07 January 2010


Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang
Writer & Director: James Cameron
Release: 18 December 2009
FOX, 162 mins., PG-13

This is what it must have felt like for a young Ray Harryhausen, sitting in the darkened theater in 1933 watching Willis O'Brien's majestic special effects create a window into a new world in Merian C. Cooper's King Kong. Avatar, the much-hyped about, $300/$500 million projected budget, and 12-year old brainchild of Titanic director James Cameron, is not a movie – it’s an experience, a journey to another world with nine-foot tall blue folk and beasts right out of a giant monster movie. It is, down to its bare essence, a movie of wonder that captivated me from the moment Jake Sully landed on Pandora. I went there; I breathed (or not breathed, more like it) the Pandoran air; I fought the beasts as Jake Sully did; I climbed on the trees and touched strange alien life-forms that represent, for lack of a better relative, ‘maya.’ Forget the budget, forget the classical story, Avatar achieved something for me no movie has ever done before: it absolutely brought me into a fantasy world where I flew with the characters and lived out their adventure. And for that, James Cameron, you have my absolute gratitude.

Not only that, but it was positively delightful to see monsters onscreen again. [Okay, maybe using the term ‘monsters’ may be inappropriate in relation to these creatures] To see the detail in their skin, eyes, movements, structure, stance, attack formation, roars and bellows – it was marvelous. And again, this must be what it felt like seeing O’Brien’s giant 30-meter ape terrorizing New York City. Pure beauty and awe at the same time. I am a giant monster fan (in case that fact remained unnoticed), and it was nothing but gigantic wish fulfillment to see movie studios and a writer/director put all their energies and effort into realizing a monster in this day ‘n age [a feat only a high-profile director like Cameron, Jackson, or Spielberg would probably be able to pull off]. And I can’t finish celebrating this category without giving mention to the designs of all the creatures – big and small – throughout this picture. In one word, they’re beautiful to look at, and one can’t help but admire and sorta envy James Cameron’s imagination.

There’s probably 1,000 Avatar reviews circulating the internet as we speak, so it makes little sense to get into specifics someone else delved into book-length. What I will say is this: the storyline, which has received a bruising for its familiar, not-so-originalness, is exactly what was needed for this type of movie. Not overly complicated, and not entirely something completely brand-spankin’-new. It's a classic plot that's been used many times over, and there's a reason it's a classic: it's nearly always moving, entertaining, epic in scope, and allows a writer to delve into the characters moreso than concentrating entirely on the plot. I can't say if Cameron specifically succeeds in that area of scriptwriting - whether or not the characters are anything more than your average fill-ins for this type of flick, but I can say I care enough about each and every one of them. Even Colonel Miles Quaritch (Lang), the 'antagonist', is lovable. And Sigourney Weaver redeems herself for The Village, so that's a giant plus.

Regular Cameron collaborator James Horner (Titanic, Aliens) turns in a score that's mighty entertaining, but a little disappointing with its callbacks to earlier works, like Troy and The Mask of Zorro. Taking full use of orchestral chants and shouts that are either entirely random or the language of the Na'vi, it nonetheless fulfills the epic scope quota the makes every situation as intense as it can get. The CGI is at the top of its game, as one would expect with a budget like this. Even presented in 2-D, the level of detail in every single frame is indisputable. There has never been a more realistic, three-dimensional character, creature, or
landscape ever depicted on film. Some have come close (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, King Kong), but this takes the cake. What's presented here in nothing short of a thing of absolute beauty.

In short, I can forgive a majority of Avatar's for the simple reason that James Cameron made me feel like a giddy child again, mesmerized by Godzilla attacking Japan for the 27th time while simultaneously fighting some new threat to the world (other than him, of course). He gave me a journey that I'm not about to forget - a journey to another world with strange but fascinating creatures. He gave me back the gift of wonder and daydreaming of what's up in the stars. This review could seem to stem mainly from emotion, and that's mostly true; after all, isn't that the primary goal of 3-D cinema? To sweep you up and feel like you're in the environment as our actors? James Cameron, you have accomplished this like no other. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Now excuse me, I'm gonna go and play with my Megazords and T-Rex toys...

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