Saturday, March 27, 2010
Avatar; science-fiction, USA, 2009; D: James Cameron, S: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Wes Studi, Giovanni Ribisi, Michelle Rodriguez
In the future, Jake Sully, a marine veteran in a wheelchair, accepts the offer to go to the moon Pandora to replace his late twin brother who was a member in a special scientific program where his mind could be temporarily placed in the body of an artificially created Na’vi, a race of native humanoid, blue aliens who are 10 foot tall. The goal of a mining company is to get a hold of the valuable resource, Unobtanium, which is found under the Na’vi sacred trees, which is why Jake is sent there to try and humanly “evacuate” them from there. He falls in love with the local Neytiri. When the Na’vi refuse to leave, a fierce battle beings where Jake joins the natives and defeats the technologically superior military led by Colonel Quaritch. Jake in the end stays on Pandora in the Na’vi body.
A surprise hit and an unusual comeback for director James Cameron after a 12 year pause from his last film “Titanic” which set up the expectations so high that nobody wanted to envy his next move, “Avatar” is a competent science-fiction film with noble eco-pacifist messages and a wonderful story – except that that story was already told in “Dances with Wolves” in exceptional manner, with real, honest characters and emotions from start to finish. “Avatar” tried to recycle that story in the science-fiction genre, but only managed to rehash old stereotypes. Except for being part “Wolves”, the movie is also basically “Second Life” video game, except that the main character doesn’t enter his new body in a video game but as an alien – through it, “Avatar” gains some plus points revolving around the hero Jake who gets so fascinated with that ‘fake’ existence that he even starts regarding it as his real one, and his ‘fake’ homeland as his real one. The CGI special effects and the opulent world of Pandora are nice, but are there really that engaging? Anyone who was ever in a national park will know that Earth’s nature is as miraculous, if not even more miraculous than the nature of Pandora.
Bombastic and pompous at first, “Avatar” is slightly ordinary in conjuring up that world – one of the rare truly enchanting moments is the one where a floating, jellyfish like tiny creature gently descends on Neytiri’s arrow, causing her not to shoot Jake’s Na’vi, but alas, the movie needed more of such moments, and not just the standard sci-fi environment. Actually, Jake’s interaction with the Na’vi is in the first third so bland that one might even think that it’s just one huge trailer for the promotion of the 3D-motion capture technology. The only point where the viewers stop asking themselves “who, why and what is this?”, forget everything and just clearly focus and get glued to the screen is the brilliant action finale, a delight that has universal appeal – almost everyone will cheer for the Na’vi insurgency fighting against the technologically superior people trying to destroy their forest. Even dead CGI creatures will cause honest emotional charge there. Genius Stephen Lang makes the movie as the bad guy Quaritch, the scene where the giant rhinoceros like horde of creatures charge and simply level the army in their giant robot suits is virtuoso directed whereas Cameron also inserted some clever and logical ideas there, like when the 10-foot tall Na’vi enters a fighter aircraft and single-handedly attacks the “puny” human soldiers in it. Some would cynically say that the climax tickles only the military side of the viewers’ brain, but it really is amazing. Still, the great last 50 minutes of the film cannot fully compensate for the bland first 100.