The line at the Universal Citywalk IMAX 3-D here in Los Angeles was crazy long but we’d booked tickets ahead of time. For the record, I wasn’t caught up in the hype over James Cameron’s new movie Avatar; in fact, had a friend not bought the tickets and made the plans, I would have ultimately caught it on TV. I’m so glad I didn’t.
I went to see a spectacle, not story – and I was not remotely disappointed. I don’t think I really followed what was going on for the first 5 minutes or so as I was in awe of the scale of what I was seeing. I would highly recommend you see this film in IMAX 3-D because it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed. It’s an absolute landmark in movie-making history. One day we’ll be able to go films and see them in 360 – this is the next step to achieving that ambition. It’s truly stunning.
The film is deceptive; it starts off like one of those rides at Disney where you’re forced to watch those short movies where scientists tell you to strap yourself in before you start your descent to the heart of the planet (or whatever the ride is going to “do”). I say that because the acting and writing is so, um, shit. Particularly one-note (and a hackneyed one note at that) is the head of the marines played by Stephen Lang. Fortunately, he’s out-acted by everyone else including the special effects. And when things get moving (very shortly thereafter), you get utterly caught up in a film that’s about 2 hours 45 mins – it just flies by.
The story is fairly simple; an allegorical tale as old as time itself about an indigenous people who are to be thrown off their land (by any means possible) by big business who want to mine there. The indigenous people are called Na’vi; their planet is called Pandora – but it could just as easily be Native Americans on the planet Earth. The Na’vi are spiritual people who are physically & mentally in touch with nature and enjoy a symbiotic relationship with it – literally. They’re also blue and about 10 feet tall and realized entirely through animation. Humans have created “avatars” – Na’vi constructs that can be controlled by people attached to them via computers, and we follow the story of Jake Sully, a paralyzed marine who, via his Na’vi, makes contact with a Na’vi tribe, infiltrates them, then, of course, starts to fall in love with one. Trust me, the story itself isn’t anything worth writing home about but it does bring to mind the troubles of indigenous people the world over who’ve been screwed by their fellow man who are both technologically more advanced and just plain meaner. During the course of the film, I was reminded not just of Native Americans but of Australian Aboriginals, genocide victims the world over; even the Jews being forced out of Russia during the pogroms.
The Na’vi are rendered so brilliantly that it’s easy to forget they’re animated. Their land and the creatures and planet life on it are also gorgeous, inventive and spectacular. Huge, gravity-defying rocks that hang in the air, fountains of water spraying off them. Dinosaur-like herds of animals. Flying monsters that soar through the clouds – with our heroes riding them. That’s why seeing this in IMAX 3-D is so worth it; you feel like you’re there yourself. I myself have a little bit of vertigo so when the camera would peer over the edge of a cliff or tree branch and reveal the dizzying but beautiful views beneath I had to close my eyes.
The cast – Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, Joel Moore et al – all deliver good performances. For me the stand out was Zoe Saldana (pictured) who plays the Na’vi that falls in love with Jake Sully’s avatar. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the film ended (as the credits rolled, a guy behind me loudly intoned “it’s hard to cry with these 3D glasses on”). Despite the plot being done countless times before, the effects made it that much more original because you’ve never EXPERIENCED this story (or any other) on this level before.
Ultimately, it’s easy to forgive the film its shortcomings because everything else is so jaw-droppingly amazing. James Cameron has outdone not just himself but the entire world of movie making. I can’t wait to see where this leads; it renders entertainment on its head because nothing – no iPod, no TV – could come close to delivering this kind of experience.