After it was announced recently that Avengers: Endgame had finally dethroned Avatar to become the all-time box office champion, everyone was whooping and hollering in joy. Sure, we’re entitled to feel that way and celebrate because Avengers: Endgame is so well regarded. But lost in all the hoopla was how dismissive many people were toward director James Cameron’s film which came out ten years ago. Yes, we all are entitled to our own opinions about everything, but some were too quick to put down Avatar, which is not warranted.
Even when Avatar came out in December 2009, there were those who were very critical towards the sci-fi epic. A common gripe was that its story was weak and derived from the “going native” trope, which is why Avatar was sometimes called Dances With Smurfs. Another critique was its too-on-the-nose environmental message or its simplistic evil capitalists vs. noble savages motif. These are valid points, but Avatar should not be disregarded so casually.
For its time, Avatar captured the world’s imagination thanks to the rich and immersive effects and world that James Cameron and his team of effects wizards created. Almost everything about the world of Pandora (a habitable moon orbiting a distant gas giant a few lights years from Earth) looked alien. From the six-legged creatures to the ultraviolet forests to the floating mountains. This was a landscape never before seen in live action. It was and still is breathtaking to take in.
While the story may be too familiar, it does resonate and has relevance to our times. It was reported back then that some viewers experienced a type of depression because they realized how unlike Pandora the Earth was with its pollution and disappearing nature. Now, climate change and other environmental concerns have become a more tangible problem and we can appreciate the idea of a pristine, untouched-by-man world. This is also inspiring many to look for other worlds and can be seen as a drive for the new upcoming space race. Avatar showed many the possibilities of what lies beyond our solar system.
Of course, the special effects and 3D technology are still unrivaled to this day. Cameron is known to be a perfectionist and insisted on the best usage of effects technology and 3D. This was why it took so long for the film to be made and this goes for the sequels that are only now being filmed. The result of Cameron’s strict standards was that audiences were floored by the stunning 3D and effects that gave the feeling that we were truly in an alien world. The 3D technology isn’t cheap and the top dollars spent on Avatar shows, and it lead to a new boom in the use of 3D in films. Sadly, much of the 3D in other films couldn’t compare and that is because truly impressive 3D has to be filmed with special cameras and is very expensive. Most films that use 3D these days are actually using a conversion process. Much of the time, it’s done well, but it cannot compare to Avatar.
Many critics state that the film isn’t anything without the effects or the 3D. That is not so. Avatar is actually very entertaining with exciting battle scenes and genuine moments of awe. The story is basic but effective; in the future, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic former vet, takes an assignment on an alien moon being mined by a large company. He is to infiltrate the moon’s native sapient species, who are called the Na’vi, and get intel to use against them. He ingratiates himself by having his consciousness fused into a cloned version of the Na’vi. Over time, he comes to empathize with the Na’vi and eventually joins their side to fight off the human invaders. We have seen this story before, most famously in Dances With Wolves, but it is effectively reimagined in a sci-fi trapping that works for this epic. The film is still awe inspiring and packs some emotional weight. Just watching that final battle of humans against the Na’vi is so thrilling and inspiring.
It has been said that Avatar has not remained in the public eye for very long. That is debatable, the film represents the pushing of boundaries and a good example of this is with the land it inspired in Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park. In the land themed to Avatar, which opened in 2017, visitors were and still are awestruck by how alien and majestic the land looks with its Pandoran forestry and even more with its headline ride that simulates what it is like to be a Na’vi riding a flying banshee. Interest has been renewed for the property and although cynics like to say that no one cares about the upcoming sequels, it is foolish to bet against James Cameron. Undoubtedly, he will create another winning sci-fi epic, the likes that he is famous for. Avatar 2 or whatever it will be called may not supplant Avengers: Endgame but it will most likely be a big hit and help keep Avatar in the public eye. Maybe by then, the original film will be looked at more fondly.