When I walked out of the theater after having seen Avatar for the first time I remember thinking: this must have been what it felt like for those walking out of Star Wars in 1977. I felt like the film had taken me with it and I was just coming back to earth. Not only was the film a technical masterpiece but James Cameron has once again proved his adeptness for telling a compelling story.
Jake Sully is an ex-marine, previously crippled in battle. He is given the chance to take the place of his recently deceased twin brother on an expedition to Pandora, a moon in a distant planetary system. Once there, he undergoes a procedure that allows his brain waves to control an engineered body, a hybrid of Human and Na’vi DNA. The Na’vi are a seemingly savage race. They are hard to kill, and present many problems to the mining facilities on Pandora.
While in the jungles in his Na’vi body, Jake is separated from the rest of his group and is discovered by a Na’vi female, Neytiri. Taken to the Na’vi tribal village he learns their culture, gains their trust, and slowly becomes as one of them. This becomes a problem when his loyalties with the Na’vi conflict with his loyalty to mankind who will stop at nothing to mine unobtainium, including the extermination of the Na’vi.
Avatar presents a beautiful artistic design. The moon of Pandora was cleverly fabricated and is well developed as fictional worlds go. The Na’vi seem genuinely alien, with a fully developed culture and language, but the audience has no trouble adjusting. What I believe to be the greatest achievement of James Cameron and crew is the fact that they were able to present extraordinary situations, such as floating mountains, and riding giant winged creatures, while still maintaining the audience’s suspension of belief. The world is believable.
Many criticize the film for its lack of originality, claiming that it too closely resembles the tale of Pocahontas. I do not think this is necessarily a bad thing. Star Wars was simply a retelling of old fairy tales, and Eragon was another retelling of the same story. However, a lack of originality does make the movie a bit predictable. Also the Na’vi people, though well developed, appeared to closely resemble other earth cultures, particularly the Native Americans. If it weren’t for its technical background and artistic style the film might not have fared as well at the box-office.
Over all, Avatar is a film worth mentioning alongside film giants like King Kong, Star Wars and others. It has and will undoubtedly continue to influence Hollywood in new directions.