As I write this, it’s 11:11pm on Thursday, December 10th, 2009.

I’m about 40 minutes, and a dinner past getting out of Avatar, James Cameron’s latest opus.

It’s taken him 12 years to return to the big screen, having last blown away the entire cinematic world with Titanic. And if you’ve been following this site, you know that I’ve been watching this project, and been skeptical every step of the way.

I went to the “Avatar Day” showing, which was meant to wow…and was left underwhelmed.

Did Cameron still have it? Had Fox put out nearly $300 Million for nothing?

The answer is simple: James Cameron has done it again, with the massively scaled, revolutionary film Avatar.

When reviewing a project such as Avatar, it’s difficult to breakdown the film into the traditional review.

Is the plot surprising and interesting? Not quite. If you’ve watched the trailers, you’ve probably already figured it out. Boy becomes Na’vi. Boy as Na’vi is supposed to hang out with aliens for the military. Boy as Na’vi meets Na’vi girl. They fall in love. Military wants to destroy Na’vi to get access to a super rare mineral. Boy as Na’vi doesn’t like it and change sides.  It’s broad strokes, no wheels are being reinvented here.

Is it the acting? Not really there, either. Sam Worthington is somewhat bland (albeit servicable) as Jake Sully, the parapalegic Marine who agrees to enter the Avatar project after his twin brother passes.  Zoe Saldana, in a mostly motion capture role as Neytiri, a Na’vi warrior princess, is your typical strong tribal girl type. Michelle Rodriguez appears as…Michelle RodriguezTrudy Chacon, literally the same role she’s always been.  Sure, Stephen Lang chews up scenery as Colonel Miles Quaritch, a sort of R. Lee Ermey, Giovanni Ribisi is fantastically sleezy as the leader of RDA, Parker Selfridge, and Sigourney Weaver plays a fantastic role as Dr. Grace Augustine, a pseudo Dian Fossey for the Na’vi people, but it’s not about the acting.

I’d even say some moments are cringeworthy, like the mineral being called Unobtanium (ugh.), and a really surreal Na’vi prayer sequence which reminds me far too much of the rave sequence from The Matrix Reloaded. I can already hear the detractors now.

So if it’s not the plot…and not the acting…and some of it is cringeworthy…what is so damned exciting?


Pandora, the planet which serves as the backdrop for the entire film, is one of the greatest creations in cinematic history.  I know, that must be hyperbole.  But honest to God, it’s not.  A pure CG creation, you’ll find yourself in disbelief at how few of the settings are not traditional sets.  I know much has been spoken of the quality of the Na’vi people, and the other creatures which populate Pandora, but my same qualms from “Avatar Day” remain in the final film.  There are moments where the CG is flawless. You believe the Na’vi are real. You believe the creatures are real. But the plasticine sheen of the finest 3D graphics still rear their ugly head at moments, taking you out of the moment, even briefly.

Despite this, though, the feeling of a real Pandora never fades.  The flora, the fauna, the bugs, the sheer atmosphere of it all. It remains completely real.  There has literally been nothing like this on screen before.  And it is this realistic feeling of the environment, the tangible quality of the setting of Avatar which raises the stakes and heightens the drama, making a standard plot and formidable at best acting feel like such a revolutionary film.

Was this by design? Perhaps.  The film’s pacing would certainly lead you to believe so.  The plot follows a rather linear pace, slowly revealing the world of the Na’vi to the viewer through Jake Sully’s eyes, showcasing their tribal world through almost small vignettes, as he acclimates himself not just to Pandora, but the Na’vi people. Heck, even the story, which I called predictable above, has properly inserted nuance and detail, making what would otherwise be a dull experience enthralling and interesting.  But as the film goes on, you realize each element is key, and it all pays off in an absolutely stunning final battle. And oh what a battle it is.

If you believed from Titanic that Cameron has gone soft, he proves you wrong, with a stunning 20+ minute final war sequence between the Na’vi people and the ex-military mercenaries of the RDA, putting creatures against technology in an all out battle on a scale rarely seen on screen. The closest comparison I could think of was that of the final battle in Return of the King.  The “King of the World” has come to reclaim his title as the best action director in Hollywood today, and I do believe he took it.

Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak of the 3D technology at play. After all, it’s what pushed this film forward.  While there is never a moment where they play the “IT’S COMING AT YOUUUU” card, the 3D tech adds a level of depth to the world which underlines the alive feeling of Pandora.  I can’t say it enough - this is something which has never been done on this scale before, and it just has blown everything else out of the water.

Simply put, Avatar may not have changed the story, but it has changed the way the story is told. A new watermark in the world of science fiction storytelling.  Welcome back, Jim. May you take less than 12 years, next time.