Review: Avatar

avatar.jpgWritten and Directed by James Cameron
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana and
Sigourney Weaver

James Cameron’s Avatar arrives in theatres today and, Cameron being Canadian, it’s hard not to root for it to be the technical achievement one would expect from a holiday blockbuster 12 years and $200-million-plus (USD) in the making. The possibility that Avatar could represent not just a step forward but an entirely new direction in filmmaking is an exciting one that, having been endorsed by most of the film’s early reviewers, has audiences waiting for it with the patience of kids at Christmas.

Despite the brief description that follows, plotwise Avatar isn’t much of a step in any direction. Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic Marine Corps veteran, is asked to fill in for his recently deceased twin brother as part of a research team tasked with infiltrating and relocating an indigenous population, the Na’vi, whose ancestral homeland on the Amazonian jungle-planet Pandora is situated above a large deposit of a valuable intergalactic mineral. As eccentric as the set-up sounds, stock characters and painfully formulaic dialogue manage to render the film predictable and, stretched over two-and-a-half hours, a little tedious.

The real measure of Avatar though, has nothing to do with plot, dialogue, characterization or any of the usual standards by which we judge films. Avatar will be evaluated on special effects alone.

The digital-3D’s depth of field is alarming enough that it takes about 20 minutes to overcome a mild nausea akin to motion sickness (apparently for some this sensation persists) and I would caution anyone afraid of heights to dose themselves with Valium before entering the theatre. Once you’ve acclimatized, the digital-3D does make for a unique viewing experience – though it remains obvious throughout what is computer-generated and what isn’t. Extras and background action become surprisingly engrossing and there’s a sensation of interacting with a live environment that, at times, is quite convincing.

It is disappointing that the story at the heart of Avatar isn’t a better-executed one, but even the same old blockbuster is pretty cool when it’s sticking out at you.

–Evan Rosser