It is official. James Cameron ranks right up there with Guillermo Del Toro as my favourite director. I was a fan of Terminator and Aliens as a kid, an even bigger fan of Titanic, and now Avatar is the best film I’ve watched this year.
Avatar is a sci-fi epic- full of action, special effects, heart and grandeur. The story is familiar but complex. Humans have discovered the indigenous Na Vi people in an unknown land called Pandora. To get close to these blue-elfin-alienish like species- which tower over humans, speak a different language, run a helluva faster while wielding arrows and riding majestic birds, scientists came up with the idea of an Avatar. A human gets into a special machine, enters a dream-like state, and is projected into an ‘avatar’ specially created for him. The ‘avatar’ has features like the Na Vi people, enabling the human to blend in with the natives they want to know more about.
The scientists who are genuinely interested in knowing about this other world form one camp while the financial backers of the project- aided by a crazy military man whose only high in life seems to come from mass destruction – form the opposing camp. The latter is only interested in one thing: getting the Na Vi people to relocate and kill them if they refuse to, so that they can get the precious resources buried deep in Na Vi land.
Avatar is first and foremost spellbindingly beautiful. The 3-D effects made Pandora come to life. The magical place, was by turns, my best dream and my worst nightmare. The strangely lovely flora and fauna made Pandora seemed like paradise at times while the ferocious creatures which dominate the place scare the hell out of me whenever they appear.
Beyond excellent special effects however, the premise of the film, while familiar, broke new ground by introducing a refreshing and creative spin on the typical understanding of an avatar. The glorious beauty of the film, together with an interesting plot which moved at a more or less good pace, and the ingenious and intriguing concept of an avatar made me completely immersed in the film. It’s like, well, a fantasy fan’s wet dream come true.
More importantly, the film was moving and had plenty of heart. Think Independence Day, only this time round, the enemy are humans and the poor Na Vi people are the ones sacrificing all to protect their motherland. The characters- Jake the cripple who was supposed to infiltrate the Na Vi community and pass on intelligence to the military in exchange for a chance to get his legs healed, Neytiri, the spirited Na Vi he falls for, the many other Na Vi people, the scientists who fought and gave up their lives to protect what they believed in- the sanctity of nature – all of them were well-fleshed out enough to make you feel for their struggles. The baddies on the other hand are so, so bad. But instead of making the film flat, the one-dimensional evil-doers just make viewers root for the heroes more.
There are flaws of course. The film is a tad too ambitious and there are so many issues environmentalism, patriotism, love, technology, how Jake is more alive as an avatar than as human being – that everything is like a touch-and-go. A couple of scenes are a wee bit draggy and very sappy. During those fleetingly brief moments, you almost think this is all crap, and then something exciting happens, and you are pulled right back. In the grand scheme of things, these are all pretty neglible.
Just go watch it. I know I am going to watch it again.