Directed by: James Cameron
Cast: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Giovani Ribisi, CCH Pounder
Genre: Science Fiction
Rated PG-13 For intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking
Let me start by saying that I love science fiction/fantasy. There is nothing like an engrossing story that pulls the reader/viewer into the fictional world created by an author/filmmaker intent on proving this other world may exist. Over the years, such excellent works have graced both the printed page and the small screen that there is no shortage of sci-fi (not SyFy, as a certain network would have you believe) for one to escape into for months on end. Some of my favorite novels in this escapist genre are Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War”, George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Fire and Ice” series, Jack Finney’s “Body Snatchers”, Larry Niven’s “Ringworld”, Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game”, and Isaac Asimov’s “Robot” series. On the motion picture side, my favorites have been Robert Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”, Franklin J. Shaffner’s “Planet of the Apes”, Duncan Jones’ “Moon”, Stanley Kubrick’s “2001”, Ridley Scott’s “Alien”, and John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. I’d even go so far as to say video games like “Doom 3” or “Bioshock” would be amongst the top in that prospective category. Unfortunately, Avatar will never make it into that list. Nor would it break the top 100, if I were to create such a list.
Don’t get me wrong. This film is beautifully shot. The 3D is spectacular, so much so that 10 minutes into the film the viewer is likely to forget they are watching a 3D film, and focus instead on the story. This, I’m sad to say, is where the film falls short. The script is a very bland “vanilla-plain” story about a disabled Marine who heads to another planet on a mission to mine the rare minerals needed to continue to power Earth. Eventually, he longs to escape into the peaceful world of the “virtual reality-hybrid” planet Pandora, where he is without the constraints of crippled legs, and able to witness the majestic creatures called Navi in their natural habitat. He eventually falls in love with a female Navi, and wrestles with the decision to press on with his objectives, or betray his race and live and love amongst the Navi. While sci-fi has nearly always been a morality tale disguised as fictional other-worldly tales, the message of evil Americans killing off the peace loving new-age aliens is a bit heavy-handed. There isn’t much disguising here.
Now, anyone who has seen Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man”, or heard the recent news about Sea World and it’s “Killer” whales incident, knows that even though creatures may be beautiful and majestic, we are best designed to avoid residing with them. The fact that the human falls in love with the alien is no more romantic to me than the guy working with gorillas in their natural habitat would be. For me, the special effects, as breathtaking as they may be, no more make this a great film than the special effects in the “Transformers” films, or “Armageddon”, make them great films. Not even the engrossing 3D could save this one. For me, it’s the first James Cameron film that falls far short of perfection.
Rating = ** / 5
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Nathalie Boltt, William Allen Young
Genre: Science Fiction
Rated R For bloody violence and pervasive language
As a fan of science fiction, I appreciate when a film attempts to break ground. I especially appreciate when a film takes a possibly tired story and gives it new life, with clever characterizations, twists, and plot points. The story of “District 9” takes place in a fictional place in South Africa. When aliens land on Earth, global business conglomerate Multi-National United forces them into rigid this place, “containment zones “, where they are compelled to labor, even as MNU commandeers their otherworldly technology for profit. What differentiates Blomkamp’s film from similarly themed tales is when he introduces the lead character as a common worker, as opposed to a military big shot. His initial “real-world” characterization, and believable transformation from man with a mission to man-on-the-run is further grounded in reality by the impressions that you are watching a documentary. The fact that the lead becomes a wanted man not by choice, but by circumstance further sets this film apart from more recent films with a similar theme.
I appreciated the fact that Blomkamp never treated his aliens as a grandiose spectacle. There never was the moment in the film where the creature slowly rises from the water, camera set to a low angle, as the lights flicker and the music crescendos, allowing the character to realize he’s in over his head. The aliens in the is film were simply another character. They were grounded in the grittiness of the real world, and each of the characters had multiple sides to their persona. And each of the actors in the film were relatively unknown, which only led to the escape into this “faux-documentary.” I sense that Blomkamp is on track to have a very lengthy career in films. I look forward to see what this talented young filmmaker will next bring to the cineplex.
Rating = **** / 5