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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, which arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today, is a miraculous visual feat, the greatest epic since The Lord of the Rings trilogy and a filmmaking milestone. At the conclusion of a decade, it’s a window into what audiences of the future can expect at the movies.
The most natural film comparison to make to Avatar is 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 boasts a much wider and complex universe, Avatar’s world still awes with its imagination. “Spectacle” best describes Avatar and Cameron utilizes its visual assets 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 (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 resource called unobtainium upon which the Na’vi home tree is sitting.
Naturally, Jake gets close to the Na’vi tribe, who teaches him their way of life. He becomes attached to the “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 and in 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 does drive a social agenda. 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 finish Avatar and think about 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 (eventually we’ll get this version on home video), 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 is how humans are not only the enemy but they’re not integral to the film. Never before has a live-action movie not relied on human characters. The motion-capture and the subtle human qualities of Na’vi are good enough to carry the film. Other producers might have 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 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, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
Other Player Affinity Reviews:
Chris thought: “Avatar has to be one of the most anticipated films in years, mainly do to the return of James Cameron to cinema. Cameron had not made a movie since 1997 Titanic. But he hasn’t lost his edge. Working with actors he frequent collaborates with such as Sigourney Weaver in this film, is part of it. This time Weaver is in a supporting role along side Sam Worthington, who is hot off Terminator Salvation, so he kinda owes something to that franchise’s creator, Cameron. I really enjoyed the plot of this movie. I am usually very picky about my sci-fi but this I have to say paid off. Cameron uses something called Fusion Camera System this is a new high-def way to shoot 3D films. He used it in the often over-looked Ghosts of the Abyss. This movie has to be seen in 3D, so if you’ve yet to have that experience, whenever that version of the DVD or Blu-ray comes out, find a way to see it.” Rating: 9/10
Simon thought: “Fully-realized would be an underwhelming way to describe Avatar, as the alien world of Pandora that is splashed across the screen could very well be the subject of a discovery channel special. The effects are seamless and all-encompassing. Rarely will you see such boundless vision as experienced in Avatar. From the plants to the biggest beasts that roam the incandescent forests, care is taken at every turn. I can certainly see Avatar being this generation’s Star Wars. In thirty years this will be looked back upon and admired and compared against. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both films are born of the science-fiction genre, but that such a vein of creativity brings out the best in filmmakers.” Rating: 9/10
Kieran thought: “Avatar was not just a film release, it was event. It was a film that used 3D filming technology to its fullest extent to create an amazing visual experience. Avatar was one of the few films to use 3D effectively and a very special example of filmmaking. After 12 years away from directing, James Cameron shows he has not lost any of his talent or ambition. He crafts a grand sci-fi tale with a great scope and a lot of imagination. The story is simple and it does have some similarities to films such as Dances with Wolves and Lawrence of Arabia, but it offers a political commentary on American treatment of Native Americans, European colonialism in Africa and Asia, American involvement in Iraq and the theme of environmentalism. Seeing how it annoyed American conservatives was a bonus. The action is fantastic and Cameron shows why he is one of the best storytellers around.” Rating: 9/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 9/10