Written and Directed by James Cameron
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, and Zoe Saldana
Avatar is like Planet Earth if it were 100 times more violent and all of the boring animals (I’m looking at you, ground sloths) were replaced by machine guns. If the CGI industry were a boxing match, going up against Avatar would be like fighting a Kodiak bear made out of flamethrowers. Over the course of over 200 glorious minutes, Avatar coldly and systematically makes the entirety of the rest of the film industry look like a handy-cam Youtube video of cats using a litter box. With a pure, creamy blend of wildlife and sci-fi helicopter battles, the film perfectly captures the crossover market between a National Geographic special and Blackhawk Down, and is one of the most stunning movies ever made.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a crippled military contractor on Pandora, a lush jungle planet filled with more forest creatures and man-eating plants than a dorm bathroom. As an “Avatar” operator, Sully and others remotely control clones of the natives, a race of blue-skinned aliens called the Na’vi. While on a routine research mission, Worthington finds himself lost in the woods and captured by the locals, particularly a young huntress named Neytiri. Rather than exhibiting any of the standard reactions to being kidnapped by a tribe of oversized homicidal smurfs — screaming, weeping, furious voiding of the bowels — Worthington instead goes native and learns to become a hunter with the Na’vi. 3D shenanigans ensue.
Writer/director James Cameron unveils a beautiful portrait of the Na’vi and the planet of Pandora over the course of more than an hour, with breathtaking jungle landscapes and stunning scenes of aliens flying through floating mountains. The film is immersing to the point of absurdity; at times it plays like a propaganda reel designed to entice the kind of eco-tourists who attend PETA rallies. Avatar is also the first movie that I have seen in which the 3D touch doesn’t feel like a cheap circus trick meant for entertaining toddlers and recreational drug users, as Cameron deftly uses subtle 3D effects to add drama to landscapes and draw you into a warm bath of CGI syrup. And there are no punches pulled: You get to see everything from flying lizard rides to gigantic insects to the (hilarious) consummation of cat-smurf-person romance. Avatar sucks you in with more power and enthusiasm than an airplane latrine, and by an hour into the film the only thing stopping me from pulling out my loincloth, shooting some arrows and hopping on the back of a lizard was my fear of reading the police report.
Avatar isn’t just about the nature show, however. In some ways, the film mirrors an entry level biology class: Once you’re done learning about trees and animals, the ass kicking begins. Rather than allowing the film to devolve into a series of slow-motion garden scenes, Cameron shakes things up just like a Third World government: with a massive helicopter attack. What is especially striking about Cameron’s depiction of futuristic war is his sharp attention to every painstaking detail: The military unit stationed on Pandora uses helicopters, but they are different from modern day choppers in ways that are inherently plausible, allowing one to suspend disbelief and enjoy the superb gun fighting. James Cameron is a mastermind at creating real, compelling creatures from mundane subject matter (the Terminator from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Alien from spray-painted PVC piping, the Titanic guy from Leonardo DiCaprio), and this care drips from every one of Avatar’s furry blue pores.
As is to be expected, however, Avatar does do its share of dabbling in cliches. The dialogue stumbles through the standard action flick fare of awkward dramatic proclamations and hyper-macho rambling, and Worthington’s warcries make him sound like a bachelor party attendee. “Big bad corporation” versus “plucky hero with a heart of gold” is hardly an original theme, and it’s particularly difficult to take inspiring speeches seriously when they’re delivered by someone who looks like a Disney mascot.
Despite these foibles, however, Avatar does not cease to amaze for even a second. What really allows it to stand out is the fact that it goes the extra mile to actually become a Good movie. James Cameron didn’t have to make it a high-quality film: He could have foregone 1,000 Ferraris worth of special effects and would still be able to carpet all of Australia with his cash. Avatar didn’t need an epic score in an alien language which was entirely written for the film — in fact, a soundtrack consisting of nothing but Limp Bizkit songs might have sold even better. But it does have these have these sorts of seemingly unimportant details, and added up they do make a difference. James Cameron simply does not make movies with one-word titles which are not excellent, and Avatar is no exception. Go see it.