James Cameron’s Avatar is obviously all the rage right now, with the film so far earning over $1 billion worldwide and dazzling audiences with its groundbreaking technology. And while critics and fans can’t stop raving about the expansive beauty of the film overall, Zoe Saldana’s name keeps coming up as the film’s best performance.
The Dominican actress stars as Neytiri, a princess among the Na’vi clan, natives of a magical planet called Pandora. Her character, like all of the Na’vi, was created through motion-capture and is completely computer generated. In fact, you can barely tell it’s Saldana you’re watching in the role. Computers or no computers, Neytiri’s emotional life shines through because of Saldana’s skills as an actor. Sasha Stone of Rollingstone.com calls Neytiri “one of the best female characters of 2009.” And as we get closer to the Academy Awards, the question is whether or not Hollywood is prepared to recognize a technologically enhanced performance as authentic and Oscar worthy.
Director James Cameron seems to think so. Movieline.com says one of the reasons Cameron released a new Avatar set photo of Saldana—head-rigged and growling in character—was to suggest that CGI is only as effective as the flesh-and-blood performance underneath it. Cameron says of Saldana, “We couldn’t accomplish the character we’re doing in Avatar through any kind of makeup means… Neytiri… is what Zoe created 100 percent…”
If the Academy does recognize Saldana’s role in Avatar with an Oscar nomination, it would not only be a validation of Saldana’s immense talent, but it would also change the way audiences and critics view CGI performances.