In retrospect, maybe I shouldn't have doubted James Cameron. But since 1998, his obsession with the Titanic has led him to dwell in the depths of the ocean for the better part of the past 11 years. He disappeared from the public eye and seemed uninterested in returning to his specialty at crafting acclaimed Hollywood blockbusters. The last image I have of him is kookily shouting "I'm the king of the world!" in distasteful self-aggrandizement at his Oscar acceptance speech, even though he wasn't necessarily undeserving of such a statement.
Maybe I shouldn't have doubted Cameron. But in my mind, the odds were against him.
After seeing Avatar last weekend, I learned that an old dog can still learn new tricks (even with his head in the water). Because in all its sweeping, breathtaking glory, Avatar is not just a technical tour de force, but easily the most entertaining film of the year.
Amid big battles, Eastern mysticism, and post-9/11 political parallels, Avatar is of course a love story at heart. And for a film relying so heavily on 3D-rendered characters, Avatar's biggest surprise (and success) is capturing the human condition in the tribal, yellow-eyed alien race of the Na'vi. It's hard to describe, but for me Avatar unlocked some long-lost archetype that made me connect with the love story as if I knew it once before, long ago. My emotions took me by surprise as I seemed to relive some ancient experience.
But despite epic storytelling that deftly weaves action, adventure, and romance, Avatar's obvious weakness is its reliance on so many movies before it. The plot itself is an avatarish amalgam of Dances with Wolves, The Last Samurai, Last of the Mohicans, Donnie Brasco, Aliens, Gorillas in the Mist, and The Matrix, to name a few. To its credit, though, Avatar's execution is strong enough to overcome the plight of unoriginality, making the experience no less gripping and thrilling every step of the way.
Another film that Avatar recalls is Star Wars, specifically the heavily hyped but flawed prequels. Because when you walk out of the theater, you realize that Avatar is the film that Episodes I-III should have been—not just escapist and immersive, but awesome.
George Lucas, meet Jim Cameron. Old dog teaches older dog new tricks.
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