Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Avatar: A Review

Well, I jumped on the bandwagon and recently added a few more dollars to the box office totals of the rolling juggernaut that is James Cameron's Avatar. I went into the film cautiously optimistic; I'm not completely sold on 3D right now, as most films use it purely as a gimmick and it can be jarring and distracting to the viewing experience.

What can I say about this film? Well, I will start out by confirming what a lot of people have already said. The story is rather predictable. If you go into it expecting "Dances With Wolves" on an alien planet, then you won't be disappointed. Some of the characters are a little two-dimensional, there purely to solve the plot; the villain is the best example of this. I would have appreciated a little more depth to his character.

All of that said, I must say something else: it is spectacular. I sat in my chair for three hours, eyes glued to the screen, unable to look away even long enough to grab my drink. I rose stiff as the credits rolled and realized I had barely moved or shifted the entire time. I simply could not look away. The CGI is like nothing that has ever been seen before: the people, the ships, the creatures, the plant life, all of it is rendered so perfectly and lovingly, down to the last oil stain, pollen spore and eyelash, that you truly find yourself forgetting that what you're seeing isn't real. There were moments when I felt tears well up at the utter beauty of a particular shot, as though I had just walked into a perfectly silent church with light dappling through stained glass windows. Strengthening this sense of wonder throughout the film, there is a message of connection to the earth; each of the creatures is joined to every other in symbiotic harmonies, from the trees to the grass to the flying creatures and the native bipedal Na'Vi. It was a message I appreciated very much.

And, though several characters are rather two-dimensional, I have to say a few words about the two leads. I have loved Zoe Saldana since I first saw her in Center Stage several years ago, and her Uhura was one of my favorite parts of last year's Star Trek. But, her Neytiri surpasses the work I've seen her do previously. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to act through a motion-capture suit, knowing your final performance will have to shine through a completely computer-generated character. She managed to not just make Neytiri memorable but believable; strong but vulnerable, tough and soft at once.

And, Sam Worthington as Jake Sully brought the same humanity to both incarnations of his character, a feat in and of itself. It would have been easy to have two different portrayals, the human Jake and the Na'Vi one, but he was always perfectly recognizable as himself, even in his alien guise. I recently saw Terminator: Salvation; not a great film, but I can honestly say that he was one of the best things in it, and he is one of the best things in this film too.

A lot of people have derided this film as nothing more than a Native American-Meets-White Man film, and it is certainly an allegory for the conquest of the natural world that took place in this country not 150 years ago. But to dismiss Avatar as nothing more than a Native American revenge piece takes away from the truly unique and fantastic experience of seeing it. I have never come away from a film and said, "I don't think anyone will be able to top that anytime in the near future." I am pretty jaded when it comes to films, and most of what you see these days is a copy of something else, something someone came up with years earlier and someone else decided to reproduce to make as much money as they could. This experience was new, and I was pretty awed by it.

Cameron knows how to create action sequences too, and the fact that the last 45 minutes is one long batttle bothered me not at all. The characters had earned that battle, they needed to fight it, and the resolution was deeply satisfying and pretty darn beautiful.

I cannot find much fault with Avatar, finally. It is true that I have seen such stories before, but I have never seen them like this. I would spend another $10 to see this again on the big screen, and for me, that's saying something. I highly recommend it.


Christyrenee said...

I saw Avatar in 3D a couple weeks ago and like you, could not tear my eyes away from the screen! I absolutely LOVED it despite it's predictable storyline!! I fell in love with the Na'Vi and relished every moment they showed a peak into their world. I am a Zoe Saldana fan as well and Neytiri was my fav character in the film. Def a must see!!

Kimba said...

Paul also thought it was spectacular...with the same commentary on the "Dances with Wolves" storyline predictability. It still does nothing to intice me to see it, but that's just me (the "not a fan of scifi" friend. I get to the cinema SO rarely, I'll spend the money on Sherlock Holmes instead.