A belated review of James Cameron’s Avatar. Which is probably for the best, as the dust has now settled on all the hype and hyperbole, even as it is breaking more box office records as I type. There goes another one! Avatar has now officially made $700 gazillion, give or take a trillion.
So, first things first, does this “game-changer” really merit all the plaudits? The answer is a resounding yes. It is a beauty to behold.
I won’t dwell on the premise for too long, as there can only be three people left on the planet who aren’t already aware. The year is 2154 and an Earth-based corporation is trying to mine the alien planet Pandora for a mineral named Unobtanium. Pandora’s most developed inhabitants are an indigenous, humanoid species known as the Na’vi, and humans are trying to pursue diplomatic routes with the people through the ‘Avatar’ programme. This involves Na’vi bodies being artificially created, into which human consciousness can be projected. Spearheaded by Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and the last-minute recruitment, disabled marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the idea is that the Na’vi will be more accommodating to humans in their guise.
However, the plot itself is secondary, Avatar is all about the scenery.
There can be no doubt that Cameron is a master at creating worlds. Think of the post-apocalyptic Earth imagined in The Terminator. In brief glimpses, Cameron portrayed a unique, horrific, Skynet-ruled future which embedded itself in the audience’s minds. The fact that McG couldn’t come close to matching it with the woeful Terminator: Salvation tells you all you need to know.
Pandora, the alien world on which Avatar is set, is Cameron to the power of n. At last given the technology and the backing to fully unleash his imagination, Pandora is a visual paradise. Its beauty is not just skin-deep though, the viewer is fully immersed into this CGI wonderland. Like the floating waterfalls within the film, the world washes over you, and all its colourful delights dance upon your eyes.
I am loathe to label it CGI, as the line between reality and the artificial is blurred so much that you wonder whether there actually was a line in the first place, and that Cameron actually explored deep space during his twelve-year hiatus. When viewed in 3-D, the effect is even more spectacular.
However, not even the demi-god Cameron can escape unscathed, there are problems with Avatar. The same imagination which has brought us this world is also limited in the ways of theme and narrative. The story, while well-told, has been recycled countless times in cinema before, even in Cameron’s own films. You will find yourself counting off the similarities to Aliens in particular. Characters are poorly-realised and one-note, specifically Michelle Rodriguez’ marine Trudy Chácon, and only Zoe Saldana escapes criticism as Na’vi princess, Neytiri. Aside from Pandora, Avatar truly hangs on her amazingly raw performance. Meanwhile, the Na’vi, as a people, are a thinly-veiled alien version of Native Americans.
With a project as eagerly-anticipated as this, you can be forgiven for being a little disappointed that these areas weren’t as fleshed-out or as innovative as the visuals.
Even with these faults, Cameron has truly given us a spectacle which draws you in and leaves you breathless. This is reported to be the first entry in a Pandoran trilogy and that can only bode well, as the ideas and world can be expanded and truly be a series for the ages.
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel Moore, Michelle Rodriguez
Running Time: 162 minutes
Released: December 18th 2009