James Cameron writes and directs Avatar, his follow-up to the all-time box office champ Titanic, which is filled with 3-D visuals and motion capture CGI (computer generated images). Avatar stands as an amazing experience showcasing the special effects company LightStorm Entertainment and collaborator Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s special effects company. The outstanding CGI scenes encompass more than half of the film, packing the screen with incredible visuals while the story centers on the 10-foot tall Na’vi people on a moon called Pandora.
Set in the 22nd century, the Na’vi world, inspired by Cameron’s recent underwater documentary film work, has a unique culture, language, and belief system. Their homeland rests on an incredibly valuable resource called Unobtainium, which sells on Earth at $20 million dollars a kilogram. Earth needs more resources (explained only in character dialogue), so mobilized forces work towards obtaining Unobtainium from the Na’vi. Some forces are ready to fight and harvest this special resource at the expense of the Na’vi homeland while others want to ensure peace.
The scientific team includes its leader Grace, well played by Sigourney Weaver, while Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) aggressively prepares for hostile action using mercenary-type armed forces. Other key characters like pilot Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) portray honor while Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) only displays corporate greed as a Resources Development Administration (RDA) executive/field manager.
Enter a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, who finds himself suddenly caught between both parties in a special scientific project aimed at diplomacy with the Na’vi people. Worthington (Terminator Salvation) contributes another fine performance though he slips into his Australian accent near the end. As a Na’vi avatar, Jake gleefully walks again and becomes an important commodity due to his accidental close encounter with the Na’vi. Jake’s eagerness and confidence keep the story moving quickly as he encounters Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana, and her parents Mo’at (CCH Pounder) and Eytukan (Wes Studi), plus fierce creatures and flying banshees, which all have a special biological connection with the Na’vi.
The special effects push the envelope visually and the acting is solid. The screenplay does not use any source material like books, graphic novels or even toylines… though all these elements will surely spawn from this film. The screenplay does use familiar archetypes, ideological themes, and familiar story elements from Pocahontas, The Matrix, and Dances With Wolves, so the “good vs. evil” showdowns, romantic triangle (Neytiri’s fiancé Tsu’tey completes the trio), and culture shocks/discoveries feel familiar. This screenplay meshes technology with extraordinary native life as spiritual and environmental messages permeate the plot. Jake’s progression within the Na’vi culture leads audiences through important elements, which lead to the intense and inevitable climax, which resolves the immediate conflicts while the ending leaves the series open for future adventures.
Composer James Horner delivers an amazing score and collaborates on the original song "I Will See You" performed by Leona Lewis, heard during the ending credits. The music, special effects, and unique scenarios helps elevate the plot to a strong level, though Cameron needs a minimal visual background scene (combined with the existing supporting character dialogue), which elaborates environmental/resource troubles on Earth for a more complete, objective overview of the humans and the Na’vi. Cameron explains logistical information well (e.g. the special breathing apparatus equipment on Pandora described in character dialogue) and punctuates the action with strong emotional scenes. This solid, recommended film has a two hour and 42 minute running time and is rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences, warfare, sensuality, language, and some smoking. Also showing in IMAX and 3D theaters.
Cameron plans another action extravaganza called Battle Angel, based on the graphic novels, next while Avatar sequels seem likely and would cover more Na’vi territory beyond Pandora.