Friday, December 11, 2009

Movie Review: AVATAR

Cameron’s AVATAR is a modern Star Wars

It took all of half a billion dollars to give birth to AVATAR, the brand new science fiction franchise. Starring Terminator Salvation’s Sam Worthington and the Alien franchises Sigourney Weaver, AVATAR is a brave, intelligent, invigorating, altruistic and utterly beautiful spectacle. And like all the best franchises we’ve ever seen, it’s an original fairy tale. – by Nick van der leek

Jake Sully: Everything is backwards now, like out there is the true world and in here is the dream

One of the thoughts that might occur to you while you are watching AVATAR, is that for all its other worldliness, all its militarism, there’s a childlike quality to Cameron’s vision which we last saw a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. We see this in the floating mountains, in the enormous tree, and in the magical quality of the forest. I’m not going to describe it beyond saying the forests of Pandora light up like a coral reef at night.

There’s a nod of the cap to Dances with Wolves, there’s a sense of Hiawatha and Geronimo, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. There’s also a sense of the mythical knights versus the dragons. But not quite, AVATAR is its own story. You might think there is a flaw in the fact that since Jake Sully [Sam Worthington] is essentially having an out of body experience [cue the Matrix] that if he dies, as a Na’vi, well, does it matter? Well how would you feel crashing your car? Same thing. Especially if you’re a cripple, as Jake is.

You may anticipate a few plot points in this film; this won’t detract from the shock and awe you feel. I was moved to tears at times. This is the right flick, at the right time, for the world. When I emerged out of the cinema I was shaking. I said to Barry Ronge; “Do you think it was intentionally released to coincide with this Climate Conference?” In that question lies a hint that The Corporation in AVATAR are intent only in stripping the forest of what they can. The extent to which audiences will respond to AVATAR depends on whether they’re subliminally environmentalists, capitalists or militarists. I have a feeling the collective zeitgeist has been yearning to give vent to, well, its perceived guilt. See, while nuclear bombs may be the fault of scientists, the environment is the responsibility of the broader public, and that guilt is real. But the question that arises then is, how do we fight back? The answer is simply this: through AVATAR.

Col. Quaritch: [from trailer] You haven't got lost in the woods, have you? You still remember what team you're playing for?

I don’t want to ruin the flick by discussing it’s innards, so I’m going to go on two sidetracks before I wrap up. First sidetrack – why it cost $500 million, and what sort of engineering tech does Cameron bring to AVATAR. Second sidetrack, some of the performances that made an impression.

Guess where the powerhouse for digital effects for AVATAR comes from? New Zealand. Yes. From Peter Jackson’s own WETA Digital, an Academy Award winning visual effects company responsible for the likes of Gollum. What WETA does is build an AVATAR that is visually relevant to its human counterparts/ features; these being primarily Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver. WETA describe the avatars and Na’vi as animated, Jim Cameron reckons the characters are performances by actors. Both is true. Animation embellished with the movements of tails and ears.

And it’s at this point that one must reference the hard-to-describe quality that this flick evokes, which is that freedom in childhood many of us last felt, running around in nature, fearless, completely at home in an ever expanding world, and growing stronger and better for every moment spent exploring. This is an implicit fairy-tale quality that can’t be over emphasised. Some might gripe that there is no plot when falling through a tree canopy; but Cameron knows what he is doing, he knows how to fit the pieces together and how to pace the film and keep the parts relevant to each other. So, I’m happy to report that the $500 million wasn’t a wasted effort.

[To the group of soldiers on the ship to Pandora]
Trudy Chacon [chopper pilot]: You should see your faces!

Cameron is an engineer and you can see the same loaders you last saw in ALIENS here, except they’re 8th generation, bigger and bad ass. The shuttles are choppers, the weapons, the consoles, all tech is rendered beautifully by a man who understands machines. Well, what about the performances by the actual humans? Sam Worthington is perfect for his role as tough hombre with a few brain cells hanging loose between a thick Neanderthal skull. Opposite Sam is Zoe Saldana, the beautiful and athletic Neytiri, with Sigourney Weaver, in fine form, as the heroic scientist, Grace.

Stephen Lang plays the loathsome Colonel Miles Quaritch [a name that evokes ‘miles of quarries’] and Giovanni Ribisi [remember him as the geeky boyfriend in Lost in Translation] plays the despicable Company Man - Parker Selfridge [his last name sounds like ‘selfish’ doesn’t it?]. I think at least one more performace is worth noting, the latino chopper pilot played by a spunky Michelle Rodriguez.

Selfridge: [from trailer] This is why we're here, because this little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo.

Before I wrap, a final warning: AVATAR is long, not that it feels long, but at 2 hours 3 minutes make sure you visit the little boys or little girls room before the flick starts – you’re not going to want to deprive yourself of a second.

I’m sure we will see AVATAR II and III and more. In the mean time hats off to James Cameron for taking another giant leap in cinema even after the roaring success
of TITANIC. The AVATAR franchise is likely to live happily ever after. Now let’s hope it also rubs off in our world, and the real world.

Score: A very rare 10/10
Running Time: 150 minutes

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