Genre: Science-fiction, adventure
Director/s: James Cameron
Writer/s: James Cameron
Running Time: 161 mins
Budget: $237 million
Released: 18 December 2009 (South Africa)
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the planet Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home – imdb
After almost twelve years, James Cameron has finally returned to the cinematic scene (I’m excluding the various documentaries that he has directed after Titanic was released way back in 1997) with the much-anticipated film; Avatar.
I must confess that up until this year I had no knowledge of his latest cinematic entry only having seen a teaser trailer a couple months back. James Cameron has got to be one of the most prestigious film directors of all time, with industry-defining films such as Terminator 2, a film that used never-before-seen CGI technologies to bring the awesome shape shifting T-1000 to life. Terminator 2 also proved that CGI represented the future of film, as well as convincing Steven Spielberg to employ CGI in his 1993 film Jurassic Park instead of the go-motion technique he had previously intended on using.
The one thing I really try to avoid is hype because the film invariably falls short of the mark and your impossibly high expectations are met with disappointment as the film fails to match up to what the majority of people are saying, with the exception of 2008’s Dark Knight, a film that far exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. To paraphrase a good friend of mine – you can’t be disappointed if you don’t have expectations.
So after reading the myriad of write-ups on Avatar, I walked in the cinema with high expectations, only to leave feeling somewhat disappointed, people have made it sound like Cameron has released the cure for cancer or something, while it is a good film, it isn’t the genre-defining masterpiece that all the critics are saying it is.
Let’s get the most obvious aspect of the film out-of-the-way first – the visuals. The CGI in Avatar is breathtaking, Cameron’s lush Earth-like moon, Pandora is a sight to behold, filled with bizarre creatures, lush forests and painstaking attention to detail. Avatar has some of the best CGI I’ve ever seen, everything looks fantastic, from the forests and animals to the war machines of the humans. The Na’vi, 9 foot tall humanoid aliens with bioluminescent blue skin, consist of some of the best CGI ever, with movement and facial expressionism indistinguishable from their live-action counterparts, I can see that a lot of time and effort was spent in making the Na’vi realistic and believable and the same goes for the rest of the creatures that occupy Pandora. The other thing about this film is the epic scope, the myriad of wide-angle shots are quite awe-inspiring and it takes a lot of processing to fully take in the beauty of it all. It’s reached the point where the CGI looks more gorgeous than reality, with environments consisting of impossible beauty. However, calling Avatar ‘the movie to end all movies’ is nothing but baseless trash. Already the media are saying that there are two types of films, referred to as ‘Before Avatar & After Avatar – or simply BA and AA. The aforementioned statements are quite ridiculous. With Avatar, James Cameron wanted to break the ‘Matrix-mould’ of science-fiction cinema with a film that could redefine the genre but I really don’t see how that’s possible, Avatar doesn’t bring anything new to the table, nothing that future films will be able to take from, unlike The Matrix whose bullet-time special effects redefined modern cinema for the last decade and continue to do so to this very day. The Matrix is the film to end all films, not Avatar. Which leads me to my next point – the plot.
It’s the year 2154 and a human corporation has set up a mining operation on an alien moon named Pandora in order to obtain a precious resource called unobtanium, which is worth $20 million per kilogram. Unfortunately, Pandora is what the Warhammer 40k universe would refer to as a Death World, Pandora is pretty much uninhabitable as the air isn’t breathable to humans and almost every resident of the moon is lethal and so the human corporation employ the services of a private security force consisting of former marines and soldiers (emphasis on former – I’ll come back to this point) to safeguard the site that they occupy from the many hostilities including the Na’vi. The Na’vi live in the Hometree, a place which predictably contains the richest concentration of unobtanium, which the humans obviously intend on harvesting. The Na’vi are a rural Native Indian/African tribe-like race that the humans view as primitive and worthless.
Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) creates the Avatar program which allows a human being to control a Na’vi-human hybrid while their own body ‘sleeps’, it is used to integrate and interact with the Na’vi tribe. The human protagonist; Jake Sully, an ex-marine (Sam Worthington) who is crippled from the waist down is assigned to the Avatar program when his twin brother is killed, Jake is chosen as he is compatible with his brother’s Avatar. At the same time Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a hardened ex-marine makes a deal with Jake promising to restore the use of his legs if he gains the trust of the Na’vi and learns their secrets. As Jake stumbles into the Na’vi tribe, he meets a female Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña) and begins to question himself as well as where his loyalties lie as he gets pulled into the wondrous world of the Na’vi. Sure enough the love story angle comes into play, it’s one of the predictable plot devices used in the film which makes me wonder why everyone is saying the storyline is so original. If you strip away the flashy visuals, you’re left with a movie about industrious humans invading a foreign land with the protagonist falling in love with a native girl and eventually turning on his own people, much like The New World or Pocahontas. Now one could argue that The Matrix (I’m aware that I keep referring back to the film but The Matrix is the finest example of genre-defining cinema) would be nothing without its effects but beneath the effects-heavy exterior, the Wachowski Brothers had created an original, intriguing and thought-provoking story unlike Cameron who had basically taken Pocahontas and retrofitted it with a sci-fi overlay. And in case you were wondering, Avatar is not the most expensive film ever made, Pirates of the Caribbean – At World’s End still holds that title at around $300 million.
Now I’m going to address some of the major criticisms of Avatar;
Why don’t the marines just nuke the Na’vi, or use orbital bombardment on the Hometree?
At first I wondered the same until it dawned on me that the human defenders weren’t an army, they’re a military-like security force (albeit an extremely bad-ass one) put in place to safeguard the mining operation. Just like any normal security force they do not have the authority to possess or even use nuclear weapons or orbital cannons.
Avatar is a racist film about a white man desperately trying to lose his identity.
Why, why, why are people so stupid?? I’m so sick and tired of people trying to find any sort of excuse to cause a controversy. Yes the four main Na’vi are voiced by African-Americans and yes, the humans are voiced by Caucasians, but who gives a shit? The best-suited actors are chosen for specific roles, not because of race and as for Jake Sully trying to lose his identity, who the fuck comes up with such garbage, why not just watch the film and enjoy it for what it is? Jake goes through a transition as he gets pulled deeper and deeper into the Na’vi world eventually preferring their way of live over the destructive, industrialist human existence, which is an accurate representation of human beings and proof of that exists all around us.
To conclude, Avatar is a good, well-rounded film, I just feel that it isn’t the genre defining, cinematic messiah that everyone has said it is. If you’re watching it for the visuals you won’t be disappointed, as I stated before Avatar is a beautiful looking film. However, if you watch this film expecting some intricately constructed storyline with twists and turns you will be disappointed. Avatar is just a rehash of an older tale that we’ve all seen before and in my opinion the Wachowski brothers’ cyberpunk trilogy is still the greatest example of science-fiction cinema.