In 1997, James Cameron smashed the all-time box office record, with multi-Academy Award-winning mega-hit Titanic. He has been known throughout his career for making trail-blazing movies. His incredible work on Terminator 2: Judgment Day showed just how far technology at the time could be pushed, and Titanic took the special effects a step further, creating a perfectly realised world for the infamous ship to sail in. So when it was announced that he was working on a 3D masterpiece, the film-world took great interest, because if anyone could kick-start the 3D revolution, it was him. Thus Avatar was born and it shot comfortable to the top of the highest-grossing films of all time list..
Set in the near future, Avatar is a pastiche of the ‘New World’ narrative. This time the ‘John Smith’ character is replaced with Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a former Marine who agrees to complete his dead brothers mission on the planet of Pandora. Despite being wheel-chair bound, he trains to have his mind inserted into one of the alien creatures indigenous to Pandora, the Na’vi. He must then ingratiate himself into their society and convince them to move from their sacred home so that the area can be mined for a precious ore known as unobtainium. As is the case in the original ‘Pocahontis’ story, our protagonist must fall in love with a beautiful native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and be forced to decide whether to help his people or defend the lands of his adopted race.
The first thing to talk about with Avatar is the 3D. It is sumptuous and incredibly detailed. So much time and effort has clearly been put in to show exactly what can be done with the third dimension. Unfortunately for Hollywood, as fantastic as the effects are, they just do not add enough to the overall experience outside of Imax to make all the extra cost worthwhile and as time has shown, as a novelty it’s fine, but people just prefer 2D. Even with the rich colours and glorious background, the 3D dulls the colours and darkens the action, which is almost unforgivable in such a beautiful looking film.
Avatar‘s effects as a whole are incredible, with the Na’vi perefectly realised to the point where you forget that they are computer generated and are immersed in this new world. Cameron is an expert in creating likeable if slightly clichéd characters and there are clear similarities between the mercenary marines on Pandora and the ones fighting xenomorphs in Aliens. But they have proven enjoyable and popular in the past, so he is clearly not keen to break a winning formula.
A lot has been written about the plot of Avatar, and for all the cries of ‘Smurfahontis in Space’ it does heavily rely on the Pocahontis myth for the meat of it. But this is not a bad thing as the story remains popular for a reason. Sadly with a film that is so unique and ground-breaking in so many ways, it would’ve been nice to have an equally original story. Still the story at least makes sense, and the only other major downside is the running length. So much time is devoted to showing off the wonders of the new world that the film feels too baggy and drags substantially in some parts.
Overall this is a well-trod story with some eye-watering special effects and beautiful surroundings. Avatar has enough action, romance and adventure to keep everyone happy and whilst it doesn’t quite live up to it’s box office returns it is an important film that everybody should see at least once.
James Cameron never does things by halfs and Avatar is bright, bold and very, very blue.