Where were you when you caught your first glimpse of Avatar? Like millions, I was sitting in front of my computer screen watching the first clips released to the public. Upon seeing the Thundercats-Smurfs hybrid characters and listening to the cheesy dialogue, my expectations were lessened significantly. Instead of some fancy east coast lobster, I was thinking more Big Mac. I still had some faith seeing as how James Cameron’s track record is solid to amazing (yes, I like even Titanic). With the runaway success of the film, obviously something was missing from those early clips, something that could only be captured over the course of an epic feature. Avatar is a marvel. Sure, the main characters still look like rejects from 1980s-era Saturday morning cartoons and the dialogue is frequently iffy at best, but there’s also a magic about the film. It’s rare that a movie can inspire genuine awe but Cameron has succeeded in another landmark technical achievement.
Some time in the future, the moon of Pandora is a resource rich site for needy humans. Pandora is where the very valuable Unobtainium is found, thus it becomes a place of imperialistic invasions. Needing to appease and win over the local Na’vi, the military starts a program that has humans controlling organic sort-of robots to enter the mystical culture of giants. Normally requiring extensive training and careful matching between humans and their avatars, wheelchair-bound Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) steps into the role quickly following the death of his brother. Destiny steps in and Jake is thrust into the middle of the Na’vi culture, seemingly preordained to be the difference maker in the looming conflict between the business-minded human interests and the harmonic Na’vi.
The story is simple. Very simple. Some might say too simple. Think Dances with Futuristic Blue Wolves in snazzy CG. But some of the most powerful films with lasting impact can be labeled as “simple.” Star Wars, Titanic and any Michael Bay blockbuster can be summed up in a nutshell. They’re often mocked. Pauline Kale spent an entire book arguing Citizen Kane’s greatness didn’t come in its perfection. One could even argue that Cameron’s original Terminator was simply a movie about a robot coming back in time to kill someone. Films don’t need to be complex all the time. Granted, I like it when something challenges me. But this can be achieved in different ways. Avatar works on a level of imagination and spirit. It challenges the Western system of Imperialism in a way that’s direct and could be used as a teaching tool for history teachers.
What Avatar might suffer from in its directness to its themes, it should also be looked at for its mastery of visuals. Much has already been written of the film’s spectacle and there’s no hyperbole in asserting its groundbreaking look. Going forward, I am quietly cussing Cameron under my breath for showing Hollywood how profitable 3D can be now that seemingly everything is headed in that direction as executives look for breadcrumbs. I can only imagine a couple years down the road: Driving Miss Daisy: The Prequel where we watch for two hours as five-year-old Hoke pulls Daisy around the neighborhood in a wagon to get ice cream, all in glorious 3D. I guess who could blame them? Just attach the two letters to a commercial and everything is turning into gold.
I’m not a fan of hype. It’s ultimately empty and rarely rewarding. In the case of Avatar, the initial push worked against it for me, at least to lessen expectations. But there I still was, opening week, near the front of a packed theatre, blown away by the achievement. The Na’vi still look weird and the dialogue is still pretty awful at times, but there’s a lot more to Avatar to marvel at. It captures the possibility of film and takes the format to uncharted places.
Avatar Blu-ray Review
It has been widely written that this is just the first of possibly many home releases for Avatar. As a result, you get the movie and nothing else. For some, that’s enough. Others may want to wait for the inevitable tricked out editions and later 3D versions. The Avatar Blu-ray is simply spectacular. The high definition 1080p widescreen picture is nothing short of perfect, capturing all the detail of the film and showing that it can hold up, even when it’s not in 3D. The sound is equally great, captured in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Additional language tracks are in Spanish, French and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English descriptive audio. Subtitles are offered in each of the same languages except French. The Avatar Blu-ray is also a combo pack that includes a second disc with the film on DVD.