By Aaron Gomez
Avatar is a movie that is almost a decade old but, 'til this day, it's still a visual and technological masterpiece, and I’m going to tell you why it’s a great movie. I’m going to go in order from worst to greatest things about it. There will be spoilers, but I don’t care. This movie came out almost ten years ago and is one the highest grossing films of all time (Not adjusting for inflation). If you haven’t seen it by now, you were not planning on seeing it anytime soon.
Okay, starting off with story: it's absolute garbage. Don’t get me wrong, good on James Cameron. I can't write for anything, but let us be real here- this film is an animated amalgam of FernGully and Pocahontas with tall blue aliens and money hungry humans. It is no coincidence that James Cameron first got the idea for Avatar after seeing the Disney animated movie. So basically, we meet Jake Sully (a paraplegic Marine in the year 2154) and his twin scientist brother is killed right before he’s about to be shipped off to a distant moon planet called Pandora, so they insert Jake in his place. There he learns about the greedy corporation, that is there to mine for a precious metal, and their plan is to use the scientists they brought with them to become friends with the Native (Na’vi) to get them to actually give them the material. Sounds a little familiar, doesn't it? So, after Jake forms a bond with the Na’vi and even falls in love with one.. He turns on the corporation and they go to war. People die a big tree falls to the ground blah, blah, blah. FernGully/Pocahontas rip-off.
Okay, now that that’s out of the way- on to the things that bother me about the story. First, why would they just go and replace this guy with his twin brother? I'm sure there is a pretty short list of people who were going to Pandora that could've easily replaced him with. Second, after many rewatchings, I still don’t understand how Jake and Neytiri fall in love. I have seen this movie countless times and I can never see the turn from when they go from just “friends” to “ponytail bone buddies”. Third, how do the Na’vi know how to transfer souls? Specifically when trying to save Grace by moving her over to her Avatar body? Have they done this before, and, if so, with whom? Is it just a cruel joke they play on the sky people? “Oh yeah, we can do that. Take your mask off so you can't breathe."
There are many more things that I have found, but I'm getting ahead of myself. On to the next.
Each of the actors in this film brings something to the table, none of them have small roles and they each are pivotal to the plot. James Cameron had his pick of the litter for actors for this film he choose a mix of no names and box office biggies.
Sam Worthington- at the time of his audition he was living in his car. He beat out heavy hitters like Matt Damon and Jake Gyllenhaal for the role. Essentially because Cameron wanted a lesser-known actor for the role.
Zoë Saldana- At the time of this film besides from her leading roles in “Temptation” and “Guess Who” she was a relatively unknown actor the same year Avatar was released she also landed the role of Uhura in the latest reboot of “Star Trek” she has become a powerhouse actor in recent years, this film is no different.
Sigourney Weaver- not much to say about her we know that she can always deliver and sci-fi adventure is right in her wheelhouse. She’s also my favorite character in this film.
Stephen Lang- If they ever remade “Full Metal Jacket” (which they should never do) Lang would play Lee Ermey’s role.
Michelle Rodriguez- Her Character was the bad ass female pilot, with that said she died like she has any many of her previous roles, poor Michelle.
Giovanni Ribisi- He will always be Phoebe’s younger brother on “Friends”
Joel David Moore- “How could he see me?”
On to the Maestro of this Orchestra of actors Director James Cameron
The Director James Cameron could go down as one of the greatest directors of our time. James has directed 2 of the highest grossing films of all time, the other being Titanic. He had the idea for “Avatar” back in 1995 after seeing Pocahontas and had a completed draft by the late-90s but it would have cost over $400 million to make it the way he wanted, so no studio would touch it.
It was after he saw the CGI effects used for Gollum in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, he knew it was time to make Avatar. Cameron has always been a little bit of a control freak there wasn’t a single thing on screen that he did not decide on or design himself.
There is a moment in the behind the scenes that I love. When they were training some of the actors in archery James asked the trainer if you could pull the strings from the other side, because he wanted the Na’vi to shoot arrows different than normal. She said that wouldn’t work you couldn’t aim correctly just then he shot and straight at the bullseye. Needless to say, everyone had to learn how to shoot like that after that.
There are many other things that make him a great director of this film, too many to list here.
Now on to my all time favorite thing about this movie the technology that was not only put in but also invented to make this movie possible.
James Cameron said from the beginning that he would not make this movie until the technology was ready to make the movie the way he saw it. He did the same thing before making Titanic, little did he know was that he was going to have to invent the camera. The 3D Fusion Camera was created by James Cameron and DP Vince Pace. Cameron wanted a camera that he could simply carry around on set with ease, a task that could not be done easily before their system.
40% of the movie was live action while 60% of the film was CGI but if you were to walk on to set you couldn’t tell. Motion capture was used for the CGI scenes. While Motion Capture (MoCap) is nothing new, the manner of how it was done was visionary. Before, MoCap was done separately; first full body capture was done then the actor would act out their scenes and then go back and do facial capture for that scene days maybe weeks later.
James Cameron knew this would not do. He wanted to get it all at the same time, so he with is team developed a system that would allow him to do just that. They created a head mounted camera that could capture the actor’s faces to encapsulate the raw emotion of the scenes as they were happening; especially eye movement, something never before thought possible.
After the Motion capture was complete, Cameron then spent a full year reshooting those scenes, by using a virtual camera that resembled a video game controller with a video monitor on it. He could move around in 3D space in the pre-rendered scenes after all some of those scenes took over 45 hours to completely render.
It goes without saying that Avatar is an amazing film in any right from its still groundbreaking CGI visuals, emotional acting, and the astounding directing style. Almost 10 years later and grossing 2 billion dollars worldwide making it the highest grossing film of all time, there are many more things that make it great, and while everybody has a different take on films, those are mine.