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When a reported 300 million dollars (that’s enough money to fund a hundred Paa’s) have been invested in a film, you can be rest assured that the Hollywood hype machine will go into overdrive.
So for the past few months we have all learnt about how James Cameron had to wait for over 10 years for technology to catch up with his vision to make this film; about 40 per cent of the film being in live action and the rest being CGI; of how more than a thousand crew members were involved in the production of this epic; and other trivia that the film’s PR apparatus strategically and systematically doled out to whip up public interest.

The danger, of course, in building up anticipation to such fever pitch is that the film can sink under the weight of its own expectations; a tiny mismatch between hype and what one sees on screen can cause a backlash that is disproportionate to the actual merit of the product.
So how does Avatar measure up to all its pre-release hyperbole and hoopla? Very well indeed! Avatar not only lives up to the immense expectations but in fact exceeds them — and that is no mean achievement.

Sweeping in its scale, breathtaking in its visuals and eye popping in its sheer audacity and originality of vision — the film not just pushes the envelope, it redefines the boundaries of popular cinema.

So what’s it about? The film, set around the year 2154 AD, follows Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a wheelchair — confined former Marine. Jake travels to a human colony called Pandora which is mineral-rich. To counter the inhospitable atmosphere of Pandora, the colonisers have created the Avatar program through which humans mentally enter their artificially created alter-egos-their avatars, or as we would say in Hindi, their avtaars. These avatars are modeled on the Na’vi, the blue skinned, long tailed, tall and skinny natives of Pandora.

Jake’s mission is to infiltrate the Na’vi with a view to serve the interests of the colonisers. However, as Jake comes to understand the natives’ way of life and falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he undergoes a change of heart and sides. The conflict between the nature-worshipping natives led by Jake and the military-industrialist human colonisers forms the basic plot of the film.

Shorn of all the futuristic gadgetry and fantastical characters, however, Avatar is essentially a very human story that explores the eternal conflict of human greed versus a fragile eco-system, the politics of colonisation and above all, the power of love.

If one is to nit-pick, the story does get cloyingly melodramatic at times and the central conflict does seem rather simplistic as a straight good versus evil battle with little justice down to the complexities and grey areas inherent in real life. However, the film has its heart in the right place and it’s ironical, as also perhaps fitting, that it releases at a time when the leaders of our world are playing power games in Copenhagen over the future of our environment and planet.

The production values are absolutely top-notch. Indeed, Avatar sets a new benchmark to what the marriage of art and science can create on-screen. The 3D effects are literally out of the world and one appreciates the true scale and depth of the production by being able to see things in the third dimension. What also makes the film stand out is that, unlike what one expects from sci-fi movies, the performances are of a consistently high standard and the dialogue sparkles with witty one liners. The Hindi dubbing too is competent.

With regard to trade prospects, the film has opened well. It will be helped by the fact that it has no major Hindi film release to compete with and there is a festive week coming up. However, the perception of it being virtually an animation film may hurt it in smaller centers.

“I am the king of the world!” declared James Cameron rather pompously while accepting the Best Director Oscar for Titanic in 1998. Well, this time he has set his eyes on the universe — and he just might succeed!

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