It’s been 12 years of anticipation, waiting for James Cameron to deliver his technological wonder called Avatar to theatres, and the show clocks in at more than two and a half hours. After all that time, I can say without equivocation that it was worth the wait.
His movie about a planet under siege has long been held up by still burgeoning computer generation technology that wasn’t quite where he wanted it. After Gollum came along in The Lord of the Rings, he felt the mechanics were close but still not quite right. So Cameron helped to develop a new camera system that would do the trick.
He was right. Never doubt Jimmy.
If you were to compare and contrast the visuals between something like A Christmas Carol and Avatar, you would see how much better it is even in Real 3-D, which uses a projection technique notoriously fraught with rendering problems and results in rampant audience dissatisfaction. Here, it’s flawless. Stunning. Gorgeous. Add to that the fact the story is really good and what you’ve got is a winner, even if it will take a lot of luck for Cameron to break even on this $230 million production.
In Avatar, Sam Worthington plays Jake, a disabled soldier who gets involved in a military project using remote body doubles. While inside a special chamber that looks like a fully-sealed tanning bed, his mind becomes connected to his very own Na’vi, a ten-foot-tall blue alien with a broad, flat nose and tail, the tendril hairs of which connect to the other life forms of the planet in a decidedly New Age-like symbiosis. Using this ‘virtual reality’ creature, he becomes a part of a Na’vi clan and is taught their ways by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). His mission, however, is to get them out of the way as the army wants to excavate a rare substance called unobtainium for industrial purposes.
What happens might be predictable but it works: Jake gets accepted by the clan and takes their culture to heart. This is the basic Lawrence of Arabia plot except with giant blue aliens.
Cameron is a lot like George Lucas in that he focuses a lot on the science of cinema and just how much the advanced techniques can improve moviemaking. Where Cameron differs from the creator of the Star Wars universe is critical: as much as both focus on technique, Cameron still puts a heavier emphasis on the story, so much so he actually cares about how the story is told and unfolds. The story here is so good that the 160 minutes of screen time don’t seem so long. Consider how long The Phantom Menace seems even though it actually runs a half-hour faster and has less character development.
Still for all the wonder and genius, there are a few moments where the minor flaws appear like the small crack that is the Grand Canyon. Interestingly, it’s mostly in the segments with the soldiers during the non-CG segments of the film. The acting is fine throughout as is the writing but for a few brief moments Avatar comes across as having the same production values as Xenogenesis, Cameron’s 1978 student film with an interesting futuristic concept but zero budget for editing. I easily overlooked these minor lapses in visual/production cohesiveness because overall the movie is just so good. I’m looking forward to Battle Angel in 2011 even though I have no idea what it’s about.
Directed by: James Cameron<br />Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Michelle Rodriguez and Stephen Lang<br />Rated: PG<br />Now playing at: Grandin Theatres, North Edmonton Cineplex and Scotiabank Theatres<br />Stars: 4.5