James Cameron, known for risky, big-budget films – in fact the biggest – has rolled the dice on his long awaited movie “Avatar.” The gambit is to redefine movie making in the 21st Century. Big risks can often result in big payoffs. Cameron scored one with “Titanic,” can he do the same here?
The film premiered in London Thursday night (Dec. 10) and its revolutionizing, special 3-D special effects are said to be awe-inspiring. But in the end a movie is only as good as its plot. Cameron appears to have kept Avatar’s relatively simple.
The director sticks with universal themes — a mix of romance, heavy action/adventure thrills and an epic battle between good and evil. “The more fantastic the subject … the more recognizable and universal, the relationships and people need to be,” Cameron told reporters.
“Avatar” unfolds on the planet Pandora 4.4 light years from Earth. The native Na’vi are put in jeopardy by a greedy industrial mining company that lands on the planet to exploit its natural resources.
The plot has environmental and political overtones and could serve as a metaphor for the deforestation of the Amazon and other old growth forests around the world.
A crippled ex-Marine is chosen to contact with the Na’vi, but only through an avatar, or remotely controlled Na’vi robot, something akin to a figure in a video game. Except the figure, kin this case, is three dimensional and real.
It allows him to join the Na’vi as one of their own and he falls for a Na’vi princess, intertwining a love story into the movie. Move over “Twilight.”
While there is nothing too outsized about the plot, the cost of the film is, well, titanic. In comes it at about $400 million, making it the most expensive ever made.
But Cameron rolled the dice once before on “Titanic” and came up a winner. The 1997 film made $1.8 billion at global box offices and remains the highest-grossing film of all time.
A little over $250 million was poured into special effects to create, huge animated creatures and a large cast of blue Na’vi set against a detailed backdrop of lush forests, floating mountains and soaring vistas.
Aside from a superior cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, of “Alien” fame (also a Cameron project), the 3-D special effects will be the main attraction. “It’s absolutely cinema, but I think cinema redefines itself every few years with new techniques,” Cameron told reporters in Paris before the film’s launch.
“Avatar” departs from traditional film-making with its startling three-dimensional scenery and the flawless interaction of the human cast with the animation effects.
“The science fiction of the technology was more science fiction than the story,” said Sigourney Weaver, star of Cameron’s film “Aliens,” who plays a scientist in “Avatar.”
“You’re aware that a lot of work is going on around you, but you, the actor, just have the responsibility of being in the moment and being in the world,” she said.
The gamble comes because audience reaction and ultimately the film’s box office gross will go a long way in determining whether the film sets a new standard of production or merely becomes a novelty – much like films with 3-D glasses were in the 1950s.