Sunday, December 27, 2009


Year: 2009
Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Stephen Lang, Giovanni Ribisi

How long has it been since we've heard from James Cameron? 12 years. In 1997 he brought Titanic to the screen, and it was the biggest film of all time. Between then and now, he laid low, making documentaries and stuff. And after all the time has passed, and the hype built up for this new movie, audiences are finally able to see the so called 'future of filmmaking'.

Avatar has been Cameron's labour of love for 10 years now. It has taken him that long to not only wait for the technology to be able to make it, but also to apply it and turn it into the visual spectacle that it is now. The question now of course, is this: was it worth it?

Avatar takes place in the distant future, where humans are in search of unobtainium, a rare mineral they require to save Earth. To that end, they take a trip to Pandora, a planet that possesses that mineral, which is inhabited by a somewhat primitive race known as the Na'vi.

The mission is run by the military, who have a hard time getting past the Na'vi, so they come up with a plan to infiltrate the Na'vi using one of their own, and perhaps help persuade them to peacefully move away so that no blood needs to be shed. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine is assigned to this task, originally meant for his dead twin brother. Now how does this infiltration plan work?

Scientists have been able to clone a Na'vi body and transfer a human's consciousness into it, so that person may control and actually be a Na'vi as he/she is in stasis (kinda like Surrogates). They call it an avatar. Jake is given an avatar and he gets himself amongst the Na'vi. He meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), daughter of the tribe leader, and through her, slowly gains the trust of her tribe. He and Neytiri eventually fall in love as her tribe accepts him as one of their own.

However, the military and the corporation funding the mission grow impatient, and decide to go ahead with destroying the Na'vi to get what they want. Jake has to choose between saving the Na'vi or letting his people destroy the new world he has learned to love.

After sitting through two hours and forty minutes of this film, I can tell you that Avatar will be remembered mostly for its visual wizardry. What you will see on screen is something like what Robert Zemekis has been trying to do lately: creating an animated film using motion capture. But I abhor Zemekis' work, not only because he has the nerve to think that this is better than live action, but also because it's really not impressive or necessary. However, Cameron has surpassed Zemekis, because his version of motion capture is astounding. Absolutely stunning. The Na'vi look very real, very lifelike. Every smile, frown, twitch, growl, scowl...all near perfect. That, combined with the stunning CGI used to visualise the military technology and weaponry, and most especially the scenery on Pandora, will leave you in awe. I particularly loved looking at the oh so marvelous floating mountains and jungle of Pandora, and the details that went into them. And also the fierce looking creatures that roam the skies and grounds of the planet, all beautifully rendered. Though those creatures are basically modeled after earth animals and dinosaurs, it is no less breathtaking.

But where Avatar succeeds in visuals, it fails in its plot. The storyline of a stranger that ventures into a land foreign to him, then falls in love with it, then turns his back on his more evil brethren, has been done before in Dances With Wolves and The Last Samurai. That basically means that you already know how this film will end, and some of you impatient ones will wonder why Cameron needs 160 minutes to do that.

Performance wise, the cast perform well enough. I give high marks to Saldana, who although appears only as her Na'vi self, and not how she really looks like, gives a performance that truly tugs at your heartstrings. It's a bonus that the motion capture translated her acting perfectly on screen. Worthington lands yet another meaty role as Sully, and he delivers here, much like he did in Terminator Salvation. Sigourney Weaver, who hasn't been in a Cameron film since Aliens, lends great support as Dr Grace Augustine, the head of the Avatar project. Michelle Rodriguez makes do with the limited screen time she has as a sympathetic Marine while Stephen Lang plays the two dimensional villain Col. Quaritch to a slimy tee. Giovanni Ribisi rounds up the cast as corporate slimeball Parker Selfridge. He reminds me of Paul Reiser's character in Aliens, just not as sneaky.

There's no doubt that Avatar is a groundbreaking masterpiece, and audiences will mostly enjoy it. But at the end of the day, is it really worth it? It cost US$400 million to make, and if this is the future of filmmaking, how much money will the studios have to shell out just to give audiences another one of these 'masterpieces'? We may never get to see a film like this again, unless someone knows how to do this at a lower cost. Perhaps it could have been done by using real actors in makeup, like most filmmakers would have opted. It wouldn't be the same, and the fun would be less, I suppose.

My verdict: go watch Avatar. If you like really awesome CGI, it's a sin to miss this. (4/5)

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