Yesterday I joined the millions (and millions!) of people who have seen the movie Avatar (but not in 3D). The latest in a chain of James Cameron epics. And you know what? It wasn't bad.
That's not to say it was great or legendary, other than being fine entertainment it escapes me how this flick has made as much money as it has. Technically it's a cut above, the visual effects are striking. Cameron creates a planet called Pandora that looks like a blue Roger Dean painting - lush fauna, arched granite, flying dragons and floating islands galore. On this planet are some tall blue people who live in harmony with nature. The digital effects are brilliant and engrosing, backgrounds are complex and lively while the blue alien creatures are rendered well enough to evoke human emotions without appearing entirely affected. It's not the jump of say The Matrix in digital effects but it is an impressive technical feat nonetheless.
Storywise Avatar follows the pattern of past Cameron classics. On Pandora the blue alien creatures are threatened by humans working for a corporation that wants to strip mine a precious ore from the surface. They want to relocate or kill the blue people to make a profit. Familiar patterns emerge i.e. a scrappy hero against a dogmatic enemy, a love story tested by the heat of battle, Police / Militairy personel portrayed as lunk headed gung ho killers and a lead character going through the stranger-in-a-strange-land syndrome. With Sigourney Weaver present it's easy to think of this as a sort of Aliens with the sides flipped to make the humans evil. Being a fan of James Cameron movies, it was easy for me to see where the story was going and I began sorting out which characters would die and which would live within the first 40 minutes of the 2 and a half hour epic.
To be fair, Cameron continues to add new elements to his storytelling. With Titantic, Cameron learned how to be mushy (and long winded) which carries over to Avatar. In Avatar, Cameron adds more social commentary into his style. Plenty of heavy handed allusions to modern wars for profit, destruction of the ecology for the sake of industrialization, the unfair expensiveness of medical help and the inhuman detachment of the technological world get play.
All in all, Avatar is a good movie. It wasn't mind blowing or a religious event as I've seen it described by some online, but it was good stuff. Is it ironic that this anti-corporate movie cost a bundle to make and is making even larger bundles for a major corporation? Looks like Cameron still has some dragons left to slay.