“Avatar” has long been hyped as the next age of cinema and on many levels in terms of sheer mastery of the medium, it is. It blends some of the schmaltz of “Titanic” with some of the balls-out rendition of “Aliens”. Now while it might be too early to render its true appraisal since the gee whiz factor enters so much into the equation, the third act of the picture, which takes the essential element of the battle scenes and sheer bad ass intensity while still staying within the PG-13 realm, is quite impressive. The photo real propensity makes you almost forget that the blue skinned “avatars” are not real in real life. Their adherence through performance capture especially with Sigourney Weaver’s Grace is so spot on since the image of Weaver (specifically in Cameron’s “Aliens”) is so ingrained to people’s minds.
Another lipnus test that was on supreme importance was interactivity of characters. Even though the blue alien love scene is a bit overplayed, the physical intermingling (like kissing) which I found problematic in terms of the technology back in 99 with “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within” is corrected here. The format “Avatar” was seen, which most of the theaters cannot do, is 3D IMAX. The digital negative seems to have been shot for the format with a 70mm (like “Aliens”) which means the image should be barely cropped. The sense of scale especially with this movie is necessary so the angle is important. At one specific point when the natives are going up to meld with a bird (takes some explaining), the straight down shot can induce vertigo if you want it to. The battle sequences especially towards the end in the air are as great as anything Cameron has done or better.
In terms of the story on first glance, the aspect of the natives seems almost like pat storytelling but in further examination, despite the details, becomes very mythic. Like “Star Wars”, alot of the elements come from Tolkien which Cameron admits inspired him. Actually it was Peter Jackson’s work on Gollum speaking to himself in “Rings” that made Cameron believe that “Avatar” could finally be pulled off after all these years. The irony of course is there. However what “Avatar” reminds me of more in structure is Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. Like Paul Atreides, Jake (played here by Sam Worthington) is an outsider from another planet brought in to help secure a mineral resource. Here, in true vague fashion, this material is called “Unobtanium” whereas “Dune” had “The Spice”. Jake is run from his people (in Paul’s case, royalty – in Jake’s case – The Marines) and ends up embedding himself with the supposed savages (in “Dune”, they were the Fremen). With their care and guidance, Jake must learn their ways and eventually takes a mate (like Paul did with Chani in “Dune”).
In “Dune”, Paul must tame a massive worm and then transmute the dangerous Water Of Life. Jake must tame a wild bird and then transcend his Avatar. Very similar but everything is in reverse with certain elements. The planet here is green with life whereas Arrakis is barren. The Earth the military comes from in “Avatar” is one where everything in terms of living has been destroyed. It is a dying world.
Despite these close similarities, Cameron is a student of cinema. Most of his films have been franchise based. This is no different. You need a universal theme which this does deliver. Granted despite the bad ass elements, there seems to be a tree-hugger friendly message but that is the biggest criticism. You just expect Cameron to say “fuck it all” and take it into the fire. Messages seem to be following him as he grows older which might be his recent interest with documentaries and education.
All said “Avatar” is pretty amazing to watch. Not a perfect movie by far but with a wonder of elements going for it. In ambition definitely a good follow up from “Titanic” doing something original but presenting a marketing challenge at times which is understandable when creating a new world. Out of 5, I give it a 3 1/2.
As part of its “Coming 2010” Preview Package, Warner Bros. just provided IR with this shot inside Medusa’s lair from “Clash Of The Titans”, the big budget remake starring Sam Worthington (“Avatar”) as Perseus and directed by Louis Leterrier (“The Transporter”). THe film will be released March 26, 2010.