An Unparalleled Cinematic Experience

Avatar may be the most hyped film to hit cinemas since Lord of the Rings debuted, and a lot of people believe that it is destined to fail.  Those people obviously haven’t seen the movie yet.

One of the reasons for the hype is that Avatar is the first feature film from writer/director James Cameron since 1997’s Titanic, which dominated that year’s Oscar ceremony on the way to becoming the highest grossing movie of all-time.  From Terminator to The Abyss, Cameron’s films have always pushed the envelope in terms of their special effects, and the reason for the twelve year delay between Titanic and Avatar is that he was waiting for technology to catch up with his vision.  It was worth the wait as the director has created a fantastically detailed, photo-realistic world and inhabited it with an equally photo-realistic CGI race of humanoids.  It’s a world that is as fantastical as Oz, yet feels as authentic as your own backyard.

The world Cameron has created is the planet of Pandora.  It’s a world full of lush green forests filled with neon purple plant life in the shadows of mountains that float in the sky.  It’s also a world rich in a mineral called Unobtainium that is very valuable to the human race and the humans, aliens on this planet, are willing to do whatever it takes to mine it.  Standing in their way are the natives, a race known as the Na’vi, who consider everything within their planet’s ecosystem as sacred.

James Cameron directs AvatarThe human military is intent on using brute force to remove the Na’vi, but a group of scientists hope to find a more diplomatic solution.  They have managed to combine human DNA with that of the Na’vi to create avatar bodies the humans can inhabit remotely in order to get close to the natives, learn their ways and perhaps negotiate some kind of agreement.

When one of these scientists is randomly killed, his twin brother Jake is recruited to fill his shoes as his DNA is a match.  Jake is a marine, a grunt, a “member of the jarhead clan,” and the military leaders hope to use him to their advantage.  Jake agrees to use his avatar to gain access to the Na’vi and learn their secrets, but the more he learns, the less comfortable he is with his cooperation with the military.

To give away any more of the plot would be a crime, as this is a cinematic event that can only be experienced.  First and foremost, it is probably the most visually stunning film I have seen in years.  The visuals look as if they were painted by a paintbrush, rather than created by a computer; and yet, unlike the faraway worlds of some previous sci-fi epics, it takes no time at all to buy into the idea that Pandora is a real place.  It’s the small details that I enjoyed, such as the way some of the landscape illuminates as the characters run through it, as if the just under the surface is that piano Tom Hanks danced on in Big.

Aside from some brief awkwardness when the avatars of Jake and lead scientist Grace are first introduced, there is never any questioning the characters.  These characters are created using the same kinds of technology that Peter Jackson used to create Gollum.  These could easily have just been computer-generated characters, but the fact that the performances are dictated by human actors adds an element of realism and allows us as an audience to get sucked into the emotional aspects of the story.

The plot also echoes patterns in human history right up until the present.  The idea of the military forcing a native race out of their homes can be seen as a metaphor for anything from the current situation in the Middle East to brutal settlment of the American West.

All of the plot leads up to a climactic battle that is the most exciting action sequence I have seen in years.  It is a sequence that combines all the best elements of the battle scenes of Lord of the Rings with the aerial battles of Star Wars.  What is most impressive about the action sequence, like the rest of the movie, is never for a second does it feel phony.  These are real people involved in a real battle for their lives and you genuinely care about the outcome… even if they’re blue.  James Cameron has always had a talent for staging a great action scene, whether it be in Terminator 2 or True Lies.  Even the sinking of the Titanic can be considered as one giant action sequence.  Even with that great track record, though, the director has truly outdone himself here.

The same can be said for the entire movie.  This is a truly remarkable cinematic experience that will raise the bar for all blockbuster epics that follow it.  I cannot wait to see it again.

Avatar is rated PG-13 for “intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking.”  Honestly, I was so caught up in the movie that I failed to really notice much of the cause for the rating, but I’m sure PG-13 is accurate.  It certainly is not an R.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Avatar.