It's clear that James Cameron’s main goal with Avatar is to transport the viewer into a new world. He does this through jaw-droppingly real looking computer animation. In the movie, we swoop over vibrant landscapes, crawl through jungles and soar around mountains. Cameron shows off the rich world of Pandora like a new parent would their baby.
I loved being in Pandora and basking in its phosphorescent glow. The animation is stunning and as the movie unfolds it keeps revealing surprise after dazzling surprise. There were many times I had to remind myself that what I was seeing was created by a computer.
To heighten the experience Cameron uses 3D very effectively to draw the viewer into the movie. If your only 3D experience has been at a theme park, you are in for a surprise. The 3D in Avatar is never used as a gimmick where objects are purposely aimed at the audience. Instead, 3D is used to make you feel as if you a part of this world. In 3D the movie envelops you. The scenery has depth. Objects like leaves, bugs, smoke or debris sometimes obscure your view. It’s a cool a subtle way to make the viewer feel like they are directly in the scene.
I’m not sure if the movie would be as effective in 2D. The visuals would still be eye-catching, but I’m not sure if it would pull audiences in the same way. If possible, I strongly suggest seeing the movie in a gigantic sized Imax theater, where this world projected onto a 30-foot screen is an incredible sensory event.
For all of its beauty, the film does come up short in the story department. The plot has a simple narrative that lacks surprises. It’s really only there to provide a clothesline over which shot after shot of gorgeous scenery can be draped. The story doesn’t ask a lot from the audience while making obvious statements about human greed, evil corporations and war-mongering military operations. Yes, war is bad and saving the planet is good. These are hardly controversial political stances. It’s great that the movie has a message, but it’s all just to service a standard good vs. evil plot where the bad guys are humans and the altruistic good guys come in the form of blue-skinned cat-like creatures, called the Na’vi.
The film’s biggest feat is how it brings the Na’vi to life. Cameron and company have created a detailed language, philosophy and culture for the Na’vi that is a mix of Creole, African, Native American and Wiccan. Though totally rendered in CG the nuances of the actor’s performances show through, making the Na’vi fully realized and sympathetic characters.
With a running time of 2 hours, 40 minutes it’s a long movie, but it moved along swiftly. The first half is definitely stronger, featuring most of the spectacular views of Pandora. The movie turns darker and suffers from a few cheesy moments in the second hour. But hang in there, because it finishes with an explosive action-packed climax that makes up for any indiscretions that may have come before it.
Speaking of action, the action scenes in the film are breathtaking. Cameron is a confident filmmaker who thankfully doesn’t need to hide behind quick edits or shaky camerawork. He uses wide shots and even slow motion to highlight the action and provide a sense of geography even in the most chaotic of fight scenes.
At the end of the day, Avatar is not a perfect movie but it is a landmark film that is going to revolutionize the way movies are made. It will give filmmakers more freedom to create exotic worlds and immerse audiences in them. For that alone James Cameron should be applauded.
As for me, my jaw was on the floor during most of the movie. Yes it has its faults but Avatar is way more good than bad. I totally dug my trip to Pandora and can't wait to travel there again.