There are certain films that outlive their theatrical releases to become evolutionary stepping stones of filmmaking. Long after the popcorn has been munched and the Oscars handed out, these movies stand the test of time and usher in the cinematic equivalents of geologic Eras. D.W. Griffiths The Birth of a Nation redefined the beauty of silent imagery. Alan Croslands The Jazz Singer integrated sound and heralded the rise of the talkie.” Orson Welless Citizen Kane became a hallmark of big-budget studio genius. And every sci-fi film of the last forty years owes debt to the standard set by Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey. And then there is Avatar. That this film, with fifteen years of creative development, four years of full-time work, and endless hype, was bound to be good seems like manifest destiny. But it doesnt just live up to its hypeit exceeds it. James Cameron has reinvented visual possibilities, perfected multi-layered storytelling and provided a service to audiences and filmmakers. He has transitioned us into the next big cinematic Era: 3D. Avatar is a ScriptPhD.com Editors Selection. For a full review, please click continue reading.
ScriptPhD.com Grade: A+ (Editor’s Selection)
The year is 2154. The Earth has long been pillaged of its resources and habitability. Looking to solve this impending energy crisis, a human colony has been mining for the valuable mineral unobtanium for three decades on Pandora, a distant Moon of the Alpha Centauri-A star system. At 4.4 billion light years away, travel to Pandora requires six years of arduous travel in cryogenic hibernation. Although possessing an Earth-like environment, Pandoras atmosphere is toxic. Furthermore, native denizens, a humanoid Naavi tribe, present a direct threat to humans, due both to their advanced biomechanical structure and animosity towards their occupiers fixations on what they feel is their sacred native land. In order to explore the territory safely, human being drivers must virtually connect their consciousness to a physical avatar hybrid composed of 50% human DNA and 50% Naavi DNA. Referred to pejoratively by the Naavi as the sky people, human imperialists become increasingly aggressive about destroying native territory to harvest unobtainium, leading to perilous tensions between the two groups and the brink of all-out war.
Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an accidental everyman hero and paraplegic ex-Marine. No doubt an ode to Camerons own brother John David, who served in the first Gulf War and even helped train Worthington for the role, Sully is lacking in mobility but still a warrior at heart. After the death of his twin brother, a scientist at the Avatar Program, Sully is the only one whose DNA matches and can drive his brothers Naavi avatar. Overly eager to use his new virtual body, Jake gets trapped on Pandora and saved by the beautiful Princess Neytari (Zoë Saldana). Far from viewing him favorably, she cant ignore an auspicious sign from the Naavi deity Eywah that Jake must become one of them and learn their ways. This is music to the ears of chain-smoking tough-as-nails head scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, flawless), who sees this as an opportunity to study the Naavi in an unprecedented way. Colonel Miles Quatrich, a despotic Rambo played with jingoistic abandon by Stephen Lang, recruits Sully as special ops to learn the Naavi weaknesses and where they may be infiltrated. Mediating the two camps is Resources Development Administration agent Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), an insipid corporate monger who will work with whichever side leads to the unobtainium.’ The scientists interests are purely the biology of Pandora and forging diplomacy with its peoples, the military to wield might (shock and awe, anyone?), and the RDA to make as much money as possible. Jake is caught between arbitrating these opposing human interests as he connects spiritually with the natural beauty of Pandora and falls in love with Neytiri. He must choose which side he will fight for and where his loyalties lie.
We have already written extensively earlier this week about the scientific and technological breakthroughs in the making of Avatar in our post entitled Behind Avatar: Science, Technology, Art and Design. This review is primarily concerned with its artistic achievements, which are significant. While some of Camerons derivative dialogue is a consistent weakness in his screenplays, he makes up for it with rich characters and familiar archetypes, particularly his trademark strong woman (in this case fulfilled dually by Weavers Augustine and Saldanas Neytiri). Augustine is the kind of knowledgeable, authoritative female scientist we wish would get portrayed in mainstream film, and is equal parts firm with the inexperienced non-scientist as she is empathetic with his journey to Naavi manhood. Neytiri is an exceptionally complex female lead, and a big credit to Saldana for a nuanced performance filmed in a virtually empty box. Neytiri teaches Jake to hunt, survive, and roam the treacherous land with a strong hand, but opens his eyes to where the true sacred wealth of her world liesin respect for the Earth, the animals, the spirit and the biology, not what lies in the ground. Rounding out the cast are terrific CCH Pounder as Moat, Neytiris mother and Naavi matriarch, Michelle Rodriguez as the rogue helicopter pilot Trudy Chacon (whose conscience leads to a very important role towards the end of the film), and Joel David Moore as über-nerdy scientist Norm Spellman, Jakes Naavi language coach.
The highlight of Avatar, and the price of admission, is the surreal beauty of the viewing experience and CGI melded seamlessly with live-action sequences shot in stereoscopic 3D. Camerons genius directing avoids the over-the-top action of Terminator or melodrama of Titanic to let the surroundings play a key role, if not the major role, in the film. He went to great lengths to create a unique flora and fauna for Pandora and he lets them shine. Nighttime scenes shot in bioluminescent forests, each footstep lighting a path on mystical trees, collapsing flowers, fluorescent foliage, fruit of impossibly vivid color, are nothing short of magical. Certain panoramic shots or flying sequences transported The ScriptPhD to childlike wonder, slack-jawed and only capable of a primitive ooooooh or ahhhhhhhh. Animals, eliciting enormous respect in the Naavi culture, are at the epicenter of this film. The entire ark of Camerons creations, ranging from the most powerful Tyrannosaurus-like behemoth to the most delicate winged creature, is designed with precision and detail. By far the most critical of these is the banshee, a dragon-horse-eagle hybrid that must be tamed individually by each Naavi before being adopted as a flying vehicle. Technical prowess in the penultimate human-Naavi and banshee-military vehicle battle sequences are near perfection and can easily vie with the most beloved war movies of all time. So put on your 3D glasses, sit back, and prepare yourselves to be transported to an unimaginable universe.
Avatar is a modern film that smartly tackles many of the moral and academic quandaries we struggle with as a 21st Century society, including the environment, resource management, conflict, global imperialism and corporate greed. It sets new technology standards in digital animation and CGI. But its also a pure love story, an old-fashioned sci-fi thriller, an adventure and a centuries-old fable about acceptance, alienation and connection. I wanted to create a familiar type of adventure in an unfamiliar environment by setting the classic tale of a newcomer to a foreign land and culture on an alien planet, Cameron said. The story is by design classic in its broad strokes, but we have plenty of twists and turns in store for the audience. Ive dreamed of creating a film like this, set on another world of great danger and beauty, since I was a kid reading pulp science fiction and comic books by the truckload, and sitting in math class drawing creatures and aliens behind my propped up
textbook. We are all grateful beneficiaries of the realization of his dream.
Avatar goes into wide release in IMAX and theaters nationwide on December 15, 2009.
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