Every so often, a film comes along that defines a generation – the original Star Wars trilogy amazed audiences back in the 70’s/early 80’s, Peter Jackson brought the Lord of the Rings books to life in ways nobody thought possible at the time, and James Cameron has created the biggest movie in the history of cinema in the form of Avatar. At the time of writing, according to IMDB, the film, which had a budget of around $300 million, has made nearly $3 billion profit making it easily the highest grossing movie of all time (Titanic, also directed by Cameron, is in second place with $1.8 billion). Say what you will of his storytelling, but the man knows how to make a groundbreaking sci-fi action masterpiece. I have now seen it three times – at the IMAX in 3D, at a regular cinema also in 3D, and I went and got the blu-ray last week and have just watched it in the comfort of my living room.
Avatar is a non-stop visual feast of beautiful scenery, minutely detailed alien creatures and gigantic stomping machines. Every single shot has been painstakingly crafted, every camera angle carefully chosen (originally to make good use of the new 3D technology) and the entire film from a visual standpoint is never short of breathtaking. When I saw it at the IMAX, my mind could barely take it all in. There’s a lot to see all at once, and the giant screen was in fact almost too big for its own good. I enjoyed the film even more when I saw it at a ‘smaller’ cinema screen a few weeks later, as it was easier to pick out details, and the 3D effects weren’t quite so in-your-face, and everything was clearer. Now, having seen it on bluray in regular “2D”, I can honestly say it could be the best way to experience it – everything was crystal clear and easier to watch. Still, the film is due a re-release this summer at cinemas and if you missed it the first time around, I highly recommend it as its the one film that is truly worth seeing in this way.
I was never blown away by the story, however. It is a rather typical tale about a bloke who goes undercover to live amongst tribal natives, easily comparable to tribes-people of Africa, for example. He becomes ravelled up in their way of life, falls in love and becomes one of them, betraying the rest of the humans in the process. People compare it to Fern Gully, an animated film with a very similar plot from the early 90’s, but there was a distinct lack of giant robots and gunships in that particular tree-hugging movie. I actually like the overall message Avatar gives out – respecting nature, learning to live with people we consider ‘different’, but it’s all told in a very obvious and un-subtle way. It’s very predictable, but if that’s all you can complain about, I do believe you missed the point. Avatar was made to show off all this awesome new technology, and to give you something completely amazing to watch and in that regard it is an undeniable success.
There were so many animation studio’s who worked on this film, and each and every one of them deserves a giant victory cake. Avatar is chock full of near flawless motion capture and rotoscoping on the Na’vi, and arguably the most life-like creatures you’ll have seen this side of a nature documentary. Each one feels familiar, yet has some detail or other which makes them distinctly alien, such as the six-legged horse creatures the Na’vi ride, or their flying dragon pets. Each one is animated so naturally that they feel quite believable. The gunships and machinery the humans use will please any sci-fi fan, too: the iconic twin-rotor Scorpion gunships are a particular favourite, and the robot mech walkers are very cool, reminiscent of the APU’s, seen in The Matrix Revolutions.
Pandora is an awe-inspiring place. Lush jungles of enormous trees make for an excitingly claustrophobic setting when on the ground, and a gorgeous sea of greenery when flying above it. The highlight for me are the Hallelujah Mountains, naturally. Impossibly gigantic floating rocks, with great vines hanging down from their peaks and huge waterfalls flowing down into the sky – no other film has done CGI scenery this good. There’s a corny flight scene where Jake and Neytiri share a moment, soaring around said mountains, and you don’t mind one bit because everything looks so damn cool. When the inevitable battle begins, I did feel quite distraught for the Na’vi as we see their home getting utterly annihilated by bombs and fire.
Which leads me to the main villain of the movie: Colonel Miles Quaritch played by Stephen Lang. Most of the characters in Avatar are rather stereotypical, and so it’s not surprising we get a pretty bog-standard bad guy to go with them. But he does have some amusing lines, and is genuinely despicable in that love-to-hate kinda way. He starts off as a moody drill instructor and promises Jake his real legs back in exchange for key information about the natives’ home, so he can coordinate his attack in the most efficient way. He even muses how “humane” he’ll try to make it. Later, he has some cool badguy action moments and the inevitable confrontation with the heroes is both satisfying and fun.
Overall, Avatar is definitely worth seeing, and is without doubt the film of this generation. You’ve probably experienced this story before, but it’s paced very well and never feels like its dragging. I barely know anyone who hasn’t seen it (my Grandma simply refuses) but if you are one of those rare few who managed to avoid it, I strongly urge you to see it on the big screen when it is re-released some time this summer. It’s big, loud, exciting, dumb, action-packed, utterly gorgeous, predictable, slightly cheesey and completely mind-blowingly beautiful.