James Cameron only makes a movie every 10 or so years. But every time he does, he seems to rewrite the rules of filmmaking. With “Avatar,” James Cameron not only rewrote the rules, but opened a whole new book.
“Avatar” is one of those films that’s not just a film, but a vision beyond anyone’s wildest dreams; it’s daring in ways one couldn’t even imagine.
Cameron’s strange yet fascinating sci-fi epic takes a few steps to break down, it’s a premise that mixes contemporary society with ancient faiths. “Avatar” takes place around the year 2154. At this point, the earth has been totally ravished by humans (and, not mentioned in the movie, run out of oil), so the human race heads toward a distant moon called Pandora. Pandora contains a race of creatures called the Na’vi, a tall, blue species with a cat-like face and human tendencies. More important to humans, the moon also contains a valuable, energy-rich rock called Unobtanium. In order to get the Unobtanium, humans infiltrate and then hope to destroy the Na’vi by slipping into their bodies in Na’vi form. These bodies are called Avatars.
War veteran Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), paralyzed from the waist down, takes his brother’s place on Pandora after he dies. He is sent to become part of the Na’vi, but in the process, he becomes a powerful member of the tribe, and falls in love with a Na’vi woman (Zoe Saldana).
In some ways, in different hands “Avatar” could have been a disaster, or maybe just an action film like any other action film ever made. But in the hands of a man with a real vision, “Avatar” is something totally different. “Avatar” is shot with a new form of Motion Capture technology that Cameron himself invented. This form looks stunningly real, from the monsters that live on Pandora, to the Na’vi themselves. While some forms of Motion Capture come out as uncannily unrealistic, there is something about the Na’vi that is incredibly human.
The film is shown in 3-D, a usually wasteful tool to add to feature length films. It is something I usually associate with the Muppet ride at Disney World. When used in most films, the only thing it is used for is to shoot raindrops or bullets out at the audience. “Avatar,” however, uses its 3-D to make its images more stunning. It seems like more of a way to put the viewer into the film than create some means of shock value. While I hope 3-D doesn’t become a regular feature in filmmaking, if it is used for this purpose alone, then I really wouldn’t mind.
The storyline of “Avatar” has many elements derived from both contemporary issues and religions. This helps turn the film into a pretty effective parable of human nature in both the past and the present. For example, Avatar comes from the Hindu faith and is the manifestation of a deity from heaven to earth. That makes sense, as Avatars are humans in Na’vi form. Also, the entire film itself seems based off the Hindu belief of reincarnation, as the wheel-chaired Jake wants so desperately to be reborn into something else.
The film also seems to take on the totally unrelated ideology of Shinto, in which it is thought that people have a spiritual connection with the natural world, a connection the Na’vi share with their own planet.
When looking at “Avatar” from a contemporary perspective, one could quite obviously point out that it is a highly critical look at man’s depletion of his own home. Some might even try and politicize the film for this reason, though politics should be left out of it.
Looking deeper into the film, one could see that it is about the horrors of imperialism. The war between the humans and the Na’vi often mirrors the destruction of the Native Americans of the United States or the Aztecs in Central America. It is also about the human instinct to act as pillagers: destroying one land, and then moving on to the next.
Moving beyond the themes, the greatest part about “Avatar” is its incredible CGI. Pandora becomes a planet that seems almost tangible. Every aspect of it, from the animals to the plants to the water, is something that could never have been thought of by anyone. In this light, one could almost say “Avatar” is the “Star Wars” of this generation that we’ve all been waiting for.
Alas, “Avatar” doesn’t go without its minor flaws. At times, some of the dialogue is a little clunky. Also, the basic storyline is one that has been done before in one way or another. However, the context it is put into is totally original.
Quite simply “Avatar” is such a great filmgoing experience because its audacious, and its exciting. The end battle sequence is one that could rival the ones from “The Return of the King” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
The very first line of “Avatar” is, “You’re not in Kansas anymore!” This shows that in “Avatar,” you’re being swept out of your comfort zone and being taken to a place beyond the imagination. It could also be nothing less than a shout out to “The Wizard of Oz,” a film that led the way to a new dimension of filmmaking with its bold use of color. Cameron is the kind of filmmaker with the vision to accomplish this.
Cameron always manages to defy our expectations. People doubted him before “Titanic” came out and they did the same with “Avatar.” Both times he totally changed the game. As Pandora was the beginning of a new frontier for humans, “Avatar” is the beginning of a new frontier for filmmakers worldwide.
Note: Earlier, I accidentally wrote that Pandora was a planet, when it is in fact, a moon. We all make mistakes sometimes, and for this one, I apologize. Thanks to Cameron Bruce for catching this mistake.