"I think it's a fascination with the art of the possible." — James Cameron
What excited me most about James Cameron's Avatar, his first feature film in twelve years since Titanic, besides the talk of its state of the art special effects and 3D technology was, like District 9 with which it shares many themes, was its a original story not based another property.
Yes, the plot is essentially Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, or The Last Samurai with blue aliens, but the world of Pandora and its floating mountains is wholly original and breathtaking in scope. In this sci-fi picture, the roles are reversed as humans are the alien invaders adapting to a new life form to assimilate with the native race.
I am lucky enough to live near an IMAX theatre and saw the film in its entirety (161 minutes) in IMAX 3D technology. Actually, I spotted Vancouver-based, South African writer/director, Neill Blomkamp of the aforementioned District 9 at my screening. This film defies conventional cinematic analysis as I feel that Avatar is the first in a new wave cinematic experiences. The pure colourful display on screen is mesmerizing and illuminating.
Most of the criticism from the film has been drawn by the predictable story and uninspired dialogue. Frankly, despite the credence of those flaws, it really does not matter. Titanic was no real achievement in writing or romance.
Cameron was able to cram a lot of his alien world into the picture, seven distinct themes no less. He explores themes of indigenous life, spirituality, a connection to nature, war, faith, imperialism, human nature, and adaptation in an epic story. Although the fallacy of humanity and the blunt themes and message can be heavy-handed at times, the action-adventure tone mask it well and captivates the audience thoroughly. A.O. Scott summed it up best, "We have met the enemy, and it is us."
One of my chief complaints about motion capture is the soulless feeling it leaves and its inability to truly capture the emotion and acting of a real life human being. Zoë Saldana (Star Trek) only seen on screen as a tall, uncomfortably sexy blue alien named Neytiri left me mesmerized with strange, awkward feelings. The technology really captures the nuances of actors like Sam Worthington (Terminator Salvation) and Sigourney Weaver in alternate alien, blue life forms.
The film starts off with some stunning shots of floating space and massive shuttles reminiscent of Star Wars, but on the full frame of an IMAX screen, blows you away in its complete detail. Every second of the film looks like it cost a billion dollars to produce as the whole film is rendered in 3D that adds complex depth to the picture and never distracts or feels gimmicky. The experience in three dimensions is completely seamless in its integration and adds to the viewing. The chase and action sequences are absolutely fantastic to watch and inspire awe in its visual delight.
Like I said, the story concerns a white male warrior living and becoming one of the indigenous ten foot tall blue aliens called the Na'vi through avatar technology on the planet Pandora and identifying with their culture that has a special connection to the land. Avatar is one of those few film experiences that comes along once in awhile that ushers in a new kind of special effects storytelling the way Star Wars, Jurassic Park, or The Matrix did.
The story does more than serve the visuals, action, and special effects in execution and design. Avatar, with all its spectacle, retells histories of Native American and the violence of settling America. The beautiful landscapes truly parallel an untouched, precolonial American landscape. James Cameron has done it again. He has created an original, unique cinematic event. One that must be experienced in 3D. Avatar is a lot of fun and sheer spectacle at its height.
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