‘Avatar’: Feliz Na’vi…Damn!

For those who follow film, I am sure this is getting redundant, but let me add another voice to the “Avatar” chorus. Yes, it is that good. And those who dismiss it, politicize it or reduce it, do so at their own peril, for this film will be a cinematic reference point – much like King Kong, Star Wars, Jurassic Park – of a sea change in film.

Every year, we read studio reports of overall box office, and we typically hear about a monetary figure. The spike in ticket prices and the additional costs for 3-D films have helped this. But in terms of crowds, there are fewer people going to the theaters. This is backed by a poll from the National Endowment for the Arts.

At a time when the thrill of going to the box office is waning, director James Cameron gives us a reason to venture to the theater not just to see, but to experience.

Leave it to Cameron to swing for the bleachers again after creating the single highest-grossing film ever (that would be, “Titanic” for those just coming out of a coma or live in caves). Years of reports and controversy of budget, marketability, Smurf-like tendencies, and other such nonsense all evaporate like mist on the completely artificial world known as Pandora.

And what a world it is. Stunning vistas, bioluminscent flora, and creatures to make George Lucas weep CGI tears, envelop and consume viewers that can be described by no other word than groundbreaking. It is the home to the Na’vi a tribe of towering blue creatures that resemble a human-cat hybrid and have a physical connection to everything in their world – the animals, plants and trees. In fact, one tree in particular rests atop a much-sought-after energy source that is desired by humans.

This sets the scene for “Avatar,” in which a future Earth is all but depleted of energy sources, and sends an exploratory group of soldiers and scientists to the planet to mine this precious mineral. Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) is a Marine who is asked to participate. Wheelchair-bound, Jake seems to be an unlikely candidate for such a physical mission, until we realize early on that he is to part of a scientific program in which he will “operate” a Na’vi in a somnambulistic state.

Essentially, Jake gets to play in the most advanced roll-playing game in history. As a Na’vi, he not only has full use of his shattered legs, but finds he has superhuman strength. He also finds an attraction to a young princess Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana). And he soon learns that his emotions are in direct odds with his mission.

Critics of the film have been bemoaning the rather thin story (Really? You’ve been anticipating this film for complex plot machinations? ). It is threadbare, no doubt. But I contend that only further enhances the experience of the real purpose of “Avatar.” For if it were heavy on plot threads and character analysis, it would distract from the countless, sumptuous visuals at hand. It’s also rather slack to refer to it as a “Dances with Aliens” or some variation thereof. For its take on the “noble savage” dates back to the 17th century in literature and has been featured in some of history’s most enduring writings (that Daniel Defoe, what a hack!).

And the story of inhabiting the body of another while one is at rest is one that dates back even further (hello, Hinduism).“Avatar’s” story is simply a tool to introduce us to its stunning world, and all that awaits within.

The acting (though more than half of the film is merely voice-over work) is spot on. From Sigourney Weaver’s passionate scientist to Stephen Lang’s trigger-happy Col. Quartich, the support is reliably entertaining. And Worthington, who was a casualty of another Cameron-bourne film this year (though Cameron has long since disassociated with it), “Terminator Salvation,” is a rock-solid hero we are more than happy to follow.

 But the true hero is perhaps Cameron, defying odds, exceeding expectations and reinventing just what a cinematic experience can be.

 He has stated that, in “Avatar,” he has created a world in which he would like to revisit in future films. I know that it is one that I will most certainly be revisiting many times more in theaters.

~ by usesoapfilm on December 23, 2009.

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