Sunday, December 20, 2009
It's very hard for me to express just how delighted I am that James Cameron's Avatar is in the thick of this year's Oscar race. It is enjoyable, mainstream filmmaking at its finest, and rarely do we see films like these competing for Oscars, but with the Best Picture expansion to ten nominees, this is something we could see more of in the coming years. With Avatar, Cameron, a very confident filmmaker, has undoubtedly shown the vast potential for 3D filmmaking. He takes a decent (at best) story and creates a wholly immersive experience with visual effects that are sure to hypnotize audiences across the world.
Cameron transports us into the year 2154. The planet is called Pandora, and two groups of species are fighting over the land: the humans and the Na'vi. Pandora is home to a rare mineral named Unobtainium, a substance that could seemingly solve the energy crisis back on Earth. Because it is assumed that humans in 2154 are no more energy-concerned then they are in the present day, the Na'vi, a group that honors nature to a very high degree, make for a fascinating contrast.
It seems that communication between the humans and the Na'vi has been inefficient for years, but with the introduction of a new program, there is hopefully room for improvement. The new institution is called the Avatar Program and it was created by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver). The program consists of mixing the DNA of both the humans and the Na'vi to create a body that can successfully communicate with the natives. These bodies act solely based on the minds of Grace's employees, and when one of her most promising workers is killed, his twin brother is called upon.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is the paraplegic Marine that is in fact called to duty on Pandora when his twin brother passes away. He has absolutely no experience with the Avatar program, and his introduction makes Dr. Augustine unhappy, particularly because his brother has been so dedicated to the program for so many years. However, she doesn't really have a choice, and is forced to see what kind of contribution Jake can make.
As it turns out, Jake's free-wheeling spirit ends up putting his avatar in a very interesting situation as he begins to form a relationship with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana). Neytiri convinces her parents to keep Jake alive, and she is enlisted to teach him the ways of the Na'vi. Jake learns of their intense belief in gods and nature, their ritualistic ceremonies, and their complex hunting practices. He realizes that the Na'vi are not the savages his commanders think they are, but rather a delicate species that deserve to have a peaceful land of their own.
As Jake begins to become closer and closer to Neytiri and the entire Na'vi people, his human commanders become more and more hostile. The violent Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang, in irresistible form) reminds Jake of the little time he has left before all out war becomes a reality. Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi), the business man of the bunch, is a money-hungry negotiator losing more and more confidence in Jake every day. The pressure is mounting and it is up to Jake to decide where his true loyalty lies.
The core of Cameron's story here is very familiar. We have seen films that deal with similar subject matter, but never have we seen a film bring its story to life quite like this. Cameron's Pandora is a truly beautiful place, exactly the type of setting that audiences can stare at for 162 minutes and never be bored. This visionary of a director brings the possibilities of 3D to the front of the stage and makes one hell of an argument that this could be the future of cinema.
Perhaps Avatar is a movie that will be defined by its future impact more than anything else. It has finally arrived, it is here, and it has delivered. It will likely receive a Best Picture nomination and Cameron has a strong shot at winning Best Director, but this is a film that strives to do much more than succeed in the present moment; it strives to impact the filmmaking process well beyond its years.
I implore everyone to see this film. This isn't a festival film about a pregnant Harlem teenager or a film about a corrupt, drug-addicted detective; it is a film for all audiences. The reason why movies are so appealing is because audiences want to be transported into another world. They want to be moved and entranced by the visual presence of a film, and Cameron has hit the bullseye. Once again.