MOVIE REVIEW- Effects: Avatar a stunning visual delight
My question is, how will Americans react when/if they realize Avatar essentially has them rooting for the Taliban?
Unless you've spent 2009 in solitary confinement in an Afghan prison, you're aware of Avatar. If you're only peripherally plugged in, you may not know whether it's a movie or a toothpaste, but you know you've got to buy some. Publicists who used to pride themselves on their command of the English language are now Tweeting like little girls– OMG u got 2 c Avatar!!!– to get the word out.
Like the least expensive movie of the year, Paranormal Activity, the most expensive, Avatar, is all about the hype and building consumer awareness. The product no longer matters, but in this case the product happens to be good.
James Cameron, making his first feature since Titanic, has created an extraordinary visual experience, mixing live-action, CGI, motion capture, animation, and every other trick in the effects book. About two-thirds of theaters are showing it in 3D, which certainly enhances the experience; but it's not a gimmicky movie with things jumping out at you, so it should look fine in 2D.
Cameron's script has a lot of intelligence in it but– a common complaint this season– falls down in the third act. In the first two, he's able to gloss over weaknesses and omit the technical jibber-jabber that would explain more of what we're seeing but stretch the feature into a miniseries.
By 2154, we've pretty much finished raping the earth and gone to Pandora, a moon of the planet Polyphemus, to obtain a mineral called unobtanium. (Is that a joke?) Unfortunately, the richest deposit is directly under the home of the indigenous Omaticaya clan, one of hundreds of groups of Navi, Pandoran creatures that are human-like but 10 feet tall and blue, with tails. They are also fiercely connected to nature, physically as well as spiritually.
It's a metaphor as obvious as any on the original Star Trek series: Americans (no other nationalities are represented) invade alien soil to take the local minerals, by force if necessary. The Navi are more primitive than the Afghans or Iraqis in terms of weaponry, but the analogy holds.
The opening narration sounds like a film noir detective, but it's a wheelchair-bound Marine, Cpl. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who's been sent to Pandora to replace his murdered twin brother, a scientist. He's hoping to earn enough to get his spine repaired. We still don't take good care of our veterans.
The scientific study is led by a botanist, Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who still smokes cigarettes in 2154. She's not as nice as her avatar, a Navi-like creature sent to give the natives help they don't want, such as English lessons. Jake will be linked to an avatar designed for his brother. We're not given much explanation of the avatars, on the assumption that everyone saw Surrogates and Gamer. (Oops.)
Jake is also enlisted by the head of the military mission, Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), a war movie cliche who hopes Jake can find a way to buy off the Omaticaya, or, if not, to learn their weaknesses so they can be driven off their homeland.
But Jake, after various adventures, goes native, falling in love with a Navi woman, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and learning their language and culture– all in three months, even though he's not supposed to be very bright. Just as Jake's being inducted into the tribe, Quaritch attacks. During the battle, his ace pilot, Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) has enough and drops out.
Act Three might be called "Revenge of the Tree-Huggers," as Jake, Grace, Trudy, and Norm Spellman (Joel David Moore), and/or their avatars try to help the Navi repel another attack with bows and arrows against planes and machine guns. In the middle of all this, a lengthy death scene is too distracting for too long, although it helps set up what comes later. The battle is silly but exciting and visually stunning.
Everything about Avatar is a feast for the eyes, with effects a couple of years more advanced than we've seen before. Pandora looks like an Amazon rain forest on acid; the Navi and avatars have more personality than their human counterparts. For a retro touch, the closing song sounds a lot like the Titanic theme, but it's new and sung by Leona Lewis.
Since 20th Century Fox is releasing Avatar, it will be considered corporate synergy if Fox News condemns the movie for its liberal stance. Negative hype helps the box office, too, by keeping the title on everyone's lips. Having avoided most of the advance hype and been unimpressed with what I did see, I approached Avatar with low-to-medium expectations and was pleasantly surprised. If youre psyched up for the second coming of Star Wars, you may not be as thrilled, but you'll still get your money's worth. #