Thursday, January 7, 2010

Avatar (2009) review: Goes Beyond Being a Mere Visual Spectacle to Become a True Modern Masterpiece

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: Amazing digital effects, intense soundtrack, lovable characters, unique production design, basically ups the ante of any big budget blockbuster.

The Bad: backstory is only implied but not fleshed out, third act feels rushed a little

Current Availability Status:On Blu ray and DVDs in any local video store


The hype was definitely big; over 10 years in the making. The ultra secret film project that would push the boundaries of film making to its limits. With that promise, a whopping budget and James Cameron's reputation on the line, "Avatar" was born. At the start of his career, James Cameron brought to life his nightmare about an unstoppable skeletal killer rising from fire, now he has realised his vision of a beautiful dream. "Epic" cannot even begin to describe this marvel of a movie. It surpasses every other blockbuster that has come before. Plus it has brains and heart to boot, two things other big special effects laden movies like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen tend to forget.

Much has been said about Avatar's less-than-original story. In the year 2154 on a faraway moon called Pandora, the RDA corporation has been attempting to mine precious "unobtanium" minerals while fending off attacks by the local "Na'Vi": a race of tall, blue skinned natives clearly inspired by Native Americans. Enter Jake Sully, an crippled marine who is sent to replace his brother in the "Avatar Project" which involves transplanting the minds of humans into artificially created Na'vi bodies in order to facilitate better inter-species understanding between Na'vi and Humans. But Jake is given new orders from the corporation; infiltrate the Na'vi tribe, learn their secrets and convince them to relocate before the military is sent in to remove them by force.

Similar to his previous work on Terminator in which James Cameron took a typical horror/slasher movie structure(unstoppable killer going after helpless teenage girl)and tailored it into an all time classic, Avatar's story is, at its core, just a mix of well known cinema clich├ęs. The story of a soldier who is taken in by some natives and ultimately fights with the natives against his former comrades is nothing new, having been done most recently in "The Last Samurai". But Cameron manages to bring all those familiar elements together and craft a sweeping tale that is as compelling as the world it takes place in; it is not the individual elements, but the end result mix that works so well. On the surface, it is a grand science fiction fantasy adventure that anyone can understand and enjoy. Dig beneath that surface and you have an entire cast of interesting characters as well as clever allusions about the recent war in Iraq, metaphors about corporate globalisation, imperialism, and even deeper philosophy about an individual finding a new purpose among new people.

Some directors just make films. James Cameron creates an entire world with Jake Sully as our avatar through which the audience are able to experience this wonderful world of Pandora.

A word of warning though: Do not, i repeat, DO NOT watch this movie unless you watch it in its full 3D glory. While most 3D films "pop up" in your face, Avatar does a different approach. Instead of popping out, it immerses the viewer into the visual experience with a realistic field of depth thanks to a technique of filming that mimics the way our eyes perceive distance. This revolutionary filming method makes the magnificent CGI world, creatures and characters all the more majestic to behold. Forget Star Wars, forget Lord of the Rings, AVATAR is the new benchmark of visual effects excellence. Even the more hardcore fan-boys of science fiction would be drooling at the attention to detail the production team put into fleshing out not just a never-before-seen world, but original creature designs and even an entirely new language for the Na'Vi(and let us not forget the most realistic portrayal of robotic mecha in the history of digital films). After a short while one would would forget that the Na'Vi are just digital effects and come to emotionally connect with those lovable yet tragic creatures. That is the extent of realism that the revolutionary CGI and amazing acting gives to the digitally rendered Na'Vi. The human characters are also perfectly cast, each fleshed out as much as possible so much to emotionally engage the audience. Even the "bad guys" have a certain appeal about them. (special mention goes to Stephan Lang's character of Colonel Quaritch, easily embodying the definition of "bad ass" and giving "Apocalypse Now"'s Colonel Killgore a run for his money.)
Almost Flawless in its execution, only one personal nitpick would be that perhaps Avatar would have worked better with a longer running time or split into two movies. The final act where Jake goes from outcast to Na'vi savior in 10 minutes felt a little bit truncated and more time could have been spent on Jake Sully's back-story, but those are just minor nitpicks if one wanted to be really fussy.

**********************fanboy rant********************
Observable people will notice the culmination of elements from James Cameron's previous movies. The interclass/interracial relationship between Jack and Rose from Titanic reborn in the form of Jake's romance with the Na'Vi Neytiri. Futuristic war technology like dropships and Mechs and Greedy corporation Aliens. Hardened Guerrilla fighters from Terminator 2, an outcast re-learning how to "live" again similar to Kyle Reese from Terminator 1. It is truly a "best of James Cameron" anthology. A culmination of his life's work.

**************fanboy rant end********************

Emotionally engaging, thrilling, entertaining and breathtaking. Avatar is James Cameron at his best; showcasing his abilities as an blockbuster movie director who can balance action with emotion, bang with brain. Battles are edge-of-your-seat thrill rides, beautifully choreographed and filmed, bringing "awesome" to a whole new level. From start to finish, Avatar succeeds at everything it set out to do and easily lives up to the hype. Future blockbuster directors would be hard pressed to live up to the standards set by this grand modern masterpiece that would easily become an immortal classic in no time.

*****************************Review End******************

Go For it: If you want an honest to goodness fantasy blockbuster experience with enough "heart" to get you emotionally involved and enough "bang" to leave you wanting to come back for more
Avoid it: If you would pass off James Cameron's trademark style of taking a well known storyline and giving his unique spin on it as "unoriginal".

Entertainment: A

Story: B+
Acting: A

Characters: A
Replay value: A
Music: A-
"Brains": B

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