Film Review with Robert Mann – Avatar

Avatar 3D *****
Avatar 2D *****

Hype – it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot these days and this year alone many films have claimed to be the most hyped up or eagerly anticipated film of the year. However, it is almost indisputable that the film that really can claim that title is Avatar. More than twelve years and (if rumours are to be believed) as much as $500 million in the making, this film sees legendary movie director James Cameron returning to the big screen for the first time since 1997’s mega smash hit Titanic (which is still the most successful movie of all time), the only things he has done in the mean time being a couple of IMAX 3D documentaries and TV series Dark Angel. Having directed such great films as the aforementioned Titanic, the first two Terminator movies’ and Aliens among others, Cameron is a director who has always been on the cutting edge of advances in filmmaking technology and virtually everything he has done in his illustrious career thus far has furthered the filmmaking industry as a whole. For some time the buzz has been that Avatar will achieve this once again, with the new 3D camera Cameron developed himself specifically for this film already being sought after by the elite of Hollywood’s film directors, and the film supposedly delivering the most revolutionary CGI and 3D effects ever seen. However, the momentum for the film hit a slight stumbling block when the first footage was released, some claiming the effects to be too artificial looking and far from the revolutionary content that has been promised. Nonetheless, the film has still become one of the must see events of 2009 and reviews thus far have been stellar. So, the big question is does Avatar live up to its hype – something that is, frankly, quite hard to do given how hyped up it actually is – and will it revolutionise cinema in the way Cameron has envisioned or does it disappoint, just another sci-fi action blockbuster that will be quickly forgotten? Well, it’s James Cameron we’re talking about here so it’s the former of course. Avatar is probably one of the most amazing things you will ever have seen on the big screen.

It is the year 2154 and Earth is a dying world. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic ex-marine who is dispatched to the distant jungle world of Pandora where a sinister corporation, run by corporate boss Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), is mining a rare and extremely valuable mineral called Unobtanium. However, the native Na’Vi, a humanoid race who claim Pandora as their home, both physically and spiritually, are none too happy about the damage the humans are causing to their world. So, under the leadership of Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the Avatar Programme has been created to negotiate with the Na’Vi, the Avatars being genetically engineered beings made up of both human and Na’Vi DNA. However, while sharing similar appearance, the Avatars are not trusted by the tribe and the situation is rapidly deteriorating. Thus, Jake, the newest member of the Avatar Programme, is recruited by the gung-ho Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to get on the inside of the Na’Vi tribe and obtain intelligence that will be used against them. Initially, Jake is focused on his mission but everything changes when he encounters Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a member of the Na’Vi tribe who believes there is something special about him. As he is brought into the tribe and begins to learn their ways, Jake finds himself falling in love not only with Neytiri but also the tribe and the entire world. Meanwhile, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand. Enlisting the help of the increasingly embittered Dr Augustine, along with fellow Avatar participant Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore) and pilot Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez), Jake brings together all the tribes of Pandora for an epic battle for the fate of the world once and for all.

Avatar is a film that has a lot of expectation to live up to, with the buzz essentially promising the most spectacular viewing experience ever seen. Whether or not the film can claim this title will be a matter of individual opinion but whatever your view you will have to admit that the film certainly does come extremely close. Whether you see the 2D version or the 3D version you will be treated to some incredibly photo realistic CGI, which has been used to create an entire planetary ecosystem for Pandora, in which every last detail, down to tiny plants and leaves, has been independently created. Pandora is a true beauty to behold, a jewel of a planet that is breathtaking in scope and spectacle, everything from the plants that glow fluorescently at night to the mountains that float way up in the sky being a truly impressive sight. And, as if the planet itself wasn’t impressive enough, Cameron also delivers some truly spectacular effects in the rendering of the planet’s life forms. Pandora is host to a whole array of unique alien life forms and each is rendered with impressive spectacle but none more than the Na’Vi tribe themselves. Brought to life using motion capture animation technology much like that used in the recently released A Christmas Carol, the Na’Vi (as well as the Avatars) seem completely real and it isn’t just their movements that are true to life. A major criticism that has been levelled at Robert Zemeckis’ recent motion capture films is that the CG characters lacked emotion but the same cannot be said for the characters here. Of course, it probably helps that they are aliens rather humans but the Na’Vi (and, again, Avatars) really do show emotion, and completely believably too. We really do feel for the Na’Vi characters as they find themselves in a fight for their very survival and believe in the growing bond between Jake and Neytiri, and this is a testament to both the impressive capturing of emotions in the characters and the terrific performances from the film’s cast – more on that later. Also, the Avatars look remarkably like their human counterparts, another way in which the effects impress. The film is also visually spectacular in other aspects too. The machines used by the human aggressors look suitably cool and destructive and take part in the film’s climactic battle sequence, which is truly epic, thrilling and completely awe-inspiring. The destruction of Pandora by these machines is also spectacular but in a different way, one that is quite tragic and that we are really encouraged to care about. While not a purely action based movie the action sequences all deliver lots of thrills, ensuring that the film delivers as much in the action department as it does in its representations of Pandora and the love story at its core. The film impresses whether you see the 2D or the 3D version but to get the full impact you really have to see it in three dimensions. It is like the difference between watching a recording of an event and actually being there as it is happening. The 3D is probably the most impressive ever, not once used as a gimmick, but rather as a window into another world and the means to create a fully immersive viewing experience. If you really pay attention you may notice that even little details such as buttons on consoles are in 3D – this is just how much attention has been put into the 3D here. It is like going on a journey through the jungles of Pandora for yourself and actually being a part of the epic events that unfold. The effect is really too impressive to properly put into words so I will describe it in just one – AMAZING. As this is a James Cameron movie though, impressive visuals alone wouldn’t cut it. The film has to have a heart and it most definitely does. We aren’t just awed by the effects but we actually care about what is going on. The story (written by Cameron himself, naturally), with important plot elements told to us in voiceover narration by Jake, is a fantastic piece of writing that effectively blends together both a love story and a sci-fi action adventure in much the same way that Cameron mixed romance and disaster in Titanic, and the dialogue is also up to scratch, not a single line letting the whole down, and an entire language having being created for the Na’Vi. The characters are all superbly written and brought to life by fantastic performances from the entire cast. Sam Worthington, who won much acclaim for his performance in this year’s Terminator Salvation, once again impresses, fully capturing the emotion of a man who finds his entire existence turned on its head as he falls in love with the very planet he is supposed to be helping destroy. His chemistry with co-star Zoe Saldana is electric, and she also impresses as the tough but also gentle woman who win’s the protagonist’s heart. Other tough girl roles come in the form of Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez. As for the other major players, Stephen Lang is a full-on bad ass bad guy as the near psychotic central antagonist and Giovanni Ribisi convinces as the ignorant corporate boss who just watches everything from a distance, refusing to forge any emotional connection to what is going on, his only goal being to make money (just like any real corporate boss, really). So, overall, even with such a ridiculous level of anticipation, Avatar does somehow live up to its hype. Even at a bum numbing 2 hours 45 minutes in length, it never ceases to be interesting, exciting or enjoyable and it shows that James Cameron really has lost none of his ability to wow audiences. In fact, if this really is the future of cinema as many have suggested it to be, and I genuinely believe that it may be, then bring on the future because it is looking quite spectacular.


Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)

© BRWC 2010.

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Alton loves film. He is founder and Editor In Chief of BRWC.  Some of the films he loves are Rear Window, Superman 2, The Man With The Two Brains, Clockwise, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Trading Places, Stir Crazy and Punch-Drunk Love.



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