James Cameron's visually stunning, groundbreaking new film is worth the wait. Beyond being one of the best films of the year, for that matter of the decade, it's the best film of Cameron's career and it's also an absolute, motion picture masterpiece.
To be honest, I wouldn't consider myself a James Cameron fan, per say. I loved the way he took Ridley Scott's Sci-Fi, horror film "Alien" and turned it in to a kick-ass action film with "Aliens." I also loved his twist on popular '80s action movies when he made "The Terminator, " which introduced a sci-fi element to realistic, present-day set action films and I especially loved his groundbreaking CGI films like "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" and "The Abyss." But I never really cared all that much for his '90s comedy/action film "True Lies" and I definitely didn't get swept up in "Leo-madness" when his juggernaut of a sweeping romantic period piece, "Titanic" was breaking records a little over a decade ago. "Avatar" on the other hand has everything for everyone and combines all of Cameron's talents. It's a visually amazing film that pushes the envelope and raises the bar with its out-of-this-world special effects and excellent integration of motion capture and 3D techniques. It also has the sweeping epic scope and all important love story of something like the "Titanic" while combining it with elements of his early films like "The Terminator" but especially "The Abyss" and in particular "Aliens." I know this type of thing is said all the time but I truly believe that this film could serve as our generations "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" in that it will be a gateway for an entire generation into the world of blockbuster Sci-Fi movies.
The film, which is set in the distant future, is narrated by our hero Jake Sully played by Sam Worthington, a Marine who was paralyzed from the waist down but decides not to leave the military and instead takes his deceased twin brother's place in a special scientific experiment/Military operation on another planet. We are quickly introduced to the beautiful planet of Pandora, which is inhabited by he Na'vi, a sentient humanoid race, who are considered primitive, yet are more physically capable than humans. Standing 10 feet tall, with tails and sparkling blue skin, the Na'vi live in harmony with their unspoiled world until humans migrate to the planet searching for a precious mineral that is in abundance on Pandora. Unfortunately, the larges amount of it is located underneath the sacred home of the Na'vi. Because humans can't breathe on Pandora, scientists have created genetically bred human-Na'vi hybrids known as Avatars to allow them to walk around freely on the planet.
In order to work, the human DNA has to be from the person controlling the Avatar, making Jake the only candidate able to take his brother's place. At first, the Military is all too happy to have one of their own men on the inside and Jake initially butts heads with the head of the science program, Dr. Grace Augustine played perfectly by Sigourney Weaver. Jake agrees to be part of the program, as it will allow him to walk again even if it is in another body. Unbeknownst to the scientists, the administrator for the military group played by Giovanni Ribisi along with Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) ask Jake to be a spy for them. To infiltrate the tribe, gain their trust, report back their secrets and then either convince them to leave their homes or help the military invade and if he can do that, then the military will pay for him to have an expensive operation that will give him the use of his real legs again.
As Jake travels the lush jungle-like planet of Pandora with his Avatar he eventually stumbles across the beautiful Neytiri, brilliantly played by Zoë Saldana, who is the daughter of the king and the queen of the tribe. Jake meets them and because he is a warrior they do except him and agree to train him in their ways. Although they know that he is a human in an Avatar, they are not aware that he is spying on them for the humans. As Jake learns the ways of the tribe he falls in love with his new found body, the tribes simple ways and of course, Neytiri. As Jake passes the final test of the tribe to become a full member and choose Neytiri as his bride, the military attacks. Outcast as a betrayer, Jake now must chose between his loyalty to the military and his race or the life and family that he has grown to love. Ultimately Jake chooses to help the Na'vi but first must regain their trust. With the aid of the science team and a rouge military helicopter pilot, played by Michelle Rodriguez, Jake and the Na'vi decide to fight for their land and their lives, armed only with bows and arrows in an epic battle against the seemingly unbeatable, heavily armed military.
The film is available in IMAX 3D, however I did not see it on an IMAX screen but the 3D is amazing. There have been several 3D films this year and "Avatar" blows them all out of the water. The meticulous attention to detail is ridiculously rich and wonderful. It is also tastefully done. You notice it right away but once the film gets going, it is so captivating that you forget about the 3D and the only thing left to remind you are the glasses on your face. The 3D compliments the story and the film, which is an important reason why it works. Seeing this amazing world that Cameron has created, which is like nothing we have ever seen before in 3D is a real treat because every amazing creature and all the wonderful colors just pop out at you, literally, that much more. A lot will be said about the vision of James Cameron and it truly is impressive. The scope and scale of the film is just plain awesome and it really is the ultimate masterpiece of a complete genius. It is long, clocking in at roughly three hours but you never once look at your watch or really think about anything else because you are so completely emerged in this world.
The acting in the movie is really top notch, which is nice. Sam Worthington was very good as Jake, playing a very believable paraplegic, but he was even better when he was portraying his Avatar. He clearly understood how to perform in motion capture and was a strong and adequate leading protagonist caring the weight of much of the film himself. Zoë Saldana gives one of the best performances in the film as the strong yet vulnerable love interest. Saldana, who only appears in the film in motion capture also seems to have mastered the art of that type of acting and really stands out as the heart of the film. Her performance is strong yet quiet and vulnerable at times and the audience, much like Jake, will fall in love with Saldana's character. The love story between the two characters didn't get in the way of the action and creates a relatable quality that the audience can latch on to. CCH Pounder from "The Shield" is wonderful as the Na'vi Queen and her voice fits the regal strength and power of that character just right.
Sigourney Weaver brings an experience and gravitas to the film that really makes the whole thing work. What a pleasure it is to see her in this role, she's really having fun and you can tell. Her performance capture work is also strong and her Avatar looked just like her. She is perfect casting, not only does she get to reunite with her "Aliens" director for the first time but the role is really "Gorillas In The Mist" with aliens. "Aliens In The Mist," if you will and her character will remind you a bit of her famous role as Ripley as well. Another criticism that you may hear is that the film is filled with "Cameron character-archetypes," that's true but it doesn't bother me. There are clearly similarities to "Aliens" in this film and not just that it's about humans pilfering another planet that has it's own species but some of the characters are very familiar too and I liked that aspect of the movie. I guess some may call it lazy but I thought it was cool. Obviously, Ribisi was playing the Paul Reiser role from "Aliens," as the somewhat nerdy, bureaucrat who will stop at nothing to earn a buck, a role Ribisi plays quite well. As is Rodriguez who's Trudy Chacon, the badass, Latina, helicopter flying Marine reminded me an awful lot of Private Jennette Vasquez from "Aliens," a badass, Latina, machinegun wielding Marine. But again, who cares? The characters fit the story perfectly and are acted well so does it really matter? I don't think so.
However, the most will probably be said about actor Stephen Lang's performance as the hard-as-nails Marine Colonel. Many will probably say that his performance is one-note and that he is just playing the stereotypical, war-minded only, military antagonist. I disagree, yes the character is all of those things but Lang is not just hitting one note, I think his back-story about being attacked by one of the tribe gives him all the reason he needs to hate the indigenous people and his hate is fueled throughout the film by his own frustrations. I think Lang gives a fine performance in the role given his guidelines, he's THE BAD GUY, for goodness sake. But again, this is a perfect example of the "Aliens" connection as the character is very reminiscent of Michel Biehn's character, Corporal Dwayne Hicks from that film. In fact, Biehn discussed with Cameron playing Lang's part in "Avatar" but the director was already aware of the "Aliens" comparisons and decided to cast Lang instead who, coincidently had auditioned for Biehn's role in "Aliens" over twenty years ago. The script by Cameron is about as perfect as one can expect a mere mortal to achieve, if he is indeed human and not a robot sent from the future to make really great movies. Sure there are some holes and I'm sure those bitter-haters will be quick to point them out, pound for pound "Avatar" is a perfect, epic, sci-fi film that is really an entertainment spectacle and an event-film that is perfect for the entire family.
The purported budget is supposedly $237 million but rumors estimate, with advertising, the cost being closer to $500 million, meaning the film would have to make a billion dollars domestically, which is virtually unheard of especially in this economic climate, in order to double it's money like "Titanic" did. At first I was skeptical that this film could do that but now that I've seen it, I'm sure it will. It's really that good! This will be a top the box office charts for weeks, maybe even months. Kids and fan-boys alike will be seeing this film over and over again in the theaters and there is no doubt in my mind that it will be the biggest hit of the Christmas season and possibly one of the biggest hits of all time. Not to mention that it will definitely be grabbing some well-deserved Oscar attention this awards season. Beyond just the obvious technical award nominations I believe the film should receive, Cameron, for both best writer and best director, definitely deserves nominations for "Avatar" this year. With ten films being nominated for best picture this year, it would be a real travesty if "Avatar" is left off the list simply because of its Sci-fi subject matter.
Finally, I just hope that everyone goes and sees this movie with an open mind like I did. Don't read the spoilers (except for this article, of course) or listen to the hype, just go see this momentous entertainment event, watch it through the visionary eyes of truly one of our greatest filmmakers and experience the world that he and so many others worked so hard for so long to bring to the silver screen.