Avatar [review]

I didn’t plan to write this.

I just can’t get it out of my head.

Despite the hype, despite my fear of having expectations set too high, Avatar has blown me away.

You’ve probably heard people talking about how incredible the CGI is, and it is. But that’s not important. What’s important, is that James Cameron has created a lush and beautiful world that is utterly believable. You will hear that the plot is fairly simple, even predictable. But, that’s not important either. What’s important is that you enjoy every moment of it. What’s important, is that you care about characters, and when over one hundred and fifty minutes have gone by, you just want to see it all over again. It simply does not matter that the core story arc has been used time and again. Storytellers keep using it because it’s a works, and works well.

I’ve seen some of the few negative reviews of this talk about how it’s a tale of modern people versus the “noble savage”. But the Na’vi are never portrayed in the classic sense of “noble savage”. They are noble yes, but your classic “noble savage” (at least as I’ve seen it) is also, “savage”, “primitive”, and simply “doesn’t know better.” You will find none of that in this film. The Na’vi are simply an indigenous people with simpler technology than ours, end of story. They have traditions unlike yours and mine, but the movie doesn’t tell your they’re better or worse, merely asks you to accept them for what they are and believe that they are worth protecting. The only thing they really suggest is better about the Na’vi is that they live in tune with their world while the humans have managed to wipe out all the natural beauty on theirs.

James Cameron and crew have created something that will walk away with a mound of Oscars, and deserve every one.

The editing is absolutely brilliant, astounding even. The pacing is perfect. Everything you want from a film with regards to those, it has. It is as long as it is because there was that much to show, but it never drags, and you never come across a part that, looking back, you wish they’d cut. The graphics will obviously get an Oscar, but there is no doubt in my mind that the editing deserves one too.

The CGI: the world, the creatures, the Na’vi… Incredible. You can’t tell the Na’vi don’t exist in the real world. They have pushed motion capture, especially the capture of facial movments, to a level that is indiscernable from a physical actor. I’m a geek, and as such there was always a tiny piece of me watching from that perspective, and I can remember one moment when Zoe SaldaƱa’s character Neytiri was speaking to Jake and the facial motions were so complex, so complete, and so perfectly rendered down to the creases of the skin, that the geek part of my brain just locked up for a minute. Some of the flora and fauna is so unlike anything on earth that it had to be CGI, but some things, like rocks… you simply couldn’t tell if it was CGI or not.

In a way it’s sad. It’s sad that the technical advances in this film are so significant, because you can’t talk about it without speaking of them, and that takes away from the film itself. Maybe when Avatar is as far behind us as the original Star Wars is, when the tech simply isn’t noteworthy by the current day’s standards. Maybe then we can have a real discussion about this film. What I can say now, is that it is absolutely worth seeing. It’s not flawless. But it does exactly what a sci-fi movie should do. It takes you to a new place, or time, it makes you feel for its characters, and leaves you wanting more.

[Update] I made a second post about some BS commentary about Avatar.