Once in a long while a movie comes along that reminds us film critics that we have positively the best job in the world. For the year 2009 and perhaps beyond, that movie is Avatar. This fantasy/sci-fi live action-cum-CGI flick is immersive on so many levels that it’s more than a movie—it’s an experience that draws you into a dream so unimaginable and enthralling, you don’t want to wake up.
Honestly, I’ve never really bought into the whole Titanic craze but here, writer and director James Cameron’s talent for story-telling is visionary and irrefutably staggering. The first few minutes land us on 22nd-Century Earth, where humans are masterminding a “diplomatic” take-over of a distant moon-planet called Pandora in order to get hold of the precious resource unobtainium, because their own destructive machinations have rendered Mother Nature’s elements dry. For this mission, the humans have created hybrid beings called avatars in order to interface with Pandora’s hostile atmosphere and gain the trust of its people, the Na’vi (an elven-like race with blue skin, superior physicality and zero body fat). In the vein of The Matrix, the avatar is remotely controlled through the consciousness of the human from whose DNA it is formed.
Spearheading this diplomacy mission is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a crippled ex-U.S Marine who inadvertently gains entry into the Na’vi’s inner circle when his avatar is saved by Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña), the Pocahontas of the Na’vi people. As she guides the newcomer through a Na’vi induction program that involves taming the iridescent creatures of land and air and taking the most graceful of plunging falls, they slowly form a bond that would very soon change the destinies of both worlds and test Jake’s loyalty to his own kind.
Replete with luminescent life form, floating mountains and wandering jellyfish-like spirits, the landscape of Pandora is undoubtedly Avatar’s crowning jewel. When Jake first touches down on Pandora, you can almost feel the dampness in the air and smell the earthiness of the forest, the details of which are fleshed out to degrees never seen before using state-of-the-art technology and 3D filmmaking. There is a startlingly organic feel to everything, down to the very nuances of expressions on the Na’vis’ feline faces.
While the stunning imagery is a leap beyond imagination, the story itself—infused with environmental, spiritual and humanitarian references—is one rooted in our very civilization, one that has been bloodied by war, genocide, the use and abuse of nature. Cameron has us so invested in the beauty of Pandora and its people that when things start to get ugly, it guts you to the core. Not since Frodo attempted Mount Doom in The Lord of the Rings have we experienced cinematic hopelessness and desperation of such scale and scope—Avatar’s most resounding message is that the savagery of those who label others as “savages” knows no bounds.
Truly, the art of film-making and story-telling has reached new heights with this production.