I had been reading up on "Avatar" ever since the first images surfaced at Comic Con 2009. James Cameron is one of my favourite film makers and I looked forward to the film with immense anticipation. For the first time in 5 years, I actually bothered to get the tickets for an English movie in advance (the last being "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"). I had a gut feeling that this would be to Cameron what "Star Wars" was for Lucas. And I was right! For me, the movie not only lived up to the hype but surpassed it. Naysayers be damned! James Cameron is still the King of the World.
The first thing that struck me about "Avatar" was its visuals. Fifteen minutes into the movie, I was filled with that same childlike wonder that I felt at the age of 5 as I sat and saw "Jurassic Park." "Avatar" draws you into a new world and provides you a visual feast never witnessed on the screen before. The colour palate is beautiful with a wide range of primary and fluorescent colours. Every aspect of Pandora (the world of the Na'vi) is conceived with great imagination and an eye for detail. The plants, animals, birds, creatures have been conceived in such detail that it is hard not to be in awe of it. The Na'vi are also created with care and given a language, history, culture that is well thought out, highly imaginative and at its core, believable. They are beautiful and hell, even sexy. Their world is one where the spiritual and the biological combine and symbiosis is the basis for their existence. Only James Cameron could pull off something on this scale. He takes his time to introduce us to this world and its inhabitants, get involved and ultimately care for them and their fate.
While the first half is awe-inspiring, the second half is like a punch that knocks the wind out of you. Unlike a District 9 which started with a highly interesting premise but finally degenerated into mindless action, the action sequences of "Avatar" are emotionally gut-wrenching. That is because by now, like the main character of the film, I (and the people around me in the theatre) had picked my side, decided that I cared and despite all cliches, I gasped, choked up and cheered bang on cue at all the right moments. It's a tried and tested tale but one told so convincingly and with such passion, that you can't help but buy into it.
What I love the most about James Cameron movies is that he doesn't sit around and wait for a sequel. He puts together everything he wants to say in one movie. This is also probably why his (rare) sequels are all the more stunning. At a run time of nearly 3 hours, there was only once I checked my watch and that too to see how much more time I had to experience this movie. Cameron proves with "Avatar" that his imagination really knows no bounds. Unlike other great epic movies like "Lord of the Rings" trilogy which had a brilliant literary base, "Avatar" is an absolutely original creation and that makes the work all the more admirable.
With "Avatar" Cameron reinforces the fact that he is the only person in Hollywood who can consistently take obscene amounts of money and churn out classics. Lets look at his repertoire: The Abyss ($70 million, obscene for 1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (the first movie with a $100 million budget), True Lies ($100 mil), Titanic ($200 mil) and now Avatar ($250 mil). He plays only in high stakes and delivers the required value in both monetary and aesthetic terms.
At the same time, I think what makes "Avatar" special over all his previous movies is that it is not only ridiculously entertaining but also has a very interesting subtext. The movie can be seen as an allegory for many things: it's pro nature, anti war and is an excellent representation of the process of othering. The complex subtext and the stunning scale of production make second viewings practically mandatory (I intend to revisit the movie next week!).
Technically, the film is flawless. The cinematography, the editing, sound work and visual effects produce a feast for the senses. Just when I thought that special FX teams in Hollywood had traded their sense of imagination for a quick buck (see 2012 and you will know what I mean), this little gem came along. The music of James Horner also deserves a special mention. This is certainly his best background score with "Titanic," "Braveheart" and "Troy." The impact of each sequence is heightened by his compositions. Come Oscar season, "Avatar" may just sweep all the technical awards.
On a final note, nothing of what I have just said can adequately prepare you for what you will see. I recently wrote about the Hollywood practice to churn out big budget bullshit and sell it through effective marketing. "Avatar" is a rare exception to that. For 3 hours, I was a five year old kid again: simultaneously frightened and awed. "Avatar" is the epic film you have been waiting for. It is the motion picture event of the year and more than makes up for the 12 years Mr. Cameron took to make this film. Movies like these are a good reminder why I fell in love with cinema in the first place.