Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

December 18, 2009

A whole new world

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 2:50 am

December 18, 2009

Cast: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver

Director: James Cameron

Why do we fall in love with the Star Wars films? What makes us embrace the inhabitants of Middle Earth, and relish The Lord of the Rings saga? Why do our hearts beat so fast when those dinosaurs chase the humans in Jurassic Park?

We know those worlds don’t really exist, we’re aware that what we’re seeing is just hokum. And yet we go along for the ride anyway, because – let’s face it – it allows us to have such fun.

Every once in a while comes a film that grabs you by the gut and throws you into an experience so profound that nothing else really matters. These are films that stay with us our entire lives; films that touch both heart and mind; films that make you surrender completely to the power of the experience.

James Cameron’s decade-in-the-making sci-fi dream project Avatar is not only a groundbreaking film it’s also the definitive cinematic event of this generation.

As every film geek in the world already knows Avatar, set in the year 2154, involves a mission by US Armed Forces to the planet Pandora, light years away from Earth. The fearsomely well-equipped army of former Marines has arrived on Pandora to mine a rare mineral named “unobtainium” in order to solve a devastating energy crisis back home.

The mineral cannot be obtained without the cooperation of Pandora’s native population, the Na’vi, a tribe of tall, blue-skinned, nature-loving forest dwellers who pose no threat to Earthlings. Since humans cannot breathe on Pandora, they must use avatars, or genetically engineered Na’vi look-alikes that are mind-controlled by them while they’re wired up in an unconscious state on the space-craft.

Jake Sully (played by Sam Worthington) is an ex-Marine who has lost the use of his legs, but signs up for the program because his avatar allows him to walk again.

Sully finds himself caught between two camps: the well-meaning scientists led by Dr Grace Augustine (played by Sigourney Weaver) who wants to connect with the Na’vi and persuade them to move from their traditional land to make way for the mining; and the mercenaries led by Colonel Miles Quaritch (played by Stephen Lang) who is happy to use brutal force and explosives to wipe out the natives.

Sully is a changed man once he tastes Na’vi life and falls in love with lissome warrior princess Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) who teaches him to shoot arrows, to tame and fly stubborn psychedelic creatures, and to fight off scary jungle beasts. Thanks to his deepening relationship with Neytiri, he begins to question the legitimacy of the mission he signed up for, and eventually joins the Na’vi side to help them win a battle against the greedy humans.

With Avatar, director James Cameron doesn’t just deliver solid fan-boy entertainment, he pushes the boundaries of technology in a manner that seems to bridge the gap between imagination and the practical limitations of the day. From looking at the film, it is clear that almost anything that can be imagined and illustrated can be realized on screen now. There’s evidence of that too – the lush forests of Pandora, lit up by fluorescent plants and luminous insects; the floating mountains; the snarling six-legged dog-like creatures, the hammer-headed rhino beast. Virtually all of this is created on the computer, using a new generation of special effects and CGI. Even the Na’vi characters are brought to life by actors wearing sensors and performing on an empty stage while motion capture techniques turn them into those absolutely realistic blue-skinned natives.

The 3D technology Cameron’s been developing for years has finally allowed him to create a gorgeous, mind-boggling, dangerous, alternative reality that has never before been seen on screen. Even Peter Jackson had to fly his actors all the way out to those gorgeous New Zealand landscapes to create Middle Earth. Cameron merely filmed his actors on empty soundstages, and the computer turned the blank walls into Pandora.

Among the most breathtaking scenes in Avatar is a thrilling sequence in which Sully captures and tames a dragon-like beast on a mountaintop, and of course the film’s climatic battle between humans and the Na’vi.

Much like his last film, Titanic, the basic plot of Avatar is simple and predictable even, but look out for the various allusions and messages that Cameron sneaks in. You cannot miss the film’s obvious reference to America’s wrongful invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, or America’s callous treatment towards its indigenous races. The warning bells about the repercussions of destroying nature are also too loud to ignore.

Because Cameron paints in broad strokes, Avatar doesn’t connect emotionally in a manner that Titanic did, but only the stone-hearted will be unmoved when innocent Na’vis are shot or brutally killed in the final battle scene.

Ultimately however, Avatar belongs to one man and one man alone. The man who dreamt it all up in his head, spent years creating the technology it would require to translate his dream onto celluloid, the man who convinced an army of cast and crew to participate in this ambitious dream, the man who never let his fans down.

You may argue that you’ve seen better films than Avatar recently, but try remembering the last time you enjoyed the movie-going experience so much.

I’m going with an unprecedented five out of five and two big thumbs up for James Cameron’s Avatar. Watch it in glorious 3D; that’s how he intended for it to be seen. It’s films like this that make going to the cinema an out-of-the-world experience.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)

1 Comment »

  1. You Just Spoke My Heart in the last TWO PARAGRAPH.
    Others may crucify you for the 5 STARS and TWO THUMPS UP but NOT ME.
    i REMAIN …

    Comment by Mr.Waeshaak — November 3, 2011 @ 1:50 am

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