It’s here. The movie we’ve been told is going to redefine motion pictures forever. The movie that’s going to rock our faces off. Well, I have been rocked, although my face has been left intact. Make of that what you will.
For me, Avatar kind of flew in under the radar. I heard a few things at Comic-Con, mostly about this movie James Cameron had spent years and piles of money on that wasn’t creating as much buzz as people were hoping it would. After that, it disappeared again. Every now and then I would read a story about someone who had seen the movie. Someone who’s brother’s sister’s ex-boyfriend had been a production assistant, and although they hadn’t seen the entire movie they felt more than qualified to say that Avatar would be the biggest piece of sh*t ever committed to film and may God help James Cameron’s soul. So, I did what every good fanboy should do in similar situations: I lowered my expectations. Of course I’d be there opening day. If the movie was great, well, great. If not, I still have Sherlock Holmes to look forward to.
Does Avatar live up to all the hype? Yes and no. The special effects are without a doubt the best I’ve ever seen. Like The Matrix before it, it’s set the bar at a new high, although I don’t think we’ll be forced to endure the hundred bad rip-offs the way we were after the world discovered Bullet Time. Still, James Cameron has brought us all a giant step closer to the day when pictures and video will no longer be admissible as court evidence. When I can use Photoshop and Cameron’s fancy new 3D cameras to make it look like it was my brother who knocked off that Piggly Wiggly, you know we’re all in trouble.
But special effects aside, there’s nothing revolutionary about Avatar. The movie’s plot is far from original. Man is sent into hostile territory to fight against savage natives, and in the process comes to empathize with and consider himself one of them. A lot of the movie’s dialogue borders on cringe-worthy (You are not in Kansas anymore!). Also, Michelle Rodriguez is in the movie, and I think audiences are still trying to figure out whether she’s an actress or not.
Now, saying that there’s nothing revolutionary about Avatar doesn’t mean that the movie wasn’t awesome. I think in that in attempting to tell the greatest story ever told, James Cameron gave us one of the most solid sci-fi action films we’ve seen in the last decade. At a hefty two hours and forty minutes, you never once feel like the story’s dragging. Much of the first hour is spent setting things up, explaining who everyone is and what they’re doing on Pandora in the first place. But what might seem slow in the beginning is all paid off later in the film, and leaves you with plenty of those, “Oooooohh. I get it” moments.
The actors, small ensemble that they are, have real chemistry. After watching him stumble around in Terminator: Salvation, I think there might be hope yet for Sam Worthington. While he and the other main characters all spend more than half the movie rendered in CGI, I was surprised at how they were able to make me connect to a bunch of 7-foot tall zebra people. Actually, I was surprised at how emotional the movie was overall. I’m not spoiling anything when I say that Avatar’s climax centers on a battle royal between Giovanni Rabisi, the space marines and the Na’vi, and the lead-up and payoff to all that really sucks you in. I don’t want to say that there were parts of the film where I had to swallow back a lump in my throat, so I won’t.
If I could describe the movie in a word, it would be balanced. Avatar really is a movie that has it all, that perfect blend of emotion and action. And while the core of Cameron’s story doesn’t take us anywhere new, everything else is so well put together that it more than makes up for it. The humans, the Na’vi, and their battle over Pandora is so visually stunning and fleshed-out that you can’t help but be sucked in by it. Avatar is definitely a standout in a year that really hasn’t had a clear winner. The movie isn’t perfect, but it isn’t too far off.