James Cameron’s Avatar is finally here and not only does it deliver the visuals effects we were promised, which are quite possibly the best ever put on film, but the story is engaging and entertaining, if familiar, with a third act that must be seen to believe.
In Avatar, James Cameron has literally created an entire world in Pandora that feels like we barely even break the surface of what Cameron has in his imagination for this expansive and deep universe. What is Pandora and why should we care about it? Pandora is a planet that earthlings have discovered contains an element that is valuable in its resource abilities back on Earth. The problem is Pandora is populated by a number of dangerous indigenous creatures and a humanoid race of people known to humans as the Na’vi. The project has been on going for years as the humans try to co-exist and mine for minerals while the Na’vi resist the encroaching on their land. Enter Jake Sully, a paralyzed marine who is recruited to replace his twin brother who was part of a program that trained humans to control a Na’vi avatar to help research the moon and work towards a peaceful resolution with the Na’vi to mine the minerals of Pandora. Unfortunately when Jake arrives tensions are at an all time high and the two species are on the brink of war and Jake’s path unknowingly will intertwine with the fate of the Na’vi.
So enough plot, how is the film? Pretty damn good actually and the world Cameron has created is one I wish to know more of and I hope we get it in either a directors cut or eventual sequels to this film. Cameron has created tons of creatures, a language and religion for the Na’vi, and a world full of imagination and vision we haven’t seen in a sci-fi film in years. There is so much cool information and material that we barely even get glimpse of and even other tribes of Na’vi we discover in the latter part of the film that we are not even exposed to. Their religion is spiritual and fairly original, the workings of the planet are intriguing and thought provoking, and the creatures are inspired and imaginative. Even the history of the Na’vi seems compelling and leaves you wishing we could have seen some of the events described in the film. The world of Pandora is a true testament to the imagination of James Cameron and you can tell that he loves this world he created.
Technically speaking, this film is really a sight to be seen. The 3-D work in the film blows everything ever done in the third dimension out of the water. The interior scenes at the human base are full of screens and maps that are just so wonderfully realized and beautiful to look at it is almost a distraction at first. Then there is Pandora which you would think is a real place if we didn’t know this was a work of fiction. The creatures, the Na’vi, the landscapes, are almost completely photo realistic and you get lost in the fact that you are watching twelve foot creatures walking around. And when the sunsets in Pandora it is one of the most beautiful locales put on to film. Everything seemingly has incandescence, my favorite being the moss glowing and fading away as it is touched, and how things glow through prayer or physical interaction is awe inspiring. The creation of this world is done so well I would gladly comeback again in a heartbeat.
As a story, Avatar, works for the most part as well. The plot isn’t the most terribly original and things do tend to be a tad predictable, but the fresh layer of paint to this story by placing it in Pandora makes it worth while. But don’t let me lead you into thinking that the film is a rip off or re-hash by any means, the film just feels familiar; which isn’t necessarily even a bad thing. I just found myself hoping for Cameron to do something new or different, story wise, with his tale and he finally blows the doors open in the third act. The fighting and the mythology of the Na’vi really came into play in the films third act and this is when the film is really at its best. Not only is the action top notch and jaw dropping but I think people will really get caught up in the lore and mythos of the Na’vi that come into play. With all this said, I feel like the film could have used an extra hour or so; yes even at two hours and forty minutes. Too many characters are left to the barest of their emotions. If we could have had a few extra scenes with a few characters we could have really got to know a lot more about them and had a bit more of an emotional connection with them and their actions. Show me more of the confliction in Giovanni Ribisi’s Parker over ravaging the planet or peacefully coming to terms. Show me more of Sigourney Weaver’s Grace teaching and back story with the Na’vi. Give us more of evidence as to why these grunts hate the Na’vi so much that they want to kill them. Why does Michelle Rodriguez’s Trudy not have the heart to commit slaughter? These are questions and characters I wish we got to know more of and I think more time spent with them, without cutting anything else in the process, could have elevated this film even further. And you can see where Cameron is trimming things down, let’s hope he gets to do a director’s cut like he has in the past for Avatar on Blu-ray. But when your biggest complaint for the film is that you wish there was more, that isn’t really a knock on the film, as these characters still work in their current state.
The actors mentioned above all do fine work with Ribisi being appropriately weasley, Rodriguez is actually likeable and not playing the hard ass (well most of the time), and Weaver is possibly the highlight of the film on the human side of things. Weaver gets the most laughs and does a fantastic job of creating a counter power figure for science to appose the military side of the humans. Sam Worthington continues to do good work this year and while he might get stuck with a few too many corny lines, he makes enough of the believable that he deserves some credit for that. He also delivers a fine mo-cap performance when he is a Na’vi walking that fine line of human and giving himself over to the Na’vi culture. Zoe Saldana is great as the Na’vi lead, Neytiri convincingly diving back and forth between her broken English and the native tongue. She also is a physical and animal presence as she fight and battles with Worthington and is tender with ferocity lying just under the skin when she needs to. Stephen Lang is fun, and almost over the top, as the human’s head security officer and bad guy of the film. And while he isn’t the most memorable or original enemy to grace the screen, he is still a worthy adversary in the film.
In the end, Avatar is a resounding achievement in effects, atmosphere, and creating an original world in cinema. Pandora and its inhabitants are an engaging world that is a blast to experience and one can’t help but to get lost in its magnificence. The story, while familiar, has plenty of original back story and history due to the rich background of the Na’vi and a third act that contains one of the most impressive action sequences to be put on the silver screen. James Cameron has shown us what 3-D and his imagination can look like when pushed to their limits and his vision of what cinema can deliver technically is might impressive. This film must be seen in 3-D and you will not regret taking a trip to Pandora in Avatar as it is full of wonders and technology that must be seen to believed; and I can’t wait to go back.
Avatar is an A-