Avatar : Review
THE RETURN OF THE KING OF THE WORLD
The long wait was finally over. After having counted the days for almost a year for James Cameron's Avatar, I saw it with my friends, mere hours ago. So how was it? Read on.
My previous post might have given you some ideas about the kind of work that Cameron had put into this project. 14 years in the making, this is to say the least a passion project, and he had to wait that long primarily so he could develop a camera to enable him to shoot the way he wanted, and mainly for the special effects to be able to catch up to the standards he had in mind. While the special effects didn't quite catch up when he started work in full swing, he knew it was close enough that he could push the boundaries into the next level. Audience expectation was quite high, and my expectations were off the charts. Let there be no mistake, James Cameron is one of my favorite filmmakers. His films have contributed vastly to my desire to be in this field. And Avatar was according to his own words a game changer. People like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Peter Jackson have already made statements to the effect which said that cinema will be demarcated into two halves - the ones before Avatar and the ones that will come after. Industry experts predicted that its effect would be almost as important as when sound entered into the picture.
As the day of the release drew nearer I was worried that people wouldn't want to see Avatar, dismissing it as just another action sci fi film. My attempts at making some friends understand the impact of Avatar had failed quite spectacularly. Many people claimed that the trailer footage was quite unimpressive, and there were a lot of ugly rumors about how the film was a disaster. Well, all that is in the past. Cameron Came, Cameron Conquered.
Having watched the film a few hours ago, one of the questions me and my friends kept asking each other was-how do we describe what we experienced to others? What terms would we use to accurately gauge what transpired on screen? Frankly speaking there isn't anything I can say to quantify this experience. Avatar is in a wholly different class. Although let me clarify, this film was never meant to be seen in 2d. Watching it in 2d is like getting 10% of the experience. This is what 3d always promised to be, but never had fulfilled. The use of actual 3d space, real time focusing ,depth perception in live action shots is light years ahead of what people have seen up until now. Make no mistake, Avatar is every bit the game changer it claimed to be. This is the dawn of a new era. Although, I don't think this is as great a turning point as when sound came into cinema. The main reason being prohibitive costs. Making a live action 3d film is a costly affair, and for the near foreseeable future only the films with the largest budget will be able to dream of using this technology. But 10 years down the line, it's anyone's guess.
Now for the claimed photorealistic effects. The effects are so real, that Sam worthington's Avatar looked more real and lively than Worthington himself. You will doubt , many a time that the people you are seeing are actually people with extensive makeup. The expressions, the movements are so real, that its sufficient to say that this is the first film to have just jumped across the chasm that is Uncanny Valley. If nothing else, this years Oscar for best cg is going to Avatar. What about the performances, you say? The overall cast is quite good. But for me the standout roles were that of Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, Sigourney Weaver as Dr Grace Augustine and Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quattrich who might I say makes for a bad ass villain, although a tad one note. As for Sam Worthington, I will admit, I wasn't sold on that man's leading man capabilities until now. I can see why Cameron chose to cast him in the lead when many others hadn't even heard of him.
Now for the story. The story, although thinly garbed in the veil of sci fi, is essentially an environmental and philosophical one, and its pivotal point is of course the interracial love that blossoms between Neytiri and Jake. Jake, a paraplegic ex marine is asked to take over his brother's job of manning an 'avatar' - a human Na Vi hybrid body in the distant planet of Pandora where a corporation is trying to get its hands on a rare mineral, the cheekily named Unobtainium(obviously the McGuffin of the story). The greatest deposit of said mineral is right below the settlement of local Na Vi population and Jake and some other scientists are trying to mingle with them to try and convince them to move before the bulldozers come with hired guns to drive them away by force. The film is mainly narrated through his video logs, which document his feelings and what goes through his head as he becomes more like the Na Vi. Now I will be frank, the story wont win any prizes for being terribly original. You have seen different versions of this in other films. But the same story can be told in different ways, and this is where Cameron's powers shine through. The effects, the 3d, the cast and the amazing pacing that does not relent adds to the most immersive cinematic experience I have ever had. The film is unapologetic in its environmental and anti war message. As for Pandora, it is something else entirely. So much care and work has been put into bringing the plants and animals of Pandora to life, that words fail me.
In a day and age where slo mo and ramp shots take precedence over character development( I am talking to you, Michael Bay) the film has only one major action sequence, which is the last 20 minutes of the film. Almost an entire half of the film is dedicated to building the characters, and that is done with care. By the time when all hell is about to break loose we have come to care about the Na'Vi, Pandora and of course Jake- so when everything goes to hell in a handbasket, the stakes are quite high and we actually give a damn. As for the action. HOLY HELL- forget what you think you know. Cameron still has the touch. No one, and I repeat, no one can direct action like he can. He proves yet again that you don't need to use weird angles, slo mo like we use oxygen and flash frames to make mind blowing action. The McGs, the Tony Scotts, the Michael Bays and the Christopher Nolans of the world would benefit from learning from him. Here is a filmmaker who actually knows how to spend 230 million on a film where every damn frame, nay , every pixel will amaze you. Come Oscar time, I am sure he will get a nomination, and let me be first to say, I am fully rooting for him to win best director.
And now for the fly in the ointment, so to speak, the things that I didn't like. The 2 major points of complaint I had was to do with the music. First of all I do NOT like the theme song. It is plain crappy. The overall music of the film, while it served it's purpose, was nowhere near as memorable as James Horner's other works. I frankly expected better. I would have preferred to see a little bit of earth before the film went directly into the main story, but apparently this was a decision made by the producers , and about 15 minutes of earth footage was cut. Hopefully we will see it in the director's cut. I would have loved to hear more about Eyra and how the Na Vi link works, but oh well, maybe in the sequel perhaps? The transition from the second act to the third , I would have liked to be more detailed, but that is just me nitpicking. Truth be told, the last point I could only think of after thinking about the film's narrative for a good 2 hours. It wont occur to anyone while they are watching it. You, my readers, will be lost in Pandora. I humbly request you to put aside your alternate plans, or your hatred of James Cameron or dislike for action sci fi films and go watch it, because believe me this is history in the making. This will be the bar against which epic films will be compared forever. Is it mere coincidence that James Cameron's initials matches with the other JC?? After Avatar,I am not so sure. I will be watching Avatar again, at least 2 more times in the theater. And with that, my countdown for Battle Angel Alita begins. Come join me in prayer that it will be indeed his next project.
Allow me to end this with a Paean to James Cameron.
Our Cameron, who art in Hollywood,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy Avatar come, thy will be done,
on 3d as it is in 2d
Give us this day our daily cinema
And forgive us our impatience,
as we forgive those who do not understand what you have done.
And lead us not into mediocrity,
but deliver us from bad filmmaking.
For thine is the Stereoscope,
and the mo-cap, and the cg,
for ever and ever.
With that, I bid you goodbye, allow me to go back and mope about my underachieving and talentless life.