We’re happy to report that the most hyped film of the year actually lives up to what it promises. Avatar is a pulpy sci-fi adventure, delivering bar-raising visual effects and plenty of thrills.
It’s fair to say that James Cameron’s return to directing is more of a technical accomplishment than a leap forward in storytelling, but while the strokes of the narrative are fairly broad, the inordinate level of visual detail is nothing short of astonishing.
The early stages of the movie build anticipation (much like in Jurassic Park, we’re only told of dangers lurking beyond the fence) and then – boom – we’re dropped into the wild with the research team. The jungle environment of Pandora is fully immersive, packed with incidental background details like fluttering leaves or tiny bugs. The night-time bioluminescence is breathtakingly beautiful (we urge you to see this in 3-D if you can).
A chance encounter with a particularly fearsome six-limbed beast separates ex-marine Jake Sully (a soulful Sam Worthington) from his fellow humans and leads to his eventual indoctrination with a native clan, replete with nipple-covering necklaces and Xena-ish war cries. State-of-the-art motion capture technology allows for an engaging performance from Zoe Saldana, charismatic as the chief’s daughter, Neytiri.
The film’s lengthy middle section dabbles with hippie mantras and magic trees (aided by James Horner’s score of African harmonies, South American pan flutes and Asian drumming) but the eventual climactic battle scene is a fan-boy’s dream come true. A fleet of gunships and helicopters meet natives riding winged creatures in a psychedelic explosion-fest that will ctrl+alt+delete your eyeballs and overheat your brain.
So the story rarely strays from classic formula, but Avatar is an experience. It’s escapism and adventure. At the dawn of a new decade, this movie is heralding a new wave of blockbuster entertainment, promising to take us to places as yet unseen.