After Avatar opened on December 18, I was afraid that much of the praise being given to the film had to do with the fact that most viewers were so awed by the movie’s 3D visuals that they did not pay attention to the rest of the film. When I first saw the film, my friends and I showed up to the movie theatre and were only able to see the movie in 2D. At the time I was frustrated but once the lights in the theatre dimmed and the first shots of the movie started I was captivated.
Even in regular, good-old fashioned 2D Avatar proves to be breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps more importantly (and surprisingly) the story more often than not holds up. While not particularly original, Avatar’s plotline manages to be relevant, almost too relevant. James Cameron does not aim for subtlety; that is for sure. His story of American Marines in 2154 colonizing the planet of Pandora, mining for its precious resource Unobtainium, killing the indigenous Na’vi people and destroying their habitat contains many parallels and references to American imperialism. The only problem is that these allusions are so transparent that they feel heavy handed. The phrases “shock and awe” and “preemptive attack” are mentioned, obviously references to the Iraq war. Perhaps I am missing the point though. The fact that an action blockbuster of this magnitude has such a strong anti-imperialist point of view (no matter how unsubtle it may be) is what is really revolutionary about this film. The sentiments in this film are not new but never have these messages targeted such a wide audience and accessed (and hopefully opened) the eyes and ears of so many Americans. This is a mainstream movie with a not-so-mainstream point of view.
When I saw the film the second time in 3D most of my grievences about Cameron’s script fell by the wayside. Still, lines like “If they get to the Tree of Souls we’re done for,” are too ridiculous to takes seriously. Additionally the repeated line “I see you,” is cheesy and unnecessary and Jake Sully’s rallying cry towards the end of the film sounds far too much like William Wallace’s “freedom” speech in Braveheart. Nevertheless, when seeing the film for a second time, I decided not to be cynical and ended up enjoying the film immensely. The performances by Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver are admirable. They manage to emote through their blue Na’vi avatars and more importantly through their stilted, clunky dialogue. Zoe Saldana is beautiful as Neytiri and is a truly believable character despite the fact that she is a 10 foot tall blue Alien. In Neytiri we see how James Cameron’s use of motion capture technology is absolutely ingenious. James Horner’s score is beautiful and rousing but sounds a bit too much like his Titanic score. There are also undertones of The Lion King and Braveheart soundtracks.
The scene in which this film really came together for me emotionally was the scene in which the Marines destroy the Na’vi’s sacred Hometree. The music and visual spectacle are in an epic synch here and the Na’vi’s expressions of terror and sorrow miraculously look human. The sequence certainly evokes the scene in Apocalypse Now in which Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries” plays as the Americans bomb Vietnam. Somehow we manage to find the same level of sympathy for the Na’vi as we do for the Vietnamese. James Cameron has produced a film to be celebrated and seen – in the movie theatre. Avatar has the power to completely immerse you in another world but still tells you something important about our own. Movies like this come around once in a blue Pandoran Moon.
Bottom line: See this movie as soon as you can in the movie theatre and preferably in 3D.
If you’d like to know more about the motion capture technology used in Avatar, watch this fascinating video.