Released December 17, 2009.
Words are being thrown around. Masterpiece. Revolutionary. It’ll change cinema. Technologically, it will. If only one could say the same of the dialogue, characters and plot.
Don’t get me wrong, James Cameron’s Avatar is an astonishing achievement. A visual wonder featuring the most sophisticated special effects of any film, it achieves that rare feat of transporting the audience to a living, breathing world. That world is Pandora, a planet overflowing with exotic animals and stunning rainforested scenery, which bursts off the screen in vibrant, colourful 3D. In Cameron’s hands, 3D is anything but a gimmick, enhancing details here and there without ever announcing itself. It’s an integral part of the experience.
The story essentially retells Dances With Wolves with blue aliens. They are the Na’vi, the natives of Pandora. Ten foot tall humanoids that move with feline grace, their livelihood is under threat from American corporate hordes who wish to ravage the planet in search of the mineral “unobtainium”. One way or another, the Na’vi are to be “relocated”.
The spanner in the works is our hero, Jake Sully (rising Aussie star Sam Worthington), an ex-Marine and paraplegic who controls his able-bodied Na’vi “Avatar” in an attempt to coerce the natives into submission. His allegiances shift when he befriends the lithe female Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, who gives the film’s most affecting performance). Who’d have thought tails could ever be sexy.
When it becomes clear that the invaders, including evil incarnate Colonel Quarich (Stephen Lang), have only their bank balance and testosterone in mind, the scene is set for an epic and unlikely showdown.
Despite its phenomenal visual tapestry that will reward repeat viewings, the story remains a simplistic but effective fable, with obvious allusions to Iraq-war politics and eco-green themes that would make Al Gore proud. It’s energised by frequent bouts of action, some of the most viscerally exciting in years, in which Cameron fully exploits his ability to place the camera wherever he chooses.
Yes, the dialogue in Avatar is sometimes woeful, and the story routine, but it offers what so few movies do: a sense of wonder. And for that it deserves to be seen, in 3D, on the biggest screen possible.