The King of Pandora
Avatar: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana (160 min.)
It has been 12 years since James Cameron, the self-proclaimed King of the World, took home 11 Oscars for Titanic, the highest grossing film in history. And it’s been at least that long since Avatar, his latest picture, has been floating around in his head. But he needed the technology of the film industry, the camera and effects technology for example, to catch up to the 3D vision he wanted on the big screen. After seeing Avatar, I can easily say that I am glad he waited on the technology to catch up to his big melon, with my only complaint that he would have spent some of those twelve waiting years working on a stronger script.
It is roughly 140 years in the future, and the earth - through a few vague references - is dying, and in desperate need of a mineral on an alien planet in order to sustain life. That mineral, the cutely named Unobtanium, is rich within the thread of Pandora, a moon planet occupied by a wide spectrum of wild creatures and natives. Not much is explained as far as the who or why, but Americans (apparently te only nation here) are occupying Pandora trying to obtain land to farm the mineral to sustain life back on earth. There is the military occupancy, scientific occupancy, and, of course, the money men. All of these factions of American government are imposing their will on Pandora, planning on moving out the Na’vi, the blue-skinned, yellow-eyed, ten-foot tall natives of the planet. The Na’vi represent the Native Americans in this tale, and are clearly modeled as such with their techniques and weaponry.
The military faction of this occupancy is headed by Colonel Miles Quaritch, a rough and tumble Marine to the core played with teeming villainy by Stephen Lang. Quaritch is hardnosed and unforgiving, complete with a mysteriously graphic scar from some unnamed beast along the side of his head. The scientific occupancy is represented by Dr. Grace Augustine, a tough scientist sympathetic to the plight of the Na’vi. Sigourney Weaver plays Augustine. It's nice to see Weavr back in a flick. And the money men here are personified by a decidedly one note Giovanni Ribisi.
The scientific occupancy have been, for some time as the story opens, embodying avatars, Na’vi grown with human DNA in order for humans to infiltrate the native tribes and try and understand their world. As the film opens, one of the scientists has been killed. Luckily, however, that scientist’s twin brother, Jake Sully, is a paraplegic Marine whose DNA match to his brother is perfect for him to take over the avatar and gather reconnaissance for the Marines.
Sam Worthington plays Sully, a Marine who, at first, is more than willing to deliver Intel to Quaritch and his military faction. However, once he becomes entangled with the Na’vi life, his mindset begins to change. The Na’vi, some ten foot tall, are in tune with the world of Pandora, but perhaps not as much as Cameron himself is in tune. The rest of the screenplay follows, willingly, the template set forth by films like A Man Called Horse, Dances with Wolves, and The Last Samurai, as Jake begins to learn the ways of the Na’vi, and even falls for Neytiri, one of the natives, played by Zoe Saldana of Star Trek. While the screenplay has these familiar traits, Cameron also employs modern comparisons to our situation in the Middle East (shock and awe), as well as the environmental problems of our planet these days. Cameron also utilizes some interesting ideas regarding the unity the Na'vi share with the world of Pandora, the creatures and the land itself, and you feel yourself, regardless of how formulaic the story may be, drawn into this world and these situations.
While the story itself follows the Dances with Wolves framework, Cameron transports the audience into Pandora with a conviction so unabashed, so detailed, so completely involving, that I feel as if Cameron could draw out a complete map of Pandora from his memory. There are majestic floating mountains, a variety of fascinating, aggressive creatures, and the glowing nighttime world of Pandora’s foliage, all of which are enhanced to a degree of breathtaking detail by the 3D technology. As Sully and Neytiri feed from one another, dancing through the tall trees and deep valleys of Pandora, one cannot help but be entirely overwhelmed by the depth, the scope, the utter beauty and hue of this world Cameron has worked so tirelessly to create. My breath was decidedly taken away at every thrilling turn.
Not only are there subtly beautiful moments to embellish in the 3D world of Avatar, but the action sequences are nothing short of jaw dropping. The action understandably amps up to eleven once Quaritch and his military realize that Sully may be siding with the natives’ way of life, and the attacks from the American forces become more intense, leading into the final showdown between human and Na'vi. While the final hour of Cameron’s picture becomes a wash of unrelenting action sequences, the payoff comes in the form of the unforgettable 3D technology.
Which creates a bit of a conundrum. As a pure film, Avatar is entertaining and detailed, but without the 3D aspect added to the story, I cannot imagine enjoying it half as much as I did . Seeing Avatar in this new, enhanced, cutting-edge 3D technology must be, if anything, comparable in feeling to what audiences must have felt back in 1939, when Dorothy opened that door to Oz. But beyond that revelation, is Avatar anything to remember? I am not really too sure. The detail, the care, and the emotion that Cameron put into Avatar are all visible in every scene, but I feel like he could have benefited from someone else writing the screenplay for him. Then, perhaps, his vision would be truly perfect.
3D version: A- 2D Version: B