Film Friday: ‘Avatar’ & ‘Young Victoria’

by W. Andrew Powell

A scene from James Cameron's 'Avatar'

A scene from James Cameron's 'Avatar'

The wait for James Cameron‘s massive big-screen epic is finally over this weekend as Avatar opens in theatres, and in IMAX. Also opening is the period drama The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt, and the romantic comedy Did You Hear About the Morgans?

Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez
Director: James Cameron

When writer and director James Cameron first conceived of Avatar over 15 years ago it was a $100 million project that he expected to complete in 1999. As with most of Cameron’s projects though, that budget bloated over the years, even as he worked to build the technology he would need to make the film a reality.

Today we finally have the product of Cameron’s imagination, and the result is a technologically astounding epic that is worth every year of work, and every penny.

Filmed using motion capture and then rendered to photorealistic quality in a computer generated world, the story is set in the year 2154 on a planet called Pandora in the Alpha Centauri system. Lush and green, and inhabited by gigantic blue humanoids known as Na’vi, Pandora is a world filled with life and dangerous creatures which has been besieged by the machinations of a heavily armed contingent of humans who have been sent to the planet to plunder its resources.

Attempting to make nice with the Na’vi, the company behind the space mission has come up with a way of breeding what they call Avatars – part-human and part-Na’vi clones which can be remotely inhabited by specially trained people. The Na’vi know the Avatars for what they truly are though and will not accept them into their fold.

That is, until Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, lands on the planet.

Jake is a paraplegic ex-Marine who has fallen into the Avatar mission in the hopes that it will pay for treatment to heal his legs, and while the program is one of science, the military minds on Pandora hope he can help them move the Na’vi from their home, which happens to sit on top of a vast quantity of minerals they want to mine.

Much like Cameron’s other films, the plot also revolves around a romantic relationship. In Avatar, the two lovebirds are Jake and the Na’vi Neytiri, played by Zoe Saldana. Neytiri is the future leader of a clan of Na’vi and believes that Jake may be important to her people, thanks to an incident in the jungle. Convincing her father that Jake’s Avatar should be allowed to stay among the Na’vi, Jake must prove himself by going through the clan’s rite of adulthood.

Slowly, Jake becomes a part of the clan, but at the same time he is also working with Colonel Miles Quaritch, played by Stephen Lang, to help them when the time comes to evict the Na’vi from their tree-house.

Filled with rich, intriguing characters, and emotional scenes between the humans and the Na’vi, the film is certainly an ecological commentary, but it’s also an amazing action-drama that is essentially the best epic we’ve seen on screen since The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Featuring a strong cast, which also includes Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine, and Michelle Rodriguez as Trudy Chacon, Avatar is exactly the kind of film I think everyone hoped it would be. There are a few moments that work against the film, including kitschy dialogue ripped from the Cameron playbook, but I really have very little bad to say about Avatar. It is one of the best films of the year, at least on par with Star Trek, even if it is a little long.

The 3D work on the film is also really amazing, with some of the best 3D images I’ve seen in theatres. It better be, for the film’s price tag, but it will likely also help Fox and all the other studios sell the future of 3D filmmaking to audiences.

What’s more, this may not be the last we’ve seen from Avatar. If Cameron sticks to his plans, Avatar will end up being a trilogy. We only have to ask ourselves how many years it might take for Cameron to actually film two sequels.

The Young Victoria
Starring: Emily Blunt, Jim Broadbent, Mark Strong, Paul Bettany, Rupert Friend
Director: Jean-Marc Vallee

The other big film of the week is director Jean-Marc Vallee’s The Young Victoria, a period drama that may not draw the same audiences into theatres, but has already earned some award recognition, including a Golden Globe nomination for actress Emily Blunt, who plays Victoria.

Set in 1837, when the future queen of England is at the centre of a power struggle for the throne, The Young Victoria is as much a tale of drama in 19th century England as it is about the concept of instant fame.

Diving headlong into the politics of the day, and Victoria’s fight for self among the warring heads of state, the film is ultimately about the relationship between Victoria the Queen and her people, and Victoria the wife with her husband Albert, played by Rupert Friend.

Reviews for the film have all been quite positive, although generally critics are suggesting that the film could have been stronger.

On the bright side of the reviews, Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “What filmmaker Jean-Marc Vallée has done in this delicious historical romance is capture that hot blush of pure emotion that comes before kisses, sex, heartbreak and the rest can dilute it.”

Did You Hear About the Morgans?
Starring: Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sam Elliott, Mary Steenburgen
Director: Marc Lawrence

Lastly, Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker star in a romantic comedy about a married couple living in Manhattan who witness a murder and have to be sent into the witness protection program in a small-town Wyoming. Hiding from killers who are now looking for them, the only good thing for the couple is the fact that the change in scenery might save their marriage.

Reviews for Did You Hear About the Morgans? have been terrible at best, receiving 9% fresh on As Peter Sobczynski of wrote, “This is a film that does roughly the same thing for the concept of star-powered romantic comedies that Tiger Woods has done for the concept of marital fidelity.”

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