It took a minute for me to figure out what an Avatar even was. For the longest thing, I just thought it was another Japanese anime import which are the cartoons that I can't stand. That's why when I heard about this movie coming out, I wasn't too geeked about it. Even with the fact that it involved one of my favorite directors, James Cameron. That's where I made the mistake. To date, he hasn't made a single film that I haven't liked. This one kept the streak going strong.
"Avatar" is the story of a paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) who decides to take on a mission on the distant world of Pandora when his twin brother is killed in battle. There he discovers that the greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) has the intentions to drive off the native humanoid race known as the Na'vi in order to mine their land for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland.
In exchange for the expensive spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the military cooperative on the planet spearheaded by the gung-ho Colonel Miles Quaritch(Stephen Lang in a role that now rivals R. Lee Ermey as best screen grunt ever). Jake attempts to infiltrate the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity which he is able to control remotely via his consciousness. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe, he quickly falls in love with the helpful Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). He also realizes that he can't complete his original mission when he learns that the indigenous Na'vi have a unique bond with their planet that should not be disrupted.
This is another instance where there is a 3-D and 2-D version currently in theaters. Select places even have "Avatar" in IMAX, but that's a bit much for me. Gives me horrible headaches. Quite honestly, I wasn't expecting much along the lines of 3D either given my past experience. Recent 3D films I had seen would often squander the 3D effects or they weren't as effective as they should be. This film did not have that problem whatsoever.
From the very beginning, the 3D photography excelled beyond all my expectations. It's not even minutes into "Avatar" when the interior of a massive transport spacecraft containing dozens and dozens of cryo-sleep chambers shows us the first signs of brilliance. The visual effects creates the feeling that you are in the vessel with them. There are so many scenes such as that where there the cinematography had a depth to it that surrounds you. Cameron didn't stop there though.
The world of Pandora they created was astounding. The Na'vi themselves already have a purple blue textured skin to distinguish them from nothing seen on earth. Added to that are the vibrant colors of the environment around them. Everything on the planet pops with so much incredible detail that you would think this utopic Pandora really exists. As Jake examines the gorgeous world around him while also still feeling his way in his Avatar, we experience the same type of amazed bewilderment that he expresses in his discoveries.
Let's get past how astonishing the effects were for a moment to touch on the story. It's something that has been criticized in some circles as being subversively racist. Afterall, these aliens are humanoids of color that are minding their own business in their indigenous land. The "sky people" arrive and try to bully the Na'vi off THEIR land for the selfish purpose of stealing their resources. Sound familiar? So Cameron has essentially created a Pilgrim tale of sorts in space. There's nothing racist about the story. He's giving us a sci-fi realization of a theme we are all too familiar with
Cameron did a couple of different things with that well-known story. First of all, he made it more spiritual. The Na'vi are more in tune with their planet than we could ever hope to be. It is connected with them and they combine to provide a life force that permeates the people and the animals of the world. So its more than just the resources the Na'vi want to protect. It's their very souls of both themselves and their ancestors past.
Most of all though, Cameron has created a two-fold love story. Jake falls for not only Neytiri but also her people and their way of life. It would be similar to one of the Pilgrims turning on their own European brethren in order to help the Native Americans. Seeing this story from the natives' point of view causes you to see how Jake made his decision. Cameron develops the characters and the story in such a way that anyone would be a fool not to want the Na'vi to prevail.
"Avatar" is one of those rare films where you are completely mesmerized from beginning to end. It runs 2 hours and 40 minutes and Cameron doesn't waste a single second. Every moment keeps the movie driving forward with the combination of a compelling story, tremendous acting and the gorgeous imagery that utilizes the 3-D like no movie ever has before. For this to be Cameron's first directorial feature since his classic "Titanic" he certainly made his return worth the wait.
My rating: A