It’s been twelve years since Titanic, and fans of James Cameron, myself included, have long awaited Avatar. Like many others around the country, I stayed awake until 12:01am to catch the first glimpse of this film at the earliest possible moment. Without a doubt I can say that the twelve-year wait was worth it – Avatar is one of the most impressive films of the last decade.
Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington), a marine who is wheel chair bound due to a spinal injury. Although in this futuristic time period spinal injuries can be reversed, Sully cannot afford the procedure – one of the many subtle parallels the movie makes to our modern world. Instead, he enlists for service on the planet Pandora, a Rain Forest-like world where the native humanoids, known as the Na’vi (a race of blue creatures roughly twice the size of man), co-exist peacefully with the plant and animal life on the planet.
Through a brief opening montage (possibly the weakest moment of the film), we learn that Sully’s twin brother, who recently passed away, was working on the Avatar project, helmed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). As the project name suggests, those in the program can send their consciousness into a Na’vi body – or Avatar. Dr. Augustine’s goal is to learn more about the Na’vi (who over the past years have learned English from school’s that Dr. Augustine has set up) thus improving diplomatic relations. However, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) want the Na’vi eliminated – or at the very least relocated. As it turn’s out, the Na’vi make their home on top of a very valuable mineral deposit. As Sully helps Dr. Augustine improve relations, he’s also passing military information back to the Colonel. Sully eventually earns the trust of the Na’vi tribe and falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a native. When the military uses force to remove the Na’vi, Sully switches sides to help them fight back.
That is the basic setup for Avatar. While the film plays out in a somewhat predictable fashion, it’s never boring and moves along at a brisk pace. In fact, the second half of Avatar features some of the most stunning action sequences I have ever seen. As many know, I hold action films to a high standard, and Avatar lives up to every bit of it. Never do the action sequences feel too long or too short, and even more importantly, never are they so quickly cut that we have no sense of what is going on. Cameron lets us see everything play out – and the result is breathtaking.
Yet, the most stunning aspect of the film is that of the planet Pandora itself. James Cameron has created an entirely new living and breathing world. It’s colorful and in many ways over-the-top, but not once does it ever feel phony or fake. The animals and plants that inhabit Pandora fit in both seamlessly and beautifully. The Na’vi interact with their surroundings in a fluid motion – everything felt natural and believable. Little things, like the way the Na’vi put themselves in tune with the plants and animals of Pandora, are wonderfully done and feel natural. More than once I sat in awe of this world – Avatar is by far one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen.
Even more importantly, the story flows just as fluidly, and this is due, in no short part, to the actors. Sam Worthington is convincing as Sully, and his relationship with Neytiri works on many levels. Stephen Lang, creates one of the best villains we’ve had in a while, and even those in supporting roles (such as pilot Trudy Chacon, played by Michelle Rodriguez) are strong. By the end of the film we feel for these characters; we believe in their redemption – not an easy feet given the other-worldly aspects of the film.
One of the things I appreciated most was how Avatar tackled modern issues, but never found itself preaching. There were obvious references and parallels to our own present and past. The Na’vi, for example, are very much like Native Americans, and the humans can’t quite understand why the Na’vi are against their human ways and traditions being forced upon them. References to the environment and pollution are also briefly touched upon – but it’s always subtle, and it always fits in with the rest of the film.
Finally, I should mention that I saw the film in 3-D. I have to say that even though this was one of the best uses of 3-D, I’m still torn on the concept. I liked how unobtrusive the 3-D was – here it was used to enhance the film, rather than be the front and center star. Still, the use of the 3-D glasses softens the image and drains some of the color from the film – and Avatar is a very colorful film. I do recommend seeing it in 3-D, but I look forward to watching it again in 2-D, as well.
At its heart, much like many of Cameron’s past films, Avatar is a love story. Also, as in the past, Cameron has delivered a vast new world that we could only dream of (perhaps that is why the Na’vi refer to the Avatars as Dreamwalkers). And, most importantly, like his previous films, Avatar is every bit as fun. James Cameron has once again delivered by going above and beyond what we have come to expect from the movies. While Avatar may not be his best film, it’s certainly up there, and deserves each of the ten stars it’s receiving from this writer.