Wednesday, January 6, 2010
This movie signals our entry into the second decade of the new millennium. Writer and director James Cameron conceived of the project 15 years ago, though he had to wait this long for technology to catch up with his vision - he even invented a new camera in the process.
To watch Avatar in a theatre filled with adults wearing 3-D glasses is an experience in itself, though to explain the innovations that made the movie possible is beyond my limited capabilities. Fortunately, the final product played out on the big screen speaks for itself.
The story is about Pandora, a planet whose Native inhabitants, the N’avi, are under threat from human invaders. In the movie, the Avatars are man-made hybrids created by combining human DNA with that of the N’avi. Avatars are used by their human navigators to infiltrate the alien community and influence them to allow the mining of their sacred home, to the detriment of the planet. Human beings as rapers and pillagers of the Universe - “They killed their Mother, now they will do the same to this World” – it’s a predictable theme, albeit updated. The humans are mining the planet Pandora for a rare mineral that will solve a disastrous energy crisis and shore up their greed back on earth, despite the threat to the spiritual home of the N’avi. Ultimately, Pandora’s saviors are human, too, and the age old theme of good versus evil is resolved in comfortably familiar fashion.
James Cameron’s last movie was Titanic, which he wrote and directed in 1997. This latest epic is a worthy next act in his career, once again showcasing Cameron’s ability to create a captivating movie that keeps one engaged throughout, despite its length. The young stars of Avatar; Sam Worthington - an unknown actor until now - as hero Jake Sully, and Zoe Saldana as the heroine Neytiri, are two to watch. Sigourney Weaver still has "it" in her role as Grace Augustine, the sympathetic scientist, while the villains, played masterfully by Giovanni Ribisi as the soulless Parker Selfridge, and, notably, Stephen Lang as Col. Miles Quaritch, are suitably despicable. Michelle Rodriguez delivers a comeback performance in the type of role that has come to fit her well, as tough-girl renegade pilot Trudy Chacon. Weaver and Worthington, eerily beautiful in their Avatar incarnations, are still recognizable – an example of how the magic of the new technology comes into play. The actors were filmed wearing special headgear mounted with tiny cameras pointed at their faces to record every nuance and expression. They call it ‘motion capture’. It works.
The strength of this movie lies not in the rather clichéd storyline, but in its startling visual beauty; in the juxtaposition of the wondrously evolved N'avi, and the muscle-bound ignorance of earthlings; in the sight of radiant blue creatures soaring in an impossibly glorious dreamscape, contrasted with monster machines fighting epic battles “in your face”. In the end I didn’t want to leave the magical land of Pandora.
Today worldwide ticket sales for the movie hit the $1 billion mark. Chances are you’ve already experienced Avatar. To those who have not, I would say that if this is not the kind of movie that you would typically choose to spend almost three hours on – Sci-Fi/Action/Fairytale in 3D that it is - take a chance. Glimpse into the future of movies. I’m glad that I did.