Cinema needed this film. Every so often a film comes along and, in one way or another, raises the bar of expectation. In sci-fi, Star Wars took the genre to mountain-like levels. Most recently, The Matrix eclipsed James Cameron’s Terminator 2 as the movie that changed the proverbial game for high tech action adventure, but Cameron is back to push the limits of cinematic wonder with Avatar.
I won’t rundown the synopsis but, in case you missed it, Tony covers it well. I actually passed up a chance to see this film in IMAX and it’s proved to be one of the worst decisions I’ve made in a while. Why do I say that? Because this film is one of the single most incredible visual spectacles I ever seen on film. I often wished I could pause the frames and just rest in the shots to take it all in. When it comes to 3D, CGI motion capture and performance capture, James get it right. While he made some improvements in the technology, none of it is completely new. What is new is the way the 3D enhances nearly every part of frame of this epic feature. It never takes a backseat and is so masterfully done that I felt myself flinching at moments; not only dodging projectiles but yearning to reach out and touch lush scenery.
The motion capture (mirrors actor’s body movement) and performance capture (actor’s facial nuances) give the blue cat-like Na’vi true character and emotion. I saw this technique, with 3D enhancement, in Robert Zemeckis’ A Christmas Carol only a month earlier. I was stunned by the way it allowed the actors to, not only voice the animation, but give life to the characters in a way that draws the viewer deeper into the story. As I compare that with what is done in Avatar, the technology of the films seem to stand 4.3 light-years away from one another (the distance from Earth to Pandora). This may seem like overstimulated fawning, but the images in Avatar are almost a story in themselves. Please don’t cheat yourself and see this in standard 2D format.
One understated element of Avatar is the power of performance by several of its actors. They can get overlooked because the dialogue and story leave much to be desired. When the words are broken and the story is rote, what makes you care once you adjust to the visual spectacle? Emotion. You can feel for the plight of a computer generated alien race of people. Your fury can burn against an advantageous corporate figure head trying to move “savages” out of their physical and spiritual homes to acquire an element ridiculously named “unobtainium.” Heartfelt work by Sam Worthington (Terminator: Salvation), Zoe Saldana (Star Trek 2009) and Stephen Lang (Gods and Generals, The Men Who Stare At Goats), in concert with veterans Sigourney “Siggy” Weaver, CCH Pounder (The Shield), and Giovanni Ribisi (Saving Private Ryan), help Avatar to hurdle it’s shortcomings.
This film is destined to be a milestone in technology and the history of movie making. It was so wonderful that it made me overlook glaring contradictions like having a chain-smoking, tree-loving doctor. I give James Cameron’s Avatar a whopping 4.5 out of 5 babbles!