James Cameron's Avatar
I’ve held off on publishing a review of the much-praised James Cameron blockbuster Avatar for a few reasons. One, I wasn’t really that excited to see it. Two, I wondered if there was anything else really to say (yes, I promise there is, keep reading). And three, I wanted to see what true longevity the event film of the decade had. With the Academy Awards coming up this weekend, and Avatar finding itself on the expanded best picture list, I thought it was time to take a deeper look at the phenomenon.
I live on the east coast and was one of the moviegoers ravaged by the blizzard in December that analysts predicted would damage the opening weekend totals for Avatar. We now know those predictors were wrong, and even though I braved the weather to get to my local cinema, it wasn’t to buy an Avatar ticket. When I walked in, I was astounded by the crowd. Not just because of the weather, but it’s rare to see a line through the lobby in the middle of the afternoon. Everyone was clutching a pair of 3D glasses, so I knew what they were waiting for. I gave in a week after Christmas.
What struck me first about the movie is the pure scope. At no point was I distracted by any of the visual effects, which appear in every frame on camera. Cameron’s team crafted a world so tangible that 3D really is the only way to experience it. Motion capture has come a long way in the last few years, even since Gollum, transferring all of the emotion and expression an actor brings to the screen seamlessly into the CG creations, the N’avi. Live-action performers blend effortlessly in with a world of green screen, strengthened by the talents of Cameron collaborator Sigourney Weaver and rising star Sam Worthington.
The story elements of Avatar are far from original, whether they know it or not borrowing heavily from a wide range of films from Dances With Wolves to Ferngully. The thing that struck me is not only is this a story we’ve seen before, this is a story we’ve seen before from James Cameron, with echoes of Aliens, Titanic, and the Abyss thrown in for good measure. Still, even though I never wondered what would happen next, I found myself wrought with emotion at all the right times, and cheering for the victory of our heroes. Socially relevant issues often sneak their way into blockbusters these days, and Cameron is no stranger—next time you watch Aliens, look for references to the Vietnam war and corporate interests. But, I was struck that such a leftist, pro-environment storyline had captured the attention of a conservative, increasingly unsustainable viewer majority.
Avatar wasn’t one of my favorite movies of 2009; it wouldn’t crack its way onto my top ten, at least. It isn’t even one of my favorite James Cameron movies. But, it is a movie I’ve recommended people take time out of their schedule to see theatrically, in what I was sure would be a long run. There’s little question that Avatar is the movie to beat Sunday night at the Oscars. The real question is, after creating such a pop culture juggernaut, what will Cameron bring us next?