No discussion of “Avatar” would be complete without mentioning its $230 million budget and the 15 years James Cameron devoted to its creation.
Fairly or not, such investments raise expectations: For Cameron, who directed “The Terminator” (1984) and “Aliens” (1986) and famously anointed himself “King of the World” upon winning 11 Oscars for 1997’s “Titanic,” anything less than a masterpiece might be branded a failure.
Does “Avatar” look great? Indeed it does.
Cameron didn’t spend the better part of two decades fine-tuning his dialogue, which often seems leaden. Instead, he spent millions perfecting the motion-capture technology and high-definition cameras he would use to create Pandora, an earth-sized moon rich in minerals and home to an alien tribe known as the Na’vi.
The blue-skinned Na’vi are a peace-loving bunch — they believe in a universal spirit that exists in all living creatures — but they refuse to cede their ground to anyone, least of all the warmongering Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang).
Quaritch is there to secure Pandora’s precious minerals, and if he has to smash some Na’vi skulls to get them, that suits him just fine.
Complicating matters is Jake (Sam Worthington, of “Terminator Salvation”), a paraplegic ex-Marine who enlists in Quaritch’s avatar program. Its purpose: allowing humans, using genetically engineered bodies (or “avatars”) to mimic the appearance of the Na’vis, then infiltrate their inner circle to learn how best to exterminate them.
Jake has no qualms about the mission — he’s been relegated to the sidelines too long to pass up a taste of the action — but when he falls in love with a Na’vi warrior princess (Zoe Saldana), he comes to question his orders. Could mutiny be on his agenda?
Clearly, Cameron had a lot on his mind. “Avatar” isn’t just a boldly imaginative fantasy — it speaks out against the thoughtless destruction of Earth’s natural resources and the dangers of waging wars for oil.
Yet what’s most stunning about the movie is not its ideology, but the sheer audacity of the director’s vision.
Here, Cameron has created a whole new universe, as George Lucas did in “Star Wars,” and it’s hard not to come away impressed. As a technical achievement, it is wondrous, vividly rendered right down to the last detail. But that visual wizardry would mean very little if Cameron’s story weren’t up to snuff.
Fortunately, it is. “Avatar” is a thoroughly absorbing adventure, tense and thought-provoking to the last — proof that the King of the World won’t soon be abdicating his place on the throne.
Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez
Written and directed by James Cameron
Running time 2 hours 42 minutes