This is one of those films.
James Cameron absent from our screens for ten years, indulging other hobbies and passions (Diving on the Titanic etc) has been busy. Here he has created an entirely believable new world (Pandora) where live action and motion captured CGI interact in a completely seamless environment.
There is no question that from the start you are drawn into a world that looks, interacts and behaves in a way that removes all barriers between what is real and what is not. The word animation is meaningless here, as the characters are totally real people, just “CGI dressed” in 12 foot tall blue creatures, they are simply stunning. They run, fall, have real emotions and create characters that you totally believe in. Some of the early scenes, notably a scene in the cockpit of a Gyrocopter, simply takes your breath away.
There were doubts after the first “teaser” trailer that Cameron had created “Ferngully” in space and the Blogs were alive with the sound of sharpening knives. Of course Cameron is used to this, look what happened to that ill fated movie about a boat that sank, $1.8 billion and counting.
Sam Worthington plays a paraplegic marine, who is drafted in to replace his recently deceased and much better prepared brother, who was part of the “Avatar” project. Set in the recognizable future, valuable mining deposits have been found and exploited on Planet Pandora, a beautiful forest covered planet with a rather annoying indigenous population of tall Blue tinged “savage natives”, the Na’vi.
Jake Sully (Worthington) is the complete newbie to the team headed up by Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver finally getting into a pod again) who are attempting to interact with the locals to try to prevent bloodshed by all just getting along. A “Hearts and Minds” project if you will, building schools and roads, sound familiar? The faceless corporation is happy to go along, provided progress is made and the damn savages just get out of the way. Lying in pods the “Dreamwalkers” are able to inhabit their Avatar and interact in this fantastical world.
Of course things do not go well and there is a sense of impending doom which is not helped by the local military commander who is one bad assed colonel (Lang) with his finger permanently on the hair trigger. Lang has a great safety briefing speech:-
“You are not in Kansas anymore. You are on Pandora, ladies and gentleman”
“My responsibility is to keep you all safe, I will fail”
This is great scenery chewing stuff perhaps borrowed from “Full Metal Jacket” but played to great effect here.
Quickly going native after being unintentionally abandoned in a very dangerous forest, Sully is subsequently rescued by the rather beautiful Heytiri (Saldana). In time and following the requisite comic training scenes, Sully becomes trusted and eventually part of the tribe. Slowly he realises the level of his betrayal as he feeds information back to the military and corporation with regard to locations and important targets. Sully eventually recognizing the Na’vis existence, as part of the forest, living in harmony with the elements, as a far better and meaningful life than that he left behind.
One must question how on earth did Cameron persuade American backers to provide him with over $200 million to essentially make an antiwar movie?
There are numerous inferences to Iraq/Afghanistan style invasions, Vietnam references are played with relish, flamethrowers, grunts hanging out of helicopter gunships, subtle references they are not.
As Sully says, they (Na’vi) will never leave, we have nothing they want.
The action commences with familiar Human interaction and then after a while, this is left completely behind, the audience is transported to a totally new world and forgets they are watching CGI. If you do not have a bad neck when you go in, you may when you finish the movie, you will be shaking your head in wonder so much. Certainly Cameron is the first to make his CGI characters sexy, all curvy and slim for the girls and buff for the boys.
And, just to finish off, a fairly direct ecological message that will not fail to provide some sense of “what have we done” in the “Big Tree” sequence, with the whole forest aflame. “Pull the plug”, (on the Avatars) the head of the head of the corporations base (Ribisi) simply states.
Mention must be made of the music from James Horner, this fits the action on screen perfectly and like all good movie scores, complements rather than stands up and shouts “listen to me”. Weta studios in New Zealand are credited with most of the Special Effects work, in fact the whole movie was “shot” or created in NZ, now fast becoming the go to place, for this kind of work.
Quibbles, the story is effectively “Dances with Wolves” in space and consequently is somewhat predictable, occasionally embracing an overly tree huggy feel, albeit nicely skewered by Sullys Marine grunt attitude. There is also a bit too much chanting and swaying at one point, in a scene reminscent of the “Thugee Cult” in Indiana Jones “Temple of Doom”. But no matter, these comments are like putting sandcastles in front of a Tsunami, they are simply washed away by the whole experience.
If you care about the movies, an absolute must see and highly recommended in 3D.