Avatar: A Review

The name Avatar fits the movie perfectly and it’s also in sync with the storyline and the buzz around it. Directed and Produced by the Academy award winning director of Titanic, James Cameron who comes back to the direction of this movie after a hiatus of 13 years. The film, a 3-D effects movie is distributed worldwide by 20th Century Fox and is touted as the most expensive Hollywood film ever made costing US $ 300 million. The director of the film is not only in a hurry to clarify the name of the film, he also seems to be in a hurry to make a sequel or prequel or for that matter anything that would make Avatar the next cult icon. With exclusive 3D filming and completely computer generated characters, Avatar takes movie experience to an entirely new level.

Avatar comes across as a movie extravaganza made with a lot of money, a great technology and mere shadow of a plot. This movie does have enough story to make a good video game. So, the fact that a video game based on th film was developed when the film was still in production comes as no surprise. The movie is sure to spark off a renewed interest in online games, as the movie revolves around the concept of transporting one’s consciousness into another self where you can overcome your physical limitations. If you are not familiar with video games or the internet (very unlikely) you might want to know that an Avatar is a representation of you in the digital world.

A movie true to its sci-fi origins, there is nothing radically new in Avatar, except probably the fact that Aliens now have a biological internet and come with biological networking equipment. Most of the plot elements are a repetition of ideas that have been around for a long time now like the Mechanical Warrior Suits (The Matrix, Mobile Suit Gundam), the Natives on horses and flying creatures with bows and arrows against the gun powder warriors. Avatar is a movie which is more like a chronicle of the state of current state of thinking regarding fantasy worlds. This is not necessarily a shortcoming of the film, as many would like to see old concepts given a new leash of life. Similar emotions are responsible for a number of reboot’s hitting the screens recently, topping the list are movies like Star Trek.

What it lacks in originality, it makes up in all other departments, acting being one of them and of course graphics topping the list. The actors all shine in their respective roles, though most of them don’t have much of screen time, as most of the film is dedicated to filming the lush green fantasy world of Pandora and its native inhabitants the Na’vi tribe. The Na’vi are a humanoid race, twice as tall as a human , reportedly technologically backward as they like to live in sync with nature. All the non human characters in th film were completely computer generated by using motion capture technology. This involves an actor acting out the scenes which are then used to create and animate the 3d models. Sam Worthington shines in his role as the main protagonist, Jake Sully, a disabled ex-marine who is unhappy with his life on earth and slowly begins to fall in love with the ways of the tribe he was sent to infiltrate. The scenes which show his slow transition from apathy to belief in the Na’vi way of life, and the scenes which make him pick which side to be on, are slowly fleshed out and excellently executed. Michelle Rodriguez is in her elements playing an ex-Marine pilot who’s with the ‘good guys’. Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace, who is said to have initiated the Avatar program and established initial contact with the natives, cracks the only joke in the whole film. It is also notable that most of the actors casted have worked with Cameron on his earlier movies.

Though Avatar is a lesson in humility, the inherent folly of the script is its portrayal of corporate greed and the analogy it draws to the imperialistic conquest of the America’s. The alien tribe is portrayed almost exactly like the natives, hooting and running circles with primitive weapons, while the human invaders are portrayed like the European invaders with superior military technology.

It’s a quite long film by Hollywood standards, running for about two and a half hours. A lot of prologue stuff like how the mining post was setup in the planet, how the initial contact with the Na’vi was made are not explained in the movie. Also there is not much information about Dr.Grace’s work, done before the film’s timeline, which is used to explain why some of the Na’vi can speak English. Importantly there is no information about how his brother died, except that the starting scenes show us the deal being made with Jake.

The film does not hide its dagger when it critics the current industrial state of the world and tries to portray a world where there is harmony in nature. Maybe Greenpeace will arrange for free screenings of the movie soon. The film wants to make you believe that Pandora is Utopia, but it has no answers to why the human way of life isn’t like that of the Na’vi, but it does manage to get some snide comments about destruction of Mother Nature on earth. Na’vi way of life does seem to be similar to what most fantasy novels will claim to be the Elven way of life. Most elements of the story line are predictable including a romance between the lead protagonist and a member of the royal family member of the Na’vi tribe, (Pocahontas anyone?).

The Movies is one headlong plunge into the world of Pandora will all its wonders like, plants that light the way for you at night, floating mountains and a tribe that has a rite of passage ceremony. From the first scenes of a Shuttle to the last scenes of a grand ceremony, the film looks like one of those high end graphics video games. The film scores on creation as well as destruction. The battle sequences have been managed well and you don’t feel like you have been plunged into one chaotic mess. Scene’s are well framed and the 3D movie experience is great. Except for a few ‘acceptable’ lead role causalities, the director seems to have managed to reign in his urge to go the Titanic way. Characters that might have otherwise complicated the story line are eradicated in well planned scenes. In all the movie does live up to all the hype surrounding it.
So, if you are interested in watching the movie, don’t make the mistake of waiting for the DVD. Avatar is one of those movies that are a visual treat in theatres and it might not be the same experience on a home entertainment system. It could even pass off as a children’s film, with a few censor cuts. In all Avatar is a movie that can be watched more than once, purely for the wonderful audio-visual experience it provides.

Sylvester Pious

[Image courtesy: http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2009/12/18/movies/18avatarspan/articleLarge.jpg]