Friday, December 18, 2009

Film review: Avatar

Where's that sinking feeling?

Director: James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana
Rating: ***

While the world sits up in anticipation of James Cameron's ambitious, $ 300 million sci fi spectacle, it's got to be said that Avatar is a film of curious contradictions. Technically, it blasts open the possibilities of cinema and goes where few have reached earlier. The 3 D animation is obviously the highlight (just make sure you see it at the right theatre) and the film has several moments that are jaw-dropping in terms of visual splendour and artistic grandeur. There is enough here that will thrill, excite and exhilarate. But there's also a lot in it that exasperates. For a futuristic, game-changing film, Cameron opts for a premise and love story that is way too common place and at times, even stale. There's an overall lack of feelings in Avatar.

The story takes place in the 22nd century in a faraway, forested planet called Pandora, a land which humans have lately discovered and want to capture for its natural resources. The land is populated by native human forms called Na'vis. These are slender, graceful beings, 10 feet in height, with long necks and tails. They are nude, save for some leather and feather accessories on their bodies. The indigenous creatures are horse-like, dog-like, elephant-like, rhino-like animals, a bit shinier than the ones found on earth, with sharper, longer teeth.

An unknown company has been working towards capturing the resources in the planet. But since the Pandora atmosphere is intolerable to humans, they devise an avatar program, where a few humans will have their consciousness linked to a remotely-controlled biological body equipped to survive the toxic environment. The avatars are part-human, and part-Na'vi, with DNA extracted from Pandora's native people.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an ex marine who has lost both his legs is up for the task of being one of these avatars. He's assigned to infiltrate into the Na'vi land and convince them to give access to the priced minerals. But once he's on the planet, Jake falls in love with the spirited and beautiful Na'vi princess, Nyetri (Zoe Saldana). She teaches him the Na'vi ways - talking to trees, riding on birds - and soon enough, Jake starts to have second thoughts about the whole evil mission. Since his bosses at the corporation won't step back, it leads in a rebellion with an epic scale fight in full blast.

If there's one reason to see Avatar, it is for some of the magnificent visuals, and Cameron's ingenious creation of the planet and its inhabitants. The Na'vis are finely textured creatures with individual expressions - these are the best computer generated characters we've got so far. There are also scenes of immense visual beauty. The scene where Jake puts up a fight with rhino-like animals, or the one where he explores the flora and fauna of the place (with the touch-me-nots), or then the one where he learns to gloriously fly on a bird, is all a veritable feast for the eyes.

Cameron probably knew that technical wizardry alone would not make the cut and hence, he invests a fair amount of time in the Jack-Nyetri romance. But sadly, it seems more like mandatory love without any real depth. The emotional core of the film is weak, wherein you are unable to connect with any character or empathise with their motivations. This is where Cameron's effort greatly differs from his last gigantic hit, Titanic - which had the special effects and associated thrills, but was deeply anchored in a touching love story. Here, the project is truly only interested in flaunting and pushing the boundaries of what is achievable technologically. The romance is a serviceable one, too basic with some cringe-worthy dialogues. As for the larger theme, there's historical deja vu about the outsider capturing what doesn't belong to him.

Avatar is a triumph of creation, not of content. Of style more than substance. Of spectacles more than soul. Which is what makes the film formidable and yet forgettabe at the same time.


Blogger Aarkayne said...

your last para sums it up correctly. Formidable yet forgettable.

Its like the tallest building man ever built that we all want to visit once but then know that there will be another one built soon enough. Certainly not the Taj Mahal that you want to keep visiting over and over again.

December 19, 2009 at 11:01 AM  
Blogger Sandhya Iyer said...

Agree Aarkayne

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