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December 20, 2009

Avatar: The best visual spectacle ever!

Avatar is the latest offering from James Cameron, who returns after a hiatus of 12 years after the biggest blockbuster of all times, Titanic. The expectations: humungous. The promotion: brilliant. The movie: let’s check it out, shall we?

Jake Sully, an ex-marine is shipped off to Pandora to take on the role of his brother as his genome matches exactly. Once on Pandora, he is introduced to the Avatar program; human DNA mixed with the native DNA to create Avatars that look like the natives (the Na’vi) and are remote controlled by the human mind. He plugs in, goes down the rabbit hole, and emerges in wonderland. Once with the Na’vi, he learns their customs, trying to understand what it will take for them to relocate away from their village. The humans need the natives to move away, so that they can come in and mine for unobtanium, the universe’s costliest resource. And if the Na’vi wouldn’t move themselves, well, too bad for them. They would just have to put up with being mowed down. It is then up to Sully to rally the natives to take on the ‘sky people’ with bows and arrows, as they come to destroy the homeland with missiles and napalm.

James Cameron’s return has been hailed widely in all movie circles. This time, his job is immensely tougher than ‘Titanic’ by having to work with all the technology he has in this movie. The introduction to Pandora, the Na’vi village, Jake’s coming of ‘Na’vi age’; everything is done very well and keeps you engaged. Where Cameron falters is in the second hour, while he tries to show the conflict in Jake’s mind and establish the setting for the faceoff to follow. The movie loses steam there, and the visuals strain to move the story forward. Cameron is, however, a master of the finale, and he does so here as well. The scale of execution, the fight sequences just take your breath away.

As tough it is to direct a live action venture, it is equally tough to judge the actors in these performances. But looking beyond that, or as they say on Pandora, Seeing them, Zoe Saldana puts in a great performance as Neytiri, the chieftain’s daughter who falls for this outsider. Sam Worthington is good as Jake Sully, our hero. Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace is good, and it is nice to see her back on the big screen with Cameron. Stephen Lang as the archetypal badass villain does exactly what you’d expect him to do.

The visuals are breathtaking, brilliant, amazing. Use whatever synonym you want to, but the feeling shall be the same. It is an immense effort from the people at Weta in creating an entire world with their effects, as detailed and as beautiful as Pandora. The water splashing in the seas, the leaves moving in the wind, the amazing night life of Pandora, the animals, the Na’vans themselves; everything is top notch. Only in one shot, as Tsu’tey falls from the helicopter after getting shot, do you see that he’s not a real creature, but a CG creation.

James Horner’s soundtrack is mostly good, but the songs seem like recycled versions of his old creations. The set design, for the scenes which have a set, is good.

Final Verdict
: Cameron was initially planning to release it in July, but delayed it to allow some more ‘finishing work’. I believe the film was ready then, he just delayed it to release it close to the Copenhagen summit. The movie, with its pro-environment message, can capitalize on the timing of its release. On the basis of its story and screenplay, I would rate ‘Avatar’ 3 on 5. However, the movie deserves to be seen in 3-D, with which the visual spectacle raises its overall rating to 4 out of 5. I hope they redo Lord of The Rings with this technology. That would be just brilliant.


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