For years now – without having seen a single frame of footage – fanboys
across the globe have been drooling blindly over Avatar –
writer/director James Cameron’s first feature film since 1997′s
Titanic. When the film’s teaser trailer finally made it’s way online
earlier this year and the geeks were freaking out, I watched it asked,
“That’s what all the hype is about?” The teaser was so unimpressive
that I deemed it early on as “Jar-Jar Binks: The Movie,” failing to
live up to it’s expectations much like George Lucas’ Star Wars
prequels. But I made a mistake. I judged the Avatar book by it’s cover
– and I was wrong.
like early reviews are claiming – as well as a South Park episode
titled “Dances With Smurfs” – the story of Avatar is far from being
original. Yes, it’s almost the exact same story as Dances With Wolves –
only set on an alien planet called Pandora and aliens taking the place
of the Native Americans – but it’s the stylistic journey that Avatar
takes you on that will make it stand out.
(Terminator Salvation) plays the lead character in Avatar, Jake Sully –
a human soldier left paraplegic from battle wounds that’s recruited to
fill in for his deceased twin brother in the special Avatar project on
the rain forest planet of Pandora. Because their DNA is identical, Jake
can plug his mind into and control his dead brother’s artificially
created Na’vi body – nearly identical to those of the Pandora’s native
people (who are a spiritual and primitive people much like the Native
Americans in Dances With Wolves). Jake especially enjoys plugging into
his new body – or “avatar” – because he once again has the ability to
use functional legs.
Jake’s mission on Pandora is to gain the
trust of the Na’vi people and convince them to relocate their tribe so
that the corporation he’s working for can excavate the largest amount
of an extremely profitable precious metal found below their home – a
substance poorly titled “unobtainium.” Upon completing his mission, the
corporation will cover the expensive cost to have Jake’s spine
corrected, giving him the ability to once again walk with his natural
Much like Dances With Wolves, just as you would imagine
and as shown in the trailer, once Jake becomes part of the Na’vi
people, he begins to question which side has the most just cause and
which side is worthy of working for – of course, under the heavy
influence of a young, attractive Na’vi woman (Zoe Saldana, Star Trek).
possibly the first time ever, Avatar uses a new technology of special
effects that makes it often impossible to tell what on the screen is
real and what is fake. Approximately 60% of Avatar is computer
generated – most of the time fully computer generated: the characters,
animals, plants, ships, the sky, the rain, the weapons, the explosions.
Any time you see one of the ten-feet-tall Na’vi, they are computer
generation images of motion captured actors – meaning that an actor
stood in front of the camera and acted that scene out while a computer
regenerated the actor’s complete performance in a computerized Na’vi
body. And to make it more personal, instead of having each character
look original and unique, each Na’vi character’s face is generated to
look just like the actor’s who gave the performance, simply enhancing
it to an alien-like form (unlike the unnecessary and wasted motion
capture effects used in Polar Express, Beowulf and Disney’s A Christmas
Carol in which the actor’s performances were motion captured and
regenerated to look identical the actor, unaltered). Jake Sully’s avatar looks just like Sam Worthington. Neytiri, his Na’vi romantic
interest, looks just like Zoe Saldana. And so on. Even though you
wouldn’t think it, the special effects never become distracting.
world of Pandora (that I called “Jar-Jar Binks Land”) is another strong
point in the way of special effects; it is so rich in detail and beauty
that it becomes more of a character to the story than a backdrop for
the actors to be seen in front of. It creates a bold contrast between
the simple, beautiful life of the Na’vi and the busy, destructive and
mechanized human world.
Yes, Avatar contains a small “green”
message. The humans are looking for unobtainium because Earth is almost
dead due to mankind’s wastefulness. But said message is so minute in
comparison to the big picture of the film. It’s not preachy in that
small message. And because of the amount of fun to be had in the rest
of the film, it’s easily forgivable.
Before seeing it, the last
thing I expected from Avatar was to have a “good time.” It didn’t look
entertaining to me. But I was wrong. And I’m glad I was wrong. Avatar
is one of the most fun movies of the year. I put it up there with Star
Trek (and I’m hoping Sherlock Holmes plays off the exact same fun way).
You’re guaranteed to have fun with Avatar. It takes you on a great
journey – one that I don’t expect will be easily forgotten or disliked.
have been asked by many eager moviegoers how the film plays out in 3D,
if it’s worth it. I’ll say this: if you like the new form of 3D – known
as Real D – then you’ll like it. It’s not used as a gimmick. They never
throw anything in your face in an attempt to get you to duck or move.
It’s used as a visual enhancement, giving depth to what you’re watching
– never making anything come out towards you. Is it worth the extra
couple bucks? If you’re willing to pay it. As for me, I’d be just fine
with it in the standard 2D – but remember, that’s me saying it and I
haven’t seen it in 2D. It might make a world of difference, but I can’t
say at this time.
To put it simply, Avatar is one of the most
fun films of the year. Does it deserve the supposed “Oscar buzz” that’s
it’s getting? No. But it’s a whole lot of fun – a film that I will
definitely see at least one more time in theaters – because Avatar is a
film definitely meant to be seen on the big screen.
Photo credit: 20th Century Fox