Yesterday, an irate friend IM-ed me and demanded to read my review of Avatar, or more to gloat over the fact that I've taken this long. He knows how anal I usually am in wanting to be the first one off the blocks, though I have to also admit I was jaded by the 15 minute preview, as well as the countless fan-fare hype surrounding the film. I saw a select cast and crew in Tokyo, and Sam Worthington either looked jet-lagged, or uninterested. Zoe Saldana on the other hand was quite the eager beaver, and Sigourney Weaver had this regal presence of being there and done that. They were there for yet another 15 minute preview for the Japanese audience, the lucky few chosen through a ballot.
This time round I had turned down friends' invitation to watch this together when the film hit our shores in a simultaneous worldwide release, and also been turned down as well because many (though I did find 2 good men) thought I was nuts to journey that far to watch this film. My screening venue of choice is at Singapore Discovery Centre's iWERKS theatre, boasting a screen that's 5 storeys high and a good sound system. Sure, many theatre chains have now added more halls for what is possibly the 3D movie event of the year, with GV converting a hall in all its cinemas, but I am still stubbornly adamant in wanting to watch this at the SDC. If it's an immersive experience James Cameron wanted audiences to feel, then I'm not going to make compromises. The icing on the cake: iWERKS only costs about half the ticket price anywhere else, with no tiered timing nonsense. It's 7 bucks flat, though it has only 2 screenings in a day at 215pm and 615pm.
So was the experience worth it? You bet, save for the end credits being unceremoniously cut off toward the end because of another screening. James Cameron is indeed no stranger to science fiction and the creation of new worlds, having been there and done that, even when there are quarters which point to plot similarities. He had continued Ridley Scott's Alien and made the sequel just as, if not even more memorable, having a Titanic film that stood out amongst those created before his technological marvel, gave spy films a good run with his True Lies, and even upping the ante of his own Terminator film with its sequel (which those that followed struggling hard to fill those shoes he left behind).
To say Cameron is a technology junkie is quite the understatement. For each film that he made, there's something new added with a Wow factor, and I still remember to this day the liquid T1000 rising from a patterned floor, making the ugly Harrier jet look sexy, and made us gawk at the recreation of the ill fated ocean liner. Between that film and this one, he had made another 3D documentary exploring the wreckage of the Titanic, and I've watched that on 3D IMAX, which sadly such a hall no longer exists in Singapore. The 3D experience now with Avatar is nothing short of mind-blowing, for the first few minutes at least, and it subconsciously just melts into the background as you continue to enjoy the visuals of the film, hardly noticing the effort that had gone in creating that depth of field or the photo-realism of the fantasy realm of beautiful alien flora and floating mountains, as if you're now watching something real that's unfolding as if you're staring out with your very own eyes, witnessing a perfect blend of live action and computer generated wizardry.
He's created a new world with Avatar, which may have jolly well been Dances with Science Fiction Wolves, or any parallels with other films cutting so close that it's easy to scream plagiarism, but like the title of the film, it's only a vessel in which to tell the story of what's probably a major mind-set shift of how a science fiction 3D film should be like, and exploited for the modern audience. The story has been told countless of times in many different forms, about the prophetic messiah who would come from outside the community, to lead them against adversary. And although the idea has been reported mooted at least a decade back, one cannot but feel how close the concept of Nature Vs Man being all the more relevant now, with that constant reminder that Nature will fight back one day, and Man will be on the losing end should we be up against a concerted force.
Sam Worthington continues his charge as leading man material, even though he's covered in blue and in gangly animated form for more than half the time He's the perennial flawed hero (and I think come complete with touched up limbs) who sees his initial mission as a chance to reclaim what was, only to find that the grass is greener on the other side, due to what else, but love. That pits him against his master, and his dilemma to regain the trust of a community that he had chosen to betray and regret. I can't help but to compare his Marine Jack Sully to Kevin Costner's John Dunbar, with his time spent living amongst the natives (here it's 3 months worth) and to learn their ways, so much so that he's more of them than he is from his own, despite the need to report back, and knowing that they will be the eventual enemy when push comes to shove regarding land and minerals.
And the great good versus evil divide comes from Colonel Miles, played to wicked perfection by Stephen Lang as the war mongering officer who just can't wait to lock and load and pick a fight given any opportunity, and the diplomatic scientist Dr. Grace (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew, who are all for mutual co-existence and the sharing of cultures in a bid to understand what makes the native Na'vi tick, not to mention the countless of secrets that lie hidden in their eco-system, besides some valuable mineral to mine, the largest deposit which is sitting directly under the Na'vi's million year old giant tree.
In the Na'vis, Cameron has created quite the indigenous alien beings complete with a pigtail, which can be used to plug into nature, from binding and controlling just about every living creature (there was a mating scene, though I didn't get to see if this was put to good use), and to plug themselves into a spiritual realm as well. I suppose this provides for plenty of empathy, and I liked the part where Zoe Saldana's Neytiri chides Jake for thanking her when she fatally dispatches the more aggressive beings which in a way, were provoked to action. Action too is something not short of in the film, though one must be patient for that full scale, all out war that was done quite in the mold of Battle For Terra, leaving you without a doubt who to root for.
I don't suppose this film will make as much at the box office as Cameron's last even though it shared that similar romantic angle behind events that are of a higher magnitude. Instant classic this is not, but Avatar has its moments, primed for a sequel or even for an expanded television series, that could continue on its ecological message, its technical wizardry, or just plain old narrative familiarity that could put the spotlight on the other hastily added clans that made up the final stretch.