Are you Feeling blue?
Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi
After twelve years in development and an estimated $240 million budget, director James Cameron has once again changed the face of cinema with his new 3D epic, Avatar. However, if you’re expecting as emotional an experience as Titanic you’ll be disappointed as most of Avatar’s success resonates purely from its amazing, ground-breaking visuals. We all blubbed as Leo sank beneath the icy waves but it’s kind of hard to feel the same level of sadness when a blue CGI alien kicks the bucket.
Whatever your reservations about Cameron’s slightly wooden dialogue and simplistic plot, few could deny that thanks to RealD (3D technology pioneered largely by Cameron himself), he’s managed to transport us to a completely new world – in this a case a forest planet called Pandora that harbours lush waterfalls, floating islands and glowing fauna. Our reason for travelling there is a handicapped marine named Jake Sully (Worthington). He takes the place of his recently deceased twin brother on the military’s new ‘Avatar’ project run by tough-but-fair Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver). His mission: To download his consciousness into a fully working alien body with the sole purpose of infiltrating the indigenous population – the Na’vi – so Giovanni Ribisi’s greedy mission commander can relocate them and mine their land for valuable minerals.
Sully quickly gets in over his head, simultaneously making friends with female Na’vi warrior Neytiri (Saldana) while reporting her tribe’s secrets back to Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang). Like Quaritch Sully scoffs at Dr. Augustine’s peaceful approach to scientific research but the shoe is soon on the other foot when he finds himself questioning the military’s strong-arm tactics against the Na’vi – as do Michelle Rodriguez’s chopper pilot and Joel Moore’s geeky tech. Things are further complicated when Sully finds himself falling for Neytiri while winning over the other sceptical Na’vi warriors with his natural talent for combat. It’s not long before the military start a war against the Na’vi, forcing him to decide where his priorities lie.
Not since Jurassic Park have we seen such amazing CGI creatures brought to life – not just the Na’vi with their almost tangible snouts and cat-like eyes but the entire world of Pandora; every leaf, lizard and light-source has been designed by Cameron and his team, then built from the ground up by Weta Digital and ILM. This isn’t really a film at all; it’s like stepping into a dream. The motion capture work on the characters in Avatar are so good they make Gollum look like Mutton the Mule. Worthington and Weaver’s avatars move and resemble them so definitively that you never find yourself missing their human counterparts whilst watching them in their blue digital form. Quite the opposite; Like Sully, we don’t want to go back to the cold ignorance of the military base and each time he jacks back in to his avatar, our pulse starts to quicken in anticipation of his next adventure.
The various creatures – stampeding Hammerhead rhinos, Direhorses, the soaring Banshee that Sully uses to fly – are all beautifully designed but more importantly they have a natural purpose within their environment so you genuinely feel Pandora is a living breathing place instead of a hollow George Lucas CGI-fest. The real reason to see Avatar, however, is the 3D. To see it in regular 2D would be to miss out on the fully immersive experience intended by Cameron (and frankly the film won’t be nearly as enjoyable). Though most of Avatar’s scenes are truly breath-taking in 3D – you actually feel a little woozy looking down vertical cliff faces while the sheer beauty of Pandora often has you goggling like a newborn baby – there are still problems with the technology. Long, slow camera moves work best but when the action hots up in the final reel, the 3D struggles with debris, motion-blur and fast cuts that don’t allow time for your eye to refocus.
Sure the plot is wafer thin, the ecological message way too on the nose and in a couple of years when the 3D technology is more commonplace it will lose a lot of its sparkle but right now it’s a truly amazing cinematic experience and for this alone James Cameron deserves huge praise. See it in 3D – not 2D – on the big screen now.
Easily the best 3D film to date
Amazing visuals by ILM & Weta
Excellent motion-capture & animation
Sigourney Weaver back with James Cameron after 25 years
Carries a timely ecological message
At nearly 3 hours you get your money’s worth
Some great action sequences
3D technology still has kinks that need ironing out
The characters are one-dimensional
The plot offers few narrative surprises
Worthington’s character is a bit annoying
Won’t be as good in 2D (2D Score: 60%)