James Cameron magnum opus about tall blue men. A film yes, but more of an experience. With all the hype on TV, and everyone raving about “Avatar” I finally saw this on IMAX 3D. And I have to agree – it was mind-blowingly awesome. It really was; it is hard for me to use mind-blowing and awesome in the same sentence (my half-life reduces considerably each time.)
I went into the packed theater expecting out-of-the-world special effects, but having an impression that there wasn’t much to the story. Well, I got the expected quota of CGI, but what I also got was a meaty (and somewhat clichéd) story of right vs. wrong. Cameron constructs an alien planet Pandora, populated by the indigenous Na’vi, who are 10 feet tall blue men and women. Then he brings in the bad guys, namely us, the humans who have ravaged and almost brought to ruin their home planet earth, and have now set their sights upon obtaining the precious resources of Pandora. The problem ? This valuable substance, “Unobtanium” (I kid you not) is deep in the bowels of Pandora, and to get at it, the Na’vi settlements uptop will have to be moved. And the blue men aren’t that keen on moving.
OK then, who’s representing the bad guys ? Well, there’s the money-crunching head honcho Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) who’s dead set on obtaining the precious ore at any cost. His right hand man is Colonel Miles Quaritch, the military boss, who’s been sending out the heavy artillery. There are also the humans who wish to peacefully coexist with the Na’vi, and they are the scientific researchers, headed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). They are running an “Avatar Program” in which they breed a human-Na’vi hybrid species. Each Avatar is based off of a human researcher, and this researcher can then “link up” or control his/her Avatar. When linked up they are one with the Avatar, and without a link-up, the Avatar is but a soul-less body (this sort of reminded me of the “link-ups” in the “Matrix”).
Our hero, ex-marine Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, who although he’s a paraplegic, has been recruited in place of his now dead twin, because he shares the same DNA. His twin was being trained specifically for the Avatar Program, and had a corresponding Avatar which Jake will now control. When linked up to his Avatar Jake is an athletic 10 foot tall blue Na’vi with full use of all his limbs, an ability he does not possess in the real world .
Tenacious Jake starts off in the program as a spy for Quaritch, but once accepted into the Na’vi fold, jumps ship and starts rooting for the Na’vi. Also instrumental in his change of heart is the fact that Jake, in his avatar body, has fallen in love with the beautiful, native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). The Na’vi are portrayed as a relatively primitive race (bows/arrows) of hunters/gatherers. They have little technology but respect life in all it’s forms and wish to live in harmony with nature and it’s goodness. When the humans move in with their bull-dozers and try uprooting the Na’vi forcibly, Jake must lead the primitive race in, what seems to be, a losing battle.
This is the classic “hero” story, where the good guy finally finds his way, and must struggle against great odds to do the right thing. It is told here with just the right amount of emotional impact, and enough “masala” to keep it interesting.
The film tells the story of Pandora, and also depicts very imaginatively the local flora and fauna. There is minute attention to detail; a lot of the Pandorian wildlife is similar to earth animals, but more ferocious and possessing extra limbs. There are horses with ant-eater like snouts, dog-like creatures which seem like rabid wolves, and even seeds of the tree of life which float about like delicate, wispy jellyfish. With all the fantastic cgi, creative imagery and the bold, iridescent colors Pandora is beautiful; a lush rain-forest seen through color filters.The indigenous Pandorian people, the planet-loving Na’vi so into the don’t-destroy-our-planet routine, seem to be a based off of African-native American peoples, striving to save their lands from the greedy, grubby invaders.
I’m overwhelmed by this film, but there are things to quibble about if you are so inclined. Although the characters are fairly well-developed they are painted in broad swathes of black and white – the bad guys are oh-so-evil, and the good guys are so good, you could probably gift them halos for Christmas. Stuff like this I would have complained about if this were any old film, but amidst the grandness of this film experience it seems minor.
Cameron succeeds in balancing out the film elements just so. The casting is great. The actors do pretty well, Worthington does good, and Weaver, seeming extraordinarily tall makes a post-Terminator stop-over as the wise-cracking, Dr. Grace-Goody-2-shoes. Zoe Saldana only appears in a Na’vi form as Neytiri, and is effective. The music of the film really helps develop the mood, and heightens impact when the bulldozers come calling into Na’vi land. I couldn’t fault the direction, the pace or the screenplay.
I liked the Terminator series, although I couldn’t stand Titanic – thought it massively over-rated. This one though, I will always remember.
P.S. : A note on the word “Avatar”. It originates from Sanskrit, and it’s rough translation into English is “incarnation”.