The first movie I saw that was written and directed by James Cameron was Aliens, which I saw on tape back in 1987. I was blown away, and eagerly devoured everything he did before and since. Terminator, The Abyss, True Lies, he had a knack for creating sci-fi that was unlike everything else out there. Unlike his contemporaries, in a Cameron film, the science worked. Robots were competent, spaceships went where they were supposed to, and when a site was to be nuked, it got nuked.
So like many a Cameron fan, I was looking forward to his first major film in over ten years, Avatar. At 9:00 AM on a Sunday, the IMAX theater was nearly full. After watching the film unfold, I can see why.
Many have said that Terminator 2 was primarily a remake of The Terminator with a bigger budget. The same could be said of Avatar; this is Aliens writ large. Cameron knows this: I do not think it is a coincidence that he cast Sigourney Weaver in a lead role. The trip to Pandora is via cryogenic freezing, Ripley's construction loader gets a military upgrade, and many of the themes are the same with the primary one being the evils corporations do in the pursuit of a quarterly earning report. And like all Cameron films, the themes are held up front and center. The planet is named Pandora; Cameron is not exactly subtle.
Unlike Aliens, however, which is framed as a horror story, Avatar is framed as a hero's journey. Here our hero is played by Sam Worthington. He's one of those actors who has been quietly putting out great supporting and lead performances for years, but has just now burst into the American action film scene. With knockout roles in Terminator: Salvation and Avatar this year, he looks set to assume the action hero mantle that has been drifting from one thirtysomething actor to another this decade. Seeing an actor in one role tells you whether he is interesting to watch--seeing him twice you find out if he can act. Worthington was a completely different person in Avatar and Terminator: Salvation.
But back to Avatar: the visuals are spectacular. Not quite photorealistic for the animals of Pandora, but close enough that I quickly and completely lost myself in the effects. And the flowers and native people themselves are flawless, a tribute to the profession. Like all modern films, more than one effects team created the world, which aids considerably.
The plot is taut and suspenseful, moving always at a fluid pace. Cameron is nothing if not precise, he tends to avoid deus ex machina resolution, carefully laying the groundwork for the finale well in advance. This also makes his films fun--looking for clues to what the future holds. I loved this film from start to finish, its rich visuals and its stalwart protagonists.
Avatar: 5 out of 5 stars