January 2, 2010

Shocked and Awed

Like Titanic, I was afraid Avatar wouldn't live up to the hype, and wanted to wait to see it until the hoopla died down. But New Year's Day is always a good time to catch a movie.

James Cameron's latest film takes place in the future, when the earth's dwindling resources forces humans to go to the planet Pandora to mine a substance called---ehem---Unobtanium.The problem with the mission of course, is that like in most worlds, there's already inhabitants there. In this case, a blue cat-like race called the Na'vi. Our hero is Jake Sully (Terminator Salvation's Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-Marine who takes the place of his dead twin brother in the Avatar program. Pacifist scientist Dr.Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) wants to achieve their goals through diplomacy by creating humanoid creatures for assimilation. The military, led by cartoonishly evil Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) and the vile corporation (as represented by Giovanni Ribisi's Parker Selfridge), of course, want to do it by force. Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez, in a role she can play in her sleep) is the pilot with a conscience.

The story is predictable: Jake gets accepted into the community, falls in love with one of the natives, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and becomes involved in an epic battle to save Pandora. A couple of minutes into the film, I thought it was just another mind-blowingly-expensive exercise in technological one-upmanship. The main themes were imperialist endeavors (there's a lot of Bushisms), genocide and a cautionary tale about man's destruction of nature, so why couldn't the story be told with ordinary actors? Think Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, even The Lord of the Rings. But once Sully was in this magnificent landscape, I was completely immersed and the flaws of the script didn't matter anymore. Perhaps the CGI/special effects were necessary. I was more invested in the plight of the aliens and their impossibly beautiful world. The hype is true: the visuals are astounding. The Na'vi are so expressive and human-like, their world dream-like. The lush forests teem with exotic creatures and the colors are eye-popping. (By the way, 2D was perfectly fine. 3D might have induced a headache.)

For the record, I still don't know how the humans are able to control their avatars. And how come the oxygen masks weren't always necessary? There's cheesy dialogue thrown in for good measure. "I see you. No, I SEE YOU." Really? But given James Cameron's faults as a writer, I was shocked at how much I liked the movie. But I am totally awed by his achievements as an innovative filmmaker.

(photo from Moviesonline.ca)


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