DIFF ’09: Avatar Review
After a 12 year hiatus, legendary filmmaker James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) returns to the big screen with another much-hyped epic fantasy adventure. What Avatar lacks in storytelling, it more than makes up by providing one of the most visually thrilling and immersive theater experiences in film history. A cinematic milestone has been achieved indeed. [...]
After a 12 year hiatus, legendary filmmaker James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) returns to the big screen with another much-hyped epic fantasy adventure. What Avatar lacks in storytelling, it more than makes up by providing one of the most visually thrilling and immersive theater experiences in film history. A cinematic milestone has been achieved indeed.
The story is set in 2154 where the beautiful new planet of Pandora with the indigenous population called Na’vi is being infiltrated by U. S. Armed Forces in order to plunder a rich source of mineral that sells for a high price. But the Na’vi is aggressive when someone enters their lands, hence they set up the Avatar program where human and Na’vi DNA is mixed to create the perfect ‘Avatar’ that can infiltrate their land without suspicion.
Jake Sulley (Sam Worthington), an Ex-marine who lost his legs during the war, is selected for the Avatar mission. His avatar is then sent into Pandora in order to gain the native’s trust and later use this for their advantage. But when Jake falls in love with a local Na’vi named Neyetri (Zoe Saldana) does he come to realize who the real enemy in this war is. But the military is determined to attack Pandora, leaving Jake with the ultimate choice of which side to choose.
Hype is mixed blessing, with most movies failing to meet the audience’s expectations. With the case of Avatar, it was touted as a landmark in filmmaking and the movie that will ‘change cinema forever’. Big claims to make, but does it achieve that target? On a purely technical standpoint, it exceeds it. The planet of Pandora is hands-down the most beautifully rendered fictional universe in the history of cinema. The Na’vi members are the most photorealistic CGI characters ever to have graced film. These might sound like exaggerations, but you truly need to see this film on the big screen to see how every character emotes and feels just like a human. After the first few minutes where the Na’vi are introduced, one forgets the fact that these are computer generated models at work due to the life-like mannerisms and perfectly captured emotions that make them as real as any human in the film. Hats off to James Cameron for delivering on his promise and more.
The much-touted 3D effects in the film are ironically the most subtle 3D effects I have seen in a film. Unlike ‘A Christmas Carol’ and other films, 3D is not used as a gimmick here but as a way to enhance the depth of field and further make Pandora as believable as possible. Instead of things being thrown at our face, we get beautiful layers of nature that Pandora has to offer. Never before on screen has this technology been used and this will change the way blockbusters are made in the future with directors like Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson already employing the technique.
The film is definitely not perfect though. Unlike Cameron’s previous films, storytelling gets the short hand here. The first fifteen minutes of the film are the weakest as the film rushes on with heavy-handed exposition from Jake Sulley along with introducing more and more elements without building any sort of emotional connection at all. The movie runs at a pace so brisk (even though the movie is 2 hours 30 minutes long you won’t feel it at all) that it leaves no room for compelling drama or emotional connection with the film’s characters. Although the plot itself is executed very well, it is clear that the focus here is on the visuals than on the story.
But problems in storytelling are more than compensated by what are definitively the best last forty five minutes in any film. The film suddenly changes gears from a love story to full on epic warfare and features some of the most visceral and awe-inspiring action sequences you will ever see. There is so much happening on screen that you are guaranteed to be more than enthralled with the results and be willing to forget all its faults. All the mayhem is neatly wrapped by a touching climax and an ending that is ripe for sequels.
Sam Worthington is definitely proving to be the next big thing in Hollywood and carries a film of this scope effortlessly although there is a lack of human connection with his character. Zoe Saldana provides beautiful voice acting and both the actors give an immensely realistic motion-capture performance that brings their characters to life. Sigourney Weaver plays a scientist to great effect although in a limited role. Stephen Lang plays a heartless colonel brilliantly. Michelle Rodriguez looks good but has some of the worst lines in the film.
Overall, Avatar is the ‘must-watch’ theatrical experience of the decade, the pure definition of an ‘event film’, and you would be doing yourself a great displeasure for not seeing this in 3-D at a cinema near you. Not only is this a technical marvel, it’s an epic tale from a man who has given us classics and never fails to entertain. Although the story might need some work, Avatar excels in action and visual pleasure making it a high recommendation for everybody. It’s no Titanic, but then again nothing will ever be.