James Cameron is well known for his visually stunning, epic masterpieces. From Terminator to Titanic, Aliens to the Abyss, he’s consistently created major works of cinema that leave lasting impacts on pop culture. His latest work, Avatar, promises to add to this reputation.
As expected, the effects in this movie are beautiful and seamless. “Awe inspiring” could almost be applied as well, but it is all too easy to forget that the creatures, plants and even scenery on the screen do not really exist and that there is anything worthy of awe. The motions of the animals, the reactions of the plants and even the landscape all seem completely authentic. Even the design of the alien creatures and equipment that the humans use are logical and believable, adding another level of verisimilitude to the film.
The viewer is drawn in almost immediately. One of the first scenes contains what is probably the most realistic portrayal of zero gravity ever put into film. There is a moment of “this is so cool” and then the viewer’s mind simply accepts everything that is going on is real.
Perhaps the greatest triumph for the CGI animators is the eyes of all the living creatures in the movie. Even though the eyes of the alien creatures actually are alien, they still look real. More importantly, they look alive. “The eyes are the windows to the soul” is never proven any more effectively than when an image is given eyes. If the eyes don’t look alive then the creature itself will not look real. Everything else can be completely accurate, but getting the eyes to look alive proves quite elusive and vital. Avatar never encounters this problem and even close ups of the characters look authentic and expressive. Part of this success is no doubt due to the excellent way that the animators manage to bring through the expressions and mannerisms of the actors to their CGI counterparts.
The story in Avatar is nothing groundbreaking, though it is told in an interesting and engaging way. Essentially, an unlikely hero is chosen by chance, or perhaps fate, to save the world. The core conflict he’s trying to settle is between the military industrial complex of the humans and the spiritual ecologically friendly culture of the natives. The hero learns about himself, life and the world literally through the eyes of the aliens and falls in love with the Native American…I mean giant blue space elf…I mean Na’vi way of life. He also happens to win the heart of the Na’vi princess. Of course, in the end the two cultures cannot coexist and war erupts. The hero is forced to choose between his old loyalties and the new ties he’s developed. Unsurprisingly, he turns on his former, bloodthirsty masters, and leads his newfound people in battle against them. At the end of the movie, he gets the chance to become a real live boy and live happily ever after.
This 162 minute long movie never drags. Though there are a few predictable elements, the audience is pulled along with the narrative, constantly ready for the next revelation.
Of course, Avatar is not a perfect movie and has its flaws. The message of the superiority of Noble Savages over the Greedy Businessmen gets a little heavy handed and preachy at times. In fact, the motivations of the villains of the picture are all but irredeemable. The main antagonist is completely one dimensional, though some of the lesser antagonists redeem themselves to some degree. There are also a few aspects of the world that are mentioned but not investigated as fully as they could be, though there is a good chance that any further exploration of them would have made the movie drag. For that matter, the motivations and conflicts inherent in some of the supporting characters’ stories are mentioned but glossed over. Finally, the ending is a little naïve, but nothing unexpected.
While Avatar is unlikely to have the impact that Terminator did, any fan of James Cameron would be well served in seeing this movie…and seeing it in 3D, if at all possible. For that matter, anyone who wants to see an exciting, entertaining action film would enjoy this film as well.