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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Avatar - Theater (3-D)

AndyO's review: * * * *

Metacritic: 84/100 (universal acclaim)

Avatar brings us into a world that we've never seen before. Many films have gotten close, but it was only after seeing Avatar in 3-D that I felt like I'd actually visited an alien world. Much of this was achieved by the subtle use of 3-D, and in the hands of director James Cameron, 3-D becomes truly immersive.

The story of Avatar centers on a paraplegic Marine, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who goes to Pandora as an "avatar driver." He's taking over for his twin brother who died, and because Jake shares his DNA he's able to use the same avatar body. The avatars are grown in a tank, made up of both alien and human DNA. The avatar drivers are able to animate the alien body and operate in the Pandoran atmosphere, which is poisonous to humans. And with his avatar, Jake is able to walk again.

Jake and the other humans are there because Pandora contains a rare element that humans need to power Earth; but the native Na'vi don't like the intruders and are willing to defend their planet. Because of this, soldiers are there to protect the contractors from the Na'vi and all the other dangers. Jake Sully's first mission with his avatar is to protect scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who are collecting samples on Pandora. When Jake Sully gets left behind and attacked by creatures, he's saved by a Na'vi female named Neytiri. Instead of killing Jake, the Na'vi accept Jake into the tribe to teach him about their ways.

In many ways, Pandora is the star of this film. Cameron and his team of designers have created a world where everything is different than what we know. For example, when Jake first walks through the jungle with Neytiri, wherever he steps glows with bioluminescence. Jellyfish-like creatures float in the air. Another creature is a combination of a hammerhead shark and a rhinoceros. There are wonders on this world, like floating mountains and plants that contain the knowledge and memories of the Na'vi. In fact, the universe of Pandora is so detailed that one scientist has written a review of the Science of Avatar, giving Cameron and his crew high marks.

The story of Avatar is in many ways a retelling of the countless genocides that have occurred throughout history. But the one I kept thinking back to was the American Government's war with the Native Americans. We'd like to think that our future leaders wouldn't annihilate an indigenous people on another planet to get to something they want -- but, sadly, I think they would.

Many people have written that Avatar's story is a blatant rip-off of several other films, including Dances with Wolves or even the animated Disney film Pocahontas. This Thompson on Hollywood blog explores the many influences of Avatar, asking the question is Avatar derivative? Sure. But, as Thompson points out, most screenplays are derivative.

A college writing teacher of mine, Charles Johnson, used to tell us if you're able to bring one or two original ideas into a story, then you're doing really well. Avatar borrows from many other films and books -- but it's the combination of the stories that adds up to something original. George Lucas accomplished the same thing with Star Wars.

Like Star Wars, Avatar's special effects are groundbreaking. This is the first time that digital technology has reached a level of realism with human motion and performance. There have been other films that have attempted this with characters, from Jar-Jar from Star Wars Episode I to Gollum from Lord of the Rings to the The Polar Express. Avatar is the first to get all the elements right and combine this with 3-D technology.

Now that Avatar has been out for about a month, it's clear that the film has become a phenomenon around the world. Not only has it become the number one movie of 2009 in the United States, it's slowly closing in on the top all-time domestic box office gross. What's even more impressive is it's second only to Titanic in worldwide box office grosses.

Many people wanted James Cameron to fail with Avatar. I'm not sure why, but much of it seems to be centered on Titanic and all the Oscars it won -- and all the money it made. Cameron's one of those rare directors who has the tenacity and perseverance to make films on the scale of Titanic and Avatar. Say what you want about him, but the guy knows how to deliver epic films that are accepted worldwide. (I heard that most Iraqis think that Titanic is the greatest film ever made -- and the American forces have used this to find common ground.)

After I saw Avatar with my 9-year-old son, he had said something to the effect of, "I'm sad that it's over." I've seen in him the same reaction I had to Star Wars when I was a 10-year-old. I suspect for many children, Avatar is going to be their Star Wars.

Further reading:

Roger Ebert: Cameron is recrowned King of the World

Avatar: A Confidential Report on the Biological and Social History of Pandora (James Cameron's Avatar) -- If you want to learn more about the world of Avatar, this is a really interesting book. I got it for my son for Christmas, and he's been taking it to school to show his friends.

60 minutes story on James Cameron (video)

James Cameron's "scriptment" for Avatar -- This is the script treatment that Cameron wrote before the screenplay for Avatar. It begins like this:

Welcome to JOSH SULLY'S world.

It is a century from now, and the population of our tired planet has tripled. Finally, drowning in its own toxic waste, starvation and poverty, the population has topped out at a nice even 20 billion.

The Earth is dying, covered with a gray mold of human civilization. Even the moon is spiderwebbed with city lights on its dark side. Overpopulation, over- development, nuclear terrorism, environmental warfare tactics, radiation leakage from power plants and waste dumps, toxic waste, air pollution, deforestation, pollution and overfishing of the oceans, global warming, ozone depletion, loss of biodiversity through extinction... all of these have combined to make the once green and beautiful planet a terminal cess-pool.


posted by AndyO @ 12:27 PM   0 comments