You’ve heard about Avatar’s mind-boggling cost, at an approximate US$400 million ($557 million). Watching it, you’ll marvel how every cent went into making this spectacular feast for the eyes.
James Cameron, director of Titanic, the highest grossing movie of all time at over US$600 million according to IMDB after 12 years, orchestrates yet another ambitious blockbuster Avatar. With the amount of buzz surrounding it, you half expect it to fall short, but it does the very opposite.
Audible intakes of breath can be heard regularly in the cinema, as wonder after wonder was revealed on screen. To think none of these exist in the real world – that everything was conceived, designed and rendered painstakingly in a studio somewhere in Hollywood truly blows your mind – and this was viewed in a 2D cinema.
The film is set in the year 2154, on Pandora, the apparently savage planet rich in a fossil fuel that the human mining colony is keen to harvest. One thing stands in their way: the natives, the jungle dwelling folk called the Na’vi. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-Marine is tasked to take the place of his dead twin brother in the Avatar programme, to make contact with the indigenous people using a remotely controlled avatar of one of their own kind, in a last attempt at diplomacy. If this fails, the community will have to be exterminated so they can extract the costly mineral.
There are obvious themes here of how indigenous people are threatened by colonialists and conservation. The Na’vi have obvious similarities to the Native Americans, in their culture, their oneness with nature and their belief in Eywa, their version of Gaia. Thankfully, these politically correct themes don’t suffocate the story by becoming preachy, but aid its telling comfortably.
The plot is uncomplicated, the premise having been worn thin by previous films – think The Last Samurai and Disney’s Pocahontas – and becomes predictable at many points. For instance, it’s hardly a spoiler to say Jake meets the Na’vi princess, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and slowly but surely falls in love with her. However, the characters, which have an entirely new language created for them, have emotional depth and are as believable as walking trees, elves and hobbits from Lord of the Rings, which also used Weta’s technology.
From the start to the end, the film draws you in, thanks to superb execution, and its lengthy 161 minutes flit by all too soon.
Amazingly, despite Pandora’s other-worldliness, the alien world looks convincing. The vegetation looks something like what the Amazon Rainforest might look like if transplanted on another planet. Watching it, one regains the awe of a child, discovering the world anew, except this time it isn’t our world. By day, there’re sprawling landscapes, majestic waterfalls, floating mountains and fantastical beasts. By night, everything takes on a neon quality, as though someone turned on ultraviolet lights.
Avatar also manages to mix live action with animation credibly, so that it neither looks cartoonish nor awkward, and fixes the ‘dead eyes’ issue that motion capture films like The Polar Express have. In contrast, the Na’vi’s large wide set eyes convey real emotion, thanks to a video camera attached to the actors’ heads that captured their every subtle expression and the stellar performance by the cast.
Most notable among the unseen cast was science fiction genre’s latest darling Zoe Saldana. Recently seen in Star Trek (2009), her feline grace, animalistic wrath (when called for) and stirring performance, made you feel for her lead character. Another standout, to no one’s surprise, was Sigourney Weaver, who plays the lead scientist on Pandora. Weaver, who worked closely with director James Cameron on his Aliens series, effortlessly juggles the dual traits of the anal-retentive Dr. Grace Augustine and her caring and nurturing nature towards her team of scientists and the Na’vi.
As with James Cameron’s previous gun toting films such as the Terminator trilogy and Aliens, any weapon-obsessed junkie will appreciate the amount of guns, robots, bombs, and helicopters that the film is endowed with. For the rest of us, the climatic final battle sequence is eye-poppingly epic and exceptionally portrayed, that will interestingly have you rooting, not for the big blue planet, but for the blue people.
Opens: Dec 17
Duration: 161 min
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
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