It seems filmmaker James Cameron thought we’d had enough of alien invasions on Earth. He decided the rest of the universe had more to offer – especially with the magic of animation on its side.
Filmmakers frequently use CGI and 3-D in an attempt to dazzle viewers, but rarely are intense technological efforts and visuals paired with an equally captivating and imaginative story.
Cameron, whose last epic movie was Titanic, made an ambitious and noteworthy effort to pair technology with plot in his imaginative science-fiction 3-D film Avatar, which broke box office records with a gross revenue of $ $430.8 million and is still a constant presence in theatres and media.
Although written as a screenplay, the premise of the movie seems like something pulled from a novel. The mixture of a technologically advanced society combined with life on a fantastical alien moon seems like something any science-fiction author – or any filmmaker, for that matter – would love to claim as his own creation.
Cameron included plenty of explosions and mind-blowing graphics in the film, but he seemed to want more than that. People are lapping up science fiction these days, and Cameron’s alien versus predator/romance/save the planet approach was apparently just what we were looking for – judging by the four Golden Globe nominations and box office statistics. The story of humans creating hosts in the form of aliens, and the tragedy, love and betrayal that result from their actions is entertaining and compelling.
With that said, the movie lacks background explanations of each character’s personal story and the purpose of their mission on the alien planet Pandora. This is partly what led me to believe more of the story was hiding away in a book but had to be condensed for screen time. I was hoping the actual creation of the avatars would be further explained or that main character Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) and his deceased brother’s past would be more than just mentioned. The stock characters also made me feel I’d seen this movie before — maybe a few times.
As the movie progressed, I felt more of a connection to Neytiri and her alien tribe than to the human characters, including Jake, a paraplegic ex-Marine who is intended to be lovable in his hardheaded fearlessness. Of course, that could be exactly the response Cameron was hoping for, or it could be the human characters were neglected and underdeveloped in the thorough creation of the Na’vi aliens – their features, their dress and even their language, although not necessarily their individual personalities.
The Na’vi tribe was fascinating in its gracefulness and humanoid beauty. They were weird and blue and zebra-striped, but not Martianlike, which was refreshing. The feelers that extended from their braids were an interesting touch as well. Their respect for nature and ties to their ancestors made them relatable, and their sensuality and emotion provided passion to the movie.
What was most captivating, however, was the breathtaking scenery and the imagination apparent in Pandora’s landscape throughout the entire film (credit due to Weta Digital). Twinkling shrubbery, exotic and vibrant flora and fauna, floating mountains and terrifying teethed animals made the explosions and machines durable. If the plot at all threatened to fall short, the beauty and wonder portrayed in spirit-willows and pterodactyl-horse creatures made up for it. All of these, it should be noted, were computer-animated creations, although they were surprisingly realistic, if one could describe floating dandelion spirit seeds as realistic.
As my 14-year-old brother said after sitting breathless for almost three hours in the theatre – it takes quite a movie to have you cheering for the aliens and hoping for humankind’s demise during the climax of the story. By the end, my heart wrenched for the grieving Na’vi and their beloved forest, and I hoped for a merciless and bloody end to the soulless Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by the talented and convincing Stephen Lang.
Sure, the yellow Papyrus subtitles were cringe-worthy and the battle scenes somewhat unconvincing at times, but all the hype and recognition is still deserved. Not only did Cameron direct and write the screenplay, but he invented a language for the alien inhabitants of Pandora, which is dissected and explained in James Cameron’s Avatar: An activist survival guide, a companion book to the movie written by Dirk Mathison and Maria Wilhelm. You don’t need 3-D glasses to feel absorbed in the beauty of this movie or the theme of protecting what you love no matter the cost. Effort will usually be recognized in the quality of a piece of art, and Cameron’s effort (ten years worth) resulted in a remarkable action thriller.