Thursday, January 7, 2010

James Cameron's Na'vi Democracy

Director: James Cameron
Writer: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldaña, Sigourney Weaver
2009 | USA | PG-13 | 162 mins

The hype machine kicked into full swing as soon as James Cameron confirmed he was going forth with bringing Avatar to the big screen. Geeks squealed with giddy delight as they quickly amassed online to pollute the Internet with their musings, expectations, and hopes the film would become. For those out of this loop or unaware of the buzz behind Avatar, this is James Cameron's cinematic equivalent to the Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy in the fact that it's taken over 14 years to fully come to fruition. First conceived, in script form anyway, in the early-to-mid 90's, Avatar has had plenty of time to mature until Cameron was ready and happy with the technological advancements to actually bring his vision of the alien planet Pandora and it's inhabitants to the giant screen (it was intended for IMAX 3-D after all). When the trailer finally hit the interwebs earlier this year it just looked unfortunately like a live-action version of Fern Gully set on another planet... but Cameron promised that it would change movie-going forever.

The year is 2154 and the planet Earth has gone to shit (even worse than it is now, snicker). Humankind failed at nurturing Mother Earth and big business has extended it's greedy hands to now reach into the universes' many pockets. Colonists have set up on Pandora, an Earth-like moon of the planet Polyphemus, where they are mining unobtanium, a very profitable mineral that is needed to sustain life on Earth. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine, arrives on Pandora to replace his deceased twin brother in an experiment involving Avatars - genetically engineered hybrids that resemble Pandora's indigenous population, the Na'vi. Untrained, but with an attitude, Jake plunges feet first (no pun intended) into the role of an Avatar operator despite the lack of trust from Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), the leading human authority on the Na'vi.

When the head of the RDA corporation (Giovanni Ribisi) responsible for the mining wants the indigenous population moved from their home, which is right on top of the richest deposit of unobtainium, Jake is selected by macho maniac Col. Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) to be the wolf in sheep's clothing. As Jake proceeds with his orders he slowly finds himself siding with the Na'vi when he falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldaña) and immerses himself in their way of life. Now with the help of the Na'vi and some friends from the colony, he's out to stop the marines and big bad business from pillaging their land and its people.

Sounds a bit like an old beaten horse, doesn't it? Story wise I mean. As you can easily tell, and I'm sure you've most likely heard by now, Avatar is very simply the story of one colonization taking over and dominating another for personal gain. And the obligatory love story that always tags along. This plot has been done to death, and even better in films such as Pocahontas and The New World. Clocking in at just shy over 3 hours you'd expect at least some form of complexity or original structural narrative to warrant the running time, but James Cameron spent all those years developing the technology he required to tell the story rather than letting the story take us somewhere new. So we're left with a piss poor script with one-dimensional characters where the spectacle of the experience has been placed forefront.

As promised to be a game-changer, Avatar does in fact take us somewhere new technologically. With a lot of time and money (a lot of money) James Cameron created and engineered a brand new 3-D camera system (the Pace/Cameron Fusion 3-D camera) specifically for the film. Prior, we've always been fed 3-D as a gimmicky "look what's popping out at you from the screen" effect. With Avatar, the 3-D is used to create depth and immerse you into the landscape and setting of the movie. And it's here, in the visual splendor, that Avatar has it's strengths. It's an effects movie to demonstrate where the industry is heading technologically, with photo-realistic CGI and immersive 3-D. When I first saw the film I have to admit I was pretty blown away by what was achieved, and this coming from someone who is really opposed to the use of CGI other than to sweeten a shot or remove unwanted 'artifacts' (VFX breakdown example), but here the motion capture and CGI has been taken to the next level. However, there is still plenty of work to be done to get me jumping on the CGI bandwagon.

Just like Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy the wait for Avatar unfortunately was not worth it. With all the time and money it took to make the film audiences are just left emotionally unattached to an age-old tale with no character development or intrigue. It's all visual fluff, where the art has been replaced by the "wow" factor. The best way I can describe Avatar is it's just a demo reel of the next film fad, but one that can only be experienced on the big screen and in 3-D. If all you want is to experience a new technology where Hollywood seems to be heading, go check it out, but I can only recommend seeing this in 3-D on the big screen. It just would not work at all on a home theatre setup, it's a limitation of this technology even if there are 3-D TVs and Blu-ray players forthcoming. I do think that Cameron's version of 3-D has potential theatrically, but the story needs to come forefront. If the story telling is not immersive, the film is still flat. And that's exactly what Avatar ends up being.

All contents copyright 2010 Tyler Baptist


  1. Hello,
    Nice blog
    Historical period films are those that are set in the background of a historical period with some exceptions. There are certain standards that have to be maintained to classify a film as a historical period film. All things including the sets, props, costumes, styling, and characters will have to symbolize the time and background of the event.


  2. As adventure movies go, it is impressively new in every way except the way that matters most -- storytelling. Its look will last. But its heart won't go on.