If cinema is pure escapism, then Avatar provides the ultimate journey to a world unlike anything seen before it, with a deep spiritual core giving substance to its most impressive display of style.
Released late in the year, Avatar also caps off a stellar 2009 for science fiction, in which a group of young filmmakers (Duncan Jones, Neill Blomkamp, J.J. Abrams) turned the languishing genre into an equally profitable and critical acclaimed class of cinema.
But with the return of “King of the World” James Cameron from the underwater wilderness (which he has explored for the last dozen or so years), all pretenders to the throne will quickly realise that the man is indeed back to show the boys just how it is done.
Avatar stars rising thesp Sam Worthington as Jake Sully, a paraplegic and former U.S. marine who is chosen to be a part of the Avatar program, which will allow his mind to control a genetically developed alien body. The program was created by scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and funded by a large corporation who want to get their hands on a valuable resource which can only be found on the planet Pandora.
Problem is that Pandora’s alien beings, the “Na’vi” (blue behemoths with an indigenous twist), are not feeling inclined to have their planet raped by greedy humans, leaving it up to Sully to try and win the trust of the Na’vi people and secure a peaceful takeover, before the U.S. military (led by a bad ass Stephan Lang) declare war.
What follows plot wise is a sci-fi version of Dances with Wolves, with Sully falling in love with native Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, who played in Uhura in Star Trek) while caught in a war between his species and his adopted home.
Yet no matter how similar and (occasionally) absurd the premise can get, Avatar works due to the impressive performances of its cast (which is quite a feat considering some of the chunky dialogue they had to spit out), and Cameron’s ability to immerse his audience into this alien world of never ending wonder and beauty.
The fulfilment of a pipedream which begun with his initial script 15 years ago, Cameron held off making Avatar since the technology could not match his vision. Yet that all changed after a viewing of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
Cameron tapped Jackson’s special effects powerhouse WETA to handle visual effects and, after the bumble that was The Lovely Bones, WETA have not only redeemed but outdone themselves, taking Cameron’s ground breaking motion picture caption work to create photo realistic effects, without a trace of the synthetic touches seen in Robert Zemeckis’ motion capture work.
Equally impressive is the environment in which these characters inhabit: an extraterrestrial / indigenous world filled with spectacular prehistoric-esque creatures, and colourful vegetation that almost seems tangible enough to touch.
There is no doubt that Cameron’s underwater explorations of alien worlds within our Earth have influenced his broad imagination and formed an unrelenting respect for nature. What is surprising is the stirring spirituality which Cameron injects into the proceedings, taking a cue from George Lucas’ “The Force” in the depiction of an otherworldly yet constantly present existence that connects us all.
For this reason, Avatar is not only a magnificent display of innovative filmmaking, but it is also a spiritually uplifting and imaginative cinematic experience not felt since a little film called Star Wars was released over 30 years ago.