I think that Avatar is the greatest 3D movie ever made. Not only is the 3D IMAX resolution the most realistic I have ever seen, but the world of Pandora offers panoramic vistas and phosphorescent ferns, floating mountains and massive telepathic forests that give the technology plenty of room to play. The 3D adds depth to the entire movie; it’s not gimmicky or only usable for certain scenes. Helicopters swarm out of the sidelines as giant, blue Na’avi swoop in and out of the foreground. Maybe this movie is really only about the visuals, and that when seen on a normal screen it becomes just another sci-fi blockbuster, rehashing the same old technology vs. nature mores. It’s definitely a classic Cameron flick, but that’s just fine, as I am a huge fan of Aliens and the Abyss, and I certainly enjoyed seeing some of his old cinematic elements given new life in Avatar‘s amazing Technicolor dream-world.
Before becoming the bazillionaire movie director responsible for Terminator and the Titanic, James Cameron was a truck driver with an engineering degree. I don’t know what sorts of people he was working with back then, but I have an assumption that the grizzly, gun-for-hire ship crews of Aliens, the Abyss, and Avatar are based on people he worked with on the road. They kind of look like truckers: the bandana-wearing, tobacco chewing roughnecks that populate the Company cabins. Some of them are in bad situations, like Avatar’s paraplegic protagonist Jake Sully. And some of them, like Giovanni Ribisi’s cold-blooded company man, are just bad.
Some of the reused motifs are readily apparent. The mech-warrior battle suits are almost identical to the ones used in Aliens, Sigourney Weaver looks awful familiar popping out of cryostasis, and there’s Trudy Chacon, the Latina pilot that disobeys orders to protect the Na’avi from attack, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Private Vasquez from Aliens. The Tree of Souls and other bioluminescent phenomena on Pandora look like they may have a common ancestor with the IndiGlo fish-alien from the Abyss. But in any incarnation, until now, they’ve never been presented in three dimensions.
The movie is long, but not overdrawn. The plot is always moving the film along from one gigantic scene to the next. A minute after Sam Worthington’s character Jake Sully links up to his hybrid Na’Avi “Avatar” body, he is running loose through the exotic jungle, and he keeps up the pace through the entire film. Jake’s Avatar was originally grown for his deceased, scientist brother, making him the only Marine among a team of scientists that transfer their consciousness into Na’Avi bodies. The Na’Avi are so impressed by his martial skills, that they decide to train him in their warrior ways. So he spends a good amount of time leaping from vivid jungle canopies and taming vicious pterodactyls. When you learn that a major cache of the prized, anti-gravity-inducing ore, aptly named Unobtanium, is located under the Na’Avi’s sacred Home Tree, and that the RDA (or the Company) plans on demolishing the Tree to get it, you know there are some Braveheart-grade battles to come. And you’re not left waiting long.