Avatar raises the bar for visual effects
I remember seeing Jurassic Park as a kid and feeling absolutely sure that it was the biggest movie ever. There was no way any computer would ever be able to build something more realistic than the stunning dinosaurs in that film. Of course, then came Titanic and Lord of the Rings and with each film, it seems the standard for visual excellence becomes higher. Now there’s James Cameron’s Avatar, which will certainly go down in history as one of the greatest cinematic accomplishments of the decade if not the century.
Fifteen years in the making, Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully, a wheelchair bound Marine who travels to Pandora, home of the elf-like Na’vi people and excellent source of a precious mineral that is sought after by human invaders to the planet. Jake is chosen to participate in the Avatar program, an operation that allows humans to transfer their consciousness to a Na’vi body in order to move freely through the toxic air on Pandora and get in with the natives in hopes of securing the substance. Of course things get complicated when Jake is saved by, and subsequently falls in love with, Neytiri, a beautiful Na’vi female. Now Jake must choose between his own destructive race or his new life as one of the Na’vi.
Sure, the plot has been parodied on South Park as “Dances with Smurfs” and uses common character archetypes to tell the story, but this is no Titanic—and I mean that in the very best way. Where Titanic had trite dialogue and a performance from Leonardo DiCaprio that could be categorized as “phoning it in”, Avatar engrosses audiences with it’s spectacular visual achievement and holds on to them with a familiar tale and talented voiceover performances. Sam Worthington’s narration through Jake’s video diaries is pitch-perfect and Star Trek’s Zoë Saldana shows such skill in voicing Neytiri that you sometimes forget that the blue lady is an animated creation and not the actress herself.
The true star of Avatar has to be the special effects. Gone are the days of weird pseudo-realistic animations (see Beowulf) where eyes don’t seem to follow a line of sight and mouths don’t seem to match facial expressions. Instead of looking like a really good video game, the Na’vi look like living people, something more akin to Peter Jackson’s breathtaking creations in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
I saw Avatar in 3D, which can best be described as an experience, but I would imagine it’s still 70% as impressive in plain ol’ two dimensions. Still, if you get the chance to see this film in 3D or IMAX 3D, definitely go for it! This films marks an achievement in computer generated effects that will raise the bar for years to come and you don’t want to miss out on the chance to see it in all its glory.