We, the online film geek community, have been hearing James Cameron (famed writer/director of such fantastic movies like Aliens, Terminator, T2, True Lies, The Abyss, and hell, even Titanic) drone on and on about how "glorious and eye-fuckingly beautiful" his next film was going to be for the past 10 years now. Well, that next film is/was Avatar, and needless to say it had a shit-ton of expectations heaped upon it just like the Star Wars prequels back in '99. But the big question is this: Does Avatar live up to its hype and its small country-sized budget (rumored to be $350M), or does it fuck itself up its blue-furry ass with fake-looking aliens, horrible "comic relief," retarded retconning about the universe's base religion (midiclorians?!), and a lame plot about trade embargoes? You'll have to read on to find out (though judging by its opening weekend box office take you've seen it 3 times and you already know the answer).
So what's Avatar about? Well, it's kind of a strange mixture of Dances With Wolves, Dune, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, Thundercats, The Last Samurai, and the Smurfs. You've seen the plot so many times before (a man is hired by an uncaring, giant organization to remove some natives from their territory because their land is much more valuable to the "civilized world" than the one-with-nature people living on it seem to realize, but soon the thickheaded [but loveable] protagonist comes to see that the aboriginal people are actually right [and hot], and he chooses to take their side against his employers in order to live the life he's always dreamed of, and bang a hot native chick along the way), but never this expensive-looking.
I bet you just now thought of at least 4 more films or books — other than those I've already named above — with that exact plot.
Okay, whatever... So does it suck or what? Yes and no. Yes, the plot is unoriginal, and the dialogue is reeeeeally shitty and laughable at times (most of it is as bad as Eddie Furlong's terribly "hip" lines in T2... Seriously, go back and watch that flick again and try not to laugh or groan whenever he tries to "be cool"), but it is still an amazing piece of work. Avatar will BLOW YOUR MIND with its intricately detailed world (aka Pandora), CGI that is as flawless as I've ever seen it, and a giant final battle that will make you gape at the screen with absolute awe and possibly some drool running down your chin. You can truly see where every single cent of that $350M went. It went to, as James himself put it, "fucking [our collective] eyes."
Yeah, the T-Rex from the original Jurassic Park was amazing to see at the time, as was the T-1000 from Terminator 2, and Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies made me really think he was an actual creature at times, but all those effects are still flawed. If you watch any of those computer-generated characters carefully, you'll see them "slipping" on the real-world landscape that they're supposed to be inhabiting with the real actors (wherein when they walk or touch something that was really there during filming, their actions slip a little — making it look like they're running on ice — or whatever object they touch doesn't move or react the way it should if a real person was performing the action. Or they may just appear like they don't have the right amount of mass behind them when they jump, fall, or get hit by something... The technology just wasn't there). I never saw even one instance of this in Avatar. James Cameron did it. It only cost him 1/3rd of a BILLION dollars, but he did it. He created the first completely CGI creature that I actually believed in.
Yes, I know, 90% of this entire movie is entirely computer generated — I think that technically qualifies it for Best Animated Film in the 2010 Academy awards — but even still, try and find me even one completely animated movie in which all the characters, all the creatures, and especially all the landscapes fooled you into believing they were real.
And it goes well beyond the alien world of Pandora and its detailed ecosystem and all of its creatures (including the Thundersmurfs known as the Na'vi), Cameron builds real-looking advanced tech for the humans in this story to use. The spaceship used to take our lead character, Jake Sully, to the forest moon of
Endor Pandora looks like something NASA might already be working on today; the bipedal mecha that the hired army uses don't look like Gundams or Gunbuster units, they look like walking tanks; and the air force of the bad human company (that's trying to kill all the nice natives to get at the huge unobtanium [that's not me making a joke, that's what the mineral is called] deposit underneath their Yggdrasill-like world tree) is made up of just souped up versions of our Harrier jets and war helicopters. This entire experience is as enveloping and believable as one of Cameron's own boring documentaries about the bottom of the ocean that he forsook actual filmmaking for directly after making Titanic.
Other than the creation of the coolest real physics-based special effects you've ever seen, and a planet that looks as tangible as your own back yard, the other thing Cameron promised with his mega-opus was a new 3D technology that would take movies into the next phase of mind-blowing evolution.... And he only kind of accomplishes this. Yeah, the 3D is natural and doesn't stick out with any "HEY! LOOK! I'm pointing RIGHT AT YOU! IN 3D!!!!!" moments, but that's just because he knew to make the effects subtle; it's not the technology, but the director's choice. Honestly, things like Pixar's Up and the stop-motion Coraline looked just as good in 3D. I really don't think we can do much better with 3D movies until we can make them so that we don't have to wear those ridiculous glasses any more. But fuck it, the 3D was serviceable at least.
Okay, I got all that visual praising done, now to talk about Avatar's plot. It's 150 years in the future, the Earth is fucked over by mankind's greed and apparently anti-environmentalism, and so some major corporations have begun to colonize distant worlds in order to rape the shit out of their natural resources and screw them over as well. One of these worlds is Pandora, a moon circling a giant gas planet filled with nothing but giant predators and a sentient species of 10-foot-tall blue-cat people known as the Na'vi. Jake Sully comes to this world in order to fill in for his dead identical twin brother who was originally contracted to pilot an Avatar (a genetically-spliced walking, breathing creature that had both Jake's brother's DNA mixed with some from the Na'vi), in order to use it to help the company get the natives to move out of their colossal world tree so that the humans can then "drill, baby, drill!" to get to the unobtanium (Christ, that sounds gayer every time I type it) just below the surface.
At first cripple Jake (yeah, at least one person yelled out "Timmy!" when he first plopped his useless legs into his wheelchair) is all "Fuck yeah! Let's get these panther-peeps outta the fuckin' way and get us some rocks, baby!", but as soon as he is wired into his Avatar, and is able to run around on his own two feet again, and start flirting with the sultry blue natives, he of course starts to realize that the quasi-hippie commune of the Na'vi is sooooo much better than his previous world of evil corporations, douchbag suits, and one-track-minded military commanders who can't see things for how they really are, man! They just don't... They just don't understand, man! And like WOW! What if like our entire world, or like our entire universe is just like ONE atom in the fingernail of like some other creature.... Whooooooooa!
So yeah, hippie Thundercat love wins Jake over, and with the help of scientist Sigourney Weaver and pilot Michelle Rodriguez, Jake turns against the corporation that was paying his healthy salary, and joins the sexy Na'vi princess Neytrani... Ney'tariana.... Ney.... Princess Cat Ears in helping her people whack back against the evil humans. Big American Dance Party.
Oh. Mah. GAWD! I have just GOT to get me one of them blue catmen of my very own! They're so damn hawt an' sexy! Puuuuurrrrrrrrrrr, baby! The way they move, the way they use their tongues... Oh mah, mah, mah.... I'mma gonna need a little time to recuperate... Where's mah little Mr. Whiskers? Here, Mr. Whiskers! Pssst, psssst, pssssst! Mr. Whiskers, keep mamma company while she recuperates some.
Preposterous! How DARE James Cameron get credit for "thinking of a way to genetically merge the biological codes of life from a human and a cat into one creature for world peace!" I did that myself over 15 years ago!
True, my cat people didn't volunteer for the experiment, they went feral faster than you could say "faster pussycat, kill, kill!", and they accidentally raped and murdered 1,600 people in the state of Georgia alone, but my GOD, man, give credit where credit is due!