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Avatar (Cameron, 2009)

I don’t have to much to add on whether or not Avatar has met or exceeded expectations. Really, expectations have a way of growing so large that measuring the film’s success in relation is almost impossible. Suffice it to say, Avatar is surprisingly very good, and uses its assets as smartly as you could ever hope for in today’s overblown, banal adventure-blockbuster genre.

What can I say about the visuals? Not only are they stupendously well-rendered and complementary to the finished product, but there’s also a conscious sense of beauty infused into them that designers/animators rarely ever afford other films – a clear indication that studios should take note from Avatar and NOT rush their blockbusters to market. Alien creatures exhibit believable biology. The dense jungle reflects a beautiful bioluminescent ecosystem. The details aren’t revolutionary, but Cameron’s attention to that detail shows that Avatar was made by loving hands.

Speaking of revolutionary, the effects themselves – though probably the best example to date – do not reflect a giant leap forward… with one exception. I’ve been dubious about motion-capture technology and digital characters since they’ve come into vogue in recent years. Even LOTR’s Gollum doesn’t quite allow you to forget his digital nature. But Avatar’s Na’Vi come very close. And in fact, Zoe Saldana’s Neytiri does. Her face and movements are so expressive, especially late in the film, that for a while I completely accepted her as a character as real as any flesh-and-blood actor onscreen.

The film’s weakest link is the script, simply because it’s nothing you haven’t seen before. Like Yoda mentioned in his review, you know what to expect long before the mid-point of the film. The plot also uses, regrettably, the popular dichotomy of greedy white capitalists against nature-loving native folk; although I find this easy to forgive on a personal level because I sympathize with the message, and it makes for a pleasantly cathartic three-hour experience that delivers on its promises.

Suffice it to say, Avatar strives not only to be something bigger, but also something wholeheartedly artistic and meaningful. It has taken one very large step into a dangerous arena of shallow filmmaking, but it has done so with more than a fair attention to depth and rich storytelling. Who knows whether or not it will be the flagship that determines the bar of excellence by which all future blockbusters will follow? For God’s sake, let’s hope so.