I just returned from an advance screening of James Cameron’s new film Avatar. Initially I was skeptical after seeing a trailer, but I’ve become an enthusiastic convert. In order to appreciate what Cameron and his vest technical crew have accomplished, you have to see the film in 3-D digital projection. This production really does lift both CGI and 3-D technology to a new standard. The alien world of Pandora and its inhabitants take on a convincing presence, and the combination of 3-D imagery and dynamic camerawork has a visceral impact.
Yes, the film has cartoon villains and some stock situations, but the script actually is not bad as far as blockbusters go. Cameron is painting in broad, mythic strokes, and it mostly works very well. What I found amusing is the script’s not-so-subtle critique of colonialism: in the most expensive movie ever made, the hero is a soldier who serves a colonial power. He learns to see–literally–from the indigenous people’s point of view and joins their struggle. It helps that the technical crew has made every effort to render the Na’vi faces expressively, so that we can fully empathize with them. The crude motion capture and dead eyes that made the characters in The Polar Express look like sluggish CGI zombies are thankfully a thing of the past. Avatar’s world is certainly worth the visit; I want to see it a second time, only in 3-D Imax.