Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
USA/United Kingdom, 2009. Twentieth Century Fox, Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Film Partners, Lightstorm Entertainment. Screenplay by James Cameron. Cinematography by Mauro Fiore. Produced by James Cameron, Jon Landau. Music by James Horner. Production Design by Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg. Costume Design by Mayes C. Rubeo, Deborah Lynn Scott. Film Editing by James Cameron, John Refoua, Stephen E. Rivkin.
James Cameron returns to the director’s chair twelve years after the success of Titanic to make another superbly expensive adventure. Where his wonderful epics usually hit emotional points as well as they do the adrenaline glands, Avatar is much heavier on the technical wizardry and not as impressive in any other manner.
Sam Worthington plays a disabled vet who has traveled to the planet Pandora to take over the work his science researcher brother was doing before he died. The planet’s indigenous population, massive, lean creatures known as the Na’vi, are not friendly to the human colonizers and have resisted attempts to be “modernized”, while the humans don’t want to leave since Pandora possesses a mineral substance that is worth billions of dollars. There is a clash of desires between the military who want to eradicate the species and the scientists who want to study and assimilate them that comes to a head when Worthington arrives, immediately ready to please both. Despite his lack of training, he takes his brother’s place and is assigned to hook into an “Avatar”, a biogenetically engineered Na’vi who responds to all of his host’s brain impulses once they are electronically linked. Under this guise, our hero ventures deep into the forest where he makes the acquaintance of a Na’vi woman (Zoe Saldana), falls in love with her and, eventually, her people.
The Dances With Wolves storyline is an absolute dud, diverting enough but never surprising, and Cameron’s usual talent with rich characterizations fails him here; the complexity of Sarah Connor’s maternal terror or Ellen Ripley’s vulnerable menace have been replaced with cardboard cutouts of good guys and bad guys, none of it helped by Worthington’s flat performance. The magic of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cameron’s masterpiece, is not the fact that he got liquid metal to walk; it’s that he got liquid metal to walk in pursuit of people you actually cared about.
Sigourney Weaver fares much better as the scientific half of the argument, but she’s never integral enough to give the movie any drive, so it’s all left to the technicians to really take you on a journey, and boy do they ever. The effects are beyond astonishing, every shot giving you colours and creatures with rich, vivid detail that never becomes queasy or irritating. When viewed in “Real 3-D” the experience is even more delicious, Cameron using the technology to its best advantage without ever letting it be a gimmick. That said, the film runs nearly three hours and, despite its being one of the most eyepopping spectacles ever put on the silver screen, has a story that B-movies have been telling in 80 minutes or less for decades.
Academy Awards: Best Cinematography; Best Visual Effects; Best Art Direction
Nominations: Best Picture; Best Director (James Cameron); Best Film Editing; Best Sound Mixing; Best Sound Editing; Best Original Score
Golden Globe Awards: Best Picture-Drama; Best Director (James Cameron)
Nominations: Best Original Score; Best Original Song (“I See You”)