James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar premiered on 16 December to much acclaim. The film, which has been 12 years in the making, cost a reported $300 million and boasts unprecedented CG effects. Not unreasonably, then, it was one of the most anticipated releases of the year.
Sadly, the movie's something of a letdown for everyone but CG aficionados. While the performances are believable, the plot is hackneyed and, at points, mawkish. Cameron also directed the tearjerker Titanic so Avatar's melodrama comes as no surprise.?
But first, here's a quick synopsis: it's the year 2154, and a team of marines and scientists from resource-starved Earth venture out to Pandora, a distant planet, which holds vast deposits of an energy-rich mineral called Unobtanium. However, the deposits are within territory inhabited by the Na'vi, an indigenous race of 9-10 feet tall, blue, cat-like bipeds. So the team first plans a diplomatic tack: using a machine to zap human minds into alien bodies, or avatars (hence the title), which they hope can win the trust of the Na'vi and convince them to move elsewhere.?
The effort on the ground is spearheaded by a paraplegic marine named Jake (Sam Worthington), who transports in and out of the Na'vi world, relaying valuable information about the locations of the deposits and viability of a military strike. On an early reconnaissance mission, Jake meets and eventually falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a young Na'vi leader who initiates him into their lifestyle.
Meanwhile, rifts appear within the human ranks, as the belligerent marines attempt to abort the diplomacy, led by the team of scientists, in favour of a military approach. The scientists and Jake, won over by the Na'vi's charms, jump to their defense and a full-blown war erupts. When the dust settles, Jake must answer for himself a question that tugs at the plot all along: is it better to be Na'vi or human?
The CG graphics and the thumping background score are indisputable winners. Cameron reportedly had to create new cameras to shoot the movie, and the results are spectacular. The Na'vi religion, also Cameron's brainchild, is internally coherent, not the usual New Age mish-mash of fantasy movies about alien cultures. Indeed, the movie can't help but remind one of an utterly worldly problem: the sufferings indigenous groups have had to endure at the hands of colonisers.
However, we've seen this plot too many times before, most recently in District 9. Besides, the romantic subplot develops far too quickly and is scarcely believable. The two protagonists are different species, after all. But weak plot or no, Avatar is definitely worth your time. The 3-D version of the movie is due to be released in Kathmandu soon.
Suvayu Dev Pant