Director(s): James Cameron

Writer(s): James Cameron

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi and Joel David Moore

Reviewed by: Ian Evans on

Release Date(s)

Dec 18, 2009 - Wide

I was not sure what to expect as I headed into Avatar. It was James Cameron’s first film since Titanic, a film that didn’t move me as it moved millions of others. At that time, Cameron stood at the Oscars and echoed his “King of the World” line from the film. So right off the bat, he had a lot to prove to me. Avatar was also going to be in 3D, which to me meant dim images and headaches and cheesy effects flying off the screen. I started the movie sitting back, arms crossed, going “Show me.” By the end, I was on the edge of my seat going “Show me more!” Right now, at this moment in cinema technology, I might have to crown Cameron “King of the World.”

It’s the 22nd Century and mercenaries from Earth, under the command of Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), guard a mining operation on Pandora, which orbits a nearby star. Pandora is full of dangerous animals and also a peaceful species of blue-skinned humanoid giants known as the Na’vi that a team under scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) have been interfacing with using genetically-grown avatars controlled by wired-up humans back at the base. A new member of the team is Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine who has been brought to Pandora because he’s the only one who can control the avatar grown for his deceased twin brother. Colonel Quaritch appeals to Sully’s military side and asks him to spy on the Na’vi as the mining operation wants to forcefully relocate them in order to tap a rich vein of the material they’re mining. When Sully’s avatar is saved by a female Na’vi named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he begins to earn their trust and learn their ways. Suddenly, his loyalties begin to waver.

To say the story is a thinly-veiled look at environmental issues, contemporary geopolitics and the treatment of indigenous people the world over would be stating the obvious. Cameron is wearing his world view on his sleeve here.

I’ll talk about the CGI and 3D in a moment, but first I want to discuss the performers that inhabit Cameron’s distant moon. Sam Worthington easily carries a lot of the weight of the story on his shoulders. He spends a lot of his time as a motion-captured CGI character and his storyline sees him spending most of his time opposite Zoe Saldana, whose entire performance as the female Na’vi is motion-captured. Their performances are still full of nuances and the motion-capture advances that Cameron has been able to use allows more of the actors’ work to show through than some of the earlier capture work seen in some of the Robert Zemeckis films like Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. Stephen Lang chews the scenery with delight here as the merciless mercenary leader, which is no mean feat considering the scenery is wholly CGI. Giovanni Ribisi is sufficiently slimy as the profit-watching head of the mining operation, while Weaver brings the same intelligence and strength of character to this role as she has with many others, including her previous duty with Cameron in Aliens.

The 3D in Avatar is the most amazing yet least intrusive thing about the movie. This isn’t some cheap, rubber snakes flying out at the viewer 3D. Cameron uses it to immerse us in the world of Pandora. When you go through a forest on the moon, the leaves and insects move around you. The effect is done with such skill and technical prowess that the viewer just simply feels that they are a part of this alien environment. It also puts you right in the heart of the action and the various creature attacks and battle scenes make that action heart-pounding.

Avatar is a ground-breaking achievement in cinema. Even if you just go to the cinema to experience a sea change in the use of CGI, motion capture and 3D, you’ll be satisfied. But you’ll also find yourself immersed in a world that you don’t mind spending 162 minutes on.