“Avatar”. Or as I’d like to call it, “Dances With Aliens”. Regular readers of this blog would know that I rarely do movie reviews because I haven’t really been touched by a movie in a long time. Until now. I just watched it an hour ago, and I’m still a bit stunned, still reeling, actually. I can’t seem to shake off the hangover that the movie gave me. Like one of my all time favorites, “Dances With Wolves”, “Avatar” explores the same premise, peppered with eerily similar issues. An outsider joins another culture, is treated as a barbarian by what he thought were barbarians himself, has to learn the culture, proves himself as a equal, is eventually accepted by the “tribe”, forced to fight his own people because he eventually realized that he was one of the “bad guys”, and eventually abandons the culture he was born in, and adopts the foreign culture in its stead. The similarities are aplenty, so I guess that’s why I loved both movies.
Many films try to create an alien world, or “the future”, but they often fail. Somehow, it always looks like the present, trying hard to be the future, or another planet. Even the aliens in movies like the newer Star Wars series seemed dated, like they came from some bargain bin alien warehouse. And the alien planets, with the requisite multiple moons, just seemed, well, earthly. With “Avatar” though, the ideas were refreshingly new, and unexpected. In this age of sci-fi and comicbooks, CGI, and Steven Spielberg, it’s a tall order to still come up with fresh ideas that still inspire awe. This movie did it for me. Many of the aliens and the Pandora landscape made me a child again, bringing me to state that I rarely get into these days: the suspension of disbelief. I allowed myself to immerse into the movie’s make-believe world, abandoning logic and a critical eye. Very few movies have whisked me away completely into their worlds — LOTR and Harry Potter for instance — and I thank them for it.
Like I said, it was a film plot that was explored many times before, but it unfolds as if it were the first time I ever encountered it. There were many highs in the film — the SFX, the acting, the set design, the directing, the fake language, etc., but for me, the strongest point of the movie was the story-telling. This is my main beef with some of my childhood favorites like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, it’s as if success somehow dulled their peerless narrative skills. It’s nice to know that James Cameron still has it. I remember when “Titanic” went up against the critical darling “L.A. Confidential”, it was sooo uncool to be rooting for the sappy shipwreck story. But critics be damned, I was cheering “Titanic” on, even if I lost a lot of movie geek cred. So I’m so glad Cameron delivered…in spades. For me, my best bellwether for a good movie is if I don’t even notice the SFX, I don’t notice the acting, and all that matters to me is that the good guys win. It means I don’t see the strings that are masterfully manipulating my emotions. Be it native american indians or blue aliens, I need to care about these characters for me to enjoy the movies. Snazzy SFX means nothing if there is no heart beating at the very core of the story.
Suffice it to say, I loved it. Dramas are easy to get into, because it’s realistic, close to our own personal dramas, and they’re real people. But when the main characters are giant blue aliens on a fictitious planet, and yet you care for them just as much as you would with real people, then the film succeeded. It is therefore a foregone conclusion that I will start buying action figures of characters from the movie, which is the ultimate sign that I loved it. And is it just me, or were the aliens…a bit…you know…sexy?