December 20, 2009

Review: Dances with Na'vi – 'Avatar' Feels Blue in 3D

"I think it's a fascination with the art of the possible."James Cameron
Stephen Lang | James Cameron's Avatar

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 it's an original story not based on 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 of cinematic experiences. The pure colourful display on the screen is mesmerizing and illuminating.

Most of the criticism of 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 masks it well and captivates the audience thoroughly. A.O. Scott summed it up best, "We have met the enemy, and it is us."

Sam Worthington | James Cameron's Avatar

One of my chief complaints about motion capture is the soulless feeling it leaves and its inability to truly capture the emotion and actions of a real-life human being. Zoe Saldaña (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 which 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 their visual delight.

As 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 come along once in a while 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 the histories of Native Americans and the violence of settling in America. The beautiful landscapes truly parallel an untouched, pre-colonial 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 a sheer spectacle at its height.

More | Facepunch / Hero Complex / io9 / Slashfilm

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