Thursday, December 17, 2009

AVATAR - Cameron Outdoes 'Titanic'

AVATAR (sci-fi adventure)
Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, CCH Pounder, Joel Moore, Laz Alonso and Wes Studi
Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Time: 160 mins
Rating: * * * * (out of 4)

PREAMBLE: Twelve years ago, film-maker James Cameron took a simple love story and put it in a real-life historical setting - that of a tragic world famous ocean liner. The movie, Titanic, caught the imagination of the world and became a box-office classic.

Now, Cameron is basically doing the same thing - setting a love story in a fictitious moon in a futuristic era. The result is an even more fantastic and spectacular movie. Avatar, which took Cameron 15 years to make, is a magical marriage of form and function, of storytelling and CGI effects. It is one of the most expensive and complex films he had ever made. And for me, it is his best yet - and it definitely looks set to break more box-office records.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The word 'avatar' is derived from the Sanskrit 'avatara', meaning 'incarnation' or 'manifestation'. However, in this movie, it refers to a sci-fi hybrid being that combines human DNA with that of natives of a distant moon - the Na'vi tribes of Pandora.

It is the year 2154 and humans need to travel light years to Pandora to mine a precious mineral called unobtanium that will help save their planet from ecological disaster. In a bid for a more humanitarian approach, scientist Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) plans to send avatars to Pandora to persuade the Na'vis to allow the US forces to exploit their land.

Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a wheelchair-bound ex-Marine who replaces his dead twin brother as avatar! Thrown into a strange world and without any training, Jake gets stranded on Pandora and is rescued by Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, pictured left with Worthington), a Na'vi princess who takes him under her wing and teaches him the traditions of her nature and culture. Indeed, they fall in love and open the proverbial Pandora's box of troubles...

HITS & MISSES: Unlike most sci-fi action films that kicks off with a slam-bang opening and then punctuate the screen with more mayhem every 20 minutes or so, Cameron's Avatar eases us into its new world using the classic three-act format. The first introduces us to the toxic atmosphere of Pandora, the survival techniques and Cameron's arsenal of warships and human-controlled metal suits that amplify movements. Reminiscent of his Aliens, this should excite action fans.

The most fascinating is the second act where Jake's avatar learns the language and the ways of the Na'vi - recalling American tribal films like A Man Called Horse and Dances With Wolves, but on a grander scale. Here, Cameron takes us into the wonders of Pandora where the flora, fauna and the tribal people exist in idyllic harmony. Yes, Avatar is a lesson on preserving and fighting for one's environment. The natives here may be blue but the movie is as 'green' as it can get.

The final act, of course, is the fast-paced battle between human marauders, with their high-tech weapons, and the natives, armed mostly with bows and arrows. By then, Cameron has acclimatised us with the Pandoran world so well that we are familiar with every creature and feature. The battle choreography, backed by James Horner's music, is both engaging and mind-boggling, the action-capture sequences are perfect and every scene of the Pandoran world looks stunning. I really don't care if Cameron's subplots are not original. The fact is that he manages to immerse viewers into the movie and the 160 minutes fly by so fast that we long for more of them.

THE LOWDOWN: Avatar is a must-see film, easily one of the Top 10 movies of 2009!


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