“Avatar” restores the promise of technology and timeless craft
He did it. Writer-director James Cameron, last seen by the masses proclaiming himself “King of the World” while collecting all those Oscars nearly a dozen years ago for his sinking ship, record-busting epic has actually exceeded the hype.
Expectations were otherworldly for his new film, “Avatar,” a 3D extravaganza that many thought would change filmmaking forever. And guess what? While Cameron may not supplant George Lucas’ seminal work in the “Star Wars” series, “Avatar’s” stunning vision, technical achievements and storytelling demand at least a discussion in the debate about the greatest films of the past 50 years.
Cameron gets bonus points for originality since his story is not based on previously existing source material, and he had to create new and exciting characters, civilizations, and languages, all set in the future. His “performance capture” 3D technology had to impress and immerse a somewhat cynical public overdosed on inconsistent CGI animation. “Avatar” is everything you want in a movie: action, emotion, magic and drama with a breathtaking technology that is used so seamlessly that a few minutes into the film you forget you’re wearing those funky glasses.
Sam Worthington stars as the crippled ex-marine Jake Sully, who is asked to substitute for his brother in a strip-mining operation on the planet Pandora in the year 2154. He and his matching DNA are needed to inhabit an “Avatar,” a duplicate of the bluish, 10-foot- tall “Na’vi” humanoids who are indigenous to the planet. Earlier attempts to foster friendships with the Na’vi, led by scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) have faltered, and since the population lives atop a rare mineral, an industrial-complex corporation must flex its militaristic muscle. When Sully’s avatar is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he becomes embedded in the Na’vi culture and eventually comes to appreciate their environmentally mystical way of life (a la “Dances with Wolves” and “The Last Samurai”).
This could all seem corny and campy if not for Cameron and his team of terrific animators, who create a breathtaking world of lush, luminous forests and menacing dinosaur-influenced monsters and mesh them, almost imperceptibly, with their human counterparts. The 3D here is never gimmicky and the action sequences are-at least until the film’s final confrontation-used mainly to underscore, not dominate, the film’s primary arc of an inter-species attraction and the age-old battle of commerce versus conscience. The bad guys are led by a bureaucratic bully (Giovanni Ribisi) and a hawk-hearted and hell-bent Colonel (a particularly convincing Stephen Lang).
Surprisingly, the nearly three-hour length is not a major concern here, nor is the familiar thematic territory that is prone to eye-rolling platitudes. Arguments over imperfections seem like nit-picking in a film as impressive as “Avatar.”
In an era where the joy of the moviegoing experience feels sucked out by soulless marketing machines, desensitizing shock pieces, and overrated indie-art imposters, “Avatar” rebirths the old fashioned action/epic. Somehow, those long ago galaxies of 1977 don’t seem so far away anymore.
Rated PG-13 (Violence, Nudity)