After 12 years of preparation and months of hype, James Cameron’s Avatar surpasses expectations for an unbelievable, immersive experience showcasing a new step in the evolution of cinema. Comparisons to FernGully or the Smurfs are fallacious and juvenile, belittling a true rebirth of 3D and the most impressive visual effects to ever dazzle an audience. I’ve never seen anything like it.
In 2154, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine, is a last-minute recruit for a mission on Pandora. An establishment of scientists, military grunts, and greedy administrative types are embedded on the far away moon, exploring avenues for mining “unobtanium,” a mineral resource capable of restoring a dying Earth.
A debate rages between the corporation that intends to raze any indigenous life, and the intellectuals, who find value in the world surrounding the priceless rock. There are imperialism, 9/11, and Iraqi conflict subtexts boiling below the surface, but Cameron avoids a preachy tangent by focusing his energy on groundbreaking technology on and off screen. Engineers have genetically mutated human DNA with that of the Na’vi, a primitive race of Pandoran natives, to form clones capable of remotely linking to their host body with modified tanning bed type contraptions.
The Na’vi are graceful creatures, a slender, elongated race with their own culture, language, and feline mannerisms. Realistic facial movements are captured by special cameras and transferred to alien surrogates that bear an uncanny resemblance to their performers.
Through technology Cameron transports the characters and the audience to another universe. He imagined a lush, untouched world entirely alien in nature and the special effects wizards at Weta richly realized that vision. Every delicate detail is represented in the overwhelming array of interactive flora and fauna that springs to life around the protagonists.
Alien moss illuminates under their feet, tree trunks twist into the heavens, luminescent insects float before their eyes, hulking hammerhead beasts graze on ferns, waterfalls cascade off floating mountains, and dragons swoop against a backdrop of a looming blue Jupiter. The creativity is as astonishing as the visuals.
Jake wanders through this vibrant environment with the same wonder as the initial tour of Jurassic Park, absorbing the landscape with the aid of Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), his guide and eventual love interest. As they bound through the underbrush, she explains how all Pandoran life is connected through an intricate ecosystem and the balance of life is preserved by a deity. The concept of linking into an extended world is woven throughout the story, from the avatars to mechanized suits of weaponry worn by the military to tendrils that enable the Na’vi to bond with mounts of six-legged horses and flying dinosaurs.
The menacing Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) leads a battalion of warships against an army of dragon riders, an intimate love story radiates from the core, and Jake assimilates to the Na’vi way of life. But one note characterizations, conventional dialogue, and a familiar arc are enveloped in the spectacle of Cameron’s amazing achievement.
Ignore the bitter naysayers who stubbornly stick to their snap judgments. Dismiss the Titanic-sized hype machine that has been barreling for months. Ultimately, what difference does it make how much James Cameron spent on the movie when all that matters, especially in this economy, is whether the ticket is worth your hard-earned dollars? Without a doubt, Avatar is worth the trip.
5 out of 5.