James Cameron’s new film Avatar opened last weekend, and arguably has raised the bar for filmmaking. The film is breathtaking, visually stunning, and though the underlying story may be somewhat familiar, it was an incredibly satisfying experience at the theater.
A friend of mine sent me a txt msg the other day that summed up the basic plot pretty well: it’s like Dances with Wolves, in blue-face. Set more than a hundred years in the future, an injured Marine loses the use of his legs but has the opportunity to replace his deceased brother in a fantastic scientific endeavor. Through stunning new technology, he can transmit his consciousness into a genetically mutated empty shell of an alien body. The scientific goal of this, of course, is to use these “avatar” bodies to interact with the indigenous alien population on a distant moon.
Unfortunately, even in the future greed is paramount — this scientific project is funded by a private company bent on plundering the natural resources of the moon, which are protected and held sacred by the locals. And with a heavily armed contingent along for the ride, the lead character has the unique advantage of being the only avatar driver that has ties to the military. He’s given a secret mission to infiltrate the alien tribes and convince them to move away from their sacred space, or face the consequences that the military is chomping at the bit to use.
The plot is a little predictable… The more he immerses himself in the native culture, the more he comes to appreciate the tribe and their beliefs. And of course, we all know he’s bound to fall in love with the lead female. When the time comes to force the locals off their sacred land so the company can begin their mining, there’s an inevitable inner conflict to match the external struggle between the two peoples. (If this is a “spoiler” for you, then you definitely do not watch enough movies.)
I’ve seen some reviews that draw parallels between the settling of America by Europeans, as well as other armed invasions in recent years. Of course, some people insist this is a scathing critique of the US invasion of Iraq. Bottom line: it doesn’t matter. Take what you want from the storyline, find whatever meaning in it you want. Regardless of your political leanings or historical perspective, this movie will entertain and amaze you.
Avatar is, without a doubt, one of the most artistically beautiful films I have ever seen. The fact that I saw it in IMAX 3-D certainly didn’t hurt, as the three dimensional images skipped most of the cheesy “in your face” antics of other 3-D films and focused instead on immersing the audience in the scene. The colors, the texture, the background scenery, all of it was absolutely amazing. It’s the sort of movie that you could watch on mute, and be completely enraptured by without having a clue what was being said.
Don’t think the beauty of the movie is its only compelling strength, though! The cast was strong as well, with great human performances by Sam Worthington (Terminator: Salvation), Sigourney Weaver (returning to science fiction in a movie that doesn’t have Alien in the title), and Giovanni Ribisi (grown up quite a bit from hits like Saving Private Ryan and The Mod Squad a decade ago.)
Equally engaging were the alien performances, including both Worthington and Weaver in their avatar bodies (which bear a striking resemblance to the actors themselves.) Others are just a good in their alien-only roles, most notably Zoe Saldana (Guess Who and Star Trek) as the lead female character. I’m honestly not sure whether the alien bodies (and especially their faces) were done with makeup and prosthetics, computer generated imagery, or a combination of the two, but either way, they were expressive and dazzling.
Make the time to go see Avatar in theaters. If you can find a showing in IMAX, particularly in IMAX 3-D, don’t miss out on your chance to be completely blown away by this film. You’ll be glad you did.