feat, the greatest epic since “The Lord of the Rings” and a film-making milestone unlike any other. At the conclusion of a decade, it’s a window into what audiences of the future can expect at the movies.
There really is no film “Avatar” can be compared to other than “Star Wars” because of the science-fiction originality. The world of Pandora and Na’vi all come from Cameron’s head as did the Star Wars universe from that of George Lucas. Although “Star Wars” is a much wider and complex universe, “Avatar’s” world is still incredibly imaginative and awesome. Spectacle is “Avatar’s” greatest asset and Cameron utilizes it completely, bringing our attention to all the tightest details. The multitude of creatures inhabiting Pandora and the remarkably life- like Na’vi captivate almost entirely on looks alone.
The story of “Avatar” uses classic archetypes that while not entirely original best serve the purposes of the film. Jake Sully (up-and-coming Aussie Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-marine given a second chance by filling in for his brother on an operation on the planet Pandora. He becomes part of the Avatar program, which allows humans to enter artificially created Na’vi (the humanoid blue cat-like natives) versions of themselves. Sully’s mission is to get to better know the Na’vi and their culture from the inside, but Col. Quatrich (Stephen Lang) convinces him to divulge intel should the Na’vi not be willing to abandon their home so the humans can force their way to a rare and valuable resource called unobtainium located there.
Naturally, Jake gets very close to the Na’vi tribe, who teaches him the Na’vi way of life. He becomes attached to their “princess” Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) who takes him through rites of passage, explaining how the Na’vi are connected with the planet and all living things on it in the figurative and literal sense. We’re introduced to a world unlike anything we’ve seen before. Predictably, the Na’vi and humans are destined for a fatal showdown and Jake’s change of heart will make him the controversial key to its end.
Cameron’s script is very socially driven. Using terms like “fighting terror with terror” and “shock and awe,” it’s blatantly critical of America and completely unforgiving of the human race. You’ll come out of “Avatar” thinking how awful we are and how Cameron assigns us no redeeming qualities other than the few characters that decide the oppression of the Na’vi is wrong. It does, however, effectively sway our emotions. The most riveting concept in the film is that although Jake becomes “one of them,” his actual self is in a machine and any tampering with it brings him back to his handicapped human self. In this way “Avatar” is one- of-a-kind in terms of story.
In classic Cameron fashion, “Avatar” is incredibly long, but with the motion-capture CGI and 3D (and you must see it 3D to experience the scope), it’s completely justified. Parts do drag and feel unrealistic or excessive at times, but the sheer magnitude of the movie and its visual prowess are plenty of an excuse to go a tad over-the-top.
Some other impressive food-for-thought about this movie is how humans are not only the enemy but they’re not integral to the film. Never before has a live-action movie not needed to rely on human characters. The motion-capture and the subtle human qualities of Na’vi are good enough to carry the film. Other producers might’ve sought to counter that with big- name actors, but Cameron (like in his other films) refuses. This insanely expensive project not only benefited from saving that cash, but is testament to Cameron’s storytelling ability.
“Avatar” is simply an experience — a ground-breaking and truly miraculous endeavor from the mind of cinema’s most forward-thinking filmmaker. It’s one of those rare achievements where flaws are so easily forgiven because of sheer innovation and imagination. See this film and experience a new dawn in movie history.
Written and Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana (voice), Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang