The movie with the most buzz this holiday season—having already grossed $1 billion— is Avatar in 3D. James Cameron followed up his blockbuster Titanic with another over-the-top (in costs, special effects, and plot) that seems, just like his earlier film, a monumental risk. At a time when Hollywood is cutting back on budgets, Cameron broke the bank. This “king of the world,” however, hit the jackpot. Avatar features a cast that is half-human, half alien with many computer-generated images and 3D elements that have the action jumping off the screen. This film is not to be missed on the big screen.
We get the background for the story within the first half hour: planet earth is in need of some precious mineral that lies below the surface of the planet, Pandora. As luck would have it, a new species, that may or may not be friendly, live right where this rare mineral is buried. (Resemblance to current events is hard to ignore). Although there are a lot of high-tech gadgets that squeak, click, and go “whoosh,” the star here is the scenery and the spectacular world that Cameron creates. Pandora is one great big colorful fantasyland with amazingly detailed insects, wild beasts, flora, waterfalls, and a tall, blue creatures called the “Na’vi.” Having failed to woo the Na’vi’s with kindness, humans now have to come with all their war toys and transformer-like army to force the issue.
Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) as the tough-talking head of the scientific portion of the program, is eager to learn the ways of the Na’vi’s so they can have a more civilized partnership. She has a “body snatcher” kind of program where humans can be turned into Na’vi people, in order to infiltrate the tribe and learn from them. Although effective, this process is time consuming and time is a luxury she doesn’t have. She’s up against the “rock’em, sock’em” GI-leader Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) impatient to launch a military attack. Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), the good-guy ex-Marine who joins the science team and gets caught between his heart and his military loyalties.
Like its predecessor, Titanic, Avatar runs long, almost 2 ½ hours. Cameron no doubt found it difficult to edit out background information on the Na’vi tribe—its beliefs, defense strategies when encountering ferocious creatures, social mores, as well as the gorgeous views of this invented paradise, including the flora and fauna. At times, the film feels hypnotic.
Every epic movie needs a battle, and Avatar creates one 3D humdinger, with explosions that seem to send arrows and flaming debris hurtling towards the audience. How can a primitive people whose main weapon is a bow and arrow take on a modern-day army with machine guns and super duper helicopters that bob and weave through the trees? And, with a leader intent on annihilation? Well, you just have to see it. Cameron has done a fine job, and he has certainly raised the bar with respect to action flicks. 3D glasses may soon become standard equipment for the viewing audience.
Parental warning: Cameron has been criticized for having several actors, including Weaver, smoke in the movie.