- RatedPG /GenreAction, Adventure, Science Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
I’m not much of a fan of sci-fi movies. One of my gripes about the modern Hollywood blockbuster is that it’s often so awash with digital effects the textures and drama of the real world get sucked out of the story.
So you can imagine how surprised and confused I was, to find myself falling in love – falling in lust even – with a nine-foot-two hipless alieness with blue skin, sharp incandescent ears, and bioluminescent freckles.
Actress Zoe Saldana deserves some credit for bringing the role – and eyes, oh, what eyes - of the alien princess Neytiri to life in Avatar.
But the final kudos must go to director James Cameron, who has spent much of the last decade since Titanic (1997) creating a truly fantastical world with a recognisable human heart.
The premise of Avatar is not original, but its form is; and while the use of digital effects is essential, here it tells and deepens the story rather than obscures it.
Here’s the brief: Man has exhausted his own environment and is now pillaging a distant planet Pandora for a new energy source, which Cameron daftly calls ‘Unobtanium’.
In order for the humans – or rather, the Americans – to acquire this ore, a paraplegic ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) must assume an alien body and infiltrate one of Pandora’s indigenous clans, the Na’vi, whose gargantuan tree house happens to be rooted in Unobtanium-rich soil.
As Sully is gradually embraced by the natives, he finds himself – like Lieutenant Dunbar in Dances With Wolves (1990) – falling in love with the world he has come to plunder; he becomes a Coloniser With A Conscience.
As Sully turns against the very powers that sent him into the psychedelic jungle, he begins to see the world in a different light. Eyes and seeing are an important motif in the film, and at one point an enlightened scientist (Sigourney Weaver) observes that humans are blind compared to the Na’vi, whose idea of ‘seeing’ encompasses notions of understanding and accepting.
This profound level of vision is suggested by Cameron’s special effects, and the genius of his animation team is as much philosophical as it is technical. They have strived not only to fabricate ‘life-like’ flora and fauna, but more fundamentally to create a sense of nature’s mysteries: her shimmering beauty and wild brutality.
That combination of beauty and brutality – and all it suffers at the hands of human’s military-industrial excess - is fully realised in Avatar. The film is a wonder to behold, and Cameron does well to breathe romance into a story about exploitation and the folly and hubris of man.
My suggestion is this: go see the movie, and then - if you’re as taken by Neytiri as I am - go see it again. In 3-D.
About Ken Kwek
Ken Kwek is a playwright and screenwriter. His film credits include The Ballad of Vicki and Jake (2005), The Blue Mansion (2009) and the forthcoming Kidnapper (2010).