Dec 28, 2009

[Movies] Avatar (2009)

AvatarSome stories are pretty much classic - the templates of many stories are often repeated throughout history. May it be in the form of books or even movies and TV shows, there are patterns that emerge as people gravitate towards certain story concepts over and over again. Just look at the Philippine entertainment industry - it's built on giving people the exact same content over and over again with new actors.

This isn't always a bad thing - sometimes a new version of an old story can come out pretty well. While oftentimes it's the reverse, we can hope for the continued creative drive of people to shine through and new masterpieces to emerge from the dusty bones of older tales. Just look at the Hero's Journey, a truly classic archetype that more often than not succeeds as long as the premise is creative enough (i.e. Star Wars).

What case this movie was is always open to debate, but naturally I'm going to weigh in my opinion for the heck of it.

Avatar is the CGI-porn masterpiece of extravagant director James Cameron. He claimed that this story had been in the works since 1994 but he was unable to start with the project after completing Titanic since he felt the technology to support this movie simply wasn't there yet.

Imagine a man sent to a place outside of his normal element. He has a task assigned to him and in doing said task he is given a unique opportunity to understand the natives, who are not quite human. As he goes about learning more about their culture, he begins to gain some degree of affinity for them and eventually feels he is truly one of them. Soon, battle lines are drawn and he must choose between helping his new friends in their woodland home or revert to his original loyalties and work with those who seek to exploit their land for their greedy purposes.

This is the story of FernGully: The Last Rainforest. Or it is the story of Pocahontas. It is also the story of Avatar.

BERLIN - DECEMBER 08:  Actress Sigourney Weave...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Beyond the recycled plot (which has been in development since 1994, mind you), it was a fairly well executed story. Instead of a teenage logger like in FernGully, we get ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) sent to the world of Pandora to "pilot" these genetic constructs called avatars. They are a combination of human and alien DNA - the aliens being known as the Na'vi. The avatar effort is managed by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) and eventually Jake gets separated from the research team and encounters one of the Na'vi - Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña). She feels that somehow this "dream walker" is different from the others and she takes a risk with him.

A lot of geeks are joking about how many James Cameron tropes are in this movie. Battle suits that remind you of the power loader in Aliens? Check. Sigourney Weaver as a strong yet intelligent woman? Check. Tough tomboy girl in strong miltary role like Vasquez in Aliens? Check. Girl destined to marry another but is taken from her fate because she falls in love with a younger, socially unacceptable man? Check. Special breathing masks to survive a hostile alien environment like in The Abyss? Check. The list goes on and on.

I got to watch the movie in IMAX 3D and it was more than worth the four hundred (and one!) pesos I had to shell out at SM Mall of Asia. If you don't want to spend this much, then at the very least you need to see it in digital 3D once the local Metro Manila Film Fest is over. The visuals are amazingly stunning and breathtaking but of course watching a 2 hour, 45 minute 3D feature can make you feel a tad dizzy / disoriented after. But the visuals play a major role is creating the universe and in this regard one has to truly give James Cameron credit for his efforts and his decision to wait this long before making the movie. Thank god we already have IMAX theaters in the Philippines.

It's hard to judge the acting since a lot of the movie is depicted with these CGI characters. Sure, James Cameron brags about the amazing motion-capture technology needed to create this film, but at the same time any fan of Squaresoft and the Final Fantasy series of games and movies will not think this is anything truly significant or different. Kudos to some of the rendering efforts since they were able to convey facial expression very well. Plus major points to Sigourney Weaver's avatar since it REALLY looked like her.

The movie is just one long visual spectacle that is certainly enjoyable and a great showcase of what the movie genre can achieve with current technology. The story is decent but nothing amazing but I'm sure it will get several Oscar nods as if it were a completely new concept. It's just the way of such movies, plus the fact that James Cameron got the studios to invest so much money into this movie. It HAS to get some degree of recognition because of the expenditure. This is the way of James Cameron, which doesn't work for other directors most of the time (such as Kevin Costner).

Avatar is a great film and the perfect way to escape the Metro Manila Film Festival since it's still playing in IMAX theaters locally. Do not waste your money on the micro-IMAX theater in SM North Edsa - if you're going to spend that much for a movie, you might as well make the trek down to SM MOA.

Avatar 4.5 James Cameron rehash concepts out of a possible 5.

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