Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver
Running Time: 162 Minutes
James Cameron knows how to pick a fight. Ripley rendered men useless by fighting off Aliens, The Terminator shut down his own upgrade and Titanic took vengeance on the history books.
It’s no surprise then that his new film, the highly anticipated Avatar, takes on the world and wins…but not by knockout.
Cameron took twelve years to develop Avatar, allowing technology to catch up with his vision. In doing so the director has made his most personal film to date: this is his anti-war, eco-warrior statement.
Avatar is set on Pandora, a lush, mineral rich moon inhabited by the blue-skinned indigenous Na’vi civilisation. The year is 2154 and a mining company has begun excavating Pandora for its valuable ore. Valuable both commercially, it sells for tens of millions of dollars per tonne, and for the survival of an energy-depleted Earth. To improve relations between humans and the Na’vi, avatars are created so that humans can take the form of the tribe and survive in Pandora’s environment.
Cente to the film is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine sent to Pandora to replace his deceased scientist brother. He is transported into anavatar and, given his military background, becomes a body guard to head scientist Grace Augustine (a typically great Sigourney Weaver). When Jake becomes lost in Pandora’s jungle he is saved from native beasts by Neytiri, a Na’vi from the ruling family. She takes him in against her initial judgement only for Sam to eventually fall for her and Pandora. It’s then that Jake goes native, siding with the Na’vi, and disregarding a mission of infiltration given to him by the brutish Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang). In doing so Jake sacrifices a promise of new legs.
Much of the talk in the run up to Avatar’s release focused on the 3D technology Cameron mooted as being the future of cinema and the gamble has paid off. To see this film in 3D is an experience unlike anything else. It’s exactly how one imagines audience’s felt when they first saw 2001, Star Wars or Blade Runner: other sci-fi classics. As a result Avatar is a beautiful film, that’s undeniable. But Cameron has polished the films shortcomings with guaranteed crowd pleasers. Some of the sequences are nothing short of spectacular; it’s easy to see where that $300m budget went
The plot is, ironically, very 2D. Essentially this is a love story on a broad canvas (sound familiar?) that never steers to far away from the expected. Unlike the effects, the characters of Avatar are conventional too. There’s the unlikely hero, military mad-man, beautiful native and even a jealous team mate.
The same can be said for the films themes. They’re all there, from a Shakespearean forbidden love down to bastard bosses.
Cameron does however give food for thought. Avatar is an enormous advert for the team Green. The director who has previously been hell-bent on blowing up a planet, now wants to save one, and seems to say that ravaging a planet is not the way to save one. The film also carries an anti-war message. “Shock and awe” tactics don’t work here and it’s hard to see this as anything other than a two-fingers to the previous administration.
Avatar is a visually stunning cinematic experience and one that serves best when your brain is switched off. Cameron has created something beyond a vanity project and something that could genuinely challenge the way producers make films. But the next time Cameron picks a fight hopefully the result has the brains to match the beauty and brawn.
Does it deserve its place in the Big 10? For ambition and graphical power, it most certainly is but you can’t help but think that, if it was not for the lack of story and themes, the reception would be more welcoming.
By Lewis Dean