The best thing about a James Cameron movie is that when the guy makes a picture, he makes it bigger than his last. The low-budget Piranha 2 was followed by The Terminator then Aliens, Abyss, Terminator 2 and True Lies; each pricier, at times goofier, and more visually mesmerising than the next.
With Titanic, Cameron proclaimed himself as “The King of the World”, and it has taken him 12 years to make a comeback with Avatar, an extravagant, (literary) out-of-this-world sci-fi romance epic about imperialism, biodiversity and green peace; and he relies as much on technology as he does on grand storytelling. Think Jurassic Park, but only a bit more intelligent.
The film is set in the year 2154 AD, and as stated by Jake Sully (an almost invisible Sam Worthington), the paraplegic hero of Avatar, the earth is as grey and plundered as the average earth-bound soul. Jake, a wheelchair-bound ex-marine, finds his way to Pandora, the lush and near-habitable moon of Polyphemus, one of three gas giants that orbit Alpha Centauri A, some 4.3 light years from Earth. At first glance the planet looks a lot like Earth a big blue meticulously colored orb. Its main intelligent life form is the humanoid Na'vi, an aboriginal sentient race whose evolution and cultural cycle (even lip-locking and mating) parallels the human race. Or to be precise, African natives who still abide by primitive laws of the jungle. Their distinction isn't superficial.
Cameron, who's gone into minute details such as biological backgrounds and language with Avatar, has fine-tuned a delicate balance that appears more earth-like than alien. Like a fertile Amazon jungle that tints from lush-green to subtly glowing blue, Pandora is salubrious with foliage and species (variants of wolves, monkeys, rhinos and prehistoric flying pterodactyls are immediately identifiable). And they look mighty real.
Avatar's fabricated (and in the near future Oscar-winning) computer-generated realism makes Titanic's then eye-popping special effects seem like a mere tug-boat.
Jake is here for a special reason to pilot an Avatar, a $20 million remotely controlled bio-replication of a Na'vi native. A typical Na'vi is 10-foot tall with big yellow eyes, carnivorous teeth and shaded blue skin specked with radiating blue dots, a tail and long hair-like extension which serve as an external communication device to plants and animals.
Avatars are needed for communiquÃ© with the natives, and to survive the planet since humans cannot breathe in Pandora (the planet is lethal after four minutes). Also, the visit is of enterprise importance. It is the world-wide government's plan to educate the Na'vi, give them television and shopping malls, ransack their resources by installing manufacturing plants and ship goods back to earth, tin-packed (it is too costly to ship raw materials from Pandora).
Jake, who has fallen in a not-so-desperate love with Neytiri (played by an expressive ZoÃ« Saldana) decides to rebel, along with Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, a driven and idealistic botanist), Joel David Moore (Norm Spellman) and Trudy Chacon (Michelle Rodriguez) a retired Marine pilot.
When Jake first plugs into his Avatar (who uncannily acts like the real Sam Worthington), he departs from the grayness his character was established with. Unlike the other Avatar riders, there is an instant instinctive high, which maneuvers most of Jake's journey. However, unlike Jake, Cameron doesn't rush through anything and the slow-paced storytelling involves subtle and solid character development. In the end, Jake, through his Avatar, rises to the level of kings.
Avatar is written and directed by James Cameron, and produced by Cameron and Jon Landau. The production designers are Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg, with Mauro Fiore as the director of photography. Music is by James Horner (though not as epic as his Titanic score). Visual effects supervisor is Joe Letteri. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film is rated PG-13.
Finally, Avatar is not desperate to please as the feeling comes naturally.