I’ve decided I’d like an Avatar of my own. I’d go for the reinforced skeleton and being 10ft tall, I’d also like the nerve bundle at the end of my plait that allows me to bond with beast, bird and bush; I’d like to jump farther than I ever have before, climb higher, see clearer, fly faster, hear better. I’d like to know what it is to live in an alien skin. But please, if I could have it without being forced to play out a corny plot, I’d be especially grateful.
When Avatar was released, you had to be prepared for corny, because this was a movie by James Cameroon...and he made ‘Titanic.’ But Cameron also spent the better half of the last decade promising that Avatar would be a technogasm, a movie that would be more ambitious, more adventurous than anything we’d seen before. And you believed him for the same reason – he made Titanic. Like Titanic, Avatar was billed as one of the most expensive movies ever made. ‘Titanic’ was at its heart a love story, and so is Avatar – except instead of embracing on the stern of a ship, the two lovers are shown looking down the length of an arrow together.
The man holding the bow is ex-Marine Jake Sully (portrayed by Terminator Salvation star Sam Worthington). Rendered paraplegic in a skirmish, Sully is recruited by a mining company to operate a remote-controlled ‘avatars,’ a body genetically engineered from the DNA of two peoples - humans and Na’vi. Created in a lab, the blue skinned, yellow eyed creature is researcher Grace Augustine’s idea of a diplomat. She needs to find a peaceful solution to one problem – the Na’vi’s awesome Hometree is sitting upon a load of the valuable mineral unobtanium, and the mining company is prepared to raze Pandora’s remarkable forest to the ground in pursuit of it. With the idea that the natives will trust someone who looks like them, Sully’s Avatar is sent out from the human colonists’ Hell’s Gate compound.
The plot is built on the sturdy foundation of the archetypal Pocahontas myth, and is a not so significant variation on ‘Dances with the Wolves’ (and a hundred other nearly identical Hollywood offerings). There’s the stereotype of the white man. Ignorant and callous, it takes complete immersion in the native culture before he discovers the error of his ways.
He learns the ways of the forest, falls in love and becomes the greatest among the tribe. Yawn. Considering that the premiere (courtesy E.fm) lasted a good three hours, I’m grateful that Avatar is a movie that transcends its mediocre plot. You forget to snicker at the predictable dialogue because the forest in front of you is lighting up like someone doused it in phosphorous. You don’t roll your eyes when Neytiri and Sully fall in love, because they’re doing it while flying past floating mountains on pterodactyl look-alikes.
You don’t so much as snort in disdain when Sully goes to war - your jaw is still on the floor post Neytiri’s crazy ride atop a massive wildcat.
Everything on the planet Pandora enchants – from the little luminescent beasties to the shrinking mushrooms, but the Na’vi tribe are perhaps the most spectacular of the film maker’s accomplishments.
Here are characters who are as believable as their human counterparts. I was curious enough to go looking for behind the scenes footage. To play Neytiri, Zoe Saldana wore a full body suit, while little blue dots helped a camera that was attached to her helmet record every facial twitch.
Together suit and headgear provided intimate, intricate detail to the filmmakers who used motion capture to translate it into glorious 3D. It makes for realistic movement, genuine expressiveness, and a great character. Lithe and athletic, Neytiri grimaces, snarls, and leaps from vine to canopy with uncanny grace.
The native woman is one among many strong female leads in the film. Sigourney Weaver who plays the chain-smoking researcher Dr. Augustine is another.
Together, the two women embody Cameron’s particular concern in the film – protecting the environment. He uses the sheer beauty of Pandora and empathy with its native population to take a distant war on an alien planet and make it about us and our planet, to make it about now. Though you’ve seen it a million times before, it's a message that still resonates. That’s just one more reason why I’d buy a ticket to the sequel.